Mobile photography – RAW or JPG?

Is it worth setting your smartphone camera to use RAW format, instead (or: alongside) of the standard JPG format?

I must say I am not sure. Aboveyou should be able to see three versions of the same photo. The first one is one produced with the automatic settings of my Huawei Mate 20 Pro. It is a f/1.8 photo coming from the main camera module, processed with various algorithms to create a “nice”, tonally rather balanced JPG with 2736 x 3648 pixels.

The second one is direct/non-edited conversion of the original RAW (imported into desktop Lightroom, then directly turned into JPG), with 5456 x 7280 pixels and plenty of information that is potentially valuable for editing, yet it is also bit too dark and the lens quality is frankly probably not quite worth all those pixels, to start with (the depth of field is narrow here, and most of the photo is soft, when you look it 1:1 in a large screen).

The third version is the RAW-based and Lightroom-edited photo, where I have just accepted some “auto” corrections that the software has available for beginners. This time, we can see many of the details again better, since Lightroom has tweaked the exposure and contrast settings and tonal curves. Yet, the change of white balance setting into the automatic “daylight” version has made the cold, Autumn morning photo to appear a bit too warm in colours to my mind.

This could be of course fixed in further, more nuanced and sensible Lightroom editing, but the point perhaps is that the out-of-camera JPG that Huawei is capable of producing is a rather nice compromise in itself. It is optimised for what the small, fixed lenses are capable of achieving, and the file size is good for sharing in social media – which is what most smartphone photos are used for, in any case. Artificial intelligence does it best to produce what a typical “Autumn Leaves” shot should look like. That might then again be something that you like – or not.

It is surely possible to achieve more striking and artistically ambitious (“non-typical”) outcomes when the original photo is taken in RAW, even when it is coming from a smartphone camera. But I would say that the RAW based workflow probably really makes sense when you are using a SLR style camera with a lens that is sharp enough for you to really go deep into the details, do some more ambitious cropping or tonal adjustments, for example.

Or, what do you think?

There are various articles online that you can also have a look on this, e.g.