Apple ProRAW Photos Will Be 12-Bit DNGs with 14-Stops of Dynamic Range

Yesterday, the developer beta for iOS 14.3 – which contains the upcoming ProRAW photo feature – became available. Though the exact date of the consumer beta or final release of the software has yet to be announced, we now know some facts about how ProRAW will work.

In an interview last week with Apple, we already gleaned a lot of information about the advantages of the coming file type. The company created a new imaging pipeline that combines computational photography techniques with the power of RAW files, allowing photographers for the first time to gain access to both features simultaneously. You can read that story here.

What was unknown at the time was how the process of capturing a ProRAW would work, what kind of RAW we would see produced, and what options photographers would have with the file.

We now know that a ProRAW file will be a 12-bit RAW DNG with 14-stops of dynamic range. That file will give you access to the standard options like white balance, tone mapping, exposure, and black point, but Apple will also be providing more information inside the RAW file that includes tone mapping and pigmentation maps for skin and skies.

The file will be written to the DNG, or digital negative, file format. The native Photos app as well as certain third-party apps – like Darkroom – will be able to gain full access to a wealth of digital image data right off the bat. Programs like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop as well as Capture One will also be able to read the file, but those initial renderings will improve once those companies update their profiles to include the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max.

You will be able to enable ProRAW by toggling a switch in the Settings app, after which the Camera app will have a button that can be tapped to turn the feature on and off. If you take a ProRAW photo and view it in the Photos app, you’ll see a “RAW” badge on it just like you already do for an HDR image or Live Photo.

However, what you will be seeing is the rendered photo, not the raw itself. This means the phone essentially is capturing in JPEG and RAW automatically. If you choose to edit the image you’ll then be shown the RAW image which you can save non-destructively.

You can also choose to export the DNG into an editing app on your phone or to your computer for editing in any program that is compatible with DNGs.

Only the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max will have access to ProRAW, which leaves the standard iPhone 12 and the 12 Mini out. That said, any camera on either of those models will be able to capture images in ProRAW, including the front-facing camera.

As far as how much to expect from those 14-stops of dynamic range when it comes to real-world photography is yet to be seen. PetaPixel is intending on performing a full review of the new RAW format when it becomes available.