As a fan of photography in general, and a believer in the inevitability of computational photography and its capabilities, today is indeed a red-letter day. Apple has truly delivered a great new camera, one that happens to be a phone and a whole lot of other things. From great stills to slow-motion selfies to incredible video capabilities — it is hard to imagine not wanting to upgrade.
It was also an important day because Apple, which seemed to be falling behind in the smartphone camera race, can finally look you in the eye and say that they actually have the best camera powered by the best silicon and the best experience. The three-lens camera system, backed up computational photographic capabilities enabled by a beefy A13 Bionic chip with ever more powerful neural engines and an even more powerful graphics processing engine, is impressive indeed. The camera system is a square-shaped module that stands out behind the phone.
I can’t wait to put it through the paces when the new device arrives in the market later this month. In the meantime. Apple isn’t being coy about talking about the edge it has over its rivals. But first, a recap of the iPhone 11 Pro & Max Pro camera system’s vital statistics.
- 12-megapixel (MP) regular wide-angle camera (26mm f 1.8)
- 12 MP ultra-wide camera | 13mm f/2.4 with a 120-degree field of view
- 12 MP telephoto / portrait lens | 52mm f/2.0. This is an upgrade and allows the lens to capture more light – about 40 percent more than the iPhone XS.
- The front camera on iPhone Pro/Max is a 12MP TrueDepth f/2.2 wide-angle camera and can record slo-mo video and 4K60 recording
And here is what it can do:
- It is fairly easy to switch between wide and ultra-wide modes. When using the newly redesigned Camera App, the effect is what you get in a rangefinder camera, where you have frame lines and everything outside those frame lines.
- There is a 4x optical zoom range now, and the resolution is a little better.
- It is easy to switch between shooting video and photos. There is a quick video take mode — if you press and hold the record button it automatically records a 30-second video.
- A new High-Key Mono effect creates a beautiful, monochromatic look for Portrait mode photos.
- Night Mode: preserves highlights and creates very clean & crisp natural-looking images in very low light conditions. Google introduced Night Sight last year and has been the king of night photography, which admittedly comes in handy for those who like to indulge in food photography. (I personally indulge in food, which is way more satisfying than taking photos.) The night mode in new phones it seems is based on a new feature, that is yet to be released: Deep Fusion.
- Sometime in the near future, the company will launch a new feature called Deep Fusion, which is a way to fuse nine images and create a stunning highly detailed image. How it works is that when you are ready to take a photo, the camera will grab 8 photos even before you press the shutter and then it takes a long exposure and then stitches together a new image that has more detail and very little noise. On stage, Apple Senior VP Phil Schiller called it “computational photography mad science.” This will be a software upgrade.
There is a very simple reason why Apple has been making such a huge fuss about its new camera capabilities. Most of the services we use on the smartphones aren’t benefiting as much from beefier phones, and the handset makers need to wow us with a technological leap that can be felt and experienced almost immediately. In its most vital market — China — it is even more necessary for Apple to deliver a big camera and chip upgrade. In China, when it comes to the iPhone, all that matters is the camera and the chip. None of Apple’s other iOS capabilities carry as much weight. App Store, iMessage ,and Apple Pay aren’t as crucial as WeChat and its ecosystem, and AliPay.
The tri-camera smartphones aren’t new: many companies have introduced their models and are already in the market. LG V60 and Samsung Galaxy Note 10Plus and S10 Plus, for example. In many ways, Apple is playing catch up. They have used their chip prowess to leap ahead, but the real question is: How long-lived is the edge? Is it a year or is it a few months at the most? The advantages didn’t look as insurmountable as they used to be in the early days of the iPhone boom. If you are able to put up Android — it won’t be long before Google’s algorithms would catch up with Apple’s capabilities. Or Samsung’s processors could race bumper to bumper with Apple.
As a consumer, we have choices. And Apple isn’t the only one with a good camera. But for now, it seems Apple can convince the world that it has the best phone with the best camera, powered by the best chip.
Disclaimer: I haven’t field-tested or tried the iPhone’s camera capabilities and am going on Apple’s claims about their devices.