Apple’s iPhone 12 Pro camera upgrades will be prized by serious photographers

Apple on Tuesday announced iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max, introducing a powerful 5G experience, advanced camera systems and technologies that push the boundaries of innovation for users who want the most out of iPhone.

iPhone 12 Pro models feature Super Retina XDR displays, including the largest ever on iPhone, 6.7-inches on the iPhone 12 Pro Max, protected by the all-new Ceramic Shield front cover, which provides the biggest jump in durability ever on iPhone.

The pro camera system on iPhone 12 Pro models includes new Wide cameras for even better low-light performance, an expansive Ultra Wide camera, and a Telephoto camera for capturing stunning images and video.
The pro camera system on iPhone 12 Pro models includes new Wide cameras for even better low-light performance, an expansive Ultra Wide camera, and a Telephoto camera for capturing stunning images and video.

The Apple-designed A14 Bionic chip, the fastest chip in a smartphone, powers impressive computational photography features including the all-new Apple ProRAW for more creative control in photos, and enables the first end-to-end Dolby Vision video experience, up to 60 fps. The reimagined pro camera systems include an expansive Ultra Wide camera, a Telephoto camera with an even longer focal length on iPhone 12 Pro Max, and new Wide cameras to capture beautiful professional-quality images and video in bright and low-light environments. iPhone 12 Pro models also introduce a new LiDAR Scanner that offers benefits to the camera with faster autofocus in low light and the introduction of Night mode portraits.

The optical image stabilization (OIS) on iPhone 12 Pro now makes adjustments to the Wide camera 5000 times per second — five times faster than iPhone 11 Pro. And it does an amazing job of keeping photos sharp and videos steady. But to stabilize the iPhone 12 Pro Max Wide camera, Apple had to come up with an entirely different system. Apple engineered a stabilizing solution that moves just the sensor, keeping it even more steady than before. That’s sensor-shift OIS, and it’s a game changer. Until now, sensor‑shift stabilization was only on DSLR cameras. Now, it’s available on Apple’s iPhone!

Devin Coldewey for TechCrunch:

Apple’s iPhone 12 Pro heaps improvements on the already formidable power of its camera system, adding features that will be prized by “serious” photographers — that is to say, the type who like to really mess around with their shots after the fact. Of course, the upgrades will also be noticeable for us “fire and forget” shooters as well.

The most tangible change is the redesign of two of the three lens systems on the rear camera assembly. The Pro Max comes with a new, deeper telephoto camera: a 65 mm-equivalent rather than the 52 mm found on previous phones. This closer optical zoom will be prized by many; after all, 52 mm is still quite wide for portrait shots.

The improved wide-angle lens, common to all the new iPhone 12 models, has had its lens assembly simplified down to seven elements, improving light transmission and getting its equivalent aperture to F/1.6. The 12 Pro Max gets a further upgrade in the form of a slightly larger sensor. At this scale, practically every photon counts, especially for the revamped Night Mode.

On the software side, the introduction of Apple ProRAW will be a godsend to photographers who use the iPhone either as a primary or secondary camera… Being able to shoot to a RAW format (or RAW-adjacent; we’ll know more with hands-on testing) frees up photographers who may have felt hemmed in by the iPhone’s default image processing. There were ways of getting around this before, but Apple has an advantage over third-party apps with its low-level access to the camera architecture, so this format will probably be the new standard.

This newfound elasticity at the image format level also enables the iPhone Pros to shoot in Dolby Vision, a grading standard usually applied in editing suites after you shoot your movie or commercial on a digital cinema camera. Shooting directly to it may be helpful to people planning to use the format but shooting with iPhones as B cameras. If cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki approves, it’s good enough for pretty much everyone else on Earth.

MacDailyNews Take: No other so-called “smartphone” can compete with Apple’s iPhone 12 Pro or, especially, iPhone 12 Pro Max in still photography, much less videography (iPhone is in another universe in video).

13 Comments

  1. It’s a fine camera for a phone, but it’s not something a “serious photographer” is going to turn to. If I’m going on a shoot, I’m taking my Sony A7 III full-frame with a variety of lenses needed to get the job done. While the best camera you have is the one in your pocket, it’s not the best camera for the job.

    1. yes kinda still true. But apple computational CRUSHES anything from Sony, Canon, Red or Arri.

      The reality is the camera systems is a technology arms race. And though the iPhone may not hold the advantage in terms of physical lens options and señors size today. The bottom line is that advantage will be overtaken too. Apple is making incredible strides in terms computational power of the camera and the virtualizing of the “organic” nature of a professional camera system. In just a few generations we will be able to virtually choose which lenses we want to shoot with. With a swipe of a finger we will switch from an old school canon k35 to a modern Arri/Flex Master Prime.

      just a few key areas where Apple is doing a great job:
      – LiDAR Scanner to create a detailed depth map in nanoseconds
      – LiDAR create realtime Scene geometry
      – LiDAR up to six times faster autofocus in low light.
      – LiDAR depth map + Neural Engine control depth of field
      – Wide camera with ƒ/1.6
      – 65 mm Telephoto portraits lens (in the future would be nice to have 105 mm)
      – Smart HDR 3 automatically refines highlights, shadows, and contours.
      – 4K Dolby Vision video up to 60 fps
      – 10 bit HDR end-to-end Dolby Vision
      – Deep Fusion, Smart HDR 3, and real time mapping of two exposures for video
      – OLED screen 1200 nits
      – Dual SiM, GPS ect
      – Night mode portraits enabled by LiDAR Scanner
      – Portrait mode with advanced bokeh and Depth Control
      – Sensor-shift optical image stabilization
      AND
      – Apple ProRAW; the ability to capture RAW and side care all the computational goodies for post

      Really all the old photo dinos have on apple is big glass and big sensors. And they Apple will crack that aesthetic and then game over.

  2. I don’t think they were suggesting it could be used on a job instead of a DSLR. I’m a professional photographer and I often only take my iPhone with me when I’m travelling overseas instead of lugging a kit. We’ll have to see how good it is when it comes out of course but I’m looking forward to getting RAW straight from the camera app. “Serious” can easily apply to anyone who wants more control in post rather than just point and shoot.

  3. I’ve used my iP XR for many less demanding editorial shoots.
    In fact, I’ve just been shooting a table-top sci-fi scene for web use, and the image quality is more than good enough.
    Looking forward (as it’s nearly upgrade time anyway) to having a close look at the iP12 Pro, especially for the Dolby Vision performance.

    1. I think it’s a big step from “serious” to “pro” and I think the sensor size (at least at the moment) is a bigger hurdle than optical zoom. Physical lens size, of course, is commensurate with sensor size. I can’t think of a situation where a professional photographer would reach for a lens with anything like a 10X zoom. I’m more enthusiastic about RAW than anything else while those physical restraints are present. I hope it’s at least 10 bit but I can’t find anything to confirm that other than noting that video is 10 bit in HDR. BTW, does anyone here know what enables a higher bit depth? Is it related to a higher sensor pixel size?

      1. I’m looking at this from shooting event videography. It is often impossible to switch lenses when the story is going on around you outside of your control. Some pro cameras have 100x optical zooms! But those cost thousands of dollars and weigh 30 pounds or more. Another thing on my wish list is bluetooth wireless mics that record on to separate channels from the built in mic. I just hate how modern camcorders are still stuck in the 1980s when it comes to audio.

  4. I just returned from a beach vacation, with lots of sunrise and sunset photography (advanced amateur level). Once I got the desired shots on my Canon DSLR I took out my iPhone XR for some “instantly shareable” shots since I haven’t yet bought the SD card reader for my new iPad Pro to edit on location.

    The surprising thing was that the iPhone shots even taken with the native camera app looked better than the DSLR photos due to computational photography. I CAN get as good or better results by bringing the RAW files into Adobe Lightroom and spending some time with them, but what my phone does with zero effort is remarkable.

    Now when bokeh is desired or when shooting in low-light, the DSLR sensor is always, always going to do better than a phone. But the gap is closing a bit each year. Fake bokeh (fokeh?) is getting remarkably good, and night mode for both Apple and Google is doing things I never thought possible with tiny image sensors.

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