This story is part of Samsung Event, CNET's collection of news, tips and advice around Samsung's most popular products.
Adobe and Samsung have banded together to ease the difficulties of advanced smartphone photography on Samsung's new Galaxy S23, S23 Plus and S23 Ultra phones. The smartphones will exclusively use Adobe's Lightroom software to handle the raw-format photos that pros and enthusiasts prefer.
Most of us are fine with plain old JPEG and HEIC, the formats that phones use to store photos. But raw photos, stored in the Digital Negative format, DNG, that Adobe invented, offer higher image quality and more editing flexibility when you want to fiddle with exposure, color balance, sharpening and other factors.
The problem is that raw files also are a pain to handle, which is why the Samsung-Adobe partnership — revealed exclusively to CNET — is notable. Once you take a photo using Samsung's Expert Raw camera app, you can open them directly in Lightroom with one tap, the companies said.
Although Lightroom won't be preinstalled on the phones, a prompt will encourage people to install it, after which Lightroom will be the default raw photo editor, Adobe photography marketing chief Stephen Baloglu said. The phone version of Lightroom can be used for free, but a $10 per month subscription opens up some premium features and synchronizes photos with laptops. The Samsung phones will come with a two-month free Lightroom trial.
The partnership shows the growing maturity of advanced smartphone photography. The first smartphones had cameras that were useful but not impressive, but now they're good enough to replace traditional cameras for most people, and camera technology is a top selling point for smartphones. That's why the Galaxy S23 Ultra comes with a 200-megapixel sensor, and why shooting raw photos has become important for making the most of pocketable hardware.
Smoothing the bumps is important to unlocking that power. When shooting raw, there are plenty of difficulties. For example, even though Google helped pioneer the technology by adding DNG format support to Android years ago, the Google Photos app warns you of "limited raw support" if you try to edit.
Lightroom can correct optical problems like distortion with specific lenses, and Adobe worked with Samsung to offer lens corrections for all the front and back Galaxy S23 lenses, Baloglu said. Adobe has done that in the past with earlier Samsung phones, too, as well as iPhones and other smartphones.
Adobe's Lightroom is geared in particular for raw photos. On traditional high-end cameras like DSLRs and mirrorless models, that means capturing the data straight from the image sensor without all the processing that's required to "bake" it into a compact, easily shared JPEG.
On phones, though, image sensors are smaller and image quality isn't as good. Smartphones compensate with computational photography techniques that merge multiple frames into one photo. That can dramatically improve a photo's dynamic range — the span of bright and dark elements in a scene — to boost image quality.
Newer phones from Google, Apple, Samsung and others come with computational raw technology that performs some of this processing but that produces a DNG. That balances the flexibility of raw photos with the power of computational photography.
One of the new tricks on Samsung's Galaxy S23 Ultra is using AI technology to reconstruct fine details in photos taken at the full 200 megapixel resolution. That's necessary because the phone's Isocell HP2 sensor uses pixel binning technology that combines pixels into 4x4 groupings that capture only a single color each. The 16-pixel groups are good for low-light photos but complicate matters at high resolution.
"We're excited to see the continuous innovation from Samsung to deliver impressive photography experiences," Baloglu said.
Because Lightroom synchronizes photos, Samsung S23 phone owners can get their raw shots on Samsung's new Galaxy Book 3 Ultra and Pro laptops — or for that matter, on any Mac or Windows PC. On the new Samsung PCs, though, Lightroom will come with a two-month free Lightroom subscription offer.
Samsung's all-new Galaxy S23 flagship lineup is now available to preorder, with devices shipping on Feb. 17. You can save on the latest devices with several Galaxy S23 preorder deals already available at Samsung, Best Buy, all the major phone carriers and more.