How to Work with RAW and JPEG Files in Apple’s Photos App

If you take photos with an iPhone, you don’t really pay attention to the format of the digital files it saves. They are JPEGs, the standard compressed format that has been in use for for about 25 years. They’re commonly used on digital cameras because they save a lot of space. They’re like the MP3s of image files.

With most digital cameras – other than a smartphone – you can choose the level of compression you use for your JPEGs. My Fuji X100F has two options: normal and fine. As an example, the manual explains that on an 8 GB memory card, you can store 800 photos at normal compression, but only 540 at fine compression. My Olympus Pen-F has four options: basic, normal, fine, and super-fine, which, at full-size allows you to store from 510 to 2347 photos on the same 8 GB. (Note that the Pen-F has 20 Mp while the X100F has 24 Mp, so the largest files of the former are smaller.)

But you can also choose to shoot in RAW format. This stores uncompressed files that contain the raw data that the camera’s sensor records. They are much larger – you can only store 150 or 340 of these on the same memory card with each camera – but if I retain the music comparison, they’re like the original music on a CD that hasn’t been compressed.

Apple’s Photos app supports most RAW formats. (Here is a list of the cameras that are supported.) One notable exception is my Fuji’s compressed RAW format; not only does Photos not support this, but many other photo apps can’t handle this type of file.

Raw jpegIf you shoot in RAW, you can import your photos into Apple’s Photos app just as you would do with JPEGs. And if you shoot in both RAW and JPEG – any camera that can shoot in RAW allows you to do this – Photos detects that the two photos go together, and imports them as a pair, and displays the photos with a small icon on the top right corner of a thumbnail. Photos picks the JPEG as the main photo, and this icon shows the letter J.

However, you can edit the RAW photo, and use it as the main photo. To do this, select a photo and press Return to enter edit mode. As part of the information that Photos shows about this picture, it says which format it’s in. Here, Photos tells me that the photo above is being edited in JPEG mode.

Jpeg edit

To switch to the RAW file, choose Image > Use RAW as Original, or right-click on the photo and choose Use RAW as Original. When you do this, you may notice that the photo changes a bit; it may become lighter, or have more contrast. This is because RAW files have greater dynamic range; they cover more gradations of light. You can then edit the photo the same as you would any other.

When you export the photo by dragging it from Photos to the Desktop or to a folder, it will be a JPEG, since RAW files aren’t intended to be viewed or shared. If you export it by using the File > Export command, you can choose JPEG, PNG, or TIFF format. And if you want to export the RAW file to use in another app, choose File > Export Unmodified Original for 1 Photo. This will export the RAW file, if that’s all you have, or both files, if you have a JPEG/RAW pair. But these files won’t contain any of your edits.

54 thoughts on “How to Work with RAW and JPEG Files in Apple’s Photos App

  1. Hi Kirk. Great tips. I would like to ask you something.

    Previously with my old X100S I used to shoot in FINE+RAW and both jpeg and raf files were saved in my iCloud via Photos (Mac or iOS) app. JPEGs are great for first review and Fuji film simulation. And RAWs are obv the way to go for a detailed photo edition. Now, I would like to go the same way with my new X100F, and I’m also trying to create a mobile workflow using my new iPad Pro. At this moment I have to save uncompressed RAF files (plus jpeg) in order to have the possibility to edit RAW in iOS (using Photo, Snapseed, Affinity Photo, …) and Mac (Photo, Aurora Pro for HDR and Creative Kit & Nik Collection for everything else) but they are quite more heavier than compressed ones (50Mb > 20Mb), which can be edited only by Lightroom (iOS and Mac apps). Photo management offered by Apple Photo is enough for me, and I don’t wont to use Abode CC mainly because its monthly subscription (also I’m just paying for an iCloud 1Tb plan).

    Do you know any other mobile app for editing X100F compressed RAFs? And, Do you think compressed RAF will be supported in a near future? Is there any app to easy transform compressed rafs into uncompressed ones? During a holiday trip last month I shut compressed by error 🙁

    Thanks in advance!

    • As this Affinity photo forum thread explains:

      “Currently only the uncompressed RAW format is supported. Affinity Photo for iPad relies on iOS system level support – Apple (Core Image RAW) – to convert/process RAW’s, so we depend on Apple to add support for the compressed format.”

      So there are no apps that can support it right now. I don’t know if Apple is going to add support for compressed RAF in macOS or iOS; that format has been out for a while. I guess Lightroom does things differently, if it can edit the files.

      As for an app that can convert the files, I don’t know. That’s an interesting question; If you’re not a member of this Facebook group, you might want to join it and ask. Someone will certainly know if it’s possible. (I’m going to ask now, in any case.)

      • Late to the thread but I had the same problem. I have found that Adobe’s DNG converter can convert RAFs to DNGs. This (usually) goes without problem and created files are more or less at half the size (25 mb versus 50 mb in case of my Fuji XE3).

        You can then open and edit them in any RAW editor, including Apple Photos. You are loosing ability to edit them in-camera, including through Fuji’s X RAW Studio.

  2. Hi Kirk. Great tips. I would like to ask you something.

    Previously with my old X100S I used to shoot in FINE+RAW and both jpeg and raf files were saved in my iCloud via Photos (Mac or iOS) app. JPEGs are great for first review and Fuji film simulation. And RAWs are obv the way to go for a detailed photo edition. Now, I would like to go the same way with my new X100F, and I’m also trying to create a mobile workflow using my new iPad Pro. At this moment I have to save uncompressed RAF files (plus jpeg) in order to have the possibility to edit RAW in iOS (using Photo, Snapseed, Affinity Photo, …) and Mac (Photo, Aurora Pro for HDR and Creative Kit & Nik Collection for everything else) but they are quite more heavier than compressed ones (50Mb > 20Mb), which can be edited only by Lightroom (iOS and Mac apps). Photo management offered by Apple Photo is enough for me, and I don’t wont to use Abode CC mainly because its monthly subscription (also I’m just paying for an iCloud 1Tb plan).

    Do you know any other mobile app for editing X100F compressed RAFs? And, Do you think compressed RAF will be supported in a near future? Is there any app to easy transform compressed rafs into uncompressed ones? During a holiday trip last month I shut compressed by error 🙁

    Thanks in advance!

    • As this Affinity photo forum thread explains:

      “Currently only the uncompressed RAW format is supported. Affinity Photo for iPad relies on iOS system level support – Apple (Core Image RAW) – to convert/process RAW’s, so we depend on Apple to add support for the compressed format.”

      So there are no apps that can support it right now. I don’t know if Apple is going to add support for compressed RAF in macOS or iOS; that format has been out for a while. I guess Lightroom does things differently, if it can edit the files.

      As for an app that can convert the files, I don’t know. That’s an interesting question; If you’re not a member of this Facebook group, you might want to join it and ask. Someone will certainly know if it’s possible. (I’m going to ask now, in any case.)

      • Late to the thread but I had the same problem. I have found that Adobe’s DNG converter can convert RAFs to DNGs. This (usually) goes without problem and created files are more or less at half the size (25 mb versus 50 mb in case of my Fuji XE3).

        You can then open and edit them in any RAW editor, including Apple Photos. You are loosing ability to edit them in-camera, including through Fuji’s X RAW Studio.

  3. Dang, I shoot with an X100T and I’m in the same boat. It’s a real shame that the RAW files aren’t supported in the Photos app because as you probably know, there was some bad news about Lightroom today. I suspect a lot of people are going to be looking at Photos as an alternative.

  4. Dang, I shoot with an X100T and I’m in the same boat. It’s a real shame that the RAW files aren’t supported in the Photos app because as you probably know, there was some bad news about Lightroom today. I suspect a lot of people are going to be looking at Photos as an alternative.

  5. Actually, it seems that support for the X100T and X100F has been added to MacOS and iOS (but support for the Ricoh GR2 which I also use is still missing).

  6. Actually, it seems that support for the X100T and X100F has been added to MacOS and iOS (but support for the Ricoh GR2 which I also use is still missing).

  7. Im shooting in RAW with a Nikon D3400, and got the photos imported onto my macbook pro. The issue is i can view the photo thumbnail but when i click on the photo it brongs up a grey card with a triangle with a ! Inside it where the photo should be. I’ve repaired the library, still not working, the photos also aren’t showing the “R” tap on the thumbnail to signify if they’re RAW or JPEG. Please help!

  8. Im shooting in RAW with a Nikon D3400, and got the photos imported onto my macbook pro. The issue is i can view the photo thumbnail but when i click on the photo it brongs up a grey card with a triangle with a ! Inside it where the photo should be. I’ve repaired the library, still not working, the photos also aren’t showing the “R” tap on the thumbnail to signify if they’re RAW or JPEG. Please help!

  9. hi there, I have problem that my photos application seems to stop work with RAW images. I change jpg into raw by option “use raw as original”. and it used to open such image in camera raw – I did that by using “edit with photoshop” but lately when I do the same action RAW opens in PS as jpg. no idea what happened..

    • You need to select a raw file in the Finder, press Command-I, then, in the Open With menu, select the app you want to open it with, then click Change All.

      • thanks for the tip 🙂
        I have tried. still the images I am browsing using photos app, even though they have the R in the right corner open as jpg so in photoshop. and it used to be like that that if I had raw image and used the right mouse click edit with photoshop, it opened the image in camera raw. I did not change any settings and preferences in photoshop or photos .. working on Mac is still a kind of new for me so any tip is helpful.

        • When you are using external editor through “Edit in” command in Apple Photos it is creating on the fly and exposing to that editor a TIFF version (16-bit so it’s quite feasible for editing) of image to edit. It then can read back this copy after you save it in external editor. To edit RAWs you should first export them to external folder as Kirk described in his article. There is nice Photos Extensions called External editors that allows to add any external image as edit to files in Apple Photos. I use it to “write back” images edited in external editors from RAWs back to copies in Photos Library to avoid having duplicates.

  10. hi there, I have problem that my photos application seems to stop work with RAW images. I change jpg into raw by option “use raw as original”. and it used to open such image in camera raw – I did that by using “edit with photoshop” but lately when I do the same action RAW opens in PS as jpg. no idea what happened..

    • You need to select a raw file in the Finder, press Command-I, then, in the Open With menu, select the app you want to open it with, then click Change All.

      • thanks for the tip 🙂
        I have tried. still the images I am browsing using photos app, even though they have the R in the right corner open as jpg so in photoshop. and it used to be like that that if I had raw image and used the right mouse click edit with photoshop, it opened the image in camera raw. I did not change any settings and preferences in photoshop or photos .. working on Mac is still a kind of new for me so any tip is helpful.

        • When you are using external editor through “Edit in” command in Apple Photos it is creating on the fly and exposing to that editor a TIFF version (16-bit so it’s quite feasible for editing) of image to edit. It then can read back this copy after you save it in external editor. To edit RAWs you should first export them to external folder as Kirk described in his article. There is nice Photos Extensions called External editors that allows to add any external image as edit to files in Apple Photos. I use it to “write back” images edited in external editors from RAWs back to copies in Photos Library to avoid having duplicates.

  11. Is there a way to automatically do this for all photos when the Edit interface is entered or to have all photos be dealt with as raw from the start? I’d rather not have to do this for every picture I’m editing.

    • No, alas. I think they assume that you will choose which you want to edit in raw. It would make sense for there to be a setting to choose raw as default for editing.

  12. Is there a way to automatically do this for all photos when the Edit interface is entered or to have all photos be dealt with as raw from the start? I’d rather not have to do this for every picture I’m editing.

    • No, alas. I think they assume that you will choose which you want to edit in raw. It would make sense for there to be a setting to choose raw as default for editing.

  13. I’m using latest version of Mac High Sierra and I looked up some pictures in Photos that were shot in Raw. No R or J is shown in the image, even though I can click on “i” in the menu bar and it shows that the picture is in Raw format.

    What am I missing?

  14. I’m using latest version of Mac High Sierra and I looked up some pictures in Photos that were shot in Raw. No R or J is shown in the image, even though I can click on “i” in the menu bar and it shows that the picture is in Raw format.

    What am I missing?

  15. Apple screws up my workflow once again… unbelievable. Slowly but surely losing faith in the mighty Apple after 28 years of use. Just like Monika, 2 weeks ago I was able to see my jpg files right next to my RAW files when imported and easily compare, then a simple right click on the RAW and “Edit with Photoshop” would bring up the RAW file in Camera Raw to edit. Now it seems some Mac programer fool thought this was too easy and simple and had to make it all more convoluted. Now even when switched to RAW in Photos editor mode, then right clicked to Edit in Photoshop, my RAW files open as tiffs in Photoshop. WTF??

  16. Apple screws up my workflow once again… unbelievable. Slowly but surely losing faith in the mighty Apple after 28 years of use. Just like Monika, 2 weeks ago I was able to see my jpg files right next to my RAW files when imported and easily compare, then a simple right click on the RAW and “Edit with Photoshop” would bring up the RAW file in Camera Raw to edit. Now it seems some Mac programer fool thought this was too easy and simple and had to make it all more convoluted. Now even when switched to RAW in Photos editor mode, then right clicked to Edit in Photoshop, my RAW files open as tiffs in Photoshop. WTF??

  17. As a Windows user, trying to help a friend advance with her photography, I am struggling with the Apple MacBook Air that she is using.
    She insists on shooting only in RAW. Her images seem muddy as viewed in Photo app. Would I be right in assuming Photo does no processing (i.e. not applying camera settings from the EXIF info) when simply viewing? I have advised her to shoot RAW plus jpg and so view the shots with camera settings applied.

    • By “muddy,” do you mean flat, bland? Raw files generally look unfinished, though it may depend on which camera she is using. Mine look fairly good, but every raw file needs tweaking after import. It would be a good idea for her to shoot raw + jpeg to see what the camera offers as jpegs. Another thing is to open a photo in the Photos app, press Return to go into edit mode, then click the magic wand near the top right of the window; Photos will apply alterations to the photo that will make it look a lot better.

      FYI, I’ve recently started a podcast called PhotoActive, about photography and the Apple ecosystem, and we plan to discuss raw vs jpeg in an episode soon.

  18. As a Windows user, trying to help a friend advance with her photography, I am struggling with the Apple MacBook Air that she is using.
    She insists on shooting only in RAW. Her images seem muddy as viewed in Photo app. Would I be right in assuming Photo does no processing (i.e. not applying camera settings from the EXIF info) when simply viewing? I have advised her to shoot RAW plus jpg and so view the shots with camera settings applied.

    • By “muddy,” do you mean flat, bland? Raw files generally look unfinished, though it may depend on which camera she is using. Mine look fairly good, but every raw file needs tweaking after import. It would be a good idea for her to shoot raw + jpeg to see what the camera offers as jpegs. Another thing is to open a photo in the Photos app, press Return to go into edit mode, then click the magic wand near the top right of the window; Photos will apply alterations to the photo that will make it look a lot better.

      FYI, I’ve recently started a podcast called PhotoActive, about photography and the Apple ecosystem, and we plan to discuss raw vs jpeg in an episode soon.

  19. So, as I understand I can upload from my card reader CR2raw, select or delete and save jpg. But also send a raw file to DXO program for retouching and modifications return said file as a jpg to Apple. Thanks

  20. So, as I understand I can upload from my card reader CR2raw, select or delete and save jpg. But also send a raw file to DXO program for retouching and modifications return said file as a jpg to Apple. Thanks

  21. So if photos in raw aren’t intended to be viewed or shared, why bother shooting in raw? Can’t you edit in raw and also share that post production photo with others? I’m fairly new to this so please forgive the obvious question.

    • If you edit the raw file, you have a lot more options as to how you can alter it; it’s a lot easier to increase or decrease the exposure, for example, without it damaging the image. Using the best possible quality file to edit, then exporting as JPEG, can make your photos look better in their details. This said, plenty of people just use JPEGs, and get along fine with them.

  22. So if photos in raw aren’t intended to be viewed or shared, why bother shooting in raw? Can’t you edit in raw and also share that post production photo with others? I’m fairly new to this so please forgive the obvious question.

    • If you edit the raw file, you have a lot more options as to how you can alter it; it’s a lot easier to increase or decrease the exposure, for example, without it damaging the image. Using the best possible quality file to edit, then exporting as JPEG, can make your photos look better in their details. This said, plenty of people just use JPEGs, and get along fine with them.

  23. Hi Kirk, I’ve just started to add my photos to Apple Photos on my Mac as I didn’t know Photos could handle RAW – nor did the Apple Store Staff! I shoot in RAW and JPEG. Now I’ve edited my RAW file in photos how do I make it so it is viewable in Photos on my iPhone? Currently they are showing up as blank images with a cloud icon on my phone. Is it possible to set it up so once I’ve edited the RAW file it automatically updated the JPEG to the edited image – without having to export and re-import the image into Photos? Thanks

    • When you edit a raw file, Photos creates a JPG that it uses as a thumbnail; that should sync to iCloud Photo Library. It does for me. Perhaps it’s just taking a long time to sync; how long have you waited, and have you done this with a lot of photos?

      • Thanks for your response Kirk. I’ve only done this with a small sample to start with. It’s been 24 hours and they still haven’t appeared. Could it be something to do with my iPhone storage being set to Optimise Storage?

        • I have mine set that way too, so that can’t be the problem. I’m not sure how to troubleshoot this.

  24. Hi Kirk, I’ve just started to add my photos to Apple Photos on my Mac as I didn’t know Photos could handle RAW – nor did the Apple Store Staff! I shoot in RAW and JPEG. Now I’ve edited my RAW file in photos how do I make it so it is viewable in Photos on my iPhone? Currently they are showing up as blank images with a cloud icon on my phone. Is it possible to set it up so once I’ve edited the RAW file it automatically updated the JPEG to the edited image – without having to export and re-import the image into Photos? Thanks

    • When you edit a raw file, Photos creates a JPG that it uses as a thumbnail; that should sync to iCloud Photo Library. It does for me. Perhaps it’s just taking a long time to sync; how long have you waited, and have you done this with a lot of photos?

      • Thanks for your response Kirk. I’ve only done this with a small sample to start with. It’s been 24 hours and they still haven’t appeared. Could it be something to do with my iPhone storage being set to Optimise Storage?

        • I have mine set that way too, so that can’t be the problem. I’m not sure how to troubleshoot this.

  25. Maybe RAW photos are not supposed to be exported-they are only used to be printed from the edited RAW edition. That’s my 2 cents.

  26. Maybe RAW photos are not supposed to be exported-they are only used to be printed from the edited RAW edition. That’s my 2 cents.

  27. Can RAW be exported from one MacBook Pro to an external drive and moved and be printed on another Mac computer? I wonder because that sounds possible.

  28. Can RAW be exported from one MacBook Pro to an external drive and moved and be printed on another Mac computer? I wonder because that sounds possible.

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