iPhone SE camera delivers flagship powers at budget price

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iphone-se
The new iPhone SE offers plenty of camera.
Photo: Apple

A serious photographer happily pays more money for the beefed-up camera specs we’ve come to expect from a flagship iPhone.

But Apple on Wednesday gave iPhone fans a camera spec list once reserved for its more expensive flagship handsets at a thrifty $399.

At first glance, it is obvious the new iPhone SE is missing the multi-camera bump that has quickly become standard in many smartphones. The SE sports one camera in the back and one for selfies.

That’s OK. The camera industry for years has produced some fantastic cameras with a single fixed lens. As smartphones go, this could be one of them. If you want to zoom in, start moving your feet.

The new iPhone SE, if it delivers as promised, packs more than enough camera. Apple’s own marketing language insists it’s the best single-camera system to ever be part of an iPhone.

The SE camera, with a 12-megapixel, f1.8 aperture wide camera, could appeal to many photographers, especially street shooters whose craft depends on quick reflexes without having to fiddle with camera settings.

iPhone SE camera at a glance

Here is what $399 buys in the SE camera:

  • The same A13 Bionic chip featured in the iPhone 11 Pro with an 8-core neural engine capable of processing 5 trillion operations per second and machine-learning accelerators. The latter brings computational analysis of light, color and depth control to boost camera imaging.
  • Portrait mode that includes depth-of-field control and the same six lighting effects featured on more-expensive iPhones.
  • Smart HDR (high dynamic range) that balances highlights and shadows and can “relight” subjects for more “natural-looking images.”
  • 4K video up to 60 fps. A QuickTake video option on the front and rear cameras allows recording without switching from Photo mode.
Shot on iPhone SE: The 2020 iPhone SE camera looks like a winner.
Shot on iPhone SE.
Photo: Apple

The sample Shot on iPhone SE images Apple released Wednesday appear to possess the type of high-quality imagery you would expect from the above features. However, we won’t really know how well it performs until the new iPhone SE lands in the hands of every-day shooters next week.

As a reminder, it’s not the camera that determines a good photo — it’s the person behind it. Of course, a little computational photography mad science doesn’t hurt.