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iPhone XS review: Are the photos really better?

Apple iPhone Xs camera and audio review

In this review we take a look at the new iPhone X3 which boasts the new smart HDR and adjustable depth of field. Another notable feature is improved audio with stereo microphones. The audio is really important if you are recording video and using the phone for blogging, or for capturing background and ambient sounds that you can use in the videos (I often do this).

On the outside the phone looks identical to the iPhone X. For the most part, it is the same, but it’s faster. The main thing that is sped up is the “bionic” AI chip. This is needed to do the smart HDR and Depth of field calculations. (See the video above to see the adjustable depth of field in action).

Smart HDR, shoots multiple frames and then merges them on the fly. Its an option you can use, or turn off. (I would leave it on, because I like the results) For a deep dive in HDR, check out this

Here are some nice, large photos directly from the phone for you to look at. These are straight out of camera with no adjustments applied. (On the video, you can see comparisons to the iPhone X).


The other biggie is adjustable Depth of field.

This feature allows you to move a slider and have the depth of field change (background blur) as you adjust the settings. Apple claimed that “no other camera has ever done that.” In a age of hyperbole (read, overuse of words like “game-changer”), this isn’t entirely true. The Lytro field camera has done this for around a decade. Maybe it’s different because its doing it entirely digitally (think, optical zoom, vs digital zoom). This uses the AI chip and dual cameras to analyze the subject and create a 3D depth map. It uses this map to build depth of field. This isn’t just a flat, foreground/background blur. It uses the 3D info  to build a realistic depth of field and works a lot like the camera blur filter in Photoshop. It simulates bokeh, which turns bright areas in the aperture shaped balls. This only works in portrait mode and only if the phone can read a good subject, so every photo won’t give you this ability, even in portrait mode.

The edge detection is very good, better than the iPhone 7-X. However, it’s not perfect and you will see areas that should be blurred that aren’t and vice versa. My suggestion is add a subtle blur and don’t crank it all the way up, or it’ll look fake.

Before blur

Some blur applied

(below) Portrait mode from older iPhone X) with fixed background blur. (take note of the less realistic way it’s blurred and also the edges)

I also performed a simple audio test, where I set up both phones and talked and tinkled on the keys a little (piano) so you could get a basic idea of the microphone sound, without using ideal placement etc, which is typical of run and gun audio anyway. You can see, well hear that on the video.

I’m going to leave you with a photo shot on the iPhone X and the identical photo show on the XS so you can see the difference and judge for yourself.

iPhone X (below)

iPhone Xs

Other things of note

I really didn’t notice any difference in battery life, but I didn’t conduct a deep test on it.

The Face ID is faster and the phone unlocks quicker.

I’m noticing it has some issues generating a hotspot and some confusion about authenticating Google when in hotspots vs wireless.

Overall, it’s a nice incremental upgrade. If the new camera features and improved audio are important to you, it’s definitely worth a look. If you see these as just a gimmick, then hold off until next September when the iPhone 11 comes out.  Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

I’m going to give this a 4 1/2 out of 5 rating. I’m taking 1/2 point off because it’s very expensive.

Thanks for hanging out here at the CAFE



2 responses to “iPhone XS review: Are the photos really better?”

  1. Appreciate a photographers perspective on the the iPhone products. Helps in decision making on whether to upgrade or spend my dollars in another direction for photography.

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