I haven’t had a chance to put the new iPhones to the test, but based on what I saw at the Apple announcement Tuesday, they are better than I expected. For one
thing, Apple reduced the price of its entry-level new phone by $50, selling the iPhone 11 at $669 compared with the $749 it initially charged for the iPhone XR.
The iPhone 11 Pro, which fills the slot of last year’s iPhone XS, starts at $999 for the model with a 5.8-inch screen. The 6.5-inch 11 Pro Max starts at $1,099 with its larger 6.5-inch screen. The only other difference between the Pro and the Pro Max is a larger battery on the larger phone. Apple claims “Up to 18 hours video playback; up to 11 hours video streaming” on the smaller phone and “Up to 20 hours video playback; up to 12 hours video streaming” on the Max. The company said that it added four hours of battery life to the smaller model and five hours to the larger one. If so, that’s an impressive achievement. Of all the upgrades companies can add to phones, extra battery life is the one that’s most important to me. If I’m doing a lot with my phone, I rarely get through a full day without having to recharge.
Based on the demos I saw during the announcement, the most impressive aspects of the new phones – especially the iPhone 11 Pro – are the upgraded cameras.
There are two camera lenses on the back of the iPhone 11 and three on the 11 Pro. The 11 sports both a wide mode and ultra-wide mode lens, making it possible to add more to a scene without having to back away from the subject. The 11 also has “Portrait mode, Night mode, Auto Adjustments, next-generation Smart HDR, and 4K video up to 60 fps with extended dynamic range.”
The new phone has improved portrait mode, with enhanced lighting effects and – most important—the ability to take pictures in low-light, like what Google offers on its Pixel 3 (Google too will soon announce new phones). There’s also an easier way to switch from still to video. You can be aiming your camera at a subject for a still shot and hold down the shutter to quickly shoot video. Apple also added slow-motion to the front “selfie” camera, calling it “slofies” along with a wider field of view to get even more friends into your selfie shots. That adds up to a pretty impressive camera for a phone which – though still expensive – is relatively inexpensive by Apple standards.
The 11 Pro takes it a step further with three lenses: wide, ultra-wide and telephoto. Previous Apple flagship phones had a 2X zoom but now there is a 4X zoom. Pixel density, which translates to resolution, is 458 pixels per inch.
In addition to an even higher resolution screen and a super-fast “A13 bionic” processor that Apple says the 11 Pro can perform a trillion operations per second, Apple has done a lot to upgrade the camera on its new high-end flagship phone. One feature, “Deep Fusion,” is said to take nine separate images each time you press the shutter – some are taken even before you press the shutter. In announcing the feature, which will be added later as a software update, Apple Vice President Phil Schiller described it as “computational photography mad science,” which is a colorful way of saying it uses artificial intelligence to improve your pictures.
My take on phone cameras
Based on what I’ve seen, Apple is taking camera phone photography to new heights. But it’s not as if smart phone cameras aren’t already amazing. I have a Google Pixel 3 and have recently been testing the new Samsung Galaxy Note 10, and in both cases, the cameras are awesome. Google will, of course, improve the camera when it releases its Pixel 4 later this fall, but I have no complaints about the camera on my current phone, including its “night mode,” which let me take pretty good pictures in dark settings.
On my shelf are, arguably, better cameras, including an old but high-quality digital Single Lens Reflex (SLR), similar to what professional photographers use – and a Sony RX 100, which is the highest rated compact camera with a large 1-inch sensor that’s 4 times bigger than the one in most compact cameras, letting in extra light, resulting in stunning images.
I bought my RX-100 a few years ago, and now there are newer and even more advanced models, but – because of the quality of the cameras in my last couple of smart phones, I haven’t used this stand-alone camera in about two years. Arguably, it could produce better pictures, and if I were a professional photographer, a very serious armature or about to take a trip to some exotic place that simply begged for taking lot of great pictures – I might consider dusting it off or maybe even buying one of the newer digital SLRs.
But the last couple of times I went on trips where I planned to take photos, I didn’t bother because the camera in my phone is good enough for what I care about. And, as any photographer will tell you, the best camera is the one you have with you, which is always my phone camera. Not only do I use it to take pretty pictures, I use it to photograph receipts, street signs near where I park my car, luggage tags and just about anything else I might need to keep or as a reminder. Although I have a flatbed scanner at home, I’ve even used my phone camera as a document scanner or to take a picture of a picture.
As a reality check, I placed a call to my friend and former CBS News executive producer Charlie Kaye, who is now a professional photographer in New York. He admits that smartphones can take great pictures but continues to use and purchase high-end cameras for his professional work. “The small sensors on phone cameras simply can’t process the amount of light as what you get with a full frame camera,” he told me. In the real world, Kaye must put up with varying lighting conditions and feels a lot more confident with the results he gets from his high-end cameras. There is also the issue of speed. If you’re photographing sports, breaking news, animals or kids, you may not have time to fiddle with a phone camera or wait till it’s ready for another shot. You need a camera that can take several shots per second.
So, despite the amazing photos and videos that Apple showed off from some great professional photographers, Kaye doesn’t expect cell phones to replace digital SLRs for professionals and very serious amateurs. But for me and many like me, what Apple showed off and what Google and Samsung and older Apple phones are already delivering, is more than good enough.
Larry Magid is a tech journalist and internet safety activist.
Published at Thu, 12 Sep 2019 09:00:17 +0000