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Ultimate iPhone DNG….eBook For iPhone Shooters

iPhone DNG, multi frame capture, steam engine pimp in action under low light.

Seems like everyone these days agrees the iPhone is a great camera, true enough, but it can be so much better.

Lots of people simply want to use their iPhone for everything, family portraits, events, holiday pics and more.  Whilst there are still many reasons for photographers to use a regular camera a well-aimed iPhone can get you tantalizingly close to meeting all those needs in a convenient pocketable package.

Shooting with the RAW (DNG) format can turn out iPhone into compact imaging dynamo, all those positives of iPhone shooting remain, the “in your pocket” convenience, speed, ease of use, the great screen, powerful sharing options and more but most of the pesky downsides simply disappear and those deficits that remain are significantly diminished.

Don’t get me wrong, regular iPhone pics are pretty good for snaps and general stuff but the softish images, limited dynamic range, noise, watercolour like rendering and often unpredictable results take the shine off the camera for serious shooters.  You can be sure that with properly captured and processed DNGs those shortcomings will no longer apply.

Of course just shooting in DNG will help, but your images will be better still when you actually know a few extra tricks to use for the capture process and editing. Frankly, I think you’ll be amazed at how good your DNGs can be when you apply an optimised workflow, and great news, it’s all pretty easy to do.

I’ve put together an easy to follow, plain English, jargon-free eBook that will teach you everything you need to know to become an iPhone DNG expert, and I’m confident in saying this just might be the best $14.99 you’ll ever spend on your iPhoneography, maybe even on photography full stop.

Along the way, you’ll learn stuff about image capture and processing that would take months of combing the internet to find and quite honestly you’d probably still fail to uncover the information gems revealed in this eBook.

Amazingly much of what you’ll learn applies to the shooting and editing with any camera, so even if you only occasionally use the iPhone the $14.99 will still be money very well spent.

Ultimate iPhone DNG is 380 pages and 23 Chapters of iPad optimised goodness, take it with you wherever you and your “i” devices go and of course you could pop it onto your Mac or Windows computer as well.

iPhone DNG capture wind blown tree coromandel coast in new zealand converted to monochrome
Monochrome image prove very challenging for the iPhone standard JPEGs, normally the highlights get hopelessly clipped, the shadows blocked up and the textural detail goes MIA and the noise looks terrible, not a problem at all with a well-handled DNG.

So what’s covered?

Three Ways to DNG
The Best Shooting apps
Optimising Capture
Perfect DNG editing
Shooting and Processing Optimal Monochromes
Special Shooting Techniques
Setting up and using Lightroom Mobile
Setting up and Using ProCamera

……and so much more, I’ve even included a comprehensive dictionary of iPhoneography terms

Of course, there are lots of great sample pics of the sorts of real-world things the average person would be shooting, portraits of family, holiday snaps, landscapes, close-ups, and more.  In other words realistic images that don’t require a studio, glamorous paid models and an array of lights, just the sort of photos you could expect to achieve if you put into practice the concepts and methods covered in the book.

So for the price of a coffee and a light snack you can change your iPhone shooting forever, I absolutely promise your pics will be better in every possible technical way.
And just to give you advance notice this is only the first in a series of 6 “Ultimate iPhoneography” eBooks, the next one is already close to completion and covers the fine art of iPhoneography composition!

 

Buy it on the iBooks Store, click on this link:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/ultimate-iphone-dng/id1274334884?ls=1&mt=11

 


 

 

 

Depth of Field Simulation for iPhone Pics

simulated depth of field with iPhone photo on crane winding drum.

Why would you simulate depth of field on iPhone photos, after all, we all love a nice bit of fast glass, the bragging rights delivered by nice 85mm f1.4 are just brilliant when you have leg up on the brass and coldie in hand at the local watering hole. Of course, we all know that if we want that “dreamy creamy bokeh bonanza” fast glass is the way to go……or is it?

There are a few downsides to all that bokeh driven madness, let’s count them.

First, you actually need to have the camera and mentioned heavy bokehlicious lens with you at the time. Funnily enough, some of us are just plain slack and we baulk at the idea of carrying such a bulky rig with us everywhere we go.

You know how it is, juggling the dog lead, doggy treats and carrying uber DOF master rig all at the same time, whilst trying to stop your furry face licker from all manner of canine misadventures.

And then there’s the lack of camera parking room on your favourite coffee table at your favourite cafe, oh and not to mention your aching neck, shoulders and the bruising on your “one pack” from that DOF meister rig bouncing around like Bjork at a Rave as you clumsily shuffle around.

Yep, the best camera really is the one you have with you, which for me and a significant proportion of other shooters is more often than not, the iPhone.  It doesn’t mean I want to sacrifice all that Bokeh shallow DOF goodness on the altar of convenience though, hell no, I want it all.

But dear reader, and I really must say this in hushed tones, (just hold on a minute, whilst I put on my chain mail, fireproof suit and motorbike helmet, dum de dum, ah there you go, all done),…….. sometimes you can get a better result by actually doing the DOF sim shuffle.

Ouch, who threw that, I saw you!

Tawny Frogmouth in gumtree taken with iPhone and depth of field simulated in post
Simulated Depth of field on this close up iPhone shot of Tawny, our resident Frogmouth, he lives part time in our backyard, he’s very tame and quite happy to be shot close-up with the iPhone.  The DOFsimm’d look is nice and makes him stand out rather well, especially considering that Frogmouths are normally the masters of disguise.

See it’s like this, just maybe you actually don’t want the 4 eyelashes, 3 nose hairs and one bloated magenta zit on the right cheek look, like dude, maybe you want something a little bit more sophisticated such as, oh I don’t know, a whole face in focus and a gently diminishing background blur that’s just a tad softer on the corners and super dooper soft on the most distant objects. Yeah I know, I’m hard to get along with.

Maybe you actually want those “in focus bits” to be truly ruly sharp, not just sort of glowy sharp.

Could even be you want a DOF look that’s not actually technically possible using regular aperture adjustments on a regular camera.

And what about bokeh rendering….well what about it….well maybe you want something that your DOF monster 300mm f0.95 won’t actually deliver. (Sorry, I was getting a bit silly there, but you know what I mean)

So shoot me, (whoops, just ducked in time) but you know what, you can always start with a sharp image and get down and boogie, um I mean bokeh, but you cannot start out with a creamy dreamy bokeh bonanza and find details that went MIA at shooting time.

Now sure DOF simming’s not for everyone, some folk just want to press the shutter and go home to a nice warm hot cocoa and lie down with a good book, some folk think their camera is a machine gun and you need to expend 1000 rounds to get coverage for every possible shot, well DOF simming will never float these folks boats, I get that.

Now just so you know, yep I’ve also got full frame, half frame, quarter frame and bloody big film frame and more lenses “than my wife knows about”, so it’s not like I don’t have the so-called sensible DOF choices if I want to use them.

Shooting for me…well, I’m pretty selective when it comes to taking shots, I prefer to take a few selective shots and then nicely edit them to suit my tastes.  I long ago came to the conclusion more is often, well, just more and less is a lot less work. But when you do more with less well that’s bess….I mean best.

So putting aside the time to have a blurry old-time in Photoshop on a few pics is no hardship, mind you I doubt I’ll ever do it this way for a big commercial shoot…..well not unless someone really wants to pay me to do so, then all bets are off. Money talks you know!

ducati bevel drive single iPhone simulated depth of field
A rather lovely Ducati Bevel Drive motor, taken at the Ducati Museum in Bologna, Italy, the subtle depth of field effect works a charm and accentuated the simple beauty of the bevel housing.

This is not a “how to” article and one day when I get a rush of blood to the cranium and be tempted to make a little YouTube clip on my methods and furnish a few special secret sauce killer tips.  But…First I’d need to find some hot bikini-clad ladies (apparently compulsory in almost all “tube” photography lesson clips), or get some cats (also popular and near-compulsory), learn some banter from the youtube bros and drop a few pounds – but generally I can drop a few tips here that might help you “would be dofmeisters”.

(Note since I wrote this I have embraced the world of “Tube”, but without the Models and cats…just me)

I don’t get all carried away with masks, depth maps etc, I just use multiple layers blurred to different degrees and brush it all in freehand.  No sir there are none of your fancy schmancy pants pen tools selections and all that crafty caper. I’ve got reasonably handy with brush tools over the years and whilst I’m happy to spend quality time in Photoshop I also want to get the job done efficiently and hopefully reasonably quickly.

I also make use of several types of sharpening methods, high radius, low radius, ultra-low radius, blurb-blend sharpening, high-pass filter and add noise filters, we’re all good friends you know and we play nicely with one another.

simulated depth of field,model steam pump, wellington museum new zealand.
Subtle depth of field simulation applied to Mechanical Exhibit in Wellington Museum, taken with dim available light using Cortex Cam on the iPhone 6S Plus.

The real secret sauce is actually in the shooting, first, regardless of what I’m shooting I’m very precise with my techniques but importantly shooting in DNG is super important.

If I think the image is going to be DOF simm’d I try to shoot it so there’s at least some separation between the subject and the background and I especially try to keep the backgrounds unobtrusive and not too busy. Honestly the last bit can be hard to do and sometimes a busy background when DOF simm’d can have a charm all of its own.

I also look for the right light, in other words, light that has some direction but not too harsh. I’m not afraid to ask myself or the subject to move to get the right light, assuming, of course, the subject is human, canine or mobile in some way.  I wouldn’t bother asking cats to move of course, cause you know exactly what cats are like….which is probably why I haven’t made any YouTube clips yet.  (with cats in them)

This is a little hard to explain but trust me, depth of field rendering and apparent separation has a hell of lot more to do with getting maximum image sharpness on the planes that should be …well sharp than just adding big blur.  Blur will look a lot more blurry if the sharp bits are actually really sharp. DNGs da bomb because with the right methods the images are just sooooo much more detailed in the first place, that and the fact that I can precisely control the noise signature with DNGs.

Serious JPEG iPhone shooters will be very familiar with the terms….mushy, soft, plastic, watercolour like, flat, smudged, you get the idea. iPhone DNG is nothing like this!

Last and definitely not least I have some special capture methods that really make those DNGs sing, no clues I’m afraid but you can always buy my book if you want the inside running on that aspect.

Buy Ultimate iPhone DNG on the iBooks store: 

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/ultimate-iphone-dng/id1274334884?ls=1&mt=11

 


 

Shooting iPhone DNG for Family Photos

Like lots of photographers I use an iPhone as a regular camera, I love the “in your pocket, unobtrusive, instant feedback” aspect of shooting with the Phone. Being able to easily share snaps with family and friends instantly adds enormously to the appeal…take a shot, tweak a little and airdrop it to my kids or friends over a cuppa, what’s not to love about that.

And of course I get a regular stream of pics and videos of my new Grandson and the Families exploits in return. As a family we carry our visual lives in our collective pockets and handbags, a well-shot snap can convey a wealth of information that words often struggle to say.

I don’t get hung on the idea that a photo should be purely the result of the camera and lens, I’ve always believed that editing and presentation are just as important. I’m convinced good edits can make the idea and message more direct and maybe even more meaningful.  Let’s face it, in the end we’re trying to tell personal stories, express emotions and convey feelings…….with pictures.

Aaron On His Birthday
Yep hard to believe my son is 30 years old, taking a bit of chill time in the coffee shop, the pic has been treated to some selective blur and subtle edits.  I really do love the way that the DNG files work as monochromes.
Aaron and Jain 2
My son Aaron and his partner Jain on his 30th Birthday, this is a TLC-DNG image (you’ll need to buy the book if you want to know about TLC), its taken in full harsh sunlight but the file has edited beautifully and really it looks rather film like. The simulated depth of field certainly adds an extra dimension to the image.

For me the addition of the DNG option for shooting on the iPhone was a huge deal, it opened up an array of options that just weren’t possible with the JPEGs but more importantly, it provides me with files which are nowhere near as brittle and “vastly more editable”.

Now I don’t expect my iPhone or any smartphone to be a paragon of technical excellence but that doesn’t mean it has to be technically hopeless either. The DNG option has expanded the iPhone’s capabilities and turned it into a potentially far more serious photographic tool and one that’s definitely far from a technical disaster.

Longtime iPhone shooters will know exactly what I am talking about with respect to the JPEGs…poor highlight retention, no fine textural detail, watercolor rendering at anything above minimum ISO, rampant banding of blue skies, weird hue shifts on skin tone highlights, we’ve all seen these problems.  iPhone images don’t have to be like that, with DNG everything can be soooooo much better!

I like to edit my iPhone pics, and even edit them to quite serious levels.  I want to make blow-ups if the image is nice enough, I want to crop, I want it all, regardless of what camera I take the photos with.

Yes, of course I could use one of my other cameras, but then I don’t normally take a camera kit to the coffee shop or out to a family dinner, or most places in fact, but I always have my phone.

milton copy
My wonderful Grandson Milton, apple of his Poppies eye, isn’t he just beautiful.  Taken with window light using UniWb DNG and then DOFsimm’d to taste.  The image prints superbly well.

I realize some people might say, look, Brad, you could get that shallow DOF and big blow-ups with the pics with your Sony Nex, your Olympus OM.  Well, sure I could if I had those cameras with me at the time.

I don’t shoot zillions of pics, I’d rather shoot just a few select images, editing them into what I want is pretty quick and relatively painless and just because photos are shot on an iPhone doesn’t mean they need to look half-baked.

Back to that DNG stuff, there’s much to love about it, but for me, the two most important aspects are the increased highlight tonality and the ability to have the fine textural information in the photos preserved.  I know Apple likes to kill noise stone dead so it looks all peachy when the average punter zooms in for some pixel peeping fun but seriously that “wrapped in plastic” look just doesn’t cut it for me.  I have a healthy relationship with noise anyway, we can both get along quite nicely, I’d much rather be given the choice between going plastic or analogue thanks very much.

Basically, the DNGs allow for a more 3D like rendering, being able to hold those near white tones makes the images look far more organic and the increased textural detail adds more shape and form to surfaces and this is evident even without any serious editing.

Back to the editing front, I just love that I can push the tones around in DNG without getting that horrible tonal breakup that seems to afflict most iPhone JPEGs, want to vignette a bit, lighten a shadow, dodge some skin tones, burn some highlights, no problem it all just works much better.

Wendy 57 Today
Wendy, the love of my life, we’ve been together for 40 years, this little snap was taken in one of our favourite coffee shops, it was inside and under dim light but the DNG option made the most of it.  I love that smile even after all these years.

What really gets me excited is when I want to create depth of field effects. I realize a lot of photographers will get more than a bit uppity about this, thinking it’s sort of cheating by denying Olympus of the opportunity to sell me a very nice 25mm f1.2 for my OM camera to do this all automatically for me. (Olympus are about to tempt me with three more very fast f1.2 lenses I believe, I feel movement in of the wallet in my pocket)

Honestly, though I actually have some solid creative reasons for sometimes taking this simulated DOF approach and anyway isn’t this approach much the same as what Apple is already doing with the iPhone 7S Plus and other makers on the cutting edge of experimental camera technology are trying to achieve.

Consider this, with a bit of work I can pretty much get any sort of effect I want, bokeh effects are adjustable, depth of focus controllable, field curvature can be simulated and lot’s more. Fact is I often DOF sim with shots taken at say f3.5 on my regular cameras instead of going down the ultra shallow DOF shooting route, we have choices as they say.

The big advantage with the DNGs for the all this Doffy Sim stuff is that the “in focus areas” are just, well… more in focus. Details are more resolved and they respond far better to a wide array of post-shot sharpening processes, like ultra fine radius sharpening, high-pass filters, noise texturing and more. I look at it this way, it’s always possible to blur sharp bits but it’s not possible to get sharpness out of blur. So starting with a sharp image with a more extensive depth of field and selectively blurring can often be more successful that staring with one with marginal overall sharpness and then trying to add detail back that was lost due to technical depth of field limitations. You’ve probably gathered I’m not a big fan of the “6 eyelashes and half an eyeball in focus” look, but I know lots of folks are…which is fine.

I must point out that I would not attempt any of this Doffy Sim stuff on the iPhone itself, any of the apps I’ve tried to use for these effects are just plain horrible, basically, they lack the fine control you need and it’s just really hard to do on such a small screen. All that said my new iPad Pro is a different beast altogether.

Note: If you do know of an iPhone app that really does this DOF sim stuff well I’d also love to know about!

Lightroom mobile has proven to be a brilliant editing app for dealing initially with the DNGs, I remain seriously impressed be just how good it is.  Using Lightroom in conjunction with Snapseed for fine tunings and effects provides a killer family pic combo. Honestly, the two are just a superb for most needs and it’s utterly amazing that neither will even ask you to remove your wallet from your pocket!

Note that I wouldn’t use either for simulating Depth of Field effects, that’s always down in Photoshop but Snapseed can do some passable simulations if you use the layers functions.

Holly 1
Our little girl, Holly the Collie, frankly she is far too smart for her own good, but she looks a treat in the Autumn leaves and the DNG is quite excellent at fully recording the subtle whites in her coat.

Ultimately I take a sort of hybrid approach with the family and friends iPhone snaps, I shoot in DNG, do an extraction in Lightroom mobile, follow it up with some tweaking in Snapseed and then hand it on to my family and friends via airdrop or email if they don’t have the airdrop option. It normally takes about 4 mins, not instant, but quick enough. Later on, if I decide I like the pic enough I’ll airdrop the pre-edited JPEG to my trusty Mac and give it some Photoshop time. I then re-send the newly cooked result via email to my family and friends.

I don’t normally process family and friends DNGs on the desktop but for some more serious holiday or commercial shots where I want ultimate quality, I’ll cook them in one of my RAW editing programs, usually Iridient Developer, which provides for some serious image quality that will utterly belie the iPhone origins.  (yep, that’s all covered in one of the upcoming books)

In the end, the only thing that I find a bit limiting with the iPhone for family and friends snaps is shooting under really low light (though DNG helps a lot) and the lack of a more telephoto lens.  The standard wide lens does kind of apply its own perspective look to shots, but I’ll upgrade to the new dual-lens iPhone 8 later in the year so that aspect will probably cease to an issue for me.

Wendy at the Food Van
By rights this should be just about an impossible shot, taken under very low light handheld at 1/40 sec, Wendy was actually very strongly backlit with the exposure set to record the highlights, yep it’s a bit grainy but it’s nice grain and I truly treasure this shot,  a great reminder of a lovely but very cold evening we spent with some friends out on the town.  Of course its DNG, a UniWb version in fact.

 

Get Ultimate iPhone DNG on the iBooks Store:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/ultimate-iphone-dng/id1274334884?ls=1&mt=11


 

 

 

 

 

Commercial Photo Quality using iPhone DNG

 

Here’s a quick question for you. Considering we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to amazing cameras and uber lenses that are able to render the hair follicles and yet un-born zits on supermodels at 50 paces why would you even think about using a mobile phone for anything other than a casual snap of that coffee and cake you had for morning tea.

Serious photos with an iPhone, are you serious? That just sounds totally contradictory!

Well if you disregard iPhones’ depth of field differences and the wide-angle lens perspective you soon realize when shooting in DNG that the dynamic range, sharpness and color are not bad at all for a great many needs.

And here’s the thing, not all serious photos are taken by serious people with serious gear.

These days lots of people who are not photographers are given orders from on high…”go and get me some pics of that event, make it snappy and when ya done get it posted to our Instagram account…….. and I want it on Facebook before you leave the office tonight or you’re fired”!

Appleby Link 3
A multiple exposure capture of the famous Appleby Beam Engine at Goulburn’s Historic Waterworks, this image was part of a series taken using the iPhone which capitalised on the iPhones extensive depth of field in close-up situations, it is capable of being printed at least to 20 by 20 inches.  For web use, well you can see that’s hardly a challenge.

Fact is, and I know this will hurt the ears, feelings, and egos of many of the sensitive photographic souls reading this, but I get lots, and I mean “lots” of people who turn up in my workshops on Lightroom, Photoshop, Photo Composition, iPhoneography etc who’ve been made “Resident Dynamo Chief Executive, iPhone Wielding Guru of Multi-Media, Instagram and Facebook”, for their business or organisation.

These people are not normally photographers, heck they never intended to be photographers but that’s what they’re now expected to do, and damn it those pics better be good!

So here we are 2017, the iPhone has DNG with all the goodness that it infers upon one’s image options and we have an increasing number of non-photographers and indeed actual photographers who use the tool for serious work.

When I was planning my new Ultimate iPhoneography series of eBooks it soon became obvious that one of those books needed to look at what Photographers and non-photographers with serious needs could do with their iPhone. There’s a need for some wholesome yet easily digestible information on how they might actually nail those needs and importantly how to avoid the potential quality pitfalls.

Oil Loco 2
This old oil burning loco at Goulburn’s Rail heritage museum is part of a series of images I took for a brochure using DNG HDR, the textural quality is lovely and the file is very pushable in post, I doubt most people would pick it as a mobile phone image unless told.

The Ultimate iPhone Professional book dealing with lighting etc is still 6 months off,  (There are six books planned for the series) but the first book, Ultimate iPhone DNG is already up on the iBooks store and the others are all well into the production phase.

Coming back to the question of “why shoot serious (work) stuff with the iPhone”,  I reckon there are several solid reasons.

The obvious one is the need for rapid turnaround and the benefit of instant sharing, no doubt for a great many commercial uses the quality deficits are not relevant, you can easily crop the images and still have more than enough pixels for social media needs. Honestly regardless of how much traditional photographers protest the fact remains only a very small proportion of images shot for promotional purposes ever find their way into print at anything larger than say 5 by 7 inches. Now even allowing for reproduction at 300 PPI, that 5 by 7-inch print still only equates to around 3 megapixels.

But I think you can make a case for iPhone shooting that transcends the traditional convenience and resolution sufficiency arguments, a case that says sometimes the iPhone might technically be the better choice. (ASSUMING we are shooting in DNG)

Yep I know, right about now there are virtual knives and spears being thrust forth into computer monitors in the hope of impaling me or at least banishing my presence for the inter-webs, but please humor me, I’m just a country lad from a place that no-one much knows about.

Waieko River NZ
Taken along the Waioeka River on New Zealand’s North Island, the extensive depth of field works a treat and the image has plenty of DNG clarity, even for a wall print, the subtle tonality on the highlights is very nice and much better than you get from iPhone JPEGs.

So what actually are the benefits the iPhone could offer in a technical sense.

Depth of Field is enormous, it’s pretty easy to get everything in focus.

Related to the depth of field, the iPhone can easily get very close up photos nicely sharp and yet still have a nice degree of separation between the subject and background elements.

Going further the lens is wide-angle, but it’s actually tack sharp right out to the corners, which is not always true of wide-angle lenses on regular DSLRs and Mirrorless cameras.

Better yet the lens/sensor size enables you to have some interesting perspective renderings and looks that you can’t achieve in other formats.

Now yes it’s potentially a noisy little blighter but actually, the luminance noise when shot in DNG at slightly elevated ISOs is rather nice and filmic with a certain artistic appeal.

Another aspect that few people will have considered is that it’s relatively easy to get complete in-focus rendering for very near and distant objects easily by using focus shift techniques and only 2 or 3 frames.

Goulburn Courthouse Entrance
A two frame focus stack, with the iPhone just two frames will probably be enough to render from very near distances through to infinity.  Three frames is as many as you would ever practically need.

For the working photographer a tool only needs to excel in one specific aspect to make it useful for some select shooting needs, no-one’s claiming the iPhone is the perfect portrait device, the ideal copy camera, the most powerful landscape tool, the last word or even the first word in the world of sport photography shooting, but it doesn’t need to be either.

And finally, let’s face it, most DSLRs and Mirrorless cameras are still pretty hopeless when it comes to social media duties and many are very difficult to use for close-up work unless you have lots of other bits to go with them.

So yes the DNG shooting iPhone is potentially a serious camera for serious needs, it all comes down to way you choose to use it and of course what you want to use it for.

Buy Ultimate iPhone DNG here:   

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/ultimate-iphone-dng/id1274334884?ls=1&mt=11

 

Steampunk Lass
Here we have a lovely young lady dressed in all her steampunk finery, the image has been selectively blurred (DOFsim’d), in reality, it gives little away in terms of quality or look and is perfect for most publication needs.

 

How Good Can iPhone DNG Be?

It’s been twelve months since DNG was announced for the iPhone and around 11 months since it officially became available, still, the great majority of iPhone shooters haven’t tried DNG and indeed most casual shooters are probably not even aware that the DNG option exists.

As far as I’m concerned DNG for the iPhone is a game changer, in one swift movement it solves most of the core deficits of iPhone image quality, it may not be for everyone but there’s no doubt the difference in quality is truly significant. I’ve found in the past with DSLRs and Mirrorless cameras that the whilst the step up to DNG/RAW certainly made for better image quality I wouldn’t usually describe it as a quantum leap, that’s not the case for iPhone images, the difference is enormous.

So this begs two questions from photographers wondering about the ins and outs of shooting in DNG on the iPhone. What specific image aspects does DNG improve and how good can those DNG files be.

I’ll deal with the first briefly. Shooting in DNG and properly processing the files will provide the following changes.

 

Significantly better highlight and near white tonal rendering.

Far better textural information, your pics won’t look like they’ve been wrapped in cling wrap anymore, especially when the light drops off or the ISO gets ramped up.

Far fewer issues with posterization and banding.

Much improved shadow recoverability.

The ability to deal with noise reduction far more sensibly.

Improved skin tones.

Potentially better color.

Vastly better editing flexibility.

Cropping works better.…… and I could go on and on, but I won’t….

 

Trust me on this, the results are better in pretty much any way you might reasonably expect, but of course, you do need to know a little bit about editing and it sure helps if you pay more attention in the shooting phase as well.

So to the second question, how good can it really be, well I going to show you some samples but I’ll start by saying this.

Not one person I’ve shown comparative prints or full resolution on-screen images too has failed to be convinced by the results, almost everyone has said they find it difficult to reconcile that the images were even shot on an iPhone.

Before I proceed I must make a disclaimer and mention two things, one I have written a whole 400 page eBook on this subject, it’s the first in the series of six I’m producing on shooting seriously with your iPhone….so obviously I’d love you to buy a copy from the iBooks store if you’re interested.

Second, I have three core ways of shooting DNGs on the iPhone, I’m pretty confident that most folks are only aware of the regular method, so my results will probably be better technically than what the casual shooter will liberate, but the question we are asking here is “just how good can iPhone DNG be” not how good is it with quick and dirty techniques.

The first two samples are captured using the ultimate method, the last one via my middle-level method.

None of the core examples are from stacked images or stitches, just in case you are wondering, they’re all single frame captures.

It’s probably worth noting that the tool you use to extract the file has an enormous influence over the results and it’s possible to get all sorts of renderings by playing with various convertor apps and methods, both on the iPhone and your desktop computer.

But at the moment let’s just stick to the straight question, how good a single frame DNG captured and edited by optimal processes can be?  The test DNGs have been created using TLC capture (nope I,m not explaining that, you can buy the book if you want to know more) and processed using Iridient Developer.

So first up your honour,  I present this example,  a JPEG test capture from a set I took to compare the various capture methods (including stacked captures which are not covered in this article), it’s a scene taken from a hill near my home in bright light mid-afternoon light. It’s just the ticket for testing resolution etc.

 

Windellama Road View (JPEG)
Full-width JPEG frame, the sky has been cropped as it was incidental to the needs of the article, at this small size it looks pretty good.
Windellama View crop (JPEG)
Crop from the above JPEG capture, taken from the upper middle.

 

Just so you know all the images were all shot on a tripod and optimally exposed at the lowest ISO setting. In other words, the JPEG example is absolutely as good as it’s ever going to get with standard iPhone JPEG capture using the standard Apple camera app. You can be pretty sure that many of your iPhone pics will not be as good technically as this test JPEG due to small degrees of movement, less than optimal light and perhaps slightly compromised exposures.

Now let’s turn our attention to the optimal raw TLC-DNG capture.

 

Windellama Road View TLC
Here we have a single frame DNG -TLC capture, this is the ultimate single frame capture option, a couple of things will be obvious, the colour is more muted and film-like, and even at this small size it appears to have more fine detail and more natural level of clarity, in other words it doesn’t look “forced” in the way JPEGs do.
Windellama Road TLC crop
This crop shows where the rubber meets the road fine detail is just much better, color shows more subtlety, it looks far more analog, in fact it’s hard to believe they are taken with the same camera.

 

If all you want to do with your iPhone pics is share them to Facebook or post to Instagram then perhaps the difference between the test images may be irrelevant but let’s just examine those differences anyway.

First of all looking at the two overall images it obvious the color palette of the JPEG is far less subtle, but look closer and a couple of other color differences are evident. Take a peek at the bush to the left of center, it has tiny red berries on it, these are in real life a very bright red. In the JPEG capture you really struggle to see them at all, they sort of blend into the other colors. The same issue is evident on the Eucalyptus in the middle of the frame, it has new bright red shoots but again these are much less invisible in the JPEG capture.

Now turn your attention to the shadows, basically, in the JPEG capture they’re black, you can see it under trees, in the shadows of the leaves, basically, the tones just roll straight off into deep shadow.  It’s possible something may be recoverable with some clever editing but clipped data is clipped data and honestly, there’s very little wiggle room in those shadows unless you’re happy to accept all sorts of nasty noise.

Looking at the highlights now, two things are evident, the JPEG tends to tint the sky a bit more cyan green, but also the white clouds are not actually white, they also have a slight cyan tint. Away from the sky, everything that’s yellow in hue is pushed a little bit more saturated and lighter in tone, this also holds true for skin tones taken on the standard JPEG app set-up.

Basically, with the JPEGs there is a limited difference between the yellows and greens and the overall level of saturation is natively a little more intense, you may not realize this but greater saturation and color subtlety are actually flip sides of the same coin, you either get one or the other. Once you jack up the saturation on a JPEG you can never get that lost subtlety back by dialing it down in post..it’s a one-way street.

The DNG overall is more analog looking, it could, of course, be ramped up in saturation if desired and the shadows could be deepened but as far as editing potential goes it beats the JPEG hands down then comes back around the corner to flog it with a big stick.

Now let’s take a closer look at those crops. Well, really this is a chalk and cheese difference, in fact, if you only saw the crops you might have some difficulty believing they are the exact same device! Basically, the JPEG has zero fine textural detail, distant trees and low to mid contrast details look “watercolour like”, the grass in the near paddock is simply areas of indistinct color. At this resolution, we can also see the shadows in the DNG really do have quite a bit of color information.

Something very subtle but I find important is that the aerial perspective is quite different, the JPEG has similar color intensity across the entire crop, whereas the DNG goes obviously from more intense color on the foreground tree to far more muted colour in the distance (which incidentally is about 8 km away), this, of course, is how the scene really looks to the eye.

In summary on the test pics.  I realize some people may prefer the more intense and yellow rendering of the JPEG but in truth, the DNG can be made to look pretty similar if you really want that, the important thing is it can also be rendered very naturalistically and everything else in between.

I know that none of you stood next to me when I made these tests but I can absolutely state the DNG is far closer to the reality of the scene than the in-camera JPEG.

One question a keen shooter may have is “can the DNGs be enlarged to a higher degree for printing purposes”?  Well print quality is nearly impossible to show on a web page, but yep I’ve tried all sorts of options and the sections from that DNG test image, for example, can be printed very large indeed yet still look very nicely resolved, in fact, it’s in large prints that the DNG difference really hits a home run.

Let’s round things up by having a peek at a couple of other examples.

The next pic is a shot I took on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, I was at the time taking some family snaps but turned around and liked what I saw. Now even in the small downsized image you see here it’s pretty obvious that technically the shot is very sharp, with good shadow and highlight detail and nice color without being over the top. But just take a closer look at the 800 px close up crop, I didn’t crop out of the plant in the front of the scene which is where the focus was optimally set, here we’re looking more into the background and yet this is really super detailed and sharp and remember this represents a print of about a metre wide!

 

Tussock in Sand
Full Frame, the focus was set on the tussock grass, this taken in extremely contrasty light, just the sort of conditions that challenge the JPEGs when it comes to retaining both shadow and highlight details.
Tussock in Sand (crop)
Crop from the above, the file is processed in Iridient Developer on a Mac desktop, If you printed the whole image this big it would be approximately 100cm wide by my calculations!  From any sensible viewing distance, it should look excellent.

 

Something not to be overlooked is that with optimally exposed TLC-DNGs the noise reduction can be switched right off and once you do that you get not only more detail to start with but also the files now respond brilliantly to all manner of sharpening methods. This is where JPEGs are severely crippled, post sharpening usually just accentuates the deficits of the JPEG compression and the over-zealous standard iPhone noise reduction.

The example below wasn’t captured using the ultimate TLC – DNG method but rather the middle-level option, and it’s really rather nice. The wagon wheel shows excellent detail and tonality and is nicely editable, in this case, I’ve applied some sweet low radius sharpening to bring out all that fine detail.

Wagon Wheel
A wagon wheel I found at the “Goulburn Historic Waterworks” taken with iPhone 6S Plus, using the UniWb-DNG method.

 

So in the wrap-up, there is no doubt that DNGs are potentially vastly superior in any measurable way.  I’ll leave you by adding this, whilst these sample test pics represent the Ultimate single frame capture possibilities there are several multi-frame options that elevate the quality again, so just as a tease I’ve included a teensy tiny crop from 52 mp multi-frame TLC version……you’ll need to look back at the full frame pics to see just how tiny this section is.  Yes, this one can print “seriously big”.  I’ve done the maths for you it would be a print 1.5 meters wide! Obviously then you need to step back a bit from your screen or device to get a true perspective of how this would translate to the real world print, oh and those tree textures you can just see on the hill, that’s 8  to 9 km away from the camera.

 

Windellama View 52mp Crop
A tiny section from 52 Mp image stack taken using  4 frames TLC-DNG stack, printed this would be 1.5 meters wide!  A greater number of donor frames could be used to further increase quality and reduce luminance noise.

 

Want to know more, here is the link to my “Ultimate iPhone DNG” eBook on the iBooks store:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/ultimate-iphone-dng/id1274334884?ls=1&mt=11