Sebastiaan de With, part of the team behind the camera app Halide has published part 1 of a multi-part breakdown of the iPhone 11 camera. It’s a fantastic analysis of what makes the new camera different from past versions and goes into great depth while remaining accessible, even if you have only a passing familiarity with photography.
To put this year’s camera into perspective, de With recaps what Apple did with last year’s iPhone cameras explaining how Smart HDR works and its shortcomings. The iPhone 11 features Smart HDR too, but as de With explains, Apple has significantly improved how it handles the dynamic range of an image.
Another aspect of the improvement is in the camera sensor hardware. Despite its diminutive size, the iPhone 11’s image sensor can resolve more detail than any iPhone camera before it.
However, many of the iPhone 11’s camera improvements come down to better software. The new camera post-processes each component of an image differently, applying different noise reduction to the sky, a face, hair, and clothing, for example. Apple calls the feature Photo Segmentation, and it’s aided by machine learning.
One of my favorite features of the new camera is Night Mode. As de With notes:
In the iPhone 11 Night Mode, you can also see detail vanish in some areas. Except that it really seems to only affect parts of the image that you don’t really care that much about. Night Mode has a remarkable if not uncanny ability to extract an image that is sometimes even sharper than the regular mode, with strong sharpening and detail retention occurring in areas that are selected by the camera during processing.
The iPhone 11’s camera is also the first one de With thinks rivals standalone cameras:
In the past, iPhones made great photos for sharing on social media, but blown up on a big screen, the shots didn’t hold up. It’s why I frequently still pack a ‘big’ camera with me on trips.
With these huge improvements in processing, the iPhone 11 is the first iPhone that legitimately challenges a dedicated camera.
There are many more details in de With’s article, including a close look at the iPhone 11’s ultra wide lens. Every section of the post has photos and side-by-side comparisons that illustrate the analysis too, which makes the full post a must-read].