Apple iPhone 8 review
Same 12MP resolution, yet different camera
The Apple iPhone 8 keeps the same 12MP camera resolution from the iPhone 7, and its optically-stabilized sensor sits behind the same f/1.8 wide lens. A round sapphire glass keeps everything safe from scratches.
What is new about the iPhone 8 camera is the image sensor. It's a new Exmor RS, once again courtesy of Sony. Pixel size is the same as before at a 1.22 µm pixel size (confirmed by recent teardowns).
The upgrades list continues with a brand-new image processor and noise reduction algorithm, and with the help of the A11 chip, the iPhone 8 is now capable of real-time image and motion analysis - body and face detection. The video capturing also benefits from the new powers - there are 4K at 60fps and 1080p at 240fps modes.
Apple is now aggressively pushing AR and AR-related apps, so all camera lenses are factory-calibrated to provide superior performance in AR.
Apple also advertises the new phones to have "deeper pixels" which is another name for the camera sensor using deep trench isolation tech. Deep trench isolation is not a new technology and was first introduced on the iPhone 6s generation - also available on quite a few Sony Xperia (DTI) and Samsung Galaxy (ISOCELL) smartphone cameras. It's a technology for better pixel isolation on the sensor itself, which prevents light leakage between the neighboring pixels and thus improves the overall photo quality.
The quad-LED dual-tone flash from the iPhone 7 is also available on the 8, but the new flagship supports slow-sync flash. It keeps the shutter open for a bit longer, letting in some of the ambient light and making the image look more natural and not as contrasty as with regular flash images.
The new camera also comes with a new file format, yes, JPG's days are numbered. At least as far Apple is concerned. iOS 11 now saves all images in the HEIF file format and videos in HEVC (H.265) video format by default. This is done because of the more efficient compression these files provide. We can confirm - photos take about half as much space as before (1.4MB HEIF vs. 3MB JPG), and the same goes for videos.
The phone will convert the images to an older format if shared from within iOS, but if you copy images over USB, the original files are transferred only if you have macOS High Sierra. If not - you will get converted files - both pictures and video - in JPG and H.264 formats. The conversion is done in real-time while you are transferring the files without you even noticing.
Don't you worry, you can choose the format you prefer, so if you don't like having your media stored in the new format - you can choose Most Compatible from Settings instead of High Efficiency. This way no conversion will be done while transferring, but you will waste away storage.
And mind you, the improved compression by these file formats doesn't come at the expense of quality. After careful pixel peeping, we saw no difference in quality between HEIF and JPEG, and if there was a marginal difference between H.264 and H.265, it was in H.265's favor. On the other hand, quality with videos varies depending on how busy the scene is so the jury is still out on whether they are universally better than the H.264 ones. Furthermore, only the high-efficiency mode allows you to use the new 4K at 60fps and 1080p at 240fps video recording modes.
Still image quality
Even though Apple upgraded the camera with a new sensor, the specs are the same. It's still 12MP in resolution with a f/1.8 lens. The daylight photos snapped with the iPhone 8 has improved since the iPhone 7 though.
For starters - there is more resolved detail, and the samples are noticeably sharper even in the corners. There is a new noise reduction as promised - it leaves a bit more noise but smears less fine detail, especially in low light.
One of the most important and prominent upgrades is the much better color reproduction - the dull washed out colors we criticized the iPhone 7 series for are gone. The iPhone 8 camera captures true to life colors, lively and renders them nicely even in demanding weather conditions.
The autofocus is always correct, the white balance is accurate, and the contrast is superb in all samples. Finally, the dynamic range is spectacular. And that's with the Auto HDR option turned off. In fact, when we manually opted for HDR - the samples turned out worse. How about that?!
But even though we are impressed with the new colors, the dynamic range, and contrast - we are still noticing the somewhat watercolor-like foliage presentation at 1:1 magnification. The iPhones have been this way for years, and Apple may want to put some work here, too.
There are some claims that the new iPhones shoot with an always-in Auto HDR mode. There is an Auto HDR option, which can be turned off from Settings, so that's false. Once you disable the switch, you will get an HDR trigger on your viewfinder for manual or auto HDR mode.
The iPhone 8 camera resolves as much detail as the Galaxy S8's, but more than the Xperia XZ1 Compact. The Xperia, on the other hand, does much better at capturing foliage. The S8 photos look a bit unnatural with those oversaturated colors, while the iPhone 8 is keeping them closer to real-life.
The OIS allows the iPhone 8 to drop the shutter speed to as low as 1/4s when shooting handheld. This combined with the wide aperture, the new sensor, and the new image processor allows the iPhone 8 to take great low-light images.
There is plenty of detail in all-low light shots, the colors are mostly accurate, and the dynamic range is still impressive all things considered.
And here are some indoors samples, which may be noisy, but very good nevertheless.
We also decided to test the slow-sync flash. As promised, it lets in some of the ambient light and makes the image look more natural. Or to simplify it - you don't look like a zombie anymore. But using it requires holding the camera extra still.
Finally, we took the iPhone 8, the Galaxy S8, and the Xperia XZ1 Compact for another spin, this time at night. The Galaxy S8 has the best noise suppression and often manages to keep more detail than the iPhone 8, especially in the foliage. Sometimes the noise reduction smears some fine detail, while in others there is noticeable lens flare. The iPhone 8 is less aggressive against noise and leaves plenty, though there is plenty of detail, too. No lens flare here.
The iPhone 8 offers 180-degree panoramic shots, and they can go up to 15,000 x 4,000 pixels or 60MP. The stitching is great, there are no artifacts, and the color rendering is good, too. The HDR panoramic shots are here to stay, and with the new rendering - everything looks just great.
You can also shoot telephoto panoramic shots, and they are as impressive as the regular ones.
The front-facing camera is the same 7MP unit we saw on the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. It can use the so-called Retina flash, where your screen lights your face up in particular color to provide more pleasing skin tones depending on the color of the available light.
There is plenty of resolved detail, though not the best we've seen. The contrast and colors are very good, while the exposure is always based on the human subject, which leaves the background overexposed at times.
Picture Compare Tool
You can check out how the iPhone 8 12MP wide-angle and telephoto cameras perform in our dedicated compare tool.
4K video recording at 60fps
Apple iPhone 8 brings new video recording modes, all of them - optically stabilized as usual. There are now 4K at 60fps and 1080p at 240fps. Those are available exclusively when the camera is set to store pictures and videos on the new high-efficiency format (H.265 HEVC). The regular 4K at 30 fps, 1080p at 30, and 1080p at 60fps are available for both H.264 and HEVC. And now there is a new film mode as well - 4K at 24fps.
The camcorder UI is as simple as it can get, offering nothing but the flash setting. You can find the resolution and file format switch in the Settings menu instead of having a shortcut in the viewfinder, which is as annoying as it has ever been.
The video options along with the other camera related settings are all buried far away in the iOS Settings menu.
The H.264 4K videos carry a bitrate of around 46Mbps, but audio is recorded in mono at 96Kbps in AAC format. Yes, Apple may be pioneering the 4K video with 60fps, but it's still stuck in mono audio capturing for a decade. Let that sink in. If that's not lazy, we don't know what is. Apple should really have a look at what LG and Nokia are doing in this field.
The 1080p videos at 30fps have a bitrate of 16 Mbps, keeping the same audio, while the 60fps ones came out with 23Mbps bitrate.
The H.265 4K videos at 60fps carry a bitrate of 54Mbps, while the audio is still mono. The 4K at 30fps clips are captured at 24Mbps - half the H.264 ones. The 1080p 30 and 60fps bitrate are also halved at 8.5 and 12.5 Mbps respectively.
The 4K videos captured at 30fps are virtually identical albeit the bitrate difference. The quality is very close to the still images - plenty of detail, no soft corners, but just average foliage presentation. The colors are great, and so is the contrast and white balance. There are no focus issues or compression artifacts. And once again - the dynamic range is nothing short of impressive.
At 1080p resolution, the H.264 and the HEVC videos turned out the same in spite of the bitrate difference. Zooming to 200% even revealed some advantage in favor of the HEVC clips, which seems impossible.
So, the 1080p videos captured by the iPhone 8 are one of the best, as usual, with lots of detail, smooth frame rate, and amazing dynamic range. The foliage looks somewhat better here.
The 4K videos recorded at 60fps are surely the highlight of the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. The frame rate is steady, and no compression traces are noticeable. The samples benefit from everything we mentioned so far - lots of detail, accurate focus and white balance, lively colors, superb dynamic range. A side-by-side comparison with the 30fps one revealed a slightly softer background and corners, but you can't see it until you compare such samples. And we have to say we've seen far worse 4K@30fps videos from self-proclaimed flagship smartphones than the 60fps videos taken with the iPhone 8.
The Apple iPhone 8 is ready to meet the competition in our Video Compare Tool.