Camera Raw on the iPad Is All About Flexibility

Use your Apple Pencil, switch to your Mac, or pair with another program

Key Takeaways

  • Photoshop for iPad will soon open and work with raw camera files.
  • Edits will sync back to your desktop Photoshop.
  • Use Photoshop, or Lightroom, or both—it’s up to you.
Person using iPad Pro and Apple Pencil with Photoshop

Unsplash

Adobe's Camera Raw is coming to the iPad version of Photoshop, but how useful is it when we already have Lightroom?

Camera Raw is Adobe's interpreter for raw camera files. These files are not pictures, but just a dump of the raw data from the camera's sensor, which needs to be decoded and turned into an image before you can even view it (cameras create a small JPG thumbnail to show on their screens). Adobe uses the same raw engine inside Photoshop, Lightroom, and its desktop Camera Raw app, and soon it'll be on the iPad, too. But given that we already have Lightroom, what's the point?

"iPad is not going to replace the Mac's (or PC's) role in the photography post-processing workflow. This is true for most pro photographers that I know, including myself. That said, iPad does a great job when shooting outdoors," professional photographer Mario Pérez told Lifewire via email. 

RAW Workflow

When in the field (or the studio), most photographers need just one thing when it comes to computers and software—a way to quickly and safely transfer, store, and view their images on the go. The iPad is an ideal tool for this, with its excellent screen, rugged and slimline body, and (on iPad Pro models) fast USB-3 transfer speeds. 

And if you’re in the Adobe system, then Lightroom is just perfect. It’s lightning fast, it lets you quickly organize images into albums, it renders raw images, and it syncs with the desktop version of Lightroom so any edits you make are carried over. 

Photoshop, on the other hand, is not built for bulk imports, or for cataloging. It works with an image at a time, and although your edits sync back to your Mac or PC via Adobe’s Creative Cloud, it’s hardly an efficient tool for fieldwork. Photoshop is amazing at careful, detailed manipulation, and it’s great at that. 

"Personally, I use Adobe Lightroom for importing all of my RAW files and developing them. It has an iPad version that has worked awesome for years for developing RAW files...and you can open what you develop in Photoshop," wrote photographer Friedmud on a Mac Rumors forum thread

In the Field

The beauty of Adobe's Creative Cloud system, though, is that it ties all your apps together. A photographer doesn't need to choose between Photoshop and Lightroom. They can use both, and in fact, some of Adobe's mobile subscriptions include both.

Thus equipped, the working photographer can dump everything into Lightroom, but they can work directly from the raw files if they need to do a quick Photoshop edit.

"There are some situations where it's just handy to be able to post-process and export on the go. Bringing Adobe Camera Raw into the iPad will definitely improve that experience," says Perez. 

Photoshop on iPad

Adobe

This setup has another advantage. You can send the raw file directly to Photoshop instead of exporting a TIFF first. TIFFs are enormous compared to RAW files, up to several times the size in megabytes, and that's a concern on a storage-constrained device.

But What About Non-Pros?

Oddly enough, while this sounds like a pro-only feature, it's actually pretty good for the rest of us. Photography enthusiasts and hobbyists rarely generate the sheer volume of images that a pro has to manage. We may come up with only one or two keepers from a day's shooting if we're lucky, and if we want to get tweaking right away, then Photoshop now will have our backs.

It's reasonable to say that if you're not already a Lightroom user—perhaps you use the built-in Photos app—then you could get away with just using Photoshop now. 

A helpful way to think about Adobe's software is that it's now a set of distributed tools with a shared library of images. You can totally stick to one app with a locally stored library if you like. Or you can spread your work out across as many apps as you want.

And anyhow, why not have Camera Raw in mobile Photoshop?

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