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Home » Reviews

New Digital Negative App Brings Uncompressed Raw Photos to iPhone — Poorly.

Submitted by on March 23, 2013 – 4:27 pm 7 Comments

Digital negative for iPhone screenshot

Digital Negative
Version Reviewed: 1.0

Rating 1 star

Bottom Line: Digital Negative has too many problems, bugs and lack of pro features to be considered for any serious use right now.

digital negative for iPhone and iPadHaving RAW format has been the Holy Grail of iPhoneographers for years. New photo app Digital Negative promises us with a flavor of digital RAW, but stumbles very badly in its initial release, to the point where it’s unusable as a camera for shooting high-quality photos in the iPhone.

I spent some hands-on time with this app over the past couple of days. Keep reading my review of this promising, but very disappointing camera app. >>>

This new photo app is getting a lot of attention because of the potential advanced capabilities it brings to the iPhone camera.

Digital Negative is the first iPhone camera app that captures uncompressed images that retain all of the information recorded by the camera sensor. That’s really cool! These Digital Negative (DNG) pictures are much like the negatives from a film camera, and the serious photographer can use standard RAW editing programs such as Adobe Photoshop for Desktop, or Digital Negative’s built-in raw editing tools to develop the photograph and display all of the features in the image.

Digital Negative saves to its own lightbox as DNG files. These files are similar to RAW files, but differ in a few key ways. According to the app’s manual, Linear DNG, unlike most raw image formats, contains data arranged in a rectilinear R-G-B format. This data has already been demosaiced, but can be edited by all popular raw image editing software such as Adobe Lightroom. You can read more about DNG and RAW files here.

Both formats preserve the settings of the image as shot, including Exposure, Gamma, Contrast, Vibrance, Saturation, etc. You can edit and reedit these settings in the app’s lightbox or tweak the settings when you import images on the desktop in Photoshop. It’s control over an image that serious iPhoneographers have been wanting for years.

It’s a great, high-end workflow that in theory should give you visibly better raw images to work with outside of the iPhone — images with greater color, better exposure and less noise and compression artifacts.

Problem is, there’s way too much wrong with the app, and many of its mission critical tools are flat-out broken in this release.

Digital negative functions as a very basic camera. It’s got some of the features of an advanced camera, but is missing some of the most basic ones like separate Focus and Exposure targets. That’s an essential feature in any high-end camera replacement.

The app has a live, onscreen Histogram to help composing better lit shots. There’s a Rule-of-Thirds composition grid. Both features can be toggled in the app’s settings.

The viewfinder crops the preview in not just a little, but quite a bit. it’s impossible for precision composition in viewfinder. Accuracy is paramount in a high-end camera app. This is another dealbreaking issue. See below. The actual crop of the image had the wider field of view as seen in the Apple Camera — itself an inaccurate viewfinder.

Digital Negative viewfinder

Digital Negative viewfinder

Apple Camera viewfinder

Apple Camera viewfinder

The app’s Darkroom functions as a built-in image editor where you can adjust many of the parameters of the raw image. Original exposure settings are preserved in the DNG file. In theory, you can also go back later and make different moves to the image as you “redevelop” it. It’s professional a workflow I use all the time in production when color correcting, retouching, and color matching images in the studio here.

When the Darkroom module works, it works well. The app is able to make some impressive color and luminance fixes to an image that are visibly better than performing the same moves in other apps. Colors look more natural. Shadows are open with good detail. There is less visible noise, especially in the darker areas of the image. That may have more to do with the processing algorithms, though, than the developers use of a limited DNG format. See my sample images below processed with Digital Negative, PhotoForge2 and the excellent but often overlooked Process app ( ). These were all corrected using these settings: Gamma +25%, Vibrance +25%, Saturation +10%. Nothing major, but enough to make the image pop a little bit.

digital-negative-test01-orig

Original exposure

Processed with Digital Negative

Processed with Digital Negative

Processed with Process app

Processed with Process app

Processed with PhotoForge2

Processed with PhotoForge2

Here are detail area images:

Original image detail

Original image detail

Detail area, Digital Negative

Detail area, Digital Negative

Detail area, Process app

Detail area, Process app

Detail area, PhotoForge2

Detail area, PhotoForge2

Unfortunately, several of Digital Negative’s tools are broken. The Exposure tool, The Denoise Tool, and the White Balance Tool all break the image with incorrect hue and saturation aberrations. Adjustments look more like the pixel destroyer Decim8 than from a high-end camera app.

Digital Negative Darkroom screen

Bugs in Exposure and White Balance tools in Digital negative

After editing, saving over an image saves back as a JPG, not as a DNG which destroys the ability to go back to your raw data. At least a warning would be nice.

DNG files are large. Raw 8 MP files were 30 MB each on my iPhone 5, compared to 1-3 MB of a high-quality JPG. You’ll need the largest capacity device to work with more than a few of these files.

The app has the ability to upload to Dropbox, but the feature is almost useless for what it really needs to be. The large DNG files take up a lot of room on my iPhone and I’d like to move the raw files off to my desktop as soon as possible. The Save to Dropbox feature only saves smaller JPG files that lack the raw data. When it works. The feature crashed often for me.

In fact, Digital Negative has stability issues overall. It crashed unexpectedly for me about 10% of the time during my tests. This was after quitting all apps and rebooting my device.

Opening up the DNG files in the RAW Camera plug-in in Photoshop for Mac was a disaster. The imported raw image (using the default import settings) should have been pretty close to what I shot, needing only minor tweaks to my preference. Instead, colors, saturation and luminance were all unusably way off and the imported image was way too noisy to use, negating any advantages and features of the raw DNG format. My reference raw image imported fine using the same plug-in and settings. Maybe I’m overlooking a setting here?

Digital Negative Photshop raw file import

Digital Negative Photshop raw file import

And here’s what my reference image looked like, same settings:

Reference image, Photshop raw file import

Reference image, Photshop raw file import

 

The in-app help is thorough, but not completely helpful. It’s also unreadable on an iPhone. Here’s a link to the Digital Negative manual on the web. You’ll need an iPad or a desktop to read it. Bad oversight making the help manual unreadable on most of the devices that will be using the app.

I really hated to come down hard on this app, but the expectations are high for a camera app that touts these professional-level features. I was very excited to read what it can do and was looking forward to getting some true high-quality files on my iPhone. However, I feel that the bugs and the lack of some key features make this first try very disappointing.

Many serious iPhoneographers will really tear up and do amazing things with raw format images, especially as the iPhone’s cameras improve. Right now, Digital Negative is not that answer. It could be a game changer when everything is fixed, but right now the app feels more like a late alpha than a real release. The app currently has too many problems, bugs and lack of features to be considered for any serious use.

Digital Negative is $2.99. Requirements: Compatible with iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPod touch (3rd generation), iPod touch (4th generation), iPod touch (5th generation) and iPad. Requires iOS 5.0 or later. This app is optimized for iPhone 5.

=M=

~~~~

Digital Negative Version Reviewed: 1.0 Bottom Line: Digital Negative has too many problems, bugs and lack of pro features to be considered for any serious use right now. Having RAW format has been the Holy Grail of iPhoneographers for years. New photo app Digital Negative promises us with a flavor of digital RAW, but stumbles very badly in its initial release, to the point where it's unusable as a camera for shooting high-quality photos in the iPhone. I spent some hands-on time with this app over the past couple of days. Keep reading my review of this promising, but very disappointing camera app. >>> This new photo app is getting a lot of attention because of the potential advanced capabilities it brings to the iPhone camera. Digital Negative is the first iPhone camera app that captures uncompressed images that retain all of the information recorded by the camera sensor. That's really cool! These Digital Negative (DNG) pictures are much like the negatives from a film camera, and the serious photographer can use standard RAW editing programs such as Adobe Photoshop for Desktop, or Digital Negative’s built-in raw editing tools to develop the photograph and display all of the features in the image. Digital Negative saves to its own lightbox as DNG files. These files are similar to RAW files, but differ in a few key ways. According to the app's manual, Linear DNG, unlike most raw image formats, contains data arranged in a rectilinear R-G-B format. This data has already been demosaiced, but can be edited by all popular raw image editing software such as Adobe Lightroom. You can read more about DNG and RAW files here. Both formats preserve the settings of the image as shot, including Exposure, Gamma, Contrast, Vibrance, Saturation, etc. You can edit and reedit these settings in the app's lightbox or tweak the settings when you import images on the desktop in Photoshop. It's control over an image that serious iPhoneographers have been wanting for years. It's a great, high-end workflow that in theory should give you visibly better raw images to work with outside of the iPhone -- images with greater color, better exposure and less noise and compression artifacts. Problem is, there's way too much wrong with the app, and many of its mission critical tools are flat-out broken in this release. Digital negative functions as a very basic camera. It's got some of the features of an advanced camera, but is missing some of the most basic ones like separate Focus and Exposure targets. That's an essential feature in any high-end camera replacement. The app has a live, onscreen Histogram to help composing better lit shots. There's a Rule-of-Thirds composition grid. Both features can be toggled in the app's settings. The viewfinder crops the preview in not just a little, but quite a bit. it's impossible for precision composition in viewfinder. Accuracy is paramount in a high-end camera app. This is another dealbreaking issue. See below. The actual crop of the image…

Digital Negative for iPhone

Toolbox
Resolution & Image Quality
User Interface
Price / Value

Poor

Many serious iPhoneographers will really tear up and do amazing things with raw format images. Right now, Digital Negative is not that answer. It could be a game changer when everything is fixed, but right now the app feels more like a late alpha than a real release. It has too many problems, bugs and lack of features to be considered for any serious use.

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Marty Yawnick

Marty is a self-employed graphic designer in the Fort Worth/Dallas Metroplex. He is an avid Rangers baseball, Chicago Cubs, Packers and Highbury Arsenal fan. In addition to capturing random moments with whatever camera is close by (usually his iPhone), his other interests include coffee, film, music, and traveling in seats 5E and 5F with his fiancé.

  • MxGxPx

    Everything you wrote. But actually far worse. Digital Negative couldn’t even reliably shoot fotos. Most images were jammed, distorted or not even taken at all. For a supposedly high end foto app that can’t actually take fotos, I’m beside myself. I’ve bought some very poor apps before, many in fact. But Digital Megative has got to be the worst. Even the scam Chinese apps are more reliable. Useless.

  • Mikey

    Thanks for the heads up. But I’d prefer reviews of good apps.

    • http://lifeinlofi.com =M=

      Thank you, Mikey,

      I much prefer writing reviews of good apps! But this one is getting a lot of positive press by reputable websites and blogs that are just irresponsibly regurgitating the press release and haven’t had their writers test the app for themselves.

      =M=

  • http://jag.gr/ Mike Hardaker

    Hi Marty,

    It’s important to remember that DNG isn’t necessarily a “raw” format. As Adobe’s Eric Chan puts it:

    “At its most essential level, DNG is just a container of image data and its associated metadata. It can hold raw image data (a.k.a., scene-referred data), and it can also hold rendered image data (a.k.a., output-referred data).”

    (http://www.natcoalson.com/blog/2011/11/29/my-adobe-dng-chat-with-eric-chan/)

    In other words, while DNG is primarily used as an alternative to the various proprietary Camera RAW format, it’s not restricted to that role.

    There’s currently no (legitimate) way for an iOS developer to get scene-referred data from the iOS camera sensor; the data is always output-referred RGB image data at 8 bits per channel, together with metadata that tells you what’s already been done to the image data during processing (rather than, as with scene-referred data, what the “as shot” settings should be when the image data is eventually processed—the biggest benefit of “raw” files).

    That image data is available as a JPEG representation or uncompressed but, to stress, the exposure, white balance and so forth have all been irrevocably applied to that data by the time the developer has any chance to play with it, unlike with a Camera RAW file (or most DNGs produced by cameras that use the format as an alternative to a proprietary Camera RAW format).

    Personally, I can see no real value in wrapping that data up as DNG unless as part of a solid DNG workflow (for example, after importing the image into Adobe Photoshop Lightroom). Even then, any benefits will not include the ability to “undo” decisions made in-camera such as the white balance—all such changes will be post-processing, and indistinguishable from those made to any other file saved in a non-lossy format such as a TIFF or PNG (assuming the data in the DNG is saved in a non-lossy format—there’s nothing to stop a DNG being used as a wrapper for lossy JPEG data!).

    (Note: I actually did look in great depth at DNG as an alternative to TIFF for the apps that we write, and rejected it for the very simple reason that it offered no identifiable benefit, while resulting in bigger files that saved much slower—with the danger of leading customers to assume that the image within was somehow “more raw”, when it wasn’t. Having said that, even with output-referred data, DNG can be a hugely useful workflow tool, but only if the DNG-ness of that workflow is seamless and uninterrupted, and all edits are non-destructive.)

  • http://www.the11ers.com/glaze Gilles Dezeustre

    Thanks for the review Marty, super instructive. I appreciate how you did your best to not pile it on too much and remain fair. I think app developers need this type of feedback and this looks like a great idea released too early. I’m would therefore respectfully disagree with =M=, this is a most useful review.

    G

  • Mar

    Unfortunately, the unattractive darkroom UI is the same as the one in the piRAWnha app, made by the same developer, and also crush-prone. I appreciate the efforts of the developer, but really hoped for a polished end-product.

  • ba_ellis

    Thanks for the reviews you do. I’m not sure I’m reading this correctly but your comment ” you can edit and reedit these setting in the apps lightbox or tweak the settings when you when you import images on the desktop. It’s control the serious iphoneographer have been waiting years for.” I’m under the impression and mainly because most iphoneography sites won’t accept desktop photoshop manipulation. To me this is one thing that makes this art great. I feel a serious iphoneographer as you call them would never use a desktop or photoshop.