One of the main areas of the recently released iPhone XS that has come under scrutiny is its camera. As with every iteration of the iPhone, Apple has made several improvements to the camera and the software underpinning it but this time the competition is more intense than it has been in the past.
As far as the technical specifications go, the iPhone XS is similar to its predecessor, the iPhone X. Both phones have a dual camera setup that consists of a 12 MP telephoto sensor and 12 MP wide-angle sensor.
The big difference that separates the iPhone X is its new and larger primary wide-angle sensor. It now clocks in at 1.4 µm pixels, up from the 1.22 µm of the iPhone X’s sensor, and it is the first time that Apple has increased the size of the sensor ever since the iPhone 5S debuted.
The hardware improvements are only half the picture however, as just like most other flagship smartphones in this generation the iPhone XS leans heavily on AI to improve its photography. In the case of the iPhone XS that involves directly connecting the image signal processor to the Neural Engine in its A12 Bionic chip to improve its ability to parse and improve photos.
Arguably the most notable improvement is the new Smart HDR feature that combines several underexposed images together to improve their level of detail. It relies on the faster sensor and image signal processor in the iPhone XS.
Although all these improvements are notable, the fact that has not escaped notice is that many of them seem to just about put the iPhone XS on par with the Google Pixel 2 that up till now has been widely regarded as the best smartphone camera. The larger sensor is a match for the Pixel 2, and the Smart HDR mode functions similarly to Google’s HDR+.
Initial impressions after the iPhone XS has been reinforced the opinion that the line separating the iPhone XS and Pixel 2 is fairly thin. The images that both phones capture do look different, but neither is notably better than the other in terms of quality.
Overall the iPhone XS tends to capture photos that are warmer, softer, and flatter with less processing applied to them automatically. That is likely to appeal to users who prefer choosing their own filters in iOS, or want to edit it with third-party software such as Movavi Photo Editor (https://www.movavi.com/photo-editor/index.html).
While sharing the top spot with the Pixel 2 may not have been the goal Apple had in mind, it seems to be the reality of the iPhone XS. That may be cause for concern, especially taking into account the fact that the Pixel 3 is scheduled for an October 9th release date and is likely to make improvements on the camera as well.
In short the iPhone XS camera is good, and certainly the best (or shared-best) on any smartphone – but it is not great, and may not be the best for long.