Editing RAW photos on the go on Android and iOS

posted in: Photography, Tutorial | 1

Shooting RAW photos is great, but it has it’s disadvantages.

On vacation you snap a beautiful sunset on your DSLR and, keen to brag to your friends, you want to post it to Instagram/Twitter/Flickr/[insert social media here]. Unfortunately, the photo is a RAW file and your computer is a thousand miles away.

All is not lost. With a couple of apps on a phone or tablet, you can harness the power of RAW photography without access to a computer.

What you’ll need:

1. An Android/iOS phone or tablet

The newer, the better, but as long as it was released within the past few years you should be able to get at least one of the RAW editing apps to work.

I’ve tried the methods described here on two low-end devices: the Moto G (3rd gen.), and the Kindle Fire. Neither of these was ideal for RAW editing, but both will got the job done.

2. A method of getting photos from camera to phone/tablet

The easiest way of doing this will depend on your camera. Many newer DSLRs come with bluetooth or wifi built in, and you should be able to use this to transfer photos to your device.

What about if you have an older camera?

There are several options.

You could grab an Eyefi SD card with with a tiny wireless unit built in to the card (make sure to check the compatibility of these SD cards with your camera). This will set you back about $25-100 depending on the card that you choose, and the capacity of the card will be a lot lower than a similarly priced regular SD card.

Alternatively, and this is the method I used here, you can grab a USB card reader along with a cable to connect it to your device. Options are cheap and numerous whether you sport Android or Apple.

On Android, I’ve had success with the Transcend USB SD card reader, and a generic USB to microUSB converter cable, pictured below. Total cost: $8-9.

Transcend SD card reader, and cable to attach to an Android phone or tablet to transfer RAW photos from a camera
Transcend SD card reader, and cable to attach to an Android phone or tablet

On an iPhone or iPad, you’ll need a different cable that supports the Lightning port (rather than microUSB). Fortunately, Apple makes the Lightning to SD Card Camera Reader, a single cable with an SD card reader. As with most Apple products, you’ll have to pay a little more than Android.

There’s also a third method. If your camera comes with a cable to connect it directly to a USB port, you can skip the SD card reader, and just get a cable than adds a USB port to your device. Cost: $2 on Android with the cable pictured above, or $30 on Apple.

Kindle Fire connected to an SD card
Kindle Fire hooked up to an SD card

Once you are connected, you’ll need to copy the files over to your device. There’s an app for that, but it will depend on your operating system. On Android, I recommend ES File Explorer, which is free and awesome.

3. An app for editing RAW photos

After you’ve got the photos onto your device, you’ll need to open them in an app. There are two main contenders: Snapseed and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

Snapseed is developed by Google (who bought out the company that originally made it). Designed solely for handheld devices it has a different feel to desktop RAW editors, and a different set of tools. However it’s free and available from both the Android and iOS app stores.

Snapseed only opens DNG files on Android, and only on the latest devices (for example, it doesn’t work on my Kindle Fire or 2014 Moto G). If your camera shoots a proprietary RAW format, you’ll need to convert to DNG (such as with the raw2dng app). However, on iOS, it will open DNGs and native RAW files from almost all the major DSLR cameras currently out there.

Lightroom feels much more like a traditional RAW editor. You’ll find editing tools such as tone curves which are absent in Snapseed. While that may seem like an advantage, I’m not so sure. Tools that work well on a desktop with a mouse are pretty cumbersome on a touchscreen.

Lightroom also has much better support for RAW files (unlike Snapseed it was able to open DNGs on both the Kindle Fire and the Moto G). On iOS 8.1 and greater, Lightroom opens DNG and native RAWs. On Android you will need version 4.1 or up to run the app, and you’ll only be able to open DNGs. However, it’s likely that Adobe will role out the native RAW capability to Android in the near future.

So which should you pick? Lightroom is more powerful, but harder to use on a touchscreen and Adobe will try to get you to upgrade to a Creative Cloud subscription. Ultimately however, it may come down to which app best supports RAW editing on your particular device.

I can’t open RAW files in either Lightroom or Snapseed

If both Lightroom and Snapseed fail, then there is always the web app option: polarr.co and pics.io are two browser based editors that can handle RAW files. Otherwise you’ll just have to wait until you get back to darktable or RawTherapee.

Sadly there’s no open source RAW photo editor specifically for mobile. Yet. But a FOSS photographer can dream…

One Response

  1. Photo-Mate has been out for Android for a couple of years; when I was messing around with photo editing on my tablet, that was my go-to, and it handles normal RAWs. I have an old tablet so it was a bit on the slow side, but it seemed pretty capable. Does all the normal things you’d want to subject RAWs to.

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