New for iPhone 12 Pro: ProRAW

Photos look more realistic and can do more

Have you ever looked at a photo snapped on a smartphone and said, “C’mon man, that just doesn’t look real?”

We’re talking computational photography, where software engineers have figured out ways to boost colors and make things more dreamlike by playing software tricks. Face it, we love this.

But what if we want something more realistic? And an image we can tweak to our hearts content?

That is what RAW photos are all about. Pros have been shooting RAW images on their DSLRs and mirrorless cameras for years. Unlike JPGs, which pop out of the camera ready to share, the RAW image has to be processed, in software like Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

Now Apple is offering RAW photos for users of the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max, and they’re worth checking out. The files are way bigger, at 25 megabytes a piece (compared to around a regular 3 MB) and have more latitude. If you take a shot that’s too dark, you can use the Lightroom or Apple’s Photos application to increase the exposure slider and make the photo usable.

You can tweak the white balance, clarity and so many other things.

TOP: JPG, straight out of the camera

Below: processed RAW file. Notice the more realistic colors?

Travel photographer Austin Mann, who is a master at shooting the night skies, has incredible examples on his website of astro-photography on the iPhone, shot in ProRAW. His back to back examples demonstrate how RAW can, for instance, show many more stars in the skies with long exposures than you would get with a typical JPG. (When you shoot in Night Mode, an automatic feature on recent iPhones, and are mounted to a tripod, you can get exposures as long as 30 seconds. )

Courtesy: Austin Mann

The bad news: ProRAW is only available on the 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max. But Apple has a tendency to debut new camera features on new phones, and then bring them to others the following year, like it did with Portrait mode, which is now standard on most iPhones.

Let me tell you what you need to do to start shooting in RAW.

First, you need to update to the latest version of iOS, 14.3. Then, on the phone, go to Settings and the Camera app. Click Formats and make sure Apple ProRAW is selected. Then, when you open the app at the top right of the screen, a RAW setting has to be selected. Then take your shot. (Quibble: you have to remember every time to have the RAW tab selected in the camera app, or it will default back to JPG.)

Remember that you can process them in Apple’s Photos program by clicking the EDIT button, or use Adobe’s free Lightroom Mobile app. The RAW files look pretty awful at first. You’ll really need to play with the sliders, and up the exposure, shadows and other tools. Have fun!

My results weren’t as dramatic as Mann’s. But they are clearly way more realistic than the normal, heavily processed iPhone JPG.

Let me know how you fare.

Good morning/Good Evening

We begin the week’s look back at some of my favorite photos with a 6:37 a.m. pre-sunrise shot from Manhattan Beach, looking south to Hermosa.

The amazing sunsets of the week before have come and gone. We’re back to basic, rather cloudless dark blues and oranges. But that’s okay! Here’s a shot from the Hermosa Beach Pier on Tuesday. Also shot on iPhone 12 Pro Max.

The other night I dashed up to Palos Verdes Estates, where, if you stand in exactly the right spot, you can look down at Redondo Beach with the downtown Los Angeles skyline behind her. It also helps to have a camera at your side, one with a really long lens. At 600mm on my Sony RX10IV, it compresses the image and brings the background closer, making DTLA seem closer than it actually is. In reality, DTLA is 21 miles from Redondo.

In just about two weeks the Manhattan Beach Roundhouse will go back to normal. No more magic Christmas Tree lighting up the waters. So let’s love it while we still have it!

A post shared by Jefferson Graham Photowalks (@jeffersongraham)

Song of the week

I’ve been a huge fan of Scott Joplin rags for years. The composer of “The Entertainer” and “Maple Leaf Rag,” penned “Weeping Willow,” in 1903 for the piano. I play it on solo fingerstyle guitar here.

Tweet of the week

Gift time

My consumer guides to buying cheap TVs, streaming sticks, iPhones, Samsung Galaxy phones and more posted on But a word of caution: many products are already sold out for Christmas, including the Apple HomePod Mini, Google Nest Audio and Amazon’s Echo Dot with Clock.

Speaking of shopping, I did a bunch of radio interviews this week about cheap gifts to buy that aren’t sold out, starting at $25. KGO’s Mark Thompson thought I was being a little silly when I named the Belkin 12 outlet surge protector as one of my favorites, but come on folks, what would you rather have: an ugly sweater or valuable extra real estate to plug in your new tech gear?

And that’s a wrap for this week’s newsletter. A reminder that my last column for USA TODAY runs on January 2. (You don’t want to miss it! It will be a multi-media extravaganza!)

If you haven’t heard, I’m stepping down as USA TODAY tech columnist in January after a long, multi-decade run, to focus on photography, blogging and Photowalks, my travel photography video series. We move to Amazon on 2/19 with 6 new half-hour episodes produced with Rugged Entertainment.

Please share the newsletter with your friends and urge them all to subscribe! And if you enjoyed today’s edition, let me know with a HEART click or a reply. Thanks for reading everyone, and enjoy that big holiday on Friday!