Apple iPhone XS review
Dual 12MP dual OIS camera with Smart HDR
The Apple iPhone XS keeps a similar dual-12MP (wide+telephoto) camera setup as the iPhone 7, 8 Plus, and X. The wide-angle sensor sits behind the same f/1.8 lens, the telephoto behind a f/2.4 lens, both with optical image stabilization, just like on the iPhone X. The quad-LED dual-tone flash is here to stay, as well as the large piece of scratch-resistant sapphire glass that is supposed to keep everything away from harm's way.
The iPhone XS introduces an all-new 12MP sensor for the main shooter with larger pixels - 1.4µm, up from 1.22µm and doubles the focus pixels. The telephoto camera has a 1.0µm pitch as before, no changes here.
The camera benefits from a new image signal processor with 4-frame buffer for zero shutter lag, and there is a new Smart HDR feature. In addition to those 4 frames, the camera also captures interframes, plus a long exposure, all of which are merged into a single photo with improved dynamic range.
Apple has finally gone the Pixel way and we can't wait to see what the new camera is capable of.
But wait, there is more. First, the iPhone doesn't need a second camera for depth sensing anymore, it does it only with the primary snapper and the power of the ISP's depth mapping and the data collected from the NPU.
The iPhone XS also offers an updated bokeh rendering, which Apple says it has lifted from the most expensive DSLRs. Alright... The XS also allows you to adjust the depth of field after a photo has been taken, while the iOS 12.1 update will allow you to do this in real-time from the viewfinder. You know, like Huawei does this for years.
The iPhone XS has the same 7MP f/2.2 selfie camera as on the iPhone X, but the sensor has improved in speed if not in resolution thanks to the new ISP. The front camera now can do 1080p videos at 60fps, and there is cinematic video stabilization available (always-on).
There is one final improvement in the iPhone XS camera - stereo recording for the video capture. Yes, finally! But it's not just regular stereo audio, it's employs wider sound separation for richer sound and better listening experience. We listened to a couple of iPhone XS clips on a pair of expensive headphones and indeed, it's not just a regular stereo sound, it's rich in tones and quite surround-like and that's probably what Apple's calls wide stereo. We guess if you are going to do it super late, at least do it better than the others.
Unfortunately, the camera app hasn't been touched at all. It has the same interface that's been around for ages. And that's probably fine, but as usual, all image and video settings aren't in the camera app itself. Instead, you have to close the camera, open Settings, and then return to the camera. Hardly user-friendly!
The daylight samples we snapped with the iPhone XS are flagship-grade as they come. There is plenty of resolved detail, the noise levels are kept low, and the dynamic range is slightly above average. Note that we are talking about the photos where the Smart HDR decided not to fire.
All 12MP images offer nice rendition, accurate colors, and are pretty sharp, if not over-sharpened sometimes.
The Smart HDR stacks multiple frames with different exposure for better dynamic range and contrast, but there is also more detail captured in areas that previously looked like made of uniform colors (check the mountains). The foliage looks better in the HDR photos, and they have more natural look as there is no over-sharpening.
Overall, we'd suggest leaving the Smart HDR option enabled - it won't hurt your photos, on the contrary, it can only improve them when necessary.
Here is an example where the Smart HDR brings more detail in some areas.
The telephoto camera on the iPhone XS is the same as on the X. It produces the same high-quality images as the wide-angle one and comes in handy when you need a bit of zoom. But while telephoto samples are equal in quality, the f/2.4 aperture makes them less susceptible to blown highlights, and the Smart HDR rarely decides to intervene.
Of course, the Smart HDR does a wonderful job with the images and even great photos can become even better when stacking multiple images.
The new sensor working with Smart HDR is supposed to offer big improvements in low-light. Naturally, the OIS allows the iPhone XS to drop the shutter speed to as low as 1/4s when shooting handheld. Now there are also bigger sensor pixels and with some image stacking, the iPhone XS succeed in producing great low-light images with even exposure and free of noise.
Unfortunately, the iPhone XS still won't use the OIS telephoto camera when shooting in low-light. The XS once again digitally zooms and crops the output of the main camera to achieve the zoomed effect. This, of course, takes its toll on image quality. Check those digitally zoomed photos below.
iPhone XS vs iPhone X vs Pixel 2 XL
The iPhone XS has a flagship camera, there is no doubt. But the $1000 question is how much better it is from the iPhone X snapper. And of course, does it beat the Pixels? We made a quick shootout with those three phones and the samples are in.
TIP! You can use our photo compare tool available on each group of compatible samples to compare anything you see here.
Well, in the daylight photos the iPhone XS samples are less noisy, sharper at times, and lack the oil-painting effect some of the iPhone X photos suffered from in areas of uniform detail such as buildings and skies. You can see the difference, yes, but the bump in quality can't be your sole reason for an upgrade, that's for sure.
But what about the iPhone XS and Pixel 2 XL? Well, the Pixel 2 produces more natural images with even more captured detail. While Apple is only now trying their hand at multi-image stacking to improve dynamic range, the year-old Pixels are still superior in this regard.
The iPhone XS superiority over the iPhone X camera is quite obvious in the low-light scenes. The XS photos are more detailed, less noisy, better exposed and overall - among the best in class. The iPhone X aren't that bad, they just can't compete with what the XS captures.
And once again the iPhone XS may do better in low-light scenarios than its predecessor, but the year-old Pixel 2 XL still outputs better pictures. Apple is on the right track, but it's not on par with Google's achievements yet.
You can put the Apple iPhone XS against other phones in our Picture Compare Tool. We've selected the iPhone X and the Pixel 2 XL, but you can change those as you please. You can check the telephoto camera quality with this tool as well.