In December 2020, with the release of the iOS 14.3, the owners of iPhone 12 Pro (and ProMax), got to experience Apple’s new photo format, ProRAW. In simplest terms, the iPhone camera captures multiple image frames, picks out the best bits from these frames, and stitches them together in a photo with higher amount of data that can be manipulated for editing later. These are big files — about 10-12 times the sized on normal files captured by the iPhone.
In more recent days, Adobe announced a new version of Photoshop (and Camera Raw) image editing software especially for the M1 Mac. As part of these upgrades, the company unveiled a new feature called Super Resolution.
“The term ‘Super Resolution’ refers to the process of improving the quality of a photo by boosting its apparent resolution,” Adobe engineers write on the company blog. “Enlarging a photo often produces blurry details, but Super Resolution has an ace up its sleeve — an advanced machine learning model trained on millions of photos.”
Think of this as turning a 10-megapixel photo into a 40-megapixel photo. While I don’t need Super-Resolution with my Leica digital files, it is an interesting proposition when applied to cameras with smaller sensors, especially smartphones. I thought it made perfect sense to marry the ProRaw files from Apple’s iPhone 12 ProMax with Super Resolution. So, I did.
Last evening, I took a handful of photos with the iPhone’s normal and short-tele lenses in ProRaw format. I applied the Adobe SuperResolution in CameraRaw, made some adjustments, and opened the files in Photoshop. I edited them using my normal editing workflow — one I reserve for my Leica SL photos.
I was editing them on the Apple’s M1 MacBook attached to the XDR Display, which is about 32 inches and has 6K resolution. And the results were nothing short of astonishing. Sure, the files lack the dimensionality of a Leica. But for a camera phone, they are stunning. I printed the files on paper sized 11 x 17 inches on my Epson P800 printer. The print quality from the file, which is about 7000 x 6000 after my preferred 7 x 6 crop, is highly satisfactory.
What impressed me most was the detail that the marriage of ProRaw and Adobe’s Super Resolution could capture and enhance. Below, I’ve included two different crops of one image for you to take a look at. Remember, this is from a tiny smartphone sensor. And when you stop and think about how we have only just gotten started with the marriage of smartphone cameras and artificial intelligence, it is impossible not to be excited about the future of smartphone photography.