Snapseed software (links above), a free Google app for editing images on mobile devices is now able to edit most raw files. I've been working with it for a few days to see if this 'mobile workflow' works and is good enough for stock photography editing and uploading. And with a few things to be aware of, the answer is yes.
The initial problem is getting your device, in my case an iPad which I use for editing, to be able to 'spot' a raw file. Anyone who has tried to save a raw file to a mobile device will know that it is usually not possible. Snapseed have some suggestions as to how that problem might be overcome here - https://support.google.com/snapseed/answer/6312515?hl=en-GB&ref_topic=6155507
I chose to use Google Photos for this. This is a free cloud storage option. If shooting on a smartphone that creates raw files, then you can set it up to automatically upload your images, including raw, to this Google cloud storage. Then, as in Fig. 1 below, all of the files, including those raw files, show up in the Google Photos app on my iPad. As you can see, in Fig. 2. these are a collection of .RW2 raw files taken on my Panasonic CM1 smartphone, which also includes the GPS data. In Fig. 3 you can see that there is now an option to open the raw file in Snapseed and Fig. 4 shows that Snapseed now has a 'Develop' option which is specifically for raw files and which provides the best quality file output. You can then use the other Snapseed tools or ignore the Develop box and go straight to them.
So the process is relatively straightforward, though it's important to remember that Google Photos has a 16MP limit on files stored in it's cloud. Since I use this for smartphone images, I don't mind this as I generally reduce the size of my phone created images anyway, to achieve better image quality.
Is this worthwhile doing, is the quality good enough and does this provide a smaller, more flexible mobile option for photographers? Well, for me, the answers are yes, yes and yes. I used my Panasonic phone and small iPad for this. Imagine doing this with an iPad Pro with it's higher quality (and larger) screen and you can see the possibilities. Plus if the rumours are true and Apple are about to announce a new iPhone in the next couple of days with a higher pixel count plus a dual lens system, then smartphone, mobile photography might just be coming of age. And in terms of the stock photography sites I upload to, they have no problem with images I've already uploaded to them.
As you can see the outfit I used for all this at the top of the page, including writing this blog post, is somewhat smaller, lighter and cheaper than what I and many other photographers are used to. And I believe that the future of photography has to look something like this. How can it not? There are certainly some quality issues to take care of with regard to the smaller sensors and higher ISO in particular, but is anyone in any doubt that these will be solved. Just look at the huge improvement in m4/3 low light performance over the past few years.
Even with what we have now, I'm already using this 'smartphone aesthetic' to add variety to my stock portfolios and I have to say that it's a creative and enjoyable experience. And if lens options with the ability to have a decent quality telephoto emerge then I will be thinking seriously about my future gear options. As, I suspect, will many others. Stock photography is something that allows me to experiment and go my own way in terms of what, where and how I shoot and while I don't imagine that this is going to be the preferred choice for high end professional photography any time soon, I know for a fact that many 'pros' reach for their smartphone when shooting for themselves. After all it's just the 35mm versus Medium Format debate all over again and we all know how that turned out.