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News & Insight

How Apple Views Photography | Here’s What’s Coming & It’s More Than Just Raw Capture

By Kishore Sawh on September 7th 2016

Originally posted in June

For the principal portion of the past century there were few types of cameras you’d own. If you were an enthusiast you’d have an SLR and if you were a working pro you’d have a better SLR. If it was just photos of the kids and family beagle you’d have a little point and shoot – film for which was bought and developed at your local pharmacy. Of course, this is a monumental oversimplification, but such was the spread of the market due to the relative constraints of the analogue camera.

However, that was then and this is now and the world is a wildly different place; digital cameras are progressing at a speed the users and software makers can’t keep up with. We went from the F6 to the A7 in what seems like a breath, and the SLR in both its digital and mechanical varieties is being eclipsed at a ridiculous rate. But the biggest shift, the tectonic drift, has been the proliferation of the smartphone.

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Perhaps it was down to convenience, and the realization that most people don’t want to work hard for their photos, but Apple shifted how the world views and consumes photography. It’s truly incredible how, when a good idea comes around, just how rapidly everything moves with little to no transition period. It’s as if one day you had a camera bag, and the next you didn’t, because the camera was in your pocket. Or on the bridge of your nose. Or your wrist.

Oh about a year ago now Mayflower Concepts put out a graph charting the sale of cameras from 1947 to 2014 broken into analogue, DSLRs, compact digital, and mirrorless. What it showed was hardly revelatory to those who were paying attention because the writing was on the wall, but it certainly showed the market in black and white. Camera sales had significant growth up to 2010, at which point, they decided to stop; there’s been double-digit shrinkage annually since.

This decline is not a function of a poor sector – it’s due to smartphones, and Apple iPhones in particular. In that same year, 2014, iPhones were the second most popular camera brand on Flickr.

Apple has dictated the landscape of photography by numbers for years, and not simply because their products have been the most commercially marketable and, well, good, but because they’ve integrated and developed within a media ecosystem – the oxygen of which is ‘imagery’ and the currency is ‘social’. Arguably, however, Apple has taken photography seriously, while pushing serious photography behind.

Not anymore.

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It was widely reported near two weeks ago that Apple was introducing raw (RAW) capture to their newest and youngest-born devices: The iPhone 6S and iPad Pro 9inch. But that’s all anyone really said, whereas the whole picture is quite a bit more interesting.

If you went in to watch the painfully geeky developer keynotes-and I did-you got an inside look at what Apple really thinks of photography, and where it’s going with it. And what it showed was that Apple is bringing serious photography into their crosshairs, and deep into their antiseptic and hermetically sealed labs.

Raw is now a big focus for the Apple photo boffins, who, oddly enough, keep telling their developer-base to think of raw in terms of baking. It’s actually quite a good analogy, given that raw data is like ingredients, and having different applications assemble them will yield varying results, as would happen if a recipe was given to different chefs (it’s why your raw files will look different in Capture One than in Lightroom).

Anyway, the iDevices will get raw capture through the rear camera only, but it’s quite developed. You can even bracket in raw, and shoot raw+JPEG together. That’s all well and good but more importantly is what you’ll also get for the first time is real raw storage and display. Previously, your devices could store raw files, but you couldn’t do anything with them. If you selected it, the raw you thought you’d be opening would actually be a disappointing JPEG preview, and that’s like opening a box of chocolates to find a granola bar instead. Now though, they’re opening up raw edits along with raw capture.

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Apple has adopted the losslessly compressed DNG (Digital Negative) format which should make many happy, and they’ve even given a lot of thought to color spaces. The new iPad Pro 9.7 has a display that matches the 4 and 5k iMac displays, and it’s clear from the developer’s talks that from now on there will be a big push for wide gamut displays all round. Apple even goes so far as to stress its importance to developers by highlighting that 40% of NFL jersey colors are outside the RGB gamut. Oddly, however, they didn’t go with aRGB or another we’re familiar with, but instead with a newer one called Display P3 – similar to DCI P3, but differs in gamma and white point.

Beyond that, the new Apple Core Image supports over 400 camera models from 16 companies already. Make no mistake, this is huge. Apple has previously made life difficult for those of us who wanted to use varying file types of imagery, music, or whatever, because the support wasn’t there – You get more choice of utility in an Afghan prison. Clearly, that’s changing; Getting into wide color spaces, opening up raw capture, raw display, and raw manipulation means a new world of options for photography application developers. We may very well begin to see Adobe start to make Lightroom and Photoshop mobile truly powerful, and capable of hands-off; Editing on the run, in the air, on-location in a field may soon be without compromise.

Of course it also means, we might, just might be able to finally get proper raw tethering into an iPad. Just the sound of that is like having a string of honey pulled through my ears, and too wonderful for words. But I have a few more…

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Apple, is perhaps the most influential photographic company on the planet. You may scoff at that, but the same way great speaking is not about content alone, but about timing and tone, and the ability to capitalize on moments of audience appreciation, great cameras, the ones that change things, are more than just about executing a technically impeccable image. Today it’s about working within a system, and what we’re seeing here is Apple rounding out their ecosystem so everyone from the novice to the pro can play and work within it. Interesting though, that they shouldn’t have mentioned this in the primary keynote everyone sees. But, I guess, they don’t need nor want to. That’s sort of Apple’s signature dish, isn’t it? Hiding mountains of complication under a thin veneer of simplicity.

Apple has, when they’ve wanted to, truly shifted the geography of our field. The iPhone 4 was a breakthrough device for mobile photography, forever tipping the scale towards mobile. Going from the iPhone 3 to the iPhone 4 happened in what seemed like one fell swoop, but was such a leap it was like Wilbur and Orville landing the Wright Flyer after 120 feet and saying, ‘Right. That was good. Now let’s build a Triple7.’ Given the changes Apple is implementing now and what they are educating their developers on, we could be on the cusp on another great shift, because when Apple focuses on something, the rest of the world tends to as well. Ready?

Sources: Apple, Mirrorless Rumors, Apple Support

About

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Ralph Hightower

    Okay, I’m a dinosaur. I started photography using film in 1980 with my Canon A-1, which I still use today. In 2013, I added a used Canon New F-1 (July) and 5D Mk III (December).

    I often forget that I have a camera in my pocket, an Android smartphone. I find photography with a smartphone frustrating with its hunt-and-seek focus. I can focus quicker with my manual focus A-1 or F-1.

    I took my 5D to a company technology conference to take some photographs; the seating was banquet style. My 24-105 f4L couldn’t focus on the stage because of the people between me and the stage. I switched the lens from AF to MF and focused manually for the photos; problem solved.

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  2. Rainy Day Magazine

    To those who says “raw” is unnecessary for iPhone photographers who posts on Instagram, FB, and such… you might be right. However, who is to say those same folks, their kids, or others further down the line would not want to go back to some of those images and “do something else” with them?

    Kind of like folks who used Kodachrome 25 slide films to shoot birthday parties… and 30/40 years later blew up one of those to be a wall-size poster for a b’day party! The image was so good that one could almost see the reflection of the candle in the eye :-)

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  3. Stephen Jennings

    So.. does this also mean that Apple will get rid of their utterly stupid storage methods? Shooting in RAW is meaningless if you can’t pack the file with lossless data.. and you can’t store but a few good quality raw photos on an Apple device. I have a stack of 32, 64, 128 gig SD and CF cards.. my iPhone is stuck with 16g .. because Apple is a bitch like that. My iMac? Can’t even upgrade the internal drive.. No .. Apple won’t go too far with photography in any real sense. They can make photos look pretty on little screens, but they won’t have the resolving power or frankly the file types to bring about large print worthy photos. And it’s so easy to forget thesedays .. printing photos is what our gear is really intended for.. not Facebook or Instagram.

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  4. Juan Hobenaro

    For anyone used to processing photos in RAW format, this is great news, but most iPhone users, a) are happy enough with the original photo that, b) they won’t bother with software that can benefit from the RAW format.
    Myself, I think it’s great having photos from an iOS device in RAW format, but not to be used for editing on the iOS devices.
    File handling on the iPads/iPhones is so cumbersome, the only benefit of RAW format photos to me would be being able to import them somehow through iTunes and edit them on a Mac.
    Even the 3rd party programs I’ve found for transferring files from an iOS device lack the ease of how a Mac would do it natively.

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    • Richard Earney

      I think iTunes is overloaded enough. The solution is presumably Photos and iCloud Drive, since that is the way it is done now.

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  5. Claire Jones

    I’m not sure we can be so sweeping in our assessment of the audience for this – we’re doing both their intelligence and curiosity a disservice. History tells us that the prejudiced master craftsman usually ends ups on the wrong side of progress… Illuminated writing anyone?

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  6. Dave Haynie

    It’s good that Apple’s improving their photography. The smartphone is basically the Instamatic of the 21rst century, and so better photos on these may actually help move phone shooters to real cameras over time. No one spends more on a hobby or passtime they’re failing at.

    I’m on my second LG smartphone, the V10, and they’ve suported raw shooting since Google added it a few years ago. But it’s not just the raw shooting option, but the microSD card and replaceable battery are also keys to using a phone effectively as a camera. And, of course, a decent camera module.

    No replacement for a real camera, but these phones today are as good as moderate P&S cameras as “the one I have.”

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    • Njoi Fontes

      Exactly. I don’t understand why many photography sites keep praising apple for something like this when there have been many phones that have supported raw files for many years. We should instead praise LG, Samsung and Microsoft (previously Nokia) for having provided this option for a while, together with expandable storage and much better stock camera software that enables pro control of iso, shutter speed, manual focus, etc.

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    • Richard Earney

      There is the Lightning to USB (and therefore SD) adaptor. Who’s to say it won’t be writable on the next gen of iPhones?

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  7. Mark Romine

    Interesting read.

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  8. Jeff Durand

    I actually wish the Apple Camera on the iPhone would go away. I get and appreciate its portability, its usefulness to soccer mom’s and dad’s who want a quick pick, but to edit RAW on a phone or iPad seems silly. It’s annoying at concerts, and even more annoying watching people shoot portrait mode video.

    Everyone is entitled to be artistic and creative in their own way, but the general populace doesn’t need RAW processing on a phone or tablet. Just because something can be done, doesn’t mean it should be done.

    I believe in people’s talents and expertise, therefore if I need plumbing work done, I call a plumber who has trained and become an expert at their craft. I don’t trust a stay at home parent who has suddenly taken up plumbing because they can watch how-tos on their phone. The same applies to RAW processing.

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    • Rainy Day Magazine

      “…I don’t trust a stay at home parent who has suddenly taken up plumbing…”

      Probably a good thing then that Apple can afford to hire engineers who can code AND understand photography… it is not like it’s rocket science.

      BTW…some used to think that the “general populace” doesn’t even need computers.

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    • Chris Pfohl

      Who says you have to edit on the phone. I have PS on my iMac and edit there

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  9. Alex Petrenko

    … The same relates to tethering. If you really need a tablet for tethering – you have it – any MS Surface will work.

    The way for Apple to win (me as a customer) here – is to make RAW processing fast.

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  10. Martin Kozák

    iPhone and cell phones in general popularized photography and brought it to the wide audience. But this audience has no deeper knowledge about photography including RAW files. Most often they just apply some filter and publish it on the Instagram/Facebook. And you don’t need RAW for this, actually RAW is contraproductive here (more data, slower processing).

    There will definitely be some people who appreciate RAW camera output, but not enough to really change something. Some Android phones have RAW camera output for years without any significant impact.

    And if you need to process external RAW files (from DSLR etc.), there already exist several iOS applications which can truly proces RAW files. So if you wanted to, you could work with RAWs for many years. These apps are usually expensive and somehow cumbersome and Apple can probably make it more user friendly, this is the only advantage I can see.

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