Apple iPhone XS/XS Max Camera Review


Brand loyalty can get quite extreme when it comes to our mobile devices. Those of us that start with Apple devices and iOS systems quite often continue with them. There are enough incentives and upgrades to follow the evolution of the iPhone – even if some people may question the extent of that evolution and the true benefits of the products. Those that don’t use an iPhone may struggle to see the difference between the models. 

There is no better example of this than the iPhone X and its descendants: the XR XS and XS Max. The X is no longer with us – discontinued as users are passed onto these bigger, better options. At least that is what we are led to believe when getting an XS or XS Max smartphone. Everything about these phones should be better, and this includes the camera. So, is the Apple iPhone XS camera any better than its predecessor? Also, is it worth upgrading to the Apple iPhone XS Max camera instead?

The basic specification for these two cameras is actually quite similar. 

It is easy to get confused when figuring out which is the best option. A common question for consumers is whether to get the XS or the larger XS Max. When it comes to choosing a product based on the camera specifications and capabilities, there isn’t that much between the XS and XS Max. The basic specs of both these cameras have a lot in common. There is a dual 12mp camera on the back and a 7mp camera on the front. The primary rear camera offers optical image stabilization, quad-OLED true tone flash, and portrait lighting. The secondary camera is a telephoto lens with a 2x optical zoom. 

Both versions of this iPhone make good use of the front-facing camera and the Face ID system. 

The front-facing camera on the iPhone – of any model – is arguably just as important as the rear camera. This is where we get to take plenty of quick selfies and enjoy Facetime with the ones with love. We want to look our best and the image capture on this new lens really is great. The Face ID system on this camera is important because this is such a key part of the security system on this phone. There isn’t fingerprint ID here. This isn’t a new feature for the X series. Yet, the small upgrade to the processor means that it is a little faster when it comes to recognising you. 

There is some smart software in the iPhone XS.

There isn’t that much about the hardware of this smartphone camera that stands out right away. But, there are some elements to the software that keen iPhone photographers will appreciate. Some of the changes in this model are quite subtle. There are small changes to the sensor and the depth of the pixels that allow for better low-light capabilities. Here the effect is noticeable when comparing these images to those from previous iPhones. The Smart HDR and the blurring of the portraits are other great examples of features that can help iPhone users improve their photography. 

Scotland Image

Smart HDR

The Apple iPhone XS camera system now takes multiple shots at once to create an attractive final image. It does so at different exposures and picks out the elements that work the best in each image. It does this so quickly that users are unaware that it is happening. There is no waiting time, no playing around with settings and no fuss. This is nothing that revolutionary these days. Still, Apple’s cameras never used to be able to do this and now handle the function pretty well. 

The Bokeh Blur

Bokeh is something that many modern smartphone camera developers have embraced recently. This feature allows users to add a blur to portrait shots. You can focus in on the subject and take the eye away from the figures and features in the background. In other words. You can give people the impression of a fun day at the beach without sharp detail on the people sunbathing in far too few clothes. The manual slider gives users the freedom of control over the amount of blurring so you can be as subtle or dramatic as you want. 

It is important to clarify, this is a digitally enhanced bokeh. The problem here is that the system doesn’t always offer a perfect, distinct line between the subject and the background. In some cases, you can start to see some blurring in the body and clothing as the phone focuses on the face. This cheapens the look of the image. 

The Apps

Of course, one of the other reasons that people turn to iPhones is the range of apps in the app store. This means that those that want to enhance their photography – or just the look of their photos – can browse lots of different programmes. You might say that this range and availability can make up for any shortcomings in the built-in camera and phone’s software. But, is this enough any more when so many smartphone cameras act like “real” digital cameras and don’t need to rely on apps? It all depends on what you want to get out of this Apple iPhone XS smartphone camera. Are you in it for the art and act of the photography or the impact of the finished image? 

The Apple iPhone XS camera clearly has potential for the right user. But, is it better to get the XS Max version instead?

As we mentioned above, the basic specifications on this Apple iPhone XS Max camera aren’t all that different from the smaller XS. You aren’t going to get a wider zoom, more megapixels or any extra capabilities on that front-facing camera. However, there are some possible upsides to choosing this larger model. These include the size of the screen and the battery life.

The Screen

One reason that keen photographers might want to switch to the iPhone XS Max is the difference in the display. This larger model has a 6.5 inch OLED display instead of the 5.8 inch option. This means a screen to body ratio of 84.4% rather than 82.9%. This doesn’t sound like a lot on paper, but it means more room to show off your photos in greater detail. Also, it is worth pointing out that you get that notch in the screen either way. Basically, if you buy Apple, expect the notch. 

The Battery Life

Then there is the battery life. The iPhone XS has a 2,658 mAh battery while the iPhone XS Max has a 3,174 mAh battery. There are claims that the XS Max will last an hour longer than the XS, which itself can last 30 minutes longer than the original iPhone X. This is essential when planning a long day of photography. If you are on vacation or a day trip to the city, that means you don’t have to be so careful about how many shots you take. 

Are these added benefits worth it for the extra cost and weight of the device?

We can’t overlook the fact that you will also be paying more for the privilege of this larger phone. These iPhones are some of the most expensive smartphone products around. It seems that Apple clings onto that idea of brand loyalty and know that they can get away with these prices. An extra hour of battery life and that larger display means a significant difference in the price tag. If you are buying this with the camera as a priority, it might not be worth the extra cost after all. 

There is also the fact that some users can’t get along with the size and weight of this extra-large model. There is a point of diminishing returns with smartphones where they have become too big and heavy. We wanted larger screens and widescreen displays until we realized that this meant a more cumbersome item. Smaller iPhones are more comfortable in our hands and pockets. There are probably actual digital cameras that have smaller dimensions than the iPhone XS Max now. The iPhone XS weighs 6.2 ounces and the XS max 7.3 ounces. You can feel the difference with one in each hand. 

How Much Has Really Changed Since The iPhone X? 

This is where we talk about the elephant in the room. We could focus on the great photos taken with this new software and the way that they look on the large XS max display. However, we can’t ignore the fact that the upgrades from the discontinued iPhone X are minimal. 

Positive Upgrades

Let’s summarise some of those benefits of this new phone camera and the positive upgrades. The Apple iPhone XS camera is more reliable when taking great images with the right exposure. There is also a slightly better processor with the A12 Bionic chip instead of the A11. This can all lead to sharper, brighter images that capture group shots and spontaneous moments with greater ease. Casual users might not notice the difference. Keen photographers will. You can also spend much longer taking photographs with the improved battery. Some Apple users have complained that an extra half an hour isn’t nearly good enough for an updated model. Still, this can make a big difference. Finally, there is the fact that the XS and XS Max has the new option of 512GB storage for all those files. 

The Negative Similarities

With that said, there are still lots of similarities. The display is the same size with the same resolution. While it is true that a 5.8 inch screen does feel like the optimal size, there is no improvement in the way that you can show off your photographs. There are the same amount of lenses on each side and the same number of pixels. Some casual photographers may not mind but those browsing models will note that competitors now use multiple lenses for improved functionality. 

There are improvements here – but Apple still lags behind the major competition. 

It is easy to get caught up in this idea that Apple has outdone themselves with the specification of this iPhone camera compared to previous options. Some users will be more impressed with chances than others. The combination of the software, dual-lens and display size are all a big help. 

However, we also have to look at the appeal of the XS and XS Max cameras against other brands. There are two factors that stand out here. First of all, there is that true tone flash. This feature may work well, but it is not the optimal approach to handling low light any more. Other brands have since developed their low light technology for a much better experience without the need for a flash. You don’t have to blind friends and family and night and risk red-eye. You don’t have to face the tuts and frowns of other people at gallery openings as your phone’s flash goes off. Critics are impressed with the improvements of the low-light capabilities based on previous models. But compare images with the Huawei P30 Pro or Google Pixel 3 and there is a clear difference. 

The Apple iPhone XS camera is a small step in the right direction.

The improvements between this camera and the one on the original iPhone X are there, but they aren’t enough for keen photographers. It is clear that the camera is something of an afterthought for Apple when compared to its competitors. Other brands have gone back to the drawing board to create something new and impressive. Some of these recent smartphone cameras rival point-and-shoot devices. Apple gives the impression of doing the bare minimum to provide an upgrade as the next deadline approached.

There are hopes that Apple can learn from its mistakes here and do better with the next model in the series. It is now too obvious that it is lagging behind and needs to rethink its approach – or at least borrow ideas and tech from Google. This isn’t to say that the Apple iPhone XS camera is bad. It does a great job and will please many regular iPhone users. It is just lacking the wow factor. Brand loyal Apple users may not mind or even notice right now. But, Apple can’t assume that this will happen forever. 

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