The Future of the iPhone Camera: How the New iPhone May Forever Change the Way We Think About Pro Photography


As Apple’s WWDC kicks off this week, my thoughts keep coming back to the heated debate with my friends about the future of photography.

Let me step back for a second. Marissa Mayer famously said a few weeks ago that there’s no such thing as professional photographer anymore. The Internet rage followed, and she apologized, saying that what she meant is that we all take photos now. And it’s true. Nothing has revolutionized photography and made it truly global as Apple’s iPhone.

I think that hundreds of millions of consumers have been fooled by Apple. They entered (or websites) stores to get a phone, but what they got instead was a decent camera that is always with them.

It’s hard to look back to 2007 and see the first iPhone with its mediocre — compared to more advanced competition at the time — 2 megapixel camera and see the future.

But the thought that I keep coming back to takes the same approach — what if we look at iPhone 5 with its marvelous camera and see where we will be in 5 years from now?

Interestingly enough, I’m almost sure that professional photographers take more iPhone photos than they do with a professional DSLRs and such. I do, for one.

Carrying around 15 kilos (that’s 33 pounds for those on the imperial system) of equipment is not fun, especially if it’s a regular day and you are just walking around your city. But the one single feature that is missing from iPhone 5 that could truly break the market and create chaos is a RAW support.

Simply put, JPGs from iPhone are fine. You can put an Instagram filter on it, losing all the quality in the process, or you can take expensive DSLR and shoot in RAW format and get all the details, colors and preserve the quality while editing. It’s the holy grail of professional photography.


So why doesn’t the iPhone have RAW support? For one, there’s Apple’s famous closed ecosystem, where the company prefers to control all the aspects of hardware and software to deliver the best experience. However, we are seeing the hints that Apple might be opening up, giving more access for interoperability within apps, and it might happen as soon as WWDC starts.

The second point is that RAW required a lot more storage capacity, usually around 10x as much. So instead of approximately 5,000 shots, on the 16GB iPhone 5 you can only store 500. Not good. But with cloud storage, cheaper memory (and thus, the rumored, and inevitable, 128GB iPhone), it should be sufficient for professional photographers.

The third point, which probably made RAW support simply impossible before, is the CPU power. Processing RAW files is not a breeze even on iPad 3-or-whatever-the-current-number-is, so it’s definitely not consumer-ready (but I would argue that it’s pro-ready, since professionals would be willing to sacrifice time or battery life for that).

So why is it a big deal? Heavy DSLRs forced professional photographers seek alternative options — cameras that offer large sensors in small bodies and also boast RAW support — such as Fuji X100s, Sony NEX-series cameras, Canon EOS M, and many many more. It’s a huge market as photographers realize that mobility and accessibility is crucial — that is, having a camera with you is more important than having a pro camera at home.


Having iPhone do all that would mean proliferation of mobile phones in the places we have never seen before — professional underwater photography, professional extreme sport photography, even professional landscape photography — all that could be done with a future iPhone.

That will mean faster innovation in the sector, lower prices and even more amazing accessories for future iPhones.

If Apple opens up APIs to access RAW data of its Camera app, we will also see thousands of developers creating innovative tools, empowering current future generations of photographers to be creative.

The iPhone’s camera has been through a great evolution over the years, but opening up RAW capabilities is what will spark a real photo revolution.

About the author: Evgeny Tchebotarev is the co-founder and COO of 500px. Photographer, designer, motorcycle rider. This article originally appeared here.

Image credit: iPhone iPhone iPhone by kowitz

  • Evgeny Tchebotarev

    There’s a new Nokia ‘EOS’ with bigger sensor on Windows about to be announced. We’ll see how it plays out.

  • Samik ‘Jonak’ Ghosh

    One of the stupidest articles I have read in a while. I am a professional wedding photographer and I do ‘only’ this to take care of all my expenses. I use a Nikon D4, D700 and with all pro glasses. I use my pro equipments only I’m on an assignment, else I use my iPhone for taking random photos. If you are a ‘photographer’ whose quality is judged on the number of likes he gets in facebook, then yes, only iPhone is for you! Then again, it will be only good for landscape photography.

  • Ralph Hightower

    With an iPhone, one is qualified to be a staff photographer for the Chicago Sun-Times

  • Genkakuzai

    Sadly it’s a Nokia, meaning the worst design out there and an awful UI, those the latter has been improved by letting others do it for them. I honestly don’t wanna buy an inferior phone just to get a better camera.

  • Bart van der Horst

    Hmm.. definitely not written by a professional photographer. It is not the megapixel that makes it professional. Three things that make a professional photographer professional, composing, playing with depth of field and light. Three elements that are way more difficult than it looks. (to do it really right)

  • Hynee

    … and direct control over ISO and shutter speed?
    On another note ProCamera have allowed shutter speeds of up to 1 sec in their latest update (a few months old now), if that goes away in any subsequent iOS versions I’ll be loathed to update.

  • kenyee

    While reading the article, I was thinking how non-technical the user was, then got to the end and found out it was by Evgeny from 500px who I thought I respected, but I’m not disappointed with :-P

    You can do RAW on Android phones. There’s no point in it on a smartphone’s crappy sensor/lens…

  • DannyDoi

    raw is useless on cameraphones, iphone didnt change anything in mobile photography and will not change in the future either , small size sensors and a lot of kids software dont make it a great cameraphone.

  • chandra

    That’s an opinion. Many would disagree with you. I’ve been seeing a trend of more pro photographers (in my personal acquaintance) switching to Samsung and HTC from iPhone in the past year or so. It will be interesting to see if the trend increases or declines.

  • wilmark johnatty

    As far as I know only a small minority of DSLR owners shoot in raw. For most uses esp web and online etc it wont make a difference. SO I doubt that raw is going to make any significant difference on a phone. If you raw is important you going to find a way to lug around that DSLR. If thats the first thing you look for – then thats your quirk.

  • radu

    This is just stupi*d for 2 reasons: 1) iphone camera doesn’t the best 2) a client doesn’t pay you for coming at his biggest event in his life to shoot with a phone.

  • Paul Couvrette

    Funniest thing I have read all week..mind you, it`s only Tuesday.

  • Jonas Andersen

    Raw support would be nice, but to be honest I would much rather see full manual control of shutter speed and light sensitivity

  • Photog

    Well you just gave one reason of why phones will never replace professional equipment.

    Talking about lenses, you can’t simply change some things because of physics, and photographers don’t make a lens purchase because of it’s size, they buy it because of the specific look and functionality that a specific lens gives, and if a certain lens needs to be of a specific form factor in order to provide what it’s needed, then that’s how the lens it’s going to be, and until you can change that professional isn’t going anywhere.

    Just as you can’t have a master lens that can do everything on any situation and fit into a normal sized bag, you can’t expect that a pocket sized camera with fixed lens included will suddenly change everything as we know it, sure it will have its uses, but certain things are the way they are because that’s the most ideal way for them to be already.

  • TomCrown

    These articles about winners and losers and what will replace what are all moot, use the right tool for the right job. They all have their place in the right situation used by a skilled and knowledgeable photographer.

  • Rabi Abonour

    Plenty of professional photographers shoot JPG. And even for those of us who shoot RAW, RAW support is simply not the missing feature keeping iPhones from replacing DSLRs.

  • Pedro

    Yes of course, Apple invented the camera phone in 2007. I must have been dreaming about the Nokia camera phone my colleague showed me in 2003.

  • itwasmyidea

    They should make a model that’s a just a camera and not a phone for those who don’t want to pay the heavy monthly bills…….

  • Magali

    Pretty sure you can just use a dummy sim or something?

  • Magali

    Apple invented the usable camera phone & in essence mobile photography!

  • EksDieBester

    Compared to your DSLR photos they suck! They lack focus, detail and control. It will take a LONG time for phones to be on the same level. You’re clearly an iPhone fanboy, I can’t blame you, it’s a decent phone. Try and look beyond your fondness towards the phone and the “easyness” in taking photos with it. It’s a phone, perfect for family and holiday photos. I would say it has replaced Point and Shoot cameras, but certainly not DSLRs.

  • M

    “For one, there’s Apple’s famous closed ecosystem, where the company
    prefers to control all the aspects of hardware and software TO DELIVER THE BEST EXPERIENCE” – hahaha, yeah, this is why they do that XD

  • Anal Fungis Acid

    No they don’t pre-process raw, the only thing pre-processed is the image review on the camera with the Canon color profile preset applied, otherwise it is completely RAW info when imported into lightroom