(This article was written based on the iPhone 11 Pro, but the parts except for the telephoto camera are the same for the iPhone 11, so please refer to this point-Kudo-kun)
When it comes to iPhone 11 Pro, the public perception is “Oh that induction iPhone.” Or fidget spinner. Interestingly, Apple doesn’t try to hide its shape. Most of the promotional material promoting the iPhone 11 Pro focuses on those three cameras, and even the iPhone 11 Pro page on Apple’s official site has a camera-centric motion. It really looks like a fidget spinner.
In fact, there is no reason to hide from Apple. The distinctive (?) shape symbolizes the new camera system, a highlight feature of the iPhone 11 Pro. So, is the iPhone 11 Pro’s camera capable enough to withstand the ridicule that had existed before its release?
- All photos were taken with the default camera app, and corrections were made only with the default photo app.
- All photos can be viewed in their original size by clicking “Original” below.
Hardware: ultra wide, and overall improvements
Compared to the previous iPhone XS, the 11 Pro has one more hole. It is an ultra wide camera. It is a 35mm full-frame equivalent 13mm angle of view lens.
In fact, it is not easy to put an ultra wide into a smartphone. This is because it is difficult to put as many lenses in the same size as cameras with other angles of view as it can be responsible for the quality of the periphery. So, looking at the ultra-wide-angle lens of a DSLR or mirrorless camera, the normal size is insignificant, and the price is insignificant. This is interpreted as meaning that in the world of smartphones, the quality cannot be lower than that of the main camera.
In fact, the quality of the ultra wide camera is inevitably lower than the iPhone 11 Pro’s main wide-angle camera. The lens also has a maximum aperture of only (?) F2.4, and the sensor is (presumably) smaller than the main camera. There is no optical image stabilization (OIS) hardware, and the night mode, which will be described later, cannot be used in low light conditions. In the next iPhone, improving the optical performance of the ultra-wide camera should probably be a top priority.
However, the ultra wide camera allows you to take pictures that have been difficult to take on the iPhone until now. It is very useful when you want to display as many subjects as possible in a very narrow space, and it is also useful when you want to capture the scenery in front of your eyes as much as possible. Also, peripheral distortion, which is inevitably a characteristic of ultra-wide, can be troublesome (tip one: don’t use it in situations where there is a straight line at the edge as a subject), but depending on the situation, it is a fun perspective that cannot be seen from the main camera. It also allows you to shoot.
In addition, the physical limitations that come from the characteristics of the ultra-wide are unavoidable, but it is said that Apple has made a lot of effort to look the same in terms of color and white balance as possible with other cameras, at least within the software, and that effort also shines. The peripheral brightness degradation (vignetting) commonly seen in inexpensive ultra-wide-angle lenses was also difficult to see on the 11 Pro. Of course, the software did the extra processing.
The iPhone 11 Pro (and iPhone 11) uses this ultra-wide camera in other ways, and it automatically detects when the subject moves out of the frame when a picture is taken with the main camera and can be combined with the information taken in the ultra wide. It is a function. When taking a picture, turning on this function automatically corrects the cropped subject, and in the video, information from the ultra-wide sensor is combined and used for the image stabilization function. In fact, compared to the XS, it looks much more stable when shooting handheld.
In the iPhone 11, instead of the expected telephoto, the ultra-wide was used as a second camera, but personally, I think it will be much more useful than the telephoto if you get used to it. In fact, even before the telephoto camera was added on the iPhone 7 Plus, people were already using the telephoto function with digital zoom, although it was limited, and because of this, the ultra wide, a new angle of view, will have a fresher effect than the telephoto that can be used without it. Apple’s selection of Ultra Wide for the iPhone 11 would have gone through a similar decision-making process.
There are also some changes to the standard wide and telephoto cameras already present on the iPhone XS. In the wide case, a new sensor is put in which the focus pixel covers the entire sensor. But, what does this mean? In the case of the original DSLR camera, a sensor in charge of auto focus was installed separately from the image sensor for taking pictures. The principle is to measure the amount of light that enters these sensors when trying to focus and focus according to this measurement. This is called “Phase Detection AF”. The phase difference measurement method has the advantage that the focusing speed is extremely fast thanks to the dedicated hardware, but it has the disadvantage that the entire camera hardware is enlarged due to the space for the dedicated hardware. Therefore, most other digital cameras (and smartphones) preferred the contrast detection method (Contrast AF), which detects and focuses the contrast of the image coming into the sensor while the focus of the lens continues to shift. Of course, there is a disadvantage that the focusing speed is extremely slow because the focus of the lens must be continuously shifted.
However, recently, we tried to combine the two by putting a dedicated sensor for measuring phase difference in part of the image sensor. This is “Hybrid AF”. It is thanks to this new technology that the focusing speed of mirrorless cameras has increased dramatically in recent years. Apple has already started putting the focus pixel into the sensor from the iPhone 6 in 2014, but it wasn’t until five years that it could put the focus pixel into the entire sensor. Apple says that this makes it three times faster than its predecessor, and it’s also useful for Night Mode, which we’ll talk about later.
For telephoto cameras, the lens has been improved. The maximum aperture has been brighter from F2.4 to F2.0, but it is a great improvement considering that we have always been told that it is disadvantageous in low-light situations. Still, in low light situations, the brighter main camera is zoomed in and used with digital zoom.
Night mode: make low light great again
The iPhone has traditionally been criticized for being unfavorable in low light. These ratings were especially compared last year when the Pixel 3 added a machine-learning night mode called “Night Sight.” As a result, Apple is keenly proud and has put Night Mode on the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro.
Honestly, it is true that I didn’t expect much when I said to put Night Mode on the iPhone 11. Last year, smart HDR was blamed for dane, and the iPhone was traditionally weak in low light. But the iPhone 11’s Night Mode makes low-light moments even more enjoyable.
First, the night mode turns on automatically when it detects a low-light situation. This means that it doesn’t work when the surroundings are bright, but this is definitely a part of the job. Depending on the user, it may be good that the camera automatically recognizes it even if the night mode is turned on, and conversely, this may be a disadvantage for users who like to control the desired mode themselves. I like taking pictures, but when I take pictures with my phone, I usually don’t think much about corrections or things like that, so I personally like Apple’s approach more, but I think the individual difference is definitely a big part.
Once the night mode is turned on, the software adjusts the exposure time according to the lighting conditions and the presence of a tripod. If you hold it with your hand, you can set it up to 3 seconds, and if you mount the phone on a tripod or other fixed object, it can be extended up to 30 seconds. (I haven’t tested the tripod yet)
In fact, long-exposure photos realized by Night Mode are not easy even with a proper camera, let alone a smartphone, especially in a situation where you hand-hold photos. If you are shooting for 5 seconds, the correct camera will take one picture during those 5 seconds. In such a case, no matter how strong the camera is to prevent camera shake, shaken photos are inevitable.
However, the process of taking long-exposure photos on the iPhone 11 Pro (or other smartphones that support other night modes) is somewhat different. Unlike regular cameras that take a single picture during that time, the iPhone first analyzes the brightness of the scene to be shot by zone, and then takes several pictures with a shutter speed appropriate for that brightness. Then, by synthesizing these parts, the brightness of each area is adequate and the picture is made without noise.
If you look at the photos taken in night mode, there is a level of detail that is incomparable to what was taken at night with the previous iPhone. In one picture, even a limited number of stars can be seen. In fact, some people have succeeded in taking star-star photos with tripods in the countryside where the city’s light is low.
Of course, there are some limitations to the night mode. For night mode calculations, focus pixels must be mounted across the sensor, which means that you can use the full potential of night mode only if you shoot with the main camera. Occasionally, even if you shoot with 2x zoom, you can be in night mode because the main camera is photographed with digital zoom, not the hardware of the telephoto camera. And it is impossible to shoot with ultra wide without OIS, let alone the focus pixel.
The existence of Night Mode is significant in that it allows you to pull out decent photos in situations that you normally didn’t expect from an iPhone. Unlike DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, which require more effort from the photographer, smartphone cameras must at least pick photos that are worth posting on Instagram under any circumstances. Already in daylight or indoor lighting conditions, this was possible before the iPhone 11 Pro, but at night there was no way. The iPhone 11 Pro’s Night Mode shines in this situation. It’s a mode that makes the iPhone’s camera more versatile. Personally, I think Night Mode is the heart of this iPhone 11 Pro camera.
If you have a lot of camera use, is it worth upgrading?
Perhaps the camera is one of the commonly used functions in smartphones. Photos were clearly inaccessible to the general public, requiring additional work such as special hardware and consumable management such as film and development, just 20 years ago. However, with the advent of digital cameras, film and phenomenon disappeared, and with the advancement of smartphones, the need to carry dedicated hardware disappeared. Now, what remains for the smartphone camera is the mission (?) to select pictures of convincing quality under any circumstances.
The iPhone 11 Pro has gone a long way in this regard. The new Ultra Wide provides a new perspective by capturing an open space (if there is enough light), and Night Mode has made a leap forward as a software optimized for night photography that you would not normally dream of. If you consider the camera to be the most important thing in a smartphone, I think the iPhone 11 Pro is worth the upgrade.
The story to come after: Deep Fusion and video
Originally, this article was aimed at covering the cameras of the iPhone 11 Pro, but there are two parts that were not included due to the deadline (= iPhone release date). This is the deep fusion and video section.
First of all, in the case of Deep Fusion, Apple is currently testing iOS 13.2 beta with Deep Fusion, and I am testing it, but there are many ambiguities in evaluating with the beta version, so I decided to postpone it afterwards. For now, I want to leave only a few sample photos. (Let’s take into account that it is a beta version)
In the case of video, I am not used to taking a video, so I decided to reinforce it a little more because I did not secure enough sample videos. I want to leave even a short clip.
These two parts will be discussed a bit more later in the full review of the iPhone 11 Pro.