If you have a DSLR or mirrorless camera, you may want to start using RAW images instead of JPEG files. Here’s what you need to know about using the higher quality images in Photos on macOS.
As Apple continues to expand the photographic capabilities of its iPhone line and introduce features like ProRAW in the iPhone 12 Pro, many people still use separate cameras for taking photos. While an iPhone can offer decent quality photos and is pretty much always within reach, using a camera could offer alternative shooting choices, as well as some that an iPhone does. just can not match.
For example, an iPhone’s camera may not provide the zoom level a user needs for telephoto shooting, or they may not quite be able to handle a specific macro shot.
Some photographers who use DSLRs, mirrorless cameras, and bridge cameras are also making the leap into taking RAW images alongside JPEG. Usually done with the expectation that additional retouching will be made to a photo before it’s finished and seen by the audience, RAW shooting has the potential to elevate an image further in post-production than a JPEG.
The Photos app in macOS is capable of handling these RAW images. Here’s how to get started managing and editing photographs in the Organizer and Editing Tool.
What is the difference between RAW and JPEG?
When a camera captures a photo, it needs to take light data from the sensor, somehow process it and create a file. Depending on the camera configuration, the processing and the resulting file can be of two general types.
A RAW image consists largely of sensor data with minimal adjustments, as well as an assortment of metadata relating to camera settings, time, preview and thumbnail, and other elements. The file preserves as much data as possible intact, which results in a typically large image file.
A JPEG uses the same data as a RAW image, but undergoes post-processing on the device to interpret the data into what might be considered a final usable image. The final JPEG is typically several times smaller than the RAW equivalent and is easily acceptable for posting, online posting, or use in apps.
The RAW file must undergo some form of post-processing before it can be considered finished. Typically, this involves opening it in an image editing program and then exporting the file as a JPEG, at the bare minimum.
It is in this post-processing phase that the benefits of RAW are evident, as there is simply more data to adjust than a fully baked JPEG. You have greater dynamic range, more control over camera settings, and the ability to adjust the color space, which can lead to a better result.
A RAW image can be lossless, preserving the image much better than a lossy, compressed JPEG. This is also data that would otherwise be lost while converting RAW to JPEG.
Simply put, you can do a lot more with an edited RAW image than with a JPEG, and therefore potentially better results.
Apple’s ProRAW is not covered in this article. As an image type only offered on iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max, it is not compatible with other camera systems.
For reference, ProRAW efficiently combines RAW image data and Apple’s computer photography processing into a single file. While this gives users some of the benefits of on-device JPEG-style processing, it also preserves all RAW image data to improve future image edits. We’ll discuss the integration of RAW and ProRAW workflows at a later date.
Managing RAW files
The process of switching to RAW begins with setting your camera to take photos using the. This will vary from camera to camera, and many will even offer the ability to take RAW and JPEG photos simultaneously.
Unless storage space is limited, it is advisable to use the option to take both types of images. This way you have a JPG backup if something happens to RAW, as well as a file that you can immediately share with others.
Other than that, RAW file can generally be processed the same as images in other file formats. This includes importing images from your camera’s memory card to macOS and into any photo management and editing software of your choice.
How to import RAW image files into Photos for macOS
- Open Pictures.
- To select Deposit so Import
- Go to folder containing the files you want to include.
- If it is a single file, select it then click Import.
- If there are multiple files, select the group or folder itself, then click Examine for import.
- In the Import view, select the images to keep, then click Import selection.
Remember that you can sort the folder in the directory view as Group by Application. This will usually separate files with the JPG extension from RAW images, which usually appear under the “MetaImage” list.
If you decide to import both the JPEG and RAW images of the same photo, Photos will treat both as one image and combine them. In such cases, it adds the “JPEG + RAW” label to the thumbnail to show which one is used.
If this label does not appear, you can display it by opening the View menu and then selecting Metadata, then making sure there is a check mark next to Save as type.
This labeling style will also appear throughout your image library wherever the two types of files for the same image are grouped together.
Switch from JPEG to RAW
By default, Photos prefers to display JPEG files to users rather than RAW files. Since this is a pre-baked and smaller file, it is easier to manage for the app, especially when viewing thumbnail pages.
When it comes time to edit the image, you’ll want to see the RAW, not the JPEG.
How to switch from JPEG to RAW in Photos on macOS
- Select the picture or picturesor double-click to display the view in full size.
- Click on Picture in the menu, then Use RAW as original.
- Alternately, right click selected images and select Use RAW as original.
The same process can be used to have photos use JPEG for the image, except that you select the renamed option Use JPEG as original.
The photos also tell you which of the two file types are displayed for an image by the label label. The most prominent file type is the one displayed.
In cases where the label says “JPEG + RAW”, the image you see is JPEG. Likewise, if the label reads “RAW + JPEG”, it is the RAW image.
When you’re done editing an image in Photos, you’ll want to export them for viewing. Depending on the reasons you extracted the image from Photos, you may need to do different things.
If you want to export the edited image, you can follow the usual export process. To do this, select File from the menu, then Export, then Export 1 photo.
By taking this route, you will display options to produce the edited image in different sizes, file formats, quality, and other options.
You can also export a JPEG with the default settings by simply dragging an image from Photos to the macOS desktop.
However, neither of the two routes will allow you to export the original RAW image, only the versions with the changes built in.
You can export the RAW file by selecting File then Export from the menu, then selecting Export Unmodified Original. This will bring up another window with customizations for the filename, subfolder format, and an additional option.
“Export IPTC as XMP” is an option that will export two files: the original image and a second as XMP. This second file contains metadata that may have been added to the file since its inclusion in Photos, such as the addition of location data and keywords.
Since Photos is a non-destructive editor, using two files allows users to keep that added metadata, without affecting the original file at all.
If you import the exported RAW file into another editing program compatible with this second file, the metadata will be ingested and added to its recordings for the photo. Indeed, the metadata is preserved.