Deep Fusion and Indoor Dog Photos

Deep Fusion and Indoor Dog Photos

Psst, the above photo has nothing to do with the comparison, but I had to share a picture of Sherman shortly before the comparison photos were taken.

My dog Sherman was chilling on the couch last night and I wanted to take a picture of him just lying there, loving life. The type of shot made the telephoto lens make more sense, which is all well and good, but results in worse shots in low light.

But that presented an opportunity for me: a test! Let’s see how much of a difference Deep Fusion makes when using the telephoto lens. Here’s the iPhone 11 Pro:

And here is the Pixel 4:

Pardon the yawn, but for the sake of this test it’s worth noting that he was paused in that pose for about a second, so it’s not the action shot it may look like. You can probably already tell which one looks better, but here’s a crop in on each one:

It’s really night and day, with the iPhone producing a much cleaner image. Both cameras still have that watercolor-esque look on the body fur, but the iPhone has crisper lines on his longer ear hairs and the green blanket has more texture.

I previously did a similar comparison using the main wide lens, but the difference using the telelphoto lenses is even more pronounced.

The Damn iPhone 11 Camera

The Damn iPhone 11 Camera

Look at the photo above. Really look at it.

That’s a picture of my dog, Sherman, shaking himself off this morning. He’s moving incredibly fast here and is just a blur to the naked eye, but the camera on the latest iPhone is able to get a remarkable amount of detail. The lighting was good, but even so, this picture is more sharp than I’d expect from any consumer-grade camera.

How about a few more?

Seriously, pinch to zoom in on these and see the level of detail in each shot. You can make out individual snowflakes in the two Sherman shots.

I of course have more, but those are just a few from the past week that really struck me in terms of how unbelievably crisp things can be.

Not every picture is as remarkable as these, which just means there is room to improve, but 4 months after getting the iPhone 11 Pro, I’ve had plenty of situations like where where I’m just flabbergasted by what I’m seeing in my camera roll.

Low Light Christmas Trees on 2019’s Best Phones (and an iPhone SE)

We have a little tree my wife and I put up every year and it’s a thing that is kinda hard to take good pictures of. There is quite a bit of dynamic range which typically means photos look overly darkened to compensate for the bright lights.

2019 has been a very good year for smartphone cameras, so I gave a few of them a shot last night to see how they’d do.

Samsung Galaxy S10e

Pixel 4

iPhone 11 Pro

And for fun context, the 2016 iPhone SE (with the 2015 iPhone camera)

Overall, I’m pretty impressed! Especially when you look at what we were using just 3-4 years ago, the differences in color and clarity are striking. Outside of the SE clearly being worse than the newer phones, the Pixel 4 is the outlier here in terms of color; it’s much cooler than the other images and is not an accurate representation of what the tree actually looked like. I think this has to do with Google’s new smart white balancing feature, which usually makes great choices, but sometimes results in crazy decisions1.

  1. Supposedly this was fixed in a previous update, so maybe this is a choice and not a bug, but either way I’d say this is not right. 

iPhone 11 Pro and Pixel 4 Christmas Lights Shoot Out

I took the iPhone 11 Pro and Pixel 4 out to a public space last night that was lit up really nicely for the holidays. This is not a complete comparison for how well each phone does, but it’s a good first test and I’ll show you the comparisons before giving you my thoughts.

Point of order here, my tripod broke last night so all of these were taken handheld. Also, they were all slightly touched up in Lightroom to make the colors a little more pleasant. See this post for why I do this in my photo comparisons.

On the surface, these look pretty darn similar. Especially when viewing on a phone, the differences in quality are hard to see, so let’s zoom in on a couple of these.

The difference still isn’t huge, but my takeaways are:

  1. The iPhone maintains more detail in every single shot.
  2. The iPhone has better dynamic range, capturing the bright lights with less bloom.
  3. The raw shots came out very similar from each camera. Sometimes there is a major color temperature or white balance difference in these cameras, but not last night.
  4. In some of these, “night mode” didn’t even kick in. The lights are so bright that they don’t require an extended exposure.
  5. The iPhone has some occasional artifacts around really bright lights in the middle of frame. You can see this in the last comparison above the lights in the sky. I don’t know why this happens, but it’s not something that can be fixed by cleaning the lens. Maybe I have a defect or maybe it’s the nature of the camera, I’m not entirely sure.

I’ll be playing around more with these cameras throughout the month and will report back with anything else interesting, but for now I’d say that either of these phones are able to produce Christmas light photos unlike any other phone before them, and I think owners of both will be very happy with what they are able to accomplish.

Computational Zoom on the iPhone 11 Pro

Google talks a big game about how they enhance zoomed photos in a feature they call Super Res Zoom, which I have tested in the past and found to be less effective than the additional hardware found in the iPhone XS. The Pixel 4 will be in my hands soon and I'll be testing out zoom there, but in the mean time I got a question on Twitter I wanted to check out.

Michael Stanclift

So I was always taught not to use any digital zoom but crop it later, is that not good?

Well, Google says they're doing magic to make digital zooms better, so let's see if Apple is doing the same thing. Here's the picture from the top of this post zoomed waaaaay in on the one way sign:

The zooms on the ultra-wide and normal lenses are hilariously bad, but it shows how much benefit the 2x telephoto lens offers. but comparing the 2x optical zoom to the 5x digital zoom doesn't show much difference to my eyes. It looks like the 5x photo is softened a bit to reduce the hard edges, but it's not adding any actual details.

And here's another example, this time going from 1x, 2x, 5x, and then 10x.

And here are the crops in on the center of each photo:

Again, we see vast improvements over the 1x lens, but the 2x, 5x, and 10x zooms all look really, really similar. The 5x one looks a little fuzzy, but I'll chock that up to minor focus differences between shots, as the 2x and 10x photos are more clear.


It appears on the iPhone that the digital zoom does not do anything to add details that would not have gotten in the standard 2x optical zoom. It softens the image a bit to make it look better, but that's not actually adding anything and just makes the full 12MP image it spits out a little less harsh.

So if you need to zoom in on something, feel free to stick to the 2x zoom when taking the photo and cropping in later, you're not going to get better results by digitally zooming in more.

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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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!