The iPhone XS (and XS Max) feature the most impressive camera systems on an Apple phone to date. From the dual camera’s Smart HDR feature to its adjustable depth of field, Apple’s newest flagship devices offer numerous camera tools that make them worth considering.
Let’s walk through the top camera features on the 2018 iPhone models and how to best use them.
1. Camera Specs
Both the iPhone XS and XS Max feature a dual 12MP wide-angle (ƒ/1.8 aperture) and telephoto cameras (ƒ/2.4 aperture). There’s also a 7MP TrueDepth camera designed to work with the excellent Face ID unlock feature (carried over from the 2017 iPhone X), FaceTime, and selfies. Inside, you’ll find a next-generation A12 Bionic chip with Neural Engine. This chip plays a significant role in pushing photo-taking on both phones to new levels.
The rear camera also offers 2x optical zoom with digital zoom up to 10x, and portrait mode lighting with five effects. Its features cap off with quad-LED True Tone flash with Slow Sync, and wide color capture for photos and Live Photos.
Meanwhile, the front-facing camera offers a ƒ/2.2 aperture, Retina Flash, the same Portrait Lighting effects as mentioned above, and more.
2. Smart HDR
The most impressive new camera feature on the iPhone XS is the introduction of Smart High Dynamic Range (HDR). With Smart HDR, the iPhone camera automatically blends the most desirable parts of separate exposures into a single best photo. Smart HDR is ideally suited for times when you’re photographing high-contrast scenes. These include snaps of a bright sky or landscape at sunset.
According to Apple, the device’s all-new A12 chip, an enhanced ISP, and advanced algorithms have made shooting in HDR even smarter (hence the name) on this generation of iPhone. In doing so, it promises more highlights and shadow detail with each image than was possible on previous iPhone models.
You’ll find an icon for Smart HDR (plainly marked HDR) in the Camera app under the mode selector. Tap to activate it.
If you want to use Smart HDR by default (and not have to turn it on each time you snap a photo), go into Settings > Camera to find the Smart HDR toggle. When this is enabled, the HDR option isn’t available through the Camera app.
If you’re coming from an iPhone X or even an iPhone 8, you might not notice much difference between HDR and Super HDR. The feature offers more improvements compared to earlier devices.
In the example below, you can see the difference between a non-HDR shot taken on an iPhone 7 (left) and one using Smart HDR on an iPhone XS Max. Notice the improved details and shadows on the latter, where the lights on the tree aren’t nearly as bright.
3. Adjustable Depth of Field (Bokeh)
Apple and other companies have recently spent a lot of time improving the portrait-taking on smartphones. On the iPhone XS, Apple has introduced an enhanced portrait mode with advanced bokeh and depth control. The latter allows you to manually adjust the blurring of the background in portraits—both while you’re taking the shot and after.
To make changes, move the slider featuring lens apertures at the bottom of the photo frame. You can use a lens aperture of f1.4 to f16. By default, the lens aperture is set to around f4.5. In the below image, the aperture moves from f2.2 to f4.5.
To adjust the depth of field during post-processing:
- Go into the Photos app on your iPhone and select the photo you’d like to edit.
- Tap Edit.
- Adjust the depth of field using the Depth slider at the bottom, then tap Done.
The process is similar for live shots:
- Select Portrait mode in the Camera app.
- Click on the f button at the top-right of the screen to activate the depth of field slider.
- Select the desired depth using the slider, then snap your photo.
Note: Adjusting the depth of field with a live photo requires iOS 12.1.
Other iPhone XS Camera Improvements
Thanks to the A12 chip, improved sensors, and more goodies, there are other camera improvements on the iPhone XS that require no input on your part. Instead, they happen as you’re snapping photos.
What’s the Neural Engine?
The so-called Neural Engine is said to perform five trillion operations per second. In doing so, it can do a better job of distinguishing faces in a frame, automatically apply lighting effects to the subject, and more accurately separate a subject from the background.
No Shutter Lag
For a long time, you might have experienced significant lag between the time you push the shutter button and when a photo records. That’s no longer a problem on the iPhone XS; whenever the Camera app is open, it’s shooting pictures in the background.
The system deletes those images unless you hit the shutter button, thereby removing the lag.
The iPhone XS also offers deeper, larger pixels in low-light situations. It does so by allowing more light into the sensor.
Finally, there’s the new OLED display found on both the 5.8-inch iPhone XS and 6.5-inch iPhone XS Max. While it’s certainly not a camera-only feature, the bigger displays do provide more viewfinder real estate, which should prove helpful.
What About the iPhone XR and Other 2018 Phones?
Many of the camera features found on the iPhone XS/XS Max are on the 2018 iPhone XR as well. However, the cheaper device, doesn’t offer a dual telephoto lens and its digital zoom is only 5x, not 10x. The camera features discussed above are also available on the iPhone XR. Be sure to take a closer look at the iPhone XS and iPhone XR before making a decision.
You should also take a look at other flagship smartphones from this year and see how they compare to the iPhone XS. The Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL stand out in particular, as Google’s smartphones have unique camera properties worth a look. Still, if you’re set on using iOS, these aren’t an option since they run Android.
The bottom line is that the iPhone XS is Apple’s most advanced smartphone to date, which extends to the new and advanced camera features it offers. Make sure you’ve mastered other essential iPhone camera settings for the best photos no matter which device you have.