Apple recently released an API allowing third party apps to edit "raw" iPhone camera images. In short (and I'm sure at some level I'm butchering this summary), raw editing gives you a lot more room to edit an image's color and exposure. To my eye, the benefits of this are most evident in highlights and shadows. Parts of an image that appear to be blown out in white can be pulled back to show details, and parts of an image that appear to be blackened shadows can be pulled up to show what's there.
I saw that Adobe Lightroom for mobile was highly recommended for trying this out, so I downloaded it earlier this week and took it for a spin. It'll prompt you to sign up for a membership, but you actually don't need to in order to be able to shoot and edit with it.
These shots are mostly from around the neighborhood where I work. I tried to keep an eye out for high contrast scenes that could most benefit from raw editing.
A nice bonus from this experiment was trying out Lightroom for mobile. I had never used it before, but found the interface very easy to use. I think it's going to be my photo editor of choice for times when I want to get a little deeper than what Instagram will let me do.
One thought that occurred to me was whether or not raw editing provided an advantage over the iPhone's built-in HDR feature when it comes to dealing with high contrast scenes. I didn't side-by-side this, so it's tough to know, but the answer is probably "it depends". iPhone Life's piece on HDR notes that HDR is not the best tool for capturing shots with lots of motion, since it's knitting together multiple exposures. So in something like the above, where there are people going back and forth, the exposures could overlap poorly and there might be some blur or strange artifacts in the final image.
Parts of the clouds still blow out here, and the vignette I added certainly crunches down the shadows along the edges. But as always on the phone, it's a balance between how much editing work I want to do, and how much time I want to spend on my phone doing it. There's still an "ok, that's good enough" point, and this was it for me with this photo.
There's some blurriness here, as the phone's probably taking a longer exposure and I could've done a better job bracing it against the balcony rail.
Overall, I found raw/Lightroom a useful tool, though not one that I'll use every for every iPhone photo. In a lot of scenarios, the built-in Camera app is going to be good enough, and that's faster for me to start up than opening Lightroom and then going to the camera part of the app. I also don't want to get into the habit of building up a large backlog of unedited raw files in the app, as I have enough of that going on in my non-iPhone photo world.
But for times when I'm taking a shot that I know I'm going to want to post, and I want the best version available for editing, then I'll most likely be using this to do it.