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Raw (DNG) vs JPEG on a smartphone: comparison images

Posted: , by Victor H.

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Raw (DNG) vs JPEG on a smartphone: comparison images

Smartphone cameras have evolved hugely throughout the years, getting more detailed by the year, with larger sensors, and image quality that in most conditions easily matches that of point-and-shoot cameras. Not just the hardware has improved, though - phone makers have had time to improve image processing and noise reduction, as well as streamline their camera apps.

The end result is apparent - smartphones like the Nokia Lumia 1020 (camera comparison here), Samsung Galaxy S5 (camera comparison here), Sony Xperia Z2, Apple iPhone 5s and others are setting a bar of high photographic quality.

However, one option smartphones still lack that has been on dedicated cameras for a while is raw file output. Having large, uncompressed images allows for great freedom in post-processing and often the results you can achieve with a raw file are a huge improvement over traditional JPEG-compressed images.

The difference in dynamics is particularly notable

But that’s only in theory. What would the real difference be if you compare raw files slightly retouched by an image pro against compressed JPEG files? Francois Simmond of the Cyanogenmod demonstrates this on his OnePlus One.

The OnePlus One comes with the new Sony IMX214 13-megapixel camera sensor and has been tweaked to output DNG files along with the traditional JPEG compressed images. Note that each DNG picture is adjusted for white balance, exposure, highlights & shadows, sometimes also whites & blacks in Lighroom, and a couple have a slight clarity boost, while the swan picture has some added color vibrance, according to Simmond who tweaked the images. The photographs here are not particularly artistic - their goal is to show how much of a difference in dynamics and colors can be achieved, as well as how noise can be suppressed, if you work with the full-sized DNG file rather than a JPEG one.

The idea of these images is to serve as an illustration rather than a direct comparison, though, as they come from a development build of the camera app with noise reduction disabled (we have included the full disclaimer by Francois Simmond in the quote below). For all else, though, the results are fairly impressive, don’t you think?
However, important note on the JPEGs: a direct comparison between the DNG exports and JPEGs in this specific context is not really fair as this development built of the camera subsystem app had noise reduction disabled.I chose to include them still to illustrate the current difference in color rendering, and how much headroom especially in dynamic range there is.

The color profiling, vignetting correction and a few other details are not finished yet but I'm already pretty impressed by the potential here, and very excited to have a RAW-capable camera in my pocket at all times.

  • Options

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 07:33 10

1. Anshulonweb (Posts: 430; Member since: 07 Feb 2014)


posted on 23 Jul 2014, 08:41 4

16. cezarepc (Posts: 714; Member since: 23 Nov 2012)


I used to think the f*** with RAW, people will just use editing apps anyway....but this comparison made me a convert.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 16:56

37. sgtdisturbed47 (Posts: 547; Member since: 02 Feb 2012)

The only reason I stopped shooting in RAW was because of how much larger the image files were (more digital information vs a JPEG), but I've gone back to uncompressed. It's the same with audio (I only use uncompressed audio anymore), the difference between uncompressed and MP3 is 5mb vs 40-50mb. That's a huge difference. Same with uncompressed images, it's a huge difference in size. Likely the primary reason phone manufacturers have stuck with heavily-compressed JPEG for image output is due to how much space they save by only having JPEG as the output. Nowadays, with 64GB and 128GB SD cards becoming the norm, uncompressed images should start being an option on more phones in the near future.

Dealing with tiny sensors and tiny photosites compared to even P&S cameras (and a huge difference compared to DSLR), Smartphones are already at a disadvantage dealing with how much digital image information is being captured. Taking that small amount of image info captured (compared to real cameras) and then compressing it to JPEG makes it so a 100% crop usually looks terrible coming from a Smartphone. Algorithms for softening the image to try and reduce the awful JPEG compression noise makes matters worse.

I suppose that we're living in the age of "selfies" so who cares about image quality, right? Yeah.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 07:36 11

2. Aploine (Posts: 426; Member since: 24 Oct 2013)


posted on 23 Jul 2014, 08:18 2

12. spin9 (Posts: 282; Member since: 31 May 2014)

Download the images you'll be amazed

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 07:36 1

3. GreekGeek (Posts: 1276; Member since: 22 Mar 2014)

Shooting RAW using your smartphone is rather dumb.

That's why we have DSLRs

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 07:47 14

7. Captain_Doug (Posts: 997; Member since: 10 Feb 2012)

Or that's why we have 128gb micro sd cards... DSLRs aren't near as portable or quick as a smartphone. Everyone uses their phone differently.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 08:11 3

9. duartix (Posts: 294; Member since: 01 Apr 2014)

Au contraire.
99% of those of us who have DSLRs will tell you instead that shooting JPEG when you could shoot RAW using your smartphone is rather dumb.
And 99.5% of those will also tell you that the best camera is the one you're carrying.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 08:42 1

17. cezarepc (Posts: 714; Member since: 23 Nov 2012)

I don't see common people bringing DSLRs with them all day everyday.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 09:55

26. juandante (Posts: 463; Member since: 23 Apr 2013)

I do. And when you are accustom to a DLSR you will NEVER want to come back to a slow, unrealable, bad quality performance phone again be it iPhone 5s or whatever. I easily take outstanding hand held night images with my dedicated camera, which is impossible with a phone.

And remember now it is not the size of the CAMERA that counts, but the size of the SENSOR. Sony RX1 or NEX series is a perfect demonstration that you have DSLR quality in a portable format.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 12:03

34. cezarepc (Posts: 714; Member since: 23 Nov 2012)

Then you are not "common people"

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 16:02

36. juandante (Posts: 463; Member since: 23 Apr 2013)

He didn't mention anything about common people initially.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 16:58

38. cezarepc (Posts: 714; Member since: 23 Nov 2012)

I did on the post he commented on. get it?

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 09:16 1

23. NokiaFTW (Posts: 2071; Member since: 24 Oct 2012)

Of course its dumb, as only a Lumia phone offers it. I'd like to see you comment this when RAW capture becomes standard on Android.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 07:39

4. marbovo (Posts: 658; Member since: 16 May 2013)

What's that city?

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 08:43

18. neops (Posts: 285; Member since: 28 Jan 2014)

Annecy, France

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 09:42

25. marbovo (Posts: 658; Member since: 16 May 2013)

thanks, very beautiful city.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 07:42 3

5. vishalaestro (Posts: 81; Member since: 08 Dec 2013)

the smartphone camera's doesn't have the capability to create a true RAW image photograph .anyways who wants to edit every photo's that are taken .i like the simplicity of the camera on iphone 5s which produces some best results by simply touch and shoot .

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 08:43 1

19. cezarepc (Posts: 714; Member since: 23 Nov 2012)

Having the option doesn't hurt.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 10:27 2

28. rsiders (Posts: 912; Member since: 17 Nov 2011)

You mean you like less options? You don't have to shoot every picture in DNG you know....

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 07:43 7

6. csoulr666 (Posts: 115; Member since: 04 Nov 2013)

That's a huge difference. The pictures look a lot more natural than traditional JPEG ones in this case.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 08:04

8. hemedans (Posts: 511; Member since: 01 Jun 2013)

Phonearena do you know raw file contain large amount of data? It's impossible to compare with jpeg through pictures only because raw can produce thousands of image from one dng. Do video review

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 08:16 1

11. duartix (Posts: 294; Member since: 01 Apr 2014)

You know can produce the same thousands from the JPEG file, don't you?
I guess what should have been shown was how far could you go with the JPEG originals if they had been given the same treatment as the RAW ones...
That's one of the reasons this comparison of apples and oranges can be a bit meaningless..

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 08:59

21. Shatter (Posts: 2036; Member since: 29 May 2013)

Results would be about the same unless you were actually seriously looking at the image with an original copy.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 08:12

10. itsdeepak4u2000 (Posts: 3718; Member since: 03 Nov 2012)

Wow, Raw images are awesome.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 22:59

41. sergiobr (Posts: 707; Member since: 25 Feb 2013)

But , to convert ... a lot of job in it !

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 08:19 5

13. -box- (Posts: 3991; Member since: 04 Jan 2012)

Why not use a Lumia 1020 for these shots? It also shoots in RAW, and has a much better camera than the 1+1.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 08:24

14. tasior (Posts: 265; Member since: 04 Nov 2012)

Something is seriously wrong with this comparison. JPEG files does not change colours this much. The only place, where You can witness quality loss in JPEG is in big close-up, near the edge of something.
JPEG is based on Fourier transform - that means it tries to describe pixels witch cosinus function. Since cosinus is continous it fails a bit, where difference between pixels is large - so on the edge of something. It's visible very clearly, when You convert text scan into JPEG.

As to colour reproduction - if somebody wants to save a lot of space, there is a possibility of doing that by reducing number of colours, and rather focus on whether the pixel is dark or light, than it's actual colour. Nevertheless using JPEG, does not mean, that You have to do that.

posted on 24 Jul 2014, 04:06

43. duartix (Posts: 294; Member since: 01 Apr 2014)

As I understood it, JPEG were straight out of camera, while the RAWs were manually adjusted. That's the main reason for the color difference.
It was stated that Francois Simmond made changes to: "(...) balance, exposure, highlights & shadows, sometimes also whites & blacks in Lighroom, and a couple have a slight clarity boost, while the swan picture has some added color vibrance."

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 08:34

15. mixedfish (Posts: 1177; Member since: 17 Nov 2013)

You're talking to a crowd that wants to shoot in 16:9, rather than crop manually from 4:3/3:2, doubt they'll even want to touch RAW.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 08:58 6

20. muhsen (Posts: 281; Member since: 07 Jun 2012)

"one option smartphones still lack one option that has been on dedicated cameras for a while - raw file output." Why doesn't the author mention that this option has been there since late 2013 with the 1020 and the 1520, and more recently with 930 and icon?????
Whom I am taking to ??? It's PA

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 09:09

22. Deaconclgi (Posts: 405; Member since: 03 Nov 2012)


posted on 23 Jul 2014, 18:51 1

40. jael206 (Posts: 145; Member since: 18 Jul 2012)

Please do more research PA.. Maybe that would help lessen the bias against Nokia.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 09:29

24. ArtSim98 (Posts: 3535; Member since: 21 Dec 2012)

DNG is freaking amazing! I want THAT on my Z2!

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 10:08

27. talon95 (Posts: 546; Member since: 31 Jul 2012)

I don't understand why most people would want RAW output on a phone. The JPG on your phone was already converted from RAW so please just give us better algorithms that improve the conversion already taking place. If I'm so concerned about editing the RAW image I will probably just use a DSLR. Even on my DSLR I am usually satisfied with the current conversion that I don't bother with RAW so on a smartphone I don't believe many people will use it.

Making RAW output an option would always be a welcome addition, don't get me wrong, I'd just rather the automatic conversion work better so that i don't have to post process.

The option could add a mode that lets you preview the RAW images and have a very simple slider on HDR, noise, & WB with suggestions already applied, so that once I have a minute to review them it only takes 5 seconds to apply my personal preferences and they are converted using those settings and the the original RAW file is removed. Then each RAW image will only exist until it has been reviewed so it doesn't take up space and simplifies the conversion process.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 10:41

29. gazmatic (Posts: 795; Member since: 06 Sep 2012)

ummmm.... lumia can shoot raw... just cuz android cant doesnt mean nobody can

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 10:43

30. skymitch89 (Posts: 1299; Member since: 05 Nov 2010)

While, at least to me, some of the JPEG images look to have better color & contrast; I know that there are A LOT more editing options to using RAW/DNG. I know quite a few photographers that take RAW images and edit them. I've even asked a couple of them why they do that and they said that RAW captures more detail and color.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 10:45

31. Darkerm (Posts: 308; Member since: 31 Jan 2012)

DNG is Awesome. so much details and colors are so natural

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 11:36 1

32. gabrielvoica (Posts: 65; Member since: 05 Mar 2013)

nokia 1020 had the RAW format available for a long time...but PA still thinks no smartphone can capture this format...
1 image taken with the 1020 took somewhere between 45mb to 70mb of memory...it's a huge file but it's understandable considering the info it contains..
and yes,again,nothing comes close to the 1020 ..

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 11:51

33. DontHateOnS60 (Posts: 867; Member since: 20 Apr 2009)

I'm surprised that you guys didn't use the 1020 as your example since it captures DNG images.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 14:05 1

35. sbw44 (Posts: 433; Member since: 04 Dec 2012)

Funny how when Nokia had these options this was never mentioned but now when one android has it PA make if its the only phone! 1020,1520,ICON and 930 all can shoot DNG not just your precious androids!

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 17:15

39. gigaraga (Posts: 1454; Member since: 29 Mar 2013)

Really nice! Does this only apply for the OnePlus One? Or does DNG file format boost other smartphone cameras as well? Liking the HDR style photos though!

posted on 24 Jul 2014, 00:56

42. Andrewtst (Posts: 631; Member since: 25 Jan 2009)

This article a bit misleading. Shooting raw need process and we tune during process.

Jpg wise is no process involved by human.

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