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I usually shoot using my Canon DSLR in RAW and edit in Lightroom. Last week I got an iPhone 11 Pro and have been very impressed with the shots that came out of the iOS Camera app.

From what I understand there's a lot of post processing happening (e.g. selecting sharpest frame, Smart HDR, noise reduction, etc) when using the iOS Camera app and it doesn't save the pics in RAW. Shooting using the Lightroom app would save in RAW but it wouldn't use all post processing capabilities and it will take some editing for most pics to look as good as the ones that come out of the iOS Camera app.

Will there be a lot of details lost using the iOS Camera app and not shooting RAW? And what other advantages does Lightroom have over the iOS Camera app and vice versa?

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    Isn't this just RAW vs JPEG in a different guise? – xiota Sep 24 '20 at 21:38
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This question remains unanswered, albeit 7 months have past. However, with nearly 300 views, the question clearly intrigues, and triggers a general principle of thought on digital image files... how they might be shot, processed and saved.

The right answer for the situation above, as well as the parallels that anyone reading now or in the future may have, whether using an Android phone and choosing between Lightroom or an embedded Samsung or Android app, or shooting a DSLR and choosing between RAW or JPEG or a proprietary camera file format... all these different situations can be resolved by asking the same question. And that question is this:

What will the image be used for?

Corollary questions that expand on this query include: How soon is the image needed? With whom will it be shared? On what medium shall it be seen? Does the file really need to be RAW if the largest canvas it will ever be shared on is an online screen?

When I shot professionally, there was neither the time nor the bandwidth availeble to transmit RAW files. I was given a maximum file size that would be acceptable, and on my (now ancient) DSLRs, that worked out to be a SMALL jpeg. And those images went in periodicals, magazines, and online. They were good enough to make 8x10 prints, but few did. We consume imagery in the same medium that we produce it. Digitally. More often than not on phones and tablets.

So if the gorgeous files emerging out of your iPhone 11 Pro, as processed by the software company who also designed the hardware, are impressing you, then quite likely they will impress whoever you end up sending those files to.

And isn't it nice to be able to send those files right away, instead of having to first spend time opening Lightroom and endure an editing session to massage the files to be as good as the iOS is doing for you automatically?

We had the same conundrum of choices with film. There was 8x10, 4x5, and various dimensions of medium format that all required film backs, bellows, tripods, patience, experience, skill, money, and TIME. Without a doubt, and with the right glass, these large chunks of film absolutely had "a lot of details" that were not resolvable on smaller film formats, based on how imagery was shared then... in prints lining dim hallways gathering dust.

No matter how much resolution a 4x5 could deliver, it was useless for capturing a touch down catch, or a gymnast's Gienger off of the uneven bars, or an equestrian's jump over a double fence, or the impromptu kiss from the wife of the winner of a motorsport race. And how would even a medium format camera keep up with capturing a shot of each driver in such a race, while racing? We don't know who is going to win at the beginning of the race, but there had better be a file ready on the driver that did win, and right now!

The desire for images that captured life as it happened, not set up and posed, pushed the film industry to smaller, faster, and more convenient formats. 35mm, 110mm, Advantix. Processing from rewind to print in hand took less than an hour. Slides had plenty of resolution for telling the story. And that is what our images do... tell a story... in the instant of taking in that one single frame.

So what matters more? The utmost resolution at all costs, including the cost of the image not even being relevant by the time you have a chance to get it into Lightroom, then create a sharable file from the Lightroom instruction set your edits imposed, yada yada...

Or upload the image instantly to your online stream. SMS it to your significant others, as you are living the moment, sharing the moment, and now ready to experience the next moment, without trudging through the raw data of moments gone by.

I want to really emphasize the fact that much of the professional photography that we consume on a daily basis is most certainly not shot in the highest possible file size. The media wants raw moments, not raw files.

If you've got a good thing going on with that (future hypothetical) iPhone 12 Pro MegaMax , or that Samsung Super Galaxy Note 100, and these devices have within their power an integrated and symbiotic way of capturing and processing imagery that you find impressive straight out of the handset... why punish yourself with this mindset of "shooting RAW".

That is the mantra promoted by photoshop and lightroom teachers who make their living writing books teaching people how to muck around with raw captures. Time spend chained in front of a computer screen, rather than out there, capturing life.

Imagine how many impromptu vacation moments would never be captured, if one had to bring a large format camera, bellows and sticks everywhere they went. That is the physical metaphor of feeling as if one has to shoot in raw for the detail. Think first about the delivery. If the recipient device can't resolve any more than 2560x1440, all the detail in the world is still going to get compressed down to what the device can render up.

Viewers do not marvel at how much raw data we capture. They marvel when we capture the moment.

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Modern iPhones produce HEIF files, but aside from that, this question is just RAW vs JPEG in disguise.

The attraction of RAW is mostly one of potential. Potential to eke out a few fractions of a percent more "quality" from an image. Potential to reprocess images in the future using improved algorithms. Potential for heavy editing with high color depths.

If you regularly reprocess RAW images from a few decades ago, then RAW may be for you. I've only bothered to do so a handful of times, and the results usually weren't much better than JPEGs captured around the same period.

JPEG and HEIC files are instantly usable, and they're good enough 99.999% of the time. They're perfectly fine for light editing and adjustments. HEIC files may even be suitable for heavy editing if high bit-depth color is enabled. Plus there's all the computational magic you've already mentioned. Plus there are super-resolution algorithms that could be applied in the future for further image-quality improvements.

Against HEIC, the only thing RAW really has going for it is that it is pure, unadulterated sensor data. Except sometimes it isn't. Some devices use lossy compression. Others use pixel binning or other methods to create reduced-resolution "raws". RAWs are just time sinks for the obsessive-compulsives among us. For everyone else, the long-lived RAW-vs-JPEG debate will finally be won by HEIF.

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