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So, I'm considering getting a new phone - the Galaxy S6 - but, even though Android Lollipop supports it, this phone does not have the ability to shoot in camera RAW.

My question boils down to this: is this a hardware or software limitation? My first inclination is that would be a software limitation in the camera "driver". However, it occurs to me that phone manufacturers might be using hardware to process images straight to jpg within the camera chip. Does this sound plausible?

...a followup question is: if it is a SW limitation, would I be able to get an app that shot camera raw? I don't see those in the app store.

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    Nokia's Lumia 1020 and 1520 got the ability to shoot raw in a firmware update, so in general it's possible, possibly if the manufacturer makes certain decisions. No idea about Android, though. – Joey Apr 18 '15 at 10:12
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While Google created an API in Android Lollipop that exposes RAW images from the camera, Android leaves it up the each phone manufacturer as to whether they will make the camera RAW available to the user. Therefore, to gain access to RAW images, you need the phone manufacturer to enable it, and software to take advantage of it. And yes, it is possible for a phone manufacturer to enable this via a software update, since it is part of the Android Lollipop build.

For software, Camera FV-5, an Android Lollipop app, captures photos in Adobe RAW (DNG) format. This is taking advantage of the RAW support that is available in Android Lollipop.

AS mentioned, just having Lollipop and Camera FV-5 isn't enough either, your camera manufacturer must also make this API available as well. At the moment, only the Nexus 5 and Nexus 6 make the API available, as does the OnePlus One. More info You likely do not see Camera FV-5 in the Play store because it is not compatible with your phone model.

The OnePlus One, being an Android-based Cyanogen OS phone, does not require the Camera FV-5 app, as RAW is enabled out of the box.

  • The OnePlus One does not go through an API specific to Android Lollipop as RAW images are available on KitKat. – Reinstate Monica - ζ-- Apr 17 '15 at 23:03
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That depends almost entirely on the hardware.

Android has had raw support in the software since Eclair (2.0, API level 5), but it was always left to a manufacturer-specific format if the hardware could provide anything that could be called raw. Most of the mobile chipsets in circulation run the camera entirely in silicon and burp out JPEGs, and that's been the common denominator.

The new camera2 API (added in 5.1, API level 22) has support for acquiring raw data, as did the old Camera class it replaces. It adds standard-format metadata about what's in the image that can be passed along to DngCreator (added in 5.0, API level 21) to create a DNG. It may take another generation or two for the silicon to catch up to that reality, but it will happen because there's demand for better camera output.

FWIW, the camera output on the S3, S4 and S5 has all been awfully good, even as JPEGs. If the S6 doesn't support raw in Lollipop, I'd wait to upgrade unless there's some other must-have feature.

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I'm skeptical about the other answer which claims most camera modules spit out JPEGs; if that's true then how does video work, do they offload the video encoding to the tiny camera microcontroller as well ? If that's true then it has to be a very powerful microcontroller...

I'd say this is pure software, and given enough time and root access to the phone you should be able to get raw data from the sensor. But there's quite a big gap between raw data and a file you can open in Photoshop.

Every time a new camera comes out, photography software has to be updated to support it because each camera's "RAW" is different because they use a different sensor which spits out different raw data, and the software has to account for that. So even if you get out the raw data from your phone's sensor, you still need software to interpret it, and that'll be unique to each phone model, and until there is enough demand for Lightroom or Photoshop to support each phone's RAW format, you're out of luck. However, if you have the time and knowledge, you could maybe create software that converts the RAW sensor data into something like a DNG file, which would then be editable in PS or LR.

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    I'm sorry, but you're guessing and you're wrong. – Blrfl Apr 18 '15 at 10:58

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