In which I report on using the Nexus 5X in RAW mode, with the help of Adobe Lightroom, and on workflows for mobile photogs. With illustrations from Vancouver’s Lighthouse Park.
Backgrounder on RAW · (Skip to the next section if you know all this stuff.) A “RAW” picture is supposed to be a bit-for-bit reproduction of exactly what the sensor in your camera saw. RAW pictures usually take up lots of memory, and doing a good job of presenting them on your screen often requires inside knowledge of the quirks of the camera and its sensor. There are a bunch of different RAW formats, but the industry seems to be converging on DNG, which is proprietary but still reasonably open and apparently technically sound.
The images you see on your screen are mostly not RAW, but JPEG or PNG format, the result of taking the RAW bits and producing a compressed, color-corrected, standardized format that’s easy for software to display.
Back in the day, digital cameras produced only JPEGs; anything serious, these days, also produces RAW. Until very recently, phone-cams were all-JPEG-all-the-time.
The reason photographers like to work with RAW pix is that they contain lots more information, so there’s a lot more scope for correcting color or exposure problems.
Finally, there is no good reason why the perfectly good English word “raw” needs to be rendered as RAW, it just is. I was arguing this on Twitter with David Heinemeier Hansson and he suggested that the caps made it look like an acronym so they’d feel comfy in sentences with other acronyms like JPG and GIF and so on.
Mobile RAW is a thing · Let me show you; here’s a shot toward Bowen Island, the way the bits came out of the camera; then, as tweaked via Adobe Lightroom.
The biggest virtue of RAW is exactly this kind of thing: Pulling out bits of the photo that are over-exposed and under-exposed, before they get compressed away into the JPEG. Here’s another:
To be fair, the 5X’s images don’t have the immense data-richness that the Fuji cameras’ do, with oceans of rich detail hiding in the shadows and glare, begging to be pulled out. But I’m pretty sure that if I’d been in JPEG-only land, I would have just deleted both these photos.
Workflow 1: RAW capture · First, you have to convince your camera to take pix in RAW. The last couple of releases of Android have included the API you need, and there are a bunch of camera apps on Google Play that support this.
It turns out that one of them is a camera app that’s unobtrusively embedded in the Android Lightroom app. So that’s what I used here. It’s an OK camera; I wouldn’t say the ergonomics are dramatically better than the one that comes with Android, but it does have a little button with “RAW” written on it. It has nice tilt/level adjustment. In these pictures I basically took all the defaults.
Workflow 2: Edit on the phone? · That Lightroom app can edit photos as well as take them. The idea is, you’ve taken a shot and you’re burning up to Instagram it, but some dork photobombed his selfie stick into the top left corner, so you need to tidy first.
That picture came out quite OK; given enough light, the 5X has an appetite for detail. I’ve totally got out of the color-correction habit while shooting Fuji because the X-cams just get it right. The 5X pix often need help; but Lightroom is good at helping.
Since I only do light editing on the phone, I don’t have an in-depth opinion about the Lightroom editor vs the one Google ships. But Lightroom’s can handle RAW photos, which is what I mostly plan to be taking.
Workflow — Networking stuff · Up until now, I’d set up DropBox to auto-upload photos on WiFi, then I have a little script that copies them into a handy non-DropBox directory for easy import to Lightroom. Works just fine, if you don’t mind typing a shell command.
When I installed the Lightroom-mobile app, I noticed that it had an option for adding photos to Lightroom, so I turned that on.
When I got back from the park, I waited a few minutes for the phone to upload, then went looking for the photos. Took me the longest time to find them; the Lightroom “Filmstrip” thingie across the bottom has a black toolbar where you can select folders and things, and one of the things you can select is “All Synced Photographs”. That’s them.
You can drag them from there to any other folder, but then they’re still in “All Synced”. And if you edit them, then go back to the version on your phone, that version is edited too. I guess that’s cool if you want to show off your pix on your phone. It also means, I suppose, that they’re really in Adobe’s “Creative Cloud”. Now I’m worried, because the Nexus 5X RAW files are 25M apiece — remember to turn that “Sync only on WiFi” option — and I apparently I have a mere 20G of space there.
But wait — when I follow Adobe’s instructions, they seem to be telling me that I have zero bytes in the cloud. So I’m kind of baffled.
Its still not obvious to me whether I’m going to be happier with the Adobe or DropBox workflows.
But like I said above, mobile RAW pictures are totally a thing.