iPhone 11 Pro’s stunning cameras deliver ‘computational photography mad science’

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iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max
iOS 13.2 will make switching frame rates and resolution for your video shooting much easier.
Photo: Apple

Apple promises a big performance bump from the square bump housing the multiple cameras on the new iPhone 11 line. But will it be enough to generate a wave of upgrades among users who consider the camera the most important feature?

Given Apple’s artfully crafted presentation, showcasing beautiful work from pro shooters and filmmakers who used prototype iPhones, the response among holdouts could prove seismic.

It’s hard to defend the features in the entry-level iPhone 11, and the high-end iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max, as new. Apple showed off all three models during today’s By Innovation Only event, and the cameras basically stole the show.

The iPhone 11 packs two cameras. The Pro models add a third. With these additions, Apple now seems caught up to Android handsets. Many iPhone competitors already sport three rear-facing cameras (Huawei and Samsung) and great low-light performance (Google’s Pixel 3).

What the photo community will determine in the weeks ahead is whether the new iPhone lineup is once again better than its most ambitious competitors.

Let the side-by-side test shoots begin.

iPhone 11: Powerful and easier on the pocketbook

iPhone 11 sports a lower price tag but packs as much camera power as some more expensive smartphones
iPhone 11 sports a lower price tag but packs as much camera power as some more expensive smartphones.
Photo: Apple

Camera-wise, the budget-friendly iPhone 11 might offer the best bang for the buck. Starting at $699, the iPhone 11 comes with a camera bump that houses a standard wide-angle lens and new ultra-wide lens. A more immersive camera software interface automatically shows crop marks to preview the field of view from either lens.

The iPhone 11 will run on the same A13 Bionic chips as the Pro models. The chip will deliver faster focusing, finer resolution and more powerful tone mapping (to preserve detail in challenging lighting).

All three 2019 iPhones also will feature what looks to be an impressive Night Mode. It automatically brightens photos and reduces noise, fusing multiple images for the highest-quality shot. With all three, you can engage a new quick-take video feature by holding down the shutter button while recording stills. The iPhone 11 will shoot 4K video and feature handheld cinematic image stabilization.

A new slow-motion function and the front-facing camera will create interesting video selfies that Apple calls “slofies” (groan).

Two handsets ‘worthy’ of Pro label

The three views from the iPhone 11 Pro's three rear-facing cameras
The three views from the iPhone 11 Pro’s three rear-facing cameras.
Photo: Apple

The iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max offer three rear-facing cameras with bright apertures that capture the standard wide, telephoto and ultra-wide shots.

The iPhone Pro models can record nine different images and analyze each pixel individually. (That’s 24 million pixels, according to Schiller.) The end result? The ability to capture seemingly flawless exposures in low light.

Apple brought to the stage director Sean Baker, who made the ground-breaking film Tangerine using the iPhone 5s and the Filmic app.

During the keynote, Baker showed a short video that demonstrated how the Pro iPhones capture 4K video at 60 frames per second with each camera simultaneously. The new software interface divides the screen to show the view from each camera.

A13 Bionic with Neural Engine

The A13 Bionic’s Neural Engine, found in all three 2019 iPhone models, might be the most impressive of the upgrades. Apple’s Phil Schiller said it enables “computational photography mad science.”

A new Deep Fusion feature, coming this fall via a software update, “uses advanced machine learning to do pixel-by-pixel processing of photos, optimizing for texture, details and noise in every part of the photo,” Apple said in a press release.