XS iPhone changed the approach to photography

During presentations of new smartphones Apple has focused on changes in camera software, not new hardware. Experts from Halide decided to analyze in detail all the components of good images iPhone XS and came to the conclusion that it has a brand new camera.

The iPhone XS is not just a bigger sensor than the iPhone X. In the flagship 2018 installed a new camera, and the biggest change is their reliance on computational photography.

Smart decision

Apple understands that the current sensors are reduced year after year and have become the size of a fingernail, and the technology of digital photography is the science of converting light, which is limited by the optics and physics. The only way to circumvent the laws of physics is to develop an algorithm of “computational photography”. With powerful chips A12 Bionic modern iPhone several different photos combined into one picture. This happens in a split second, in that moment, when the user presses the shutter button.

Algorithms in the iPhone XS will use a variety of shots to capture movement and keep the sharpness in the frame, and then combine each the best part of all these photos into one image. That is what makes the smartphone so powerful when photographing in situations when items may get lost due to mixed light or strong contrast.

“It’s not just the Auto HDR setting on the iPhone X. This is a brand new camera”.

Why do XS “pales” selfie?

In fact, no effect of “blurring” in the new iPhone doesn’t exist. Despite the fact that many bloggers on YouTube have compared the quality of selfie taken at the flagship Apple from Chinese state for 10 000, these statements were exaggerated.

People think that the iPhone XS “buff” objects when shooting for two reasons:

  • Better and more aggressive noise reduction due to the merging of exposures
  • Combined exposure reduces the sharpness by eliminating the sharp contrast transitions when the light hits the object

For the second option important to understand how the brain perceives “sharpness” and how artists make things clearer.

“You can’t add detail that was already lost, but you can trick your brain by adding a small contrast”.

Consider the example image of the spiral, where light alternates with dark outline, and the line of contact, make the object clear. This is called local contrast.

To sharpen, just enough to lighten a bright area closer to the edge, and the dark area to darken.

iPhone XS combines the exposure and darken the light areas and shadows. The detail remains, but is perceived as less sharp because she lost local contrast. In the photo above the skin looks more smooth, due to the fact that an object falls the soft light.

Some users have noticed that this applies not only to the skin. Rough texture and any object in the dark cats to a tree – be more smooth. This effect is due to the aggressive noise reduction iPhone XS.

Why you need noise reduction?

After comparing the RAW images with the iPhone XS iPhone X it became known that the new flagman higher shutter speed and higher ISO level. In other words, it takes pictures much faster, but this affects the noises in your photo.

iPhone X RAW image on the left, iPhone XS RAW on the right. Note the increase in visible noise!

Another presentation “Gather Round,” Phil Schiller told me that the iPhone performs a trillion operations for one photo.

When shooting it is impossible to hold the phone in a stationary state, if you do not use additional equipment. To get a clear, perfect picture, iPhone needs to take pictures very quickly, and this requires a higher shutter speed, which means more noise in the image.

During the execution of the algorithm, noise reduction removes some detail and local contrast.

Exposure XS RAW iPhone left shows less “smooth” parts in the reflections compared to her usual Smart HDR on the right.

Pictures with selfie camera smoother – especially the face!

As you know technical features of the front camera is worse than basic. Sensor selfie camera requires less light, which in turn means more noise in RAW photos and thus, a greater noise reduction when processing the processor A12.

The result is a more “smooth” the image with Smart HDR and computing the algorithm smooths the pictures more than the previous iPhone.

The images below, note on smoothing in low light compared to fluorescent light:

The good news is that Apple may slightly adjust software this feature.

The iPhone camera is worse than the XS?

The camera of the iPhone XS is better than the iPhone X. It has excellent dynamic range, but in the software there are several trade-offs.

Because of this, normal users get higher quality pictures with more detail in the reflections and shadows without editing.

There are two small problems:

The problem of truthfulness

As cameras become less simple tool and a “smart device” which uses many complex operations to combine multiple images into one, you might be wondering, do you look at the “true” picture.

Yosemite night.

To correctly select the landscape photographer used a very long exposure. Then he took a picture of the stars with much less exposure, or they would turn into bright stripes. Only after that he combined two images into one. Technically, it is a fake.

Consider another situation. Smart HDR combines different exposure to get better shadow and highlight detail. There is a certain degree of validity.

The first two images were taken on the iPhone XS left with Smart HDR, and in the middle. Right – photo taken on the iPhone X.

When Smart mode HDR is disabled, the smartphone still photographs with a wide dynamic range.

This applies to any application that uses the camera. Apple applies HDR effects in real-time.

Problem with RAW

iPhone XS behaves quite differently than the iPhone X by the exposure of the image. This is very important when shooting in RAW.

Left: iPhone X in RAW without processing. Right: iPhone XS in RAW, without processing.

Immediately, you notice that he’s overexposed, but if you go to edit the file iPhone XS RAW, you can see that the highlights have been lost due to clipping.

If you immerse yourself in technical details, will appear and the second problem: exposure in iPhone X exposed at 1/60 second at ISO 40, whereas in the iPhone XS is exposed for 1/120 th of a second at ISO 80. It is obvious that XS camera prefers a shorter exposure time at higher ISO, to get the best possible photo using the Smart HDR.

It’s not the noise, which can be easily removed in post-processing. It’s not a mild “grain”, which was previously present on the RAW images with the iPhone X and iPhone 8.

In order to shoot RAW on an iPhone XS, you need to manually set the exposure settings. Otherwise you get the RAW photos are worse than Smart HDR. All third-party applications for the camera will give the same result. In fact, RAW files from X iPhone do better than the iPhone XS.

There is a solution – Smart RAW Halide

“Since the release of the iPhone XS we spent days, nights and weekends, to find a solution to maximize the use of large sensor and deeper pixels”.

“We are pleased to announce a new feature in 1.10 Halide called Smart RAW, which uses a new touch technology in the iPhone XS for higher-quality images than ever, could make the iPhone X. Smart RAW does not use any aspect of Smart HDR. Function completely avoids this, so you get great shots without excessive noise reduction”.

With the new option Smart RAW images is displayed in more detail.

Comparison shots without the Smart RAW vs left photo Smart RAW on the right.

Another scene that compares iPhone with Smart XS RAW with iPhone X:

The results are excellent: less noise and more details in every picture.

Thanks to the special configuration of the camera sensor the iPhone XS, you can get higher quality pictures.

Smart Smart RAW vs HDR

Left: Smart HDR. Right: unedited RAW

Without any processing photos look almost the same, but Smart HDR slight advantage.

RAW files are just a starting point. Here is the same photo after a few changes:

Left: Smart HDR. Right: Edited Smart RAW.

Please note that the sky is blue in the HDR version of the Smart, but the Smart RAW has become more realistic.

If you look at the details, it will be seen that the sharpening won the Smart mode RAW.

The leaves in the upper-right tree is a great example:

In situations with low lighting is a compromise. When lighting becomes small, the amount of noise increases. iPhone XS with Smart HDR shoots quite nicely in conditions of low illumination, but also there are moments that aggressive noise reduction spoils. In particular, the reduction of noise leads to a decrease in the number of parts in the pictures.

Left: from RAW Smart Halide. Right: Smart HDR from the iPhone.

In the picture Smart RAW there is noise in the shadows, and the skin looks tighter, but overall the details look fantastic compared to the factory mode iPhone.


iPhone XS has a completely new camera. This is not just another sensor, and a completely different approach to photography, which is new to iOS. Since he relies on merging exposures and computational photography, image can be very different from those that worked on the old iPhone. But, unlike the previous cameras a lot here is based on the software and perhaps soon the picture quality will improve.

In addition, developers need to update apps to take full advantage of the new sensor, installed in the XS and XS Max.

Clifton Nichols

Clifton Nichols

Hi! I’m Clifton and I am a full-stack engineer with a passion for building performant and scalable applications that are beautiful and easy to use.

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