Apple have always had a reputation as a leader in the smartphone camera sector. Right back to 2007 when the original iPhone shipped with a no-frills 2MP single lens, it took good pictures. Over the years they have continued to build on this with both their single and multi-camera arrays always being comparable or better to the other leaders in this field: Samsung, Google Pixel and Huawei.
Now that smartphone design has settled down into a standard glass sandwich form factor (glass screen, metal frame and glass back) and bezels have got increasingly smaller, cameras have been one of the few battlegrounds that the Big 4 can actually differentiate themselves on.
Indeed, looking at the screens on the iPhone 11 range you can barely tell the models apart from the corresponding ones in the previous iPhone X series. Apple obviously recognises this, as cameras are one of the things that the iPhone ads lead on. So, how do these cameras stack up?
Although there are 3 iPhone 11 models (iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max), the cameras in the Pro and Pro Max are identical both front and back (screen size and battery size being the differentiator between these two). In fact there is a lot of camera commonality between all 3 models as we will see.
iPhone 11 cameras
The entry level iPhone 11 has a dual array camera – for the first time on an entry level iPhone. This consists of a main 12MP f/1.8, 28mm wide lens with Optical image stabilisation (OIS) and Phase-detection auto-focus (PDAF). PDAF takes 2 copies of your image then merges them till they are in phase. This gives you fast autofocus. This main lens also supports the Night mode
The second lens in this array is a 12MP f/2.4 13mm ultrawide one that has neither OIS nor PDAF. These 2 lenses are supported by a quad-LED dual tone flash and can shoot both 4K and 1080p video, at 24, 30 and 60 (for 4K) and 30, 60, 120 and 240 (for 1080p) all with stereo sound recording.
Lenses alone do not tell the whole story; you also need to look at the AI provided by the camera software. As you would expect from one of the market leaders, Apple’s AI is strong having been developed and enhanced over 13 years of smartphone manufacture.
One area where the iPhone 11 software excels is when you are looking at the viewfinder. You can now see outside the immediate area you are photographing and so view what you are leaving out. If you then select “Photo Capture Outside the Frame” (or “Video Capture Outside the Frame”) option, the software also captures what is outside your main image using the ultrawide lens, and will suggest you take a wider shot if you have cut something out/off. This extra footage is automatically deleted after 30 days, so it won’t take up your memory (which is good, because you can’t expand it).
The pictures takes by the main camera are very good – detailed with an excellent dynamic range. Whilst that taken by the new ultrawide one are not quite as good. This is the same for videos as well, but you can use both cameras to record a video at the same time.
On the front, the selfie is a 12MP f/2.2 23mm wide unit. This is enhanced with a TOF sensor to provide better depth mapping. This camera also supports the same video shooting resolutions as the main array on the back.
iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max cameras
As mentioned above, the Pro and Pro Max have the self-same camera setup, which has been expanded to a triple array for the first time on an iPhone. This has the same 12MP f/1.8 main wide lens and 12MP f/2.4 ultrawide lenses as the iPhone 11, but here these 2 models divert. They now sport a 12MP f/2.0, 52mm telephoto lens with OIS, PDAF and 2X optical zoom. You can swap quickly between all 3 lenses when taking a picture as the focus, exposure and tone map settings are stored and are shared between them.
Image quality of the first 2 lenses has been discussed in our iPhone 11 camera overview, above. The telephoto lens matches the image quality of the first 2 lenses with rich detail, without any visible noise, with colours and contrast matching the main lens. As expected, video recording from all 3 lenses is of the same high quality as the iPhone 11.
Finally, the selfie camera on these 2 models is identical to the one on the iPhone 11 for both still and video recording.
So, there you have it, the main difference in cameras between the entry level iPhone 11 and its more expensive brothers, is a 12MP telephoto lens, everything else – both front and back is the same. With a near £200 price jump from the top to the bottom of the range, you will need to decide whether that extra payment is worth the price of getting a telephoto zoom lens – no matter how good it may be.