Samsung introduced its Expert Raw app in beta at the end of 2021; Currently, it is only available for the S21 Ultra. The app lets you control manual exposure settings for all four rear cameras, which is great, but the most interesting thing it lets you do is shoot multi-frame RAW files. Here’s what you need to know about Expert RAW – what it is, why it’s useful and how to use it.
What is multi-frame RAW?
The short answer is it’s RAW but it’s better. In general, shooting in RAW format saves more data than a JPEG image file, which is a huge benefit if you prefer fine-tuning things like white balance and exposure photo editing software. JPEGs are smaller and easily shared, but these types of settings are “baked” to save space, and are much less flexible for later processing. Lots of smartphones offer a traditional RAW shooting mode – but with the main drawback of taking a standard JPEG photo.
When you take a photo in your phone’s native camera app, the resulting JPEG (or HEIC) file often includes data from multiple frames taken very quickly when the shutter button is pressed. This allows the phone to create a single image file with a wider dynamic range, making the backlight subject brighter without adding a lot of unsightly noise, for example.
Traditional RAW mode on a smartphone (or any camera) captures a single frame which is more flexible in editing than a typical JPEG but loses the computational benefits that come with the multi-frame processing you get with JPEG. This makes shooting RAW on a smartphone kind of pointless, frankly. Smartphones have sensors and lenses that are very small compared to traditional cameras, and these mathematical tricks are used to capture more image data and compensate for this unstable size. As a result, it’s usually best to let your phone do its thing and take the JPEG.
Multi-frame RAW, introduced by many phone manufacturers (including Apple), makes RAW more useful, especially when taking a photo with your phone. You get the best of both worlds: recording data from multiple frames into a single file, as well as plenty of editing flexibility.
What Samsung phones does Expert RAW offer?
The Galaxy S22 series, including the standard S22, S22 Plus, and S22 Ultra, all support Expert RAW as of February 25. Samsung plans to expand support for some older models, but there are certain hardware requirements the phone must meet in order to run Expert RAW, so only a few other high-end devices will offer it. This list includes:
- Galaxy S21 Ultra, full beta version expected sometime in March
- Galaxy Z Fold 3, support expected in April
- Support for Galaxy S20 Ultra, Note 20 Ultra and Z Fold 2 expected in the first half of 2022
How do you take photos in Expert RAW?
The feature is not included in the standard Samsung Camera app; It is actually a completely separate app that needs to be downloaded from the Galaxy Store. Open the Store app and search for Expert RAW. Once you’ve downloaded it and agreed to give it access to your camera and microphone, you’re ready to start shooting multi-frame RAW files.
The Expert RAW interface is similar to the professional mode in the standard camera app, including character icons at the bottom of the screen that indicate 0.6x, 1x, and 3x lens options. When you press the shutter, you will see a text that urges you to keep the phone still while the phone takes multiple frames. Related: Expert RAW isn’t something you’ll want to use for moving targets.
The resulting files are large – around 30MB to 40MB in my testing. There is a High Efficiency RAW option that you can switch to if you click the settings icon on the shooting screen, but it only saved me a few megabytes per photo. Unless you’ve bought a phone with massive storage, you’ll want to stick with Expert RAW when it really makes a difference, not all the time.
How do you edit Expert RAW photos?
Expert RAW files are saved as standard DNG files, so you can transfer them to any RAW processing software you want. Samsung includes a Lightroom shortcut in the Expert RAW app, but if you want to go this route, you’ll need to download Lightroom from the Galaxy Store and sign in with an Adobe account. Downloading from the Galaxy Store lets you get a two-month free trial, but after that, you’ll need to get a $119 annual subscription.
In any case, you can click the share icon when reviewing your photo to take your photo in a free app like Snapseed or save it to cloud storage for desktop editing.
With your image in the editing software of your choice, you’ll have more freedom to push shadows or pull highlights than a standard RAW file. I took standard RAW and multi-frame RAW for the same backlight scene for comparison purposes, and the difference is huge. Pushing the shadow slider all the way to +100 on both photos, there’s some clear banding in standard RAW, while Expert RAW looks cleaner.
So when you’re shooting a scene with a wide dynamic range, this is definitely the best RAW mode to use – just don’t get too excited if you want it to be easier to stash your phone.