The iPhone XS Camera in Low Light (compared to an iPhone 8 Plus)

It’s camera comparison time again, people! If you know anything about me, you know I love doing these, and spent a good portion of lat 2017 comparing the iPhone 8 Plus and Pixel 2 cameras in a whole host of blind comparisons. This year the Pixel 2 is gone, and I now have an iPhone XS that I’ll be comparing to the iPhone 8 Plus for a little while1.

Why the iPhone 8 Plus? Well, that’s the best camera in any iPhone up until the XS this year. I know, the iPhone X had a stabilized second lens, and was therefore technically a smidge better, but I don’t have that phone and therefore will try to not do any comparisons where that technical detail will make a difference.

The settings for both cameras was set almost exactly the same: 12MP and Live Photos on for stills, and 4k 30fps for video. For each shot, I simply framed the shot and snapped the picture, so I left it up to the camera software to figure out what the best things were to expose and focus on. The one difference is that I somehow accidentally turned off Smart HDR on the iPhone XS, which conceivably could have lead to even better photos. Oops!

This is a fun test because it has each camera at its worst and sees which one can salvage something more usable. If you want me to test something specific between these two cameras again, let me know on Twitter.

Video

This video was shot an hour after sunset in basically no light. These are terrible conditions for video, so neither looks amazing, but I think the jump in quality from the 8 Plus to the XS is rather dramatic. The XS gets far more details out of the darker areas than the 8 Plus. That first shot, in particular is hugely different.

Photos

From here on out, all photos will be the XS shot first, then the 8 Plus.

Restaurant

The iPhone XS does a much better job of not blowing out the highlights here.

Zooming in, we see even more details in the XS shot, as well as a notable color difference in the blue lights.

Monument

And another angle:

Similar story here, as the XS salvages the highlights better (again, remember that Smart HDR was off during these shots). When it comes to the shadows, it’s a toss up to me. The first image looks much better on the XS, but the shadows at the bottom of the second shot look better on the 8 Plus. I also think the colors in the flags pops a bit more on the 8 Plus photo, while the XS is a little more subdued.

House from across the street

This one is a huge win for the XS again. Highlights continue to be a big win and the shadows are way better as well. The iPhone 8 Plus’s shot looks like a smeared mess while the XS looks rough, but much less aggressively smudged in a vain attempt to clean things up.

Selfie time!

I took a few of these and they all told basically the same story: they’re terrible. This is a situation where you absolutely would want to use the flash because this is straight up garbage town. I would never share either of these outside of a blog post like this, but if I had to choose the 8 Plus has a little more light on my face, so I’ll go with that.

Oh, and if you think “this is as good as a phone can do these days,” I’ll reference you to this selfie I took with the Pixel 2 last year around this time. Same conditions and a way better shot. Even barring for there being a light closer in that one (these were a year apart, after all) I would expect better from the iPhone XS.

Streetlight

As kind of expected by now, the XS wins in terms of handling the bright light, and it also maintains better details in the background. The XS is noisier in the shadows, but I’ll take that over the smug party on the 8 Plus. Zooming in to full size shows this off pretty well.

Again, not brilliant on either front, but better on the XS.

Telephoto to the moon

This test might be a little unfair since this shot is indeed using the telephoto lens, but I rested the phone on a bench to take this shot to try and eliminate any unnecessary wobble.

The difference is frankly startling. The iPhone 8 Plus creates what can only be called an Impressionistic work, with swirls and smudges dominating the shot. The XS has some noise, but at least you can make out exactly what is actually happening here.

On the run

And finally, because I actually wanted to test camera wobble, I took this one while jogging. I held them as steady as I could, but I was moving along at a pretty good clip. Take a look at the light trails in the iPhone 8 Plus shot and compare them to the basically stationary lights in the XS one. The difference is dramatic, and while each photo is bad, the XS salvages more here.


  1. Until T-Mobile insists I return it to them. 

A Few iPhone XS Camera Observations

One of the most impressive elements of the iPhone XS is the new camera, which appears to be far more enhanced than even Apple let on when they revealed it a few weeks ago. Before I get into a strong of posts comparing the 2018 and 2017 iPhone cameras, I wanted to take a look at some iPhone XS photos on their own to judge them without compassion…at least for now.

I took all of these over the past 2 days and I think they give a pretty decent summary of some things to note in this new phone. Also worth noting is that all of these photos are unedited, with the single exception that they have been scaled down to be 1920x1440px so this post didn’t get insanely large. If you’d like to download all of the full-res photos for any reason, you can get those here.

First up are a few selfies. These first 3 were done with Portrait Mode. In the solo shots, I purposefully put the sun behind me to make my face darker and a challenge to the HDR functionality. The twin shot with my friend Mark Miller, is just a photo we wanted to take and tested how well this effect would work with 2 people.

And finally here’s a shot with the sun directly behind me. By all counts, this should be a bad photo, but despite the unflattering angle (the things I do for this blog!) it exposed quite well.

Here’s another test of Portrait Mode on the back cameras, this time on a few things that the mode wasn’t really designed to handle. The first two look really good, and the iPhone’s ability to separate out intricate details in the frame is excellent. The third was just too much and it was not able to find all of the edges. And the fourth one was done in my kitchen last night with almost no light and with a subject that was pretty hard to pick out.

This photo has been edited so I don’t just share my family online willy nilly, but it was taken in a room with no lights on and the blinds closed. The sun had gone down and no one had gotten up yet to turn on a light. Yes, there is some aggressive smoothing going on and the single small light in the top right is blown out, but this photo is usable in a way that other iPhones would not be able to do.

Along the same lines, here’s a look at that blown out light up close, again with no really light in the room.

The next two photos are HDR shots taken with fast-moving vehicles. In the first, I’m on the sidewalk as cars go by at about 45mph, and the second is me from the passenger seat taking an HDR photo of a barn when we were going 70mph. I’m struck by how crisp these shots are even though there is tons of movement, which is often a killed for HDR style shots.

I will be sharing more photos going forward, including comparisons to the iPhone 8 Plus as well as how RAW photos work here. Much more to come!

5 Things I’m Digging with the iPhone XS

I upgraded my iPhone 8 Plus to an iPhone XS yesterday and my goodness, do I like this phone! Today’s impromptu episode hits on 5 things that have stood out to me so far.

First Impressions of the Apple Watch Series 4

I got the new Series 4 Apple Watch today and I really couldn’t resist sharing a few first impressions.

First, we have to talk about the size. I got all hyped up by a few watch people who had me convinced the difference between 42mm and 44mm watches was significant. Maybe for some people it is, but I personally don’t find the 44mm watch to feel any bigger on my wrist than the old 42mm ones. Yes, it looks a bit different, but I find the new shape to be far more noticeable than the extra 2mm in vertical height. I waffled back and forth about whether to get the 40 or 44mm models this year, and I’m supremely happy to have gone with the bigger one again.

Let’s take a look at these two sizes side-by-side:

The next big thing I noticed, and this is a small thing, was the side button is now flush with the side of the watch.

It’s likely not a big deal, and I may grow to like it, but it feels unnatural to me right now.

But then there’s that screen. OH BOY THAT SCREEN. The new screen is stunning! The Apple Watch already had a very nice display, but the addition of more screen area plus a higher res panel, and rounded corners make this a whole new beast.

The old Apple Watch had a 390x312px (303 ppi) screen, and the new model has a 448x368px (326 ppi) screen that looks absolutely gorgeous. It’s a small increase in pixel density, but for a thing you look at many times per day, it’s a noticeable change.

Then there’s the reduced bezels. watchOS does a good job of hiding the bezels most of the time, so you don’t really think about how big they are, but the new screen really makes you feel like there is now an ocean of space on your wrist. I am a little let down that rather than add more content to the screen, most apps simply show everything bigger than before. This can certainly be good for people who strained to see the old watch, but I do wish there was a bit more on screen. I’ll definitely explore this more and have more to say in the coming days.

What I can say now is that some UI elements have been redesigned to look better on the larger screens. For example, the default buttons are more round than they were before:

Similarly, buttons that already got redesigned in watchOS 5 got another look in this version of the watch.

In terms of performance, the watch feels slightly faster than the Series 3, but not by much. I recently tweeted about how I think the Series 3 does basically everything instantly. The Series 4 also does everything basically instantly, so I shall have to do some testing to see how much faster it actually is. The processor got a big upgrade, so I’m hoping I’ll notice it more as time goes on.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the “black” sport loop that comes with the Series 4 watch is not exactly pitch black. It does look black-ish, but it’s definitely got some color in there. I love it, but if you want that black-on-black look, then this might be a bit of a surprise.