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The Quest for a Viable iOS RAW Workflow

PhotoJoseph's picture
December 22, 2015 - 9:00pm

I just bought an iPad Pro. No, I'm not totally sure why yet. But I know that I love photo editing on iOS; there are some really impressive apps out there like VSCO and Snapseed which have no equivalent on OS X. In theory, between iOS DAMs (Digital Asset Managers) like Photos or Lightroom Mobile or Mylio, this should be doable. But it turns out it really isn't — at least I haven't figured out how yet. Here's what I know.

And for the record, I'm trying to find a solution where you can start from iOS, and eventually end on OS X, in RAW. Solutions that requires starting from OS X aren't what interest me here.

The Process

The control test is not quite as simple as I would have liked, but with so many variables this is what I ended up needing. I shot three photos, and imported them using the Apple SD Card Reader to the Apple (to my knowledge, no other app can see the Apple SD Card Reader).

1) A RAW photo (not RAW+JPEG) shot in B&W mode. If I see the photo in black and white, I know I'm looking at the embedded JPEG file. If I see my photo in color, I know I'm looking at the RAW.

Every RAW file contains an embedded JPEG, which has the camera processing applied to it, and is what you see when you browse the back of your camera, and also is what apps like Aperture and Photo Mechanic use to quickly browse the contents of a camera memory card. Unfortunately those embedded JPEG files are not usually the same size as the original RAW file.

2) I also need a full resolution JPEG file to test with, because the embedded JPEG file in the RAW file is not necessarily full resolution (and in my case, is not). So I need that full size JPEG to test image scaling on apps that don't touch the RAW file to begin with.

3) Finally also a RAW+JPEG pair, also shot in B&W mode, because how those are handled can be quite interesting.

Using Metapho, I can check the pixel dimensions to see if the image is still the original resolution or if it's been scaled.

Those are the criteria I need to watch out for — format and resolution.

Since is the only app that can import pictures from the SD card, that's where everything has to start. 

I'll look at wireless file transfer options as well another day, but right off they have the disadvantage of being slower than the SD card reader — especially since the new Apple SD Card Reader transfers at USB 3 speeds when combined with the iPad Pro. There are dedicated wireless apps for individual cameras, and also third party apps like Shuttersnitch and dedicated WiFi cards like those from Eye-Fi that could bring something to the table(t), too. But again for today's tests, we're sticking with wired transfer via the Apple SD Card Reader.

Time to Import

Again as far as I know, Apple's own Photos app is the only way to import photos from the Apple SD Card Reader. On import, you see the three test images in B&W, which is logical because import apps always look at the embedded JPEG file, not the actual RAW file, in the import window. 

The three with the blue check marks are about to be imported

That's it. Those three photos; the RAW only, JPEG only and RAW+JPEG are imported into the Photos app, and can be easily found in the Last Import album. Now let's look at some apps.


Adobe Lightroom Mobile (pre-CC) Apple Photos for iOS Enlight Fragment Litely Mattebox MaxCurve Metapho mylio Photo Editor Photogene PhotoRAW Photoshop Fix PhotosInfoPro Pixelmator SKRWT Snapseed VSCO

It is a real shame that given the potential uses of the iPad for photographers, that the platform is so unbelievably lacking in support for an efficient workflow that accompanies the desktop workflow.  I too, stumbled across the Lynda videos a year or so ago in my quest do be able to do efficient sorting, tagging and editing on the iPad with out duplicating, or otherwise making my desktop workflow even more complex.   I still hold out a shred of hope, but for me, the iPad is nothing more than an entertainment device focused on the consumption model.   Pity, it could be so much more.

Thanks for this article and the deeper dive into the problem and potential solutions.

Thanks for exploring some of the possible solutions that are currently available. I have long wanted Aperture for iOS as crazy and unlikely as that may have sounded.

All is not lost and a possibly good solution is coming. Serif has said they are working on an Affinity dam. They say that a full blown version will be on both os x and iOS. Also, They said that a full blown Affinity Photo as well as Affinity Designer is in the works for iOS too. who knows when it will come since they are still working on Affinity Publisher.

I have spent a considerable trying out the iPad Pro with the stylus which has tilt and pressure sensitivity and did several sketches at an Apple Store. That was the most interesting part of iPad Pro and I really love that aspect about the iPad Pro.

I think if you use Photos on both OS X and iOS, then it's a workable solution. If you're trying to use another dam on OS X or using Windows, then you're pretty much out of luck because no other dam understand iOS Photo edits so when you import it into another dam, you'll lose all your edits you made in iOS Photos. Fortunately or unfortunately, You can export all your photos and bake in all your edits for you import them into another dam.

My take on Photos non-destructive editing is great if you're using Photos on both iOS and OS X. on the flip side, if you're not using Photo on OS X, then it's more complex process. For most consumers, getting their photos out of their iPhone and on to their PC without losing any edits made in iOS Photos is a complex process. i think it's best for those who don't use Photos on OS X to never use Photos for iOS for editing.

Robert Ke
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Thanks for the roundup, despite the unfortunate conclusion. If been struggling for an iPad first workflow since the fist one came out, with little success. The best option I found was using PhotosInfoPro to tag, rate, etc and then send to Aperture via Dropbox. 

Photos improved from the syncing perspective, but there are still pretty much 0 metadata editing options. Milo looks interesting, but I’m not confident enough in them to move everything over there and the cost is too much for a Milo subscription in addition to Lightroom. 

I suggest you check out Filterstorm Neue.. It is an app I have always kept on my iPad since I purchased mine in 2012.. used to be called Filterstorm only and had a Pro version before.. It was rewritten from scratch when IOS 7 was released.

The great feature is RAW support using DC RAW plugin and no scaling (option can be turned off in settings if RAW is not your thing).. 

here is the feature bullet point from the website: 

RAW Images

Filterstorm by default uses Apple’s built-in tools to open image files. In addition to this, there is a setting to turn on DCRAW to handle RAW files. This will significantly increase the initial time to load an image, but will allow you to edit RAW files from a large number of cameras.”

The UI is not the best but it gets the job done.. this is an app developed by a single developer and not a team it seems so updates are slow but the app just works.

I have an iPad 3 so RAW editing is slow for me but if someone with an iPad PRo could test it, they may have a different experience and one that might be the answer to your question.


Edit: Just found out there is a Filsterstorm PRO version coming soon..  is is being actively developed currently and the dev has even asked on twitter for beta testers (prefereably Photo journalists) to test out FSPRO as it will add FTP ability to offload edits directly.

    That's great info, thanks. I will reach out to the developer and offer to beta test it.

    — Have you signed up for the mailing list?

    From my testing on my iPad Air 2 running iOS 9.2, Filestorm Neue does appear to support Canon RAW file processing, working on the RAW image, not the embedded jpeg.  On the Air 2, processing speed/time was good for a CR2 file uploaded from my Canon 70D.  I’d like someone else to also try this to make sure I’m not missing something, i.e. it really does work.

    Dave S.

    I also use filterstorm neu in my ipad pro without problem.

    real raw editing, very fast but the controls re not ideal.

    Thanks for this useful discussion of what is available.  I was dissatisfied with the import of RAW + JPG, so switched to RAW only as I am happier working on the Mac and found the transfers of both files incredibly slow (even RAW only was snail-like). Like  Krakatoa Sundra I would like a version of Aperture for iOS, but that is not going to happen. I have been looking round for an Aperture replacement, for when that eventually goes. If there were such an app that would edit RAW properly and provide proper export options, this would be a boon, particularly for those who work on the road and are not concerned solely with images for FaceBook. 

    Graham K. Rogers

    You might want to check out Filterstorm Neue.. it works on bth iad and iPhone and a Pro version is coming soon that will offer keywording, rating and flags all directly on the iPad or iPhone.

    Thanks for the quick suggestion. I already had Filterstorm, so downloaded that to the iPad Pro, but it reported a problem loading the images I tried (from Nikon D7000): “Either the incorrect file was returned from the Photo Library (a known issue in iOS 8), or the camera is not supported.”  I am running iOS 9.2 and had turned on Use DCRaw.

    Would Filterstorm Neue work any better with these RAW (NEF) images? I am willing to try… .

    Graham K. Rogers

    If you want, post a link to one of the RAW files you are having issues with and I can try it on my end with Neue.

    The developer of Fisterstorm has a blog with contact info - that may be worth a try for help:

    edit:  or try

    Dave S.

    Thanks, DaveS. I was unaware of this.  I will wait on comments from SKRImaging before trying that.

    Graham K. Rogers

    [Deer in headlights look]  How to do this from the iPad Pro?  If I export it is only the jpg version and metadata (using the Investigate app - plugin to Photos) only shows these as 2.7 MB files (on the Mac they are RAW). 

    I have access to Mac and iPad right now.

    Graham K. Rogers

    Do you mean how to upload your RAW to share here?.. if so, just use a Cloud service on your Mac and drag the RAW file in that cloud services upload page or app and it will have an option to share link to file… paste the link here and I would be able to download the RAW file on my end.

    Got it.  I was trying to envisage how to do it from the iPad, thinking what had I missed.  I put this on my own site as Dropbox objected. I tested and the URL downloads the file immediately (in my case the Downloads folder).  [Once you have it, I will delete immediately to save space]

    Graham K. Rogers

    Just got around to testing your NEF file on FS Neue.. it loaded wth no errors. 

    To extend the workflow discussion beyond the processing app - One of the difficulties of using an iPad for photo processing in the field is the support for offline storage when you don’t have access to the Internet for cloud storage for a significant amount of data.  Such was the case for me on a recent one-week trip and will occur again for another week shortly and then for three weeks in May. I’ve managed to work around this by using a RavPower FileHub to support moving files from my camera’s SD card to a USB hard drive. On the iPad, I can use FileBrowser to get the files to/from the hard drive to Filterstorm and the iOS Photo app. Convoluted but it does work. But working with GBs of files is not simple when it all has to be stored (and backed up) locally.

    Dave S.

    This is one feature I hope Apple wakes up and supports (storage support using Camera connection kit)… iOS X is the best time to announce such a feature.. they took years adding multitasking… they finally added iPhone support for Camera connection import.. now it’s high time they add external storage support at OS level.. especially if they want to call the iPad Pro a Pro device.

    I am currently testing the HP Wireless Plus (2TB) which is a storage device really, not backup. It works with iPads and iPhones, but developer information is sparse and not always clear. Data cannot apparently be added from the iOS device, only from PC/Mac, but it can then be accessed. Not the best solution, but “a” solution.

    Graham K. Rogers

    That’s why I like the RavPower FileHub - I can use different USB storage with it, I can read and write to it from the iPad, and I can plug my camera’s SD card into its SD card slot and copy from the card directly to a HD or to the iPad using FileBrowser’s “Open in …” functionality.  It also works well/simultaneously with my Windows and Android devices.

    Dave S.

    Thanks for this DaveS. A useful heads-up.  I will see if this is available here in Bangkok. Not everything arrives in timely fashion and Amazon may not ship certain items.

    Graham K. Rogers

    For those interested, here is the official website with all the info about DC RAW.. the RAW conversion code used in Filterstorm Neue.

    On this site you can find the supported cameras list.

    I am having trouble getting back to the comments section (I will get the hang of it):

    I took the two photos I had had problems with earlier and use the Revert command (in Edit) so that they were at least in an original (unedited state).

    Having done that, I tried to open both in Filterstorm Neue (this is not the Pro version) without success.

    I removed Filterstorm from the memory and tried again.  Success.

    I then tried with another image that had been edited and that opened with no problem at all.  I guess that installing the app, changing settings, giving Photo Lib access, and the initial tries, may have disturbed something.  Red-faced now, I should try the Pro version of the app.

    On the iPhone (6s Plus) things were a little better as the same images opened right away, but one that had been edited did not want to open (same reason as before) and restarting the app after removing from memory made no difference. I then edited the image, reverted to original, removed Filterstorm from memory and when it was restarted, the image did open.  It looks as if when being edited, data from the image necessary to allow Filterstorm to complete the conversion is being made unavailable; but that it can be restored.

    Graham K. Rogers

    Pro version of Filterstorm Neue is still in Beta.. not yet released… will give you guys a heads-up when final version is released by the developer.

    Here is a quick video made by the developer on the upcoming Filterstorm Neue Pro app..

    it is a Textexpander like feature built-in to the metadata editor.. follow the developers Vimeo channel for all the latest.

    I don’t know if anyone else has experienced this.  If I import just raw files into the ipad, I can open them fine in Filterstorm or Photogene.  However, if I have shot raw+jpegs and then import them, I am unable to open raw files in either Filterstorm or Photogene.  Filterstorm gives an error and Photogene opens a full resolution jpeg.

    I can only assume that, when both a raw and jpeg version of an image are present, then when an app calls for a raw file, Photos actually sends the jpeg.

    (I did the same as Joseph and shot three images; raw, raw+jpeg and jpeg only.  I shot the jpegs in BW.  I also checked the metadata in Photogene, and it showed the file size for the imported raw+jpeg image as only 4 Mb.  By contrast the raw file was 32 Mb)

    This is a real pain in the Butt, as I like to shoot raw+jpeg (especially as the jpegs from the Fuji X-E2 are so good).

    Any thoughts?

    (first post on here by the way - sorry for wading right in!)

    disregard old comment.. meant for another thread on this site!.. 


    PS.. this forum really needs a delete post option

    I have found another program that meets most of the demands of a RAW workflow on iOS.. 

    it is Adobe’s free Photoshop Express app!

    I just tested using a RAW image (using B&W mode in camera).. Photos app showed the black and white version (embedded JPG)… but lo and behold, opening the B&W image inside Photoshop Express opened up the colour RAW file.. I made some edits using the in app tools (which I have to say are really great) and exported the final result back to camera roll.

    I checked the Exif Data of the exported file and of course it was Jpeg once exported but the good news is that file size has not been scaled at all… 

    For now, my top RAW editing apps are 1- Filterstorm Neue and now 2- Photoshop Express! …

    FS allows me to export my RAW edit to TIFF which is a BIG WIN… Also, Filterstorm has a great Metadata editor built-in as-well as an amazing Watermarking tool… Also I like the history option in Filterstorm Neue which can let me go back to a specific edit state.

    PSE has a better UI hands down… 

    If you have an iPad Pro, please install this free PSE app and let us all know how your experiences go..

    Ha ha!  Not sure if you’ve made my day or ruined it.  I now have ANOTHER potential “iPad first” workflow!

    firstly, I installed the PS Express app on my iPad pro and, yes, you’re absolutely correct.  Express opens raw files!  The BIG news is that it will also open the raw file from a raw+jpeg pair, unlike Filterstorm or Photogene (see my post above).  This means I can happily shoot raw+jpeg and import the images to the iPad.  I can then examine them full-screen in Photos, and any that require the exposure latitude of raw in order to get a decent image, I can open in Express and adjust them.  If any then require local adjustments (brush or gradient mask), I can then export to Filterstorm or Photogene.

    I’m off to Morocco on Tuesday, and intend to spend days shooting and evenings editing and post-processing.  So, a possible workflow will be:

    1.  Import day’s images to iPad pro

    2. Examine images in Photos and delete “rejects”

    3. Of the remaining images; question: “Does the image need post-work?”  If “no”, move to a new “finished” album titled with “Morocco + date”.  

    4.  If post-work needed, question: “Is the image likely to need RAW file exposure latitude?” And: “Is the image likely to need local adjustments?”

    5.  If RAW latitude needed, open in PS Express and process.  If further local adjustments required, export to Filterstorm and process.  Then export to camera roll and place in “Morocco + date” album.

    6.  If RAW latitude not needed, open in Filterstorm, process, then proceed as 5 above.

    end result should be an album for each day of processed ‘keepers’.  I’ll transfer these to the hard drive on the desktop on return home.  Any images I want to share from the field can be uploaded to Instagram from the camera roll.

    any images I want to print back home I can open in PS, check colour on the colour-corrected monitor, adjust and print.  As a back-stop, I’ll still have the original raw files on the memory cards which I’ll import to lightroom on return and archive as normal.

    This contrasts with the workflow I HAD intended to use;

    - import images to ipad

    - examine, and delete “rejects”

    - import keepers into LR Mobile

    - process (adjustments will be synched to CC)

    - apply adjustments to RAW files on return to desktop

    - export any I want to share from the field from LR Mobile to camera roll (at limited resolution) and share on Instagram.

    I’ll let folks know how I get on ‘battle-testing” these ideas.  Meanwhile, I’d be interested in thoughts on which of these will be the better workflow.

    BTW, I shoot Fujifilm, so expect many of the jpgs to be fully usable straight out of camera.

    Hopefully made your day rather than ruined it :)

    Tiff export is the sole reason I might end up using Filterstorm Neue.. I shoot RAW exclusively. 

    Wish Adobe added Tiff export option to Photoshop Express. then it would be my go to app for editing and Filterstorm would be for Watermarking and metadata editing before sending off to Mac.

    Just to add to the above; It’s a pity that PS Express exports to Filterstorm as a jpeg instead of tiff, otherwise it would have been possible to maintain a fully uncompressed workflow right through PS Express, into Filterstorm and then onto the camera roll as fully edited tiff files.

    Sorry to be like a dog with a bone, but here’s some more insights about Photoshop Express in relation to RAW workflow on the ipad;

    there are two ways of opening an image in Express;

    1.  Open the Express app and select the image from within the app.  If you have shot raw+jpeg, this will open the RAW file.  Upon finishing editing you then have the option of saving a jpeg to various destinations, including the camera roll and editors such as Filterstorm.

    2.  Go to Photos and click “edit”, then click “more” (three little dots in a circle).  You can then enable PS Express as an embedded editing app.  In this case it opens the JPEG.  Upon finishing the edits, clicking “done” will return you to Photos with the original jpeg overwritten with the edited one.

    In either case, the underlying RAW file is left untouched, raising the possibility of producing several edited jpegs from one Raw file.

    Assuming sufficient space on the iPad (I have the 128Gb version), and given the quality and real-estate of the iPad pro’s screen, this potentially allows a full ‘iPad only’ workflow, from RAW to finished jpeg, while also providing a backup for the raw files.

    This is exciting news for sure. Unfortunately for my GX8 RAW files, the Photoshop just reports an error on trying to open them. 

    — Have you signed up for the mailing list?

    I emailed the author of Photosinfopro to ask about iPad Pro support and he replied that the app is dead so probably is better to don’t buy it anymore (it is already crashing very often on my iPad pro).

    Photosmith too is dead… do you have any suggestion for an app to keyword, edit iptc with batch and copy/paste feature?

    Filterstorm Pro Neue is stated to have these exact features..

    Although I can see the utility of using my iPad or an iPad Pro in the field for previews and presentation, I don’t see the the disappearance of laptops and desktops for pro work anytime soon. I’m quite happy with my MacBookPro Retina with plenty of speed and storage and an excellent display in the field, and my cylinder Mac Pro with large 10 bit display in my studio with multitudes of easy software and backup options. Still using Aperture 3.6. But Capture One Pro is in my future. Need a good DAM not tied to the cloud. Certainly open to what comes in NEF to TIF RAW workflow on the iPad, and like the stylus possibilities, but it sounds as if it will be a while before it replaces my current laptop/desktop/OSX  setup for production requirements.


    JimW - I agree.  I don’t see my iPad Air 2 (or an iPad Pro) replacing either my desktop or laptop for photo processing.  The screen is too small and the workflow too inefficient.  In addition, I prefer the use of a mouse.  And there’s the big issue of lack of screen calibration on a tablet.  I do like the tablet for previewing and viewing and I can use it for transferring my RAW images from my SD cards to a portable HDD (using a wireless filehub) when I don’t care to take my laptop when travelling.

    Dave S.

    Hi Joseph - iOS can handle RAW now. Time to update this great post?

    Agreed! with awesome apps like Snapseed providing stellar RAW decoding on iPad and iPhones and many other great apps gaining RAW editing capabilities, it is time to revisit RAW iOS workflow for editing.

    Has the process been improved? Are there any new technologies out there that could allow photographers to store their RAW Photos on an external drive and use them offline on iPad to edit and then backup to said drive without relying at all on cloud? These questions and more await!

    Also, @Joseph, what are your feelings about the iPad Pro 1 year and 4 months in.


    You can change many of the features by using different editing software but if you are editing any photograph you should learn this before applying any edit. For your ease essaytigers has launched many new services that can help you in editing pictures.

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