Google confirms camera RAW support is coming to Android. So what’s that mean?

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Long story short, Google is trying to improve the software / hardware relationship our smartphone cameras rely on. This should expand the tool set developers have at their disposal when making photo and video services. Google specifically is discussing better multi-shot tech which should improve sport and burst modes and deliver more flexible HDR settings. An HDR photo depends on a series of pics taken quickly at different exposures. Other smart modes could be improved too, like the ability to take a series of shots to remove distracting elements from your photos.

All well and good from a consumer app-y position, but the idea of delivering RAW files could be really interesting for people who really want to control their photo output, even from their phones.

htc one camera app screen shotPro cameras can deliver a JPG or a RAW image. A RAW is exactly what it sounds like. To over-simplify, it’s the “pure” data off the image sensor, and it’s typically a REALLY big file. On my SLR, a single 18MP image can be over 30MB. It’s the main reason we send each other JPG’s. The camera software takes that RAW image, makes a couple guesses as to what it thinks the right exposure, contrast, and color settings should be, then it takes all that data and squishes it down into a MUCH smaller file size.

You could look at it kinda like an MP3. An album can fill up a whole CD which is around 700MB, but if you reduce the audio quality and squish it down into a smaller container, you can carry TONS of them on portable storage devices. You lose “fidelity” (quality), but you have the convenience of being able to store a lot more.

Well storage is getting cheaper everyday. It’s pretty much standard that our high-end phones have at least 9GB of free storage to play with, and many still support SD cards. Our phones are perfectly capable of storing a days worth of photos in RAW. Take them home, run them through more robust editing software, and for people who care to, you could end up with better results than what the camera software would pump out automatically.

nokia camera app windows phone lumia 1020

A Quality Arms Race

I’m happy to see this. Nokia has already announced and delivered RAW support on the Lumia 1520, and it’ll be coming to the 1020 soon after an OS update. Google pushing the capture quality on Android, and opening up those tools to developers, will mark another step towards completely unseating point and shoot cameras which often can’t deliver RAW files.

For those of us who push our phone cameras to the limit, the future looks bright.