The iPhone 14 Pro's 48MP ProRAW Is Just Incredible

But it’s not for everyone

  • 48 Megapixel images rival 'real' camera quality and detail.
  • Huge ProRAW images eat iPhone storage space fast. 
  • Pro options, enabled in settings, are the right way to advance the iPhone.
A hand holding an iPhone with the focus on the cameras on the back of the phone.

Quinn Battick / Unsplash

If you snap a photo with your iPhone 14 Pro, it'll probably look pretty good. But if you switch on the disabled-by-default 48MP raw mode, then you're in for a huge surprise. 

The iPhone Pro has had the ProRAW format for a while now, and it has been a neat way for pro and enthusiast photographers to squeeze some extra quality and control out of their phone camera. But the iPhone 14 Pro's raw mode is on another level entirely. The level of detail is astounding but more important, you get this without all of Apple's enthusiastic image processing, which often turns photos into oil paintings. For the first time ever, you can totally get away without using a 'real' camera. 

"The ProRAW images are wonderful. And as the names suggest, it's mainly for professionals," professional photographer and iPhone camera trainer Rish Agarwal told Lifewire via email. "And it gives incredible power to the pros, who have the understanding and photography workflows at their disposal to carve out the details of lights and shadows from these pro-raw images which are not really visible in the normal takes."

Raw, Not Overcooked

After a camera snaps a photo, it has a bunch of raw data straight off the sensor, which it then has to interpret and translate into something us humans would recognize as a photo. You can no more display this raw data than you can pull the undeveloped film from a camera and see the latent images. 

A comparison of images from the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro.

flickr / Jeremy Bezanger

Usually, the camera turns this into a JPG or similar, and in making this interpretation, it throws away all the data it doesn't use, applies noise reduction, sharpening, and—in Apple's case—uses all its fancy computational photography tricks to get a great image.

But if you look up close, you'll see that the noise reduction—very necessary with small phone-cam sensors—is often heavy-handed, blurring away fine details along with the noise. The iPhone also likes to mess with colors, making them brighter and more vivid. The result is fine for throwing up on Instagram, but if you compare iPhone photos to pictures taken with even a modest purpose-built camera, they don't hold up.

But that's changing. 

That 48MP Sensor, Though

The iPhone 14 Pro has a 48-megapixel sensor, four times the size of the 12MP sensor that iPhones have used for years. This essentially brings more detail, but the gist of what the iPhone 14 Pro does by default is to "downsample" each 4x4 pixel grid into one pixel. This lets it get better low-light images and better control noise. 

The ProRAW images are wonderful. And as the names suggest, it's mainly for professionals.

But if you switch on the 48MP ProRAW mode in settings, you get to use all those pixels. The downside (and it's a big one) is that your images are huge, often more than ten times the size of the equivalent 12MP processed version, and bigger than the iPhone 13 Pro's 12MP ProRAW images. There's no way you'd want to snap all your photos with it, as you'd fill the phone up pretty fast. Also, ProRAW images take a few seconds each to process after capture, slowing things down. 

"Pro-Raw pictures take up 3x the space than regular 12MP pictures. Typically, you can expect 12MP ProRaw images to take up 25MB of storage. Whereas 48MP ProRAW images take up 75MB." technology writer Daniel Neale told Lifewire via email. 

But the results are amazing. The colors are more natural, and there is much more fine detail. Stone buildings have texture, you can see leaves on distant trees, and faces are made of skin, not blurry painted rubber masks. 

A photo of a motorcycle on the side of the road, with Mount Shasta in the background, taken with the iPhone 14 Pro camera.

flickr / David Wood

Not Your Default Camera

You have probably already guessed why this is not enabled by default. Whereas the iPhone's camera has its faults and can often be overzealous when massaging the data into a pleasing image, it is also extremely reliable. It's almost impossible to take a bad picture, and all that processing makes sure skies are blue and faces are never in shadow, even at night.

If ProRAW was available in the camera app by default, it would add clutter and probably end up annoying a lot of people—especially once their phone storage filled up double-quick. 

The other option would be no 48MP ProRAW. Enabling advanced features for those that want them is just great, and making it a simple toggle to switch it on is a good way to go. That's what settings are for, after all; to customize your phone to suit you. And even if you don't think you'll ever need it, you should probably try it at least once.

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