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.

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?



1. Anshulonweb

Posts: 468; Member since: Feb 07, 2014


16. cezarepc

Posts: 718; Member since: Nov 23, 2012

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

37. sgtdisturbed47

Posts: 969; Member since: Feb 02, 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.

2. Aploine

Posts: 445; Member since: Oct 24, 2013


12. spin9

Posts: 310; Member since: May 31, 2014

Download the images you'll be amazed

3. GreekGeek

Posts: 1276; Member since: Mar 22, 2014

Shooting RAW using your smartphone is rather dumb. That's why we have DSLRs

7. Captain_Doug

Posts: 1037; Member since: Feb 10, 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.

9. duartix

Posts: 311; Member since: Apr 01, 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.

17. cezarepc

Posts: 718; Member since: Nov 23, 2012

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

26. juandante

Posts: 679; Member since: Apr 23, 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.

34. cezarepc

Posts: 718; Member since: Nov 23, 2012

Then you are not "common people"

36. juandante

Posts: 679; Member since: Apr 23, 2013

He didn't mention anything about common people initially.

38. cezarepc

Posts: 718; Member since: Nov 23, 2012

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

23. NokiaFTW

Posts: 2072; Member since: Oct 24, 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.

4. marbovo

Posts: 658; Member since: May 16, 2013

What's that city?

18. neops

Posts: 297; Member since: Jan 28, 2014

Annecy, France

25. marbovo

Posts: 658; Member since: May 16, 2013

thanks, very beautiful city.

5. vishalaestro

Posts: 81; Member since: Dec 08, 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 .

19. cezarepc

Posts: 718; Member since: Nov 23, 2012

Having the option doesn't hurt.

28. rsiders

Posts: 1988; Member since: Nov 17, 2011

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

6. csoulr666

Posts: 116; Member since: Nov 04, 2013

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

8. hemedans

Posts: 761; Member since: Jun 01, 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

11. duartix

Posts: 311; Member since: Apr 01, 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..

21. Shatter

Posts: 2036; Member since: May 29, 2013

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

10. itsdeepak4u2000

Posts: 3718; Member since: Nov 03, 2012

Wow, Raw images are awesome.

41. sergiobr

Posts: 718; Member since: Feb 25, 2013

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

13. -box-

Posts: 3991; Member since: Jan 04, 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.

14. tasior

Posts: 265; Member since: Nov 04, 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.

43. duartix

Posts: 311; Member since: Apr 01, 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."

15. mixedfish

Posts: 1563; Member since: Nov 17, 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.

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