From camera to RAW editing on Android

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Most of the time, photographers prefer to edit photos on a computer. Phones and tablets tend to have small screens and awkward interfaces to work with. Computers aren’t always the most portable, though. Laptops are expensive and still somewhat bulky. They’re not ideal for travel. Most people carry their phones everywhere, though. Many traveling may prefer to bring a tablet too. If you’re one of those photographers looking for a workflow for editing your RAW or even jpeg photos on a phone or tablet, I may have the solution!

I will focus on this workflow for Android users, but many of the ideas can be mirrored for those using iOS. The difference is in what app(s) you use and connectors you buy. I apologize in advance for neglecting iOS specific solutions, but I must confess I have not spent enough time on that platform to feel confident in describing a specific workflow for it. Before we begin diving into the details, here’s a list of things you may need:

  • Android phone or tablet
  • Micro USB or USB type C card reader OR USB OTG (on the go) cable or adapter
  • RAW editing app – I will use Photo Mate as an example (current version as of writing this is Photo Mate R3)

Now that we have the required pieces of this workflow covered, let’s imagine when we might use these. We’re traveling abroad to another country. We want to pack as light as possible, but still be efficient. Trying to stick a laptop in the camera gear back might be too heavy or too big to fit comfortably, but a tablet is slim and light enough to carry with us. We’ve snapped dozens or hundreds of photos, using RAW to have the most data to work with in editing and need to start working while away. We didn’t bring a laptop because of the size and weight, but there’s a tablet in our bag.

Android keeps growing in function as Google pushes capabilities further and developers push the boundaries of the open environment of the operating system. Android 5.0 introduced a new Camera API that allows Android to capture RAW photos as DNG files. This drove more interest in RAW capabilities for Android. However, DNG  is the only RAW format most apps work with currently. At this time, Photo Mate was at version R2 (Photo Mate R2). This app had support for almost every RAW format in existence at this time and no competition. It was a no brainer for me to adopt this app as my mobile editor. But the problem for many is getting your photos to the app.

Android runs the Linux kernel, which enables it to recognize and run almost any plug-and-play USB hardware. The problem is getting this hardware to connect to the micro USB port Android uses. Because of the kernel Android uses, though, you can connect things like a keyboard, mouse, hard drive, even a floppy drive to Android. Depending on the version of Android you are running, there may be limitations to how storage devices function. For instance, Android 4.4 KitKat won’t write to external storage unless the manufacturer modified this to work, but it will read external storage.

There are a few ways you can get your pictures on to Android for editing. If you’re camera has WiFi, you should be able to connect via WiFi and the camera’s companion app to transfer photos. However, if you don’t have this option, you still have options. One of the most convenient is using a card reader. There are card readers that connect to micro USB you can purchase for relatively cheap. Just plug this into your Android device and then insert your memory card. Using a file browser, such as Solid Browser, you can copy your photos to Android. If you don’t want to buy another card reader, carry another piece of gear, or prefer directly connecting to your camera, then you can opt to pick up a USB OTG, or USB on the go, cable or adapter. These come in many shapes and sizes, but they’re meant to convert a standard USB connection into a micro USB connection (or to a USB type C connection). Some connect to your key ring, some are just cables, others are just the connector. Regardless of the shape/size, they all work the same. Plug one end into your Android phone or tablet, then your USB device into the other end. This is the cable I purchased; it serves as a charging cable as well as a USB OTG adapter and has a loop for my key ring.

Once you have your photos copied, next you’ll want to edit your photos. There are several apps that claim to edit RAW photos, but most only support the DNG format. Two of the most popular are Snapseed and Lightroom mobile. If you are interested in using these apps, you’ll need the app RAW2DNG to convert your RAW files to the DNG format. This means taking up more storage and having another step in the workflow to get the job done. I prefer Photo Mate R3, however. It’s not cheap compared to other apps, but it’s dirt cheap compared to other RAW editors on a PC. Photo Mate doesn’t require your photos to be in the DNG format. In fact, it supports almost all RAW file formats for editing and viewing. Their website lists the formats it supports. The interface is familiar to any other RAW editor on a desktop computer. The main view is for browsing, rating, and categorizing. This app can even browse images on a network drive. Once you select a photo, tap the develop button and you’ll be presented with a scrolling list of sliders to edit the photo. After editing, you can export the final image and are given many more options for the way the file is saved. These options include the exported file format, quality, watermarks, and more. Explore more of what this app is capable of on their website.

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