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Edit RAW/JPEG Pairs with Apple Photos and third party apps #1
Five Photos's picture
by Five Photos
October 31, 2016 - 10:36pm

It is my understanding that we can edit RAW Images on iOS (iPad/iPhone) now. When I shoot RAW only on my DSLR and import that image to my iPad, it DOES actually appear as the RAW file and you can edit it in Apple Photos or any other app like Snapseed or Polarr. 

Now, when I try to attempt the same with a RAW+JPEG pair (which I normally shoot), those apps work with the JPEG instead of the RAW. At least that’s what I think since I shot a RAW/JPEG test image in B&W and all of the editing apps use the B&W version (hence JPEG) while editing. The only exception is Lightroom Mobile which shows me a colour image (hence RAW) in the editor. For all the other apps I don’t see any way to change to the RAW file for editing.

Can anybody explain to me what’s going on here and if my findings are correct? 

PhotoJoseph's picture
by PhotoJoseph
November 1, 2016 - 1:49pm

If you're seeing the B&W, then yes you're looking at the JPEG. How are you getting the RAW+JPEG pair from the camera to the iOS device? Lightning SD card reader? Importing to Photo on macOS first then syncing over?

I believe it'll be up to the developer to recognize the RAW file if it's there. But let me know how you're getting them onto the device in the first place, and also what apps you saw the JPEG in, and I'll dig deeper. 

— Have you signed up for the mailing list?

Five Photos's picture
by Five Photos
November 1, 2016 - 3:19pm

Thanks Joseph

For the above described first test I imported my images to my Mac and then let them sync to the iPad through iCloud Photo Library. I just did a second test when I imported the images directly to the iPad through my lightning SD card reader.

Same results: All three apps - Apple Photos, Snapseed and Polarr - apparently work with the JPEG from the RAW/JPEG pair since the image appears in B&W in the editor. Oddly enough Snapseed still shows me the Develop tools section which is for RAW files only.

For the RAW only image it seems that all of the three editors now use the embedded JPEG from the camera as the image shows up in B&W too. This is especially weird because if I do not import RAW only images directly to the iPad but to the Mac first instead and let them sync to the iPad through the iCloud Photo Library, then that image in fact shows up as RAW file in Apple Photos on iOS (confirmed with Metapho) !!! That is… wow… very strange!

So it looks like the problem is not with the third party editors, but with Apple Photos on iOS. My findings so far are, that Apple Photos always uses the JPEG out of a RAW/JPEG pair. From a Raw only image the Photos App on iOS uses the embedded JPEG when imported through the lightning SD card reader and the RAW when pulled from macOS through iCloud Photo Library.

Can you confirm?

There is no way to switch from the JPEG to the RAW image in Photos on iOS as you can do in Photos on macOS, right?

Five Photos's picture
by Five Photos
November 15, 2016 - 2:16pm

Joseph, are you still pursuing this?

Five Photos's picture
by Five Photos
December 1, 2016 - 10:06am


Five Photos's picture
by Five Photos
January 17, 2017 - 2:50am

It looks like there has been some improvement in third party applications when it comes to RAW editing in iOS. That’s why I decided to repeat my last year’s tests and share my results with you all. 

  • I shot two photos of the same subject with my DSLR: one RAW only and one RAW+JPEG pair
  • Both photos were shot in black and white to test if the apps access the RAW (color) or the JPEG (black and white) files
  • Both photos were imported from the camera to as well my Mac as my iPad into their respective Apple Photos libraries
  • I use iCloud Photo Library for all my devices with “Optimize Storage” settings on my iPad and “Download Originals” preferences on my Mac

In this test environment I am only interested in workflows for RAW or RAW+JPEG shots. The workflow for JPEG only photos is pretty straightforward and should not cause any problems.

First I wanted to know if it matters how I get my images into iPad’s photo library. There are two ways to save photos to iOS:

  1. Import photos directly to iPad using the Lightning to SD Card Camera Reader
  2. Import photos to Mac and then let them sync to iPad through iCloud Photo Library

I learned that the import method does not really matter for RAW+JPEG pairs. Both ways add the full size JPEG of the RAW+JPEG pair to your iPad photo library while the RAW will be kept somewhere in the cloud.

For RAW only photos, however, the import method does matter! In my tests the first method added a black and white JPEG to the photo library while the second method delivered a color JPEG. I suspect that method 1 actually saves the low quality JPEG that was embedded in the original RAW file while method 2 produces a new JPEG version of the RAW photo using Apple’s own RAW engine on the Mac, and then syncs that newly created JPEG to iPad’s photo library. This is confusing and inconsistent. And to make things even worse, import method 1 creates an even bigger problem when it comes to editing with the Photos app on iOS (more about that later).

Next, I found a weird behaviour that applies to both, RAW photos and RAW+JPEG pairs: Import method 2 renames the photos from something like “P1162755.jpg” to something like “F76D7FC4-8E2D-4FB0-8801-1D68CB4E4278.jpg”. This renaming only appears when saving such photos to, let’s say, Dropbox, or attempting to share them by email for instance. The renaming does not show when you inspect those photos’ EXIF data with Metapho. Also, the same photos do still have their original names on the Mac. 

Yet another bug I found could have something to do with this weird renaming behaviour described above: Let’s say you have an empty SD card in your camera, you take 10 RAW only pictures, and then you save them to your Mac without deleting the photos from your SD card after the import. Your Mac will upload those 10 images to iCloud Photo Library from where they are synced to your iPad. Now, let’s assume you take 5 more photos with your camera. Now you 15 photos on your SD card of which the first 10 are already present in your libraries and the last 5 need yet to be imported. This time you don’t save the photos to your Mac but rather directly to your iPad (let’s say you are on vacation without access to your Mac). What happens now is weird: The iPad assumes that there are 15 new photos to import into its library, even though it already has the first 10 images saved to it. My only explanation for this behaviour is, that - since the first 10 images were weirdly renamed on their way to iOS - the iPad thinks that all 15 photos on the SD card are new because their names don’t match any names of photos already present in the iOS photo library.

All my test results combined I come to the conclusion that Apple’s iOS Photos app desperately needs further improvements. At the very least the app needs to show the actual file names of your photos in its library, and it needs to indicate if you are looking at a JPEG or RAW file.   

It looks like Photos on iOS only likes to edit JPEG photos. Because of that, editing RAW+JPEG pairs will result in your adjustments to be applied to the JPEG photo. Unlike on a Mac there is no way to process the RAW photo in iOS instead. On the plus side, your edits on the JPEG in iOS are being applied to the original RAW file in iCloud, too. So if you return to the Mac and attempt to edit the RAW file from there, Photos will copy the JPEG edits to the RAW on the Mac.

It is a different story with RAW only photos. What kind of JPEG you get to edit in iOS depends on the import method of your choice (see above). If you choose import method 2 you have a full size JPEG in your library to work with (created by the Mac before the photo was synced to the iPad). If you choose import method 1, however, Photos will only let you edit the low quality JPEG thumbnail that was embedded in the original RAW file and now sits in your iPad’s photo library. Editing the same image with the same adjustments will result in different looks depending on the import method. And if you go back to your Mac to edit the original RAW file, Photos will show you a message that says something like “this RAW photo was previously edited as a JPEG”. You can switch back to the original RAW on your Mac for further editing, though, and the edits you made in iOS will be copied to it. But the edits will look different applied to the RAW file compared to the JPEG in iOS.

So, it is important to remember: With Photos on iOS you can’t edit RAW files. Furthermore it is only possible to edit the full size JPEG version of a single RAW photo if you imported it through iCloud Photo Library rather than directly to your iOS device!

With Polarr, RAW photo editing on iOS becomes much easier. Polarr is actually able to process and edit RAW files. And unlike Photos, Polarr always picks the original RAW file from the iCloud Photo Library rather than the locally stored JPEG for editing – regardless of the import method and for both, single RAW photos and RAW+JPEG pairs. Polarr never picks the JPEG photo to be edited, unless it is a single JPEG image of course. 

After you’ve finished your edits you can either save a separate JPEG of the edited RAW to the photo library, or you just save the edited photo itself. The latter will result in Polarr replacing the RAW photo or the RAW+JPEG pair in the photo library with a full size JPEG processed from the original RAW. Of course, all edits are nondestructive and can be reverted.

Snapseed behaves pretty much the same way as Polarr. The only difference I found is that Snapseed has a dedicated RAW Develop module separated from other adjustment sections like Tune Image, Details, Crop, and so on. When it comes to saving the edited photos you have the same options as you do with Polarr. And just as Polarr, Snapseed replaces the RAW photo or the RAW+JPEG pair with a full size JPEG in your iOS photo library if you choose not to save the edited RAW as a separate photo.

Any comments or discussions about all this are very welcome!

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