Apple’s iPhone 12 Pro greatly improves the already impressive performance of its camera system, adding features that will be appreciated by “serious” photographers – that is, the guy who really wants to play around with his shots afterwards. Of course, the upgrades will also be noticeable for us “fire and forget” shooters.
The most tangible change is the redesign of two of the three lens systems on the rear view camera. The Pro Max comes with a new, deeper telephoto camera: a 65mm equivalent instead of the 52mm camera on previous phones. This closer optical zoom is appreciated by many; After all, 52 mm is still quite wide for portraits.
The improved wide-angle lens, common to all new iPhone 12 models, has simplified the lens assembly to seven elements, improving light transmission and bringing the aperture down to f / 1.6. Virtually every photon counts on this scale, especially for the revamped night mode.
A possibly more momentous (and significant) change in hardware is the introduction of image stabilization at the sensor level for the widescreen camera. This system, first used in DSLRs, detects movement and moves the sensor a small bit to compensate for it thousands of times per second. It’s a simpler and easier alternative to solutions that shift the lens itself.
Virtually every flagship phone has some form of image stabilization, but implementations are important. Practical tests are used to determine whether this phone is “a game changer” in Apple’s words. In any case, this suggests that this will be a feature of the iPhone camera system in the future, and the profits from it will remain. The moderator suggested a full aperture that allowed an exposure time of two seconds, but I would take that with a grain of salt.
On the software side, the introduction of Apple ProRAW will be a godsend for photographers using the iPhone as either a primary or secondary camera. When you take a photo, only a fraction of the information the sensor collects ends up on your screen. Much of the processing is used to remove redundant data, punch colors, find a good tone curve, and so on. This leads to an appealing image at the expense of adaptability. Once you throw this “extra” information away, the colors and tones are limited to a much narrower range of settings.
RAW files are the answer to this, as DSLR photographers know – they are a minimally processed representation of what the sensor is collecting so the user can do whatever it takes to make the photo look its best. The ability to shoot in a RAW (or RAW-adjacent; we’ll know more with hands-on tests) frees up photographers who may have felt constrained by the iPhone’s standard image processing. There used to be ways to get around this, but Apple has an advantage over third-party apps because it has little access to the camera architecture. Hence, this format is likely to be the new standard.
This newfound elasticity at the aspect ratio also enables iPhone professionals to shoot in Dolby Vision, a rating standard typically used in editing suites after you’ve shot your movie or commercial with a digital cinema camera. Direct recording can be helpful for people who want to use the format but record with iPhones as B cameras. If cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki agrees, it’s good enough for pretty much everyone else on earth. However, I sincerely doubt anyone will cut their work on the phone together.
These two advances, ProRAW and Dolby, suggest that Apple’s improved silicon in the backend has left plenty of leeway for photography. As I wrote earlier, this is the most important segment of the imaging workflow right now, and the company likely has all sorts of options to take advantage of the power of the latest chips.
While larger cameras and lenses still offer benefits that the iPhone can never hope for, the opposite is also true. And the closer the iPhone comes to offering cinema-like quality – even when simulated – the greater the benefits of portability and ease of use become proportionally. Apple ruthlessly approached avid photographers who are not entirely sure whether they want to buy a DSLR or a mirrorless system in addition to a phone with a beautiful camera. Apple is sweetening the deal on the phone side and is sure to bring more of those users into each generation.
Of course, the Pro phones come at a significant premium over the normal range of iPhone devices (the Max begins at $ 1099), but these improvements aren’t impossible, or even difficult to bring, for lower-priced models – most of them are likely to drop next year. Of course, by then a whole range of new functions will have been developed for the Pro devices. However, for photographers, planned obsolescence is part of the lifestyle.