7 Dec 2016

Photography Experiment: iPhone Dynamic Range With RAW and JPEG

People say that RAW files have more dynamic range than JPEGs, that you have more opportunities to edit or salvage a photo that wasn't shot with the right settings. But how much of a difference does it make in practice? To find out, I used my iPhone 7 Plus to take a JPEG:

And a RAW [1]:

In both cases, I exposed for the brightest part of the photo, the sunlight falling on the floor of the balcony, by tapping that area. I turned off HDR, so that we compare one exposure each, which is apples to apples.

They look similar, right?

Now, suppose I realised only after taking the photos that I want to capture the inside of the room as well. Can I fix it? To what extent can I edit each photo to show me the inside of the room?

To find out, I imported each photo into Lightroom and boosted the shadows as much as it goes. The JPEG falls apart:

See the huge splotches of black on either side. There's no information there that can be recovered. This is not even good enough to post on Twitter.

By contrast, here's the RAW:

Notice how much more information there is, and how much better and more natural it looks. I can post this on Twitter.

You can right-click each photo and open it in a new tab to see it full-size.

For fun, I then took an HDR JPEG, and similarly boosted shadows as much as it goes:

The HDR is similar to the RAW, which is impressive when you remember that the HDR has the advantage of a second exposure over the RAW.

See how much more flexible and powerful RAW is?

[1] JPEGs were captured using the builtin Camera app, and RAW, using ProCamera 10.

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