Apple iPhone 11 Pro Camera Review: First Thoughts

What are the exciting camera features of the iPhone 11 Pro?

Sunday September 15, 2019

By Amy Davies

Apple’s recently announced iPhone 11 Pro is its latest flagship smartphone, and marks the first time the Californian company has adopted the “Pro” moniker. As is usually the case, the flagship comes in two sizes – with an iPhone 11 Pro Max being the larger of the two.

It was the iPhone that was recommended as the smartphone of choice for a heck of a long time. Then Android manufacturers including Samsung, Google and Huawei really upped their game and Apple fell a little down the list of recommendations.

However, if you’re an Apple devotee, a big fan of iOS, and have other products all within the Apple ecosystem, it’s likely you’ll only really consider an iPhone. And let’s not get started on the problems that Huawei is having at the moment.

Over the years, Apple has continuously improved its camera offerings, and the iPhone 11 Pro offers some interesting new features. I’m disappointed to still not see a dedicated manual or pro mode (even more disappointing given the phone’s name), but here are some other specifications to get excited about:

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Camera Review

iPhone 11 Pro: Lenses

Although there were plenty of whoops and cheers from the gathered audience during the unveiling of the iPhone 11 Pro, having three lenses is not exactly a new concept for a smartphone. It is, however, the first time we’ve seen it on an iPhone, with a new ultra-wide-angle lens making an appearance.

The new lens offers a 13mm f/2.4 equivalent, giving a 120-degree field of view. That’s wider than the 16mm lens we’ve seen on the Huawei P30 Pro and Huawei Mate 20 Pro, with Apple claiming it gives you “4x more scene” (presumably than the standard lens).

Having this lens will be very useful for a number of different subjects, such as landscapes and architecture – it’ll be interesting to see how much distortion there is with such a wide-angle unit, though.

As well as the super-wide-angle lens, there’s also the 26mm f/1.8 equivalent and a telephoto lens (52mm equivalent) which now has a wider, f/2.0, aperture. Both the standard and telephoto lens have optical image stabilisation, and with nice wide apertures should perform well in low light.

iPhone 11 Pro: Sensors

Other manufacturers (Huawei, Honor, OnePlus) boast very high-resolution sensors – up to 48 megapixels. Apple continues to play it safe by equipping the iPhone 11 Pro with three 12 megapixel sensors.

However, one of the most interesting new features is the claim that colours will be the same from every lens, thanks to calibrated sensors which work in conjunction with the new A13 bionic chip processor.

Having experienced sometimes quite severe differences in colour when using other triple-camera setups (Samsung and Huawei), it’ll be great if Apple manages to pull off uniform colour between the three optics – especially if you’re using all three to shoot video.

New interface

It’s both a negative and positive point about the iPhone that it has always used a pretty simple native camera app.

On the one hand, anybody can use it and get great results, on the other, advanced photographers can be left a little frustrated with it.

For the iPhone 11 Pro, Apple hasn’t given the interface a major overhaul, but it has moved some things out of the way to make it a cleaner experience. It also says that it can use all three lenses to show you what’s happening “outside the frame” when shooting with the standard or telephoto lenses, which we can see being really handy for street photography.

What’s more, Apple says that all three lenses will be easily selectable with a single click no matter which shooting mode you’re using, which is another bonus.

Lastly, it’s a small thing, but there’s a new font for the camera app, which should again give an overall sleeker appearance.

iPhone 11 Pro: Night Mode

At last! Most of the other manufacturers have been equipping their smartphones with some kind of a Night mode for the past few years.

We’ve been particularly impressed by the performance of Google’s “Night Sight” mode, as well as Huawei’s “Night” option. With the iPhone 11 Pro, Apple finally joins the party. We haven’t used it ourselves, but (naturally) the results shown at the launch look impressive so we’ll be keen to see if we can recreate that ourselves.

Apple promises that Night mode will activate automatically, taking a set of shots with optical image stabilisation, merging them together and using computational algorithms to account for movement, blur and sharpness. Apparently, colours will look natural and images will be “intelligently denoised” to enhance details.

Interestingly, Apple also says that the mode will come with some manual controls – again, we’ll be keen to put those to the test as soon as possible.

Apple Deep Fusion

This was described at the launch keynote as “computational photography mad science”, which basically means that Apple is using machine learning to produce the best images possible.

Deep Fusion won’t be available from the launch of the iPhone 11 Pro, but is something that will come out later. It promises to use pixel-by-pixel processing to optimise texture, details and noise in every part of the photo.

It works by fusing together several photos into a single image – four of which will be taken before you even press the shutter button. There will also be a long exposure image, and four secondary images captured when you press the shutter button.

In just one second, all images will be analysed and merged together for an image which is likely to boast increased dynamic range, low noise and extra detail. Apple claims that “this kind of image would not have been possible before”.

Again, we’ll be keen to put Deep Fusion through its paces as soon as it becomes available.

HDR Landscape

iPhone 11 Pro: Video

The iPhone 11 Pro will be capable of shooting 4K video at 6fps, with full access to all three lenses when shooting.

Apple promises an extended dynamic range in what it is calling the highest-quality video in any smartphone.

What’s also impressive is the range of editing controls you can access directly from the phone, while other options such as “Quick Take”, whereby you can quickly grab a video while shooting in stills mode should make things easier than ever before.

HDR Black and White

Smart HDR & Portrait Mode

The iPhone has been using HDR for some time, but with the 11 Pro, Apple claims that this has been further enhanced.

It says that with the new phone, “advanced algorithms to finesse highlight and shadow detail” can be used to fine-tune both subject and background detail at the same time.

Portrait Mode is also nothing new, but it gets a new “High Key Light Mono” setting which allows you to create studio effect black and white images. It’s perhaps a bit of a gimmick, but we’re looking forward to trying it out none-the-less.

Anything else?

There are a few features which although not directly related to the camera, are still interesting to photographers.

The iPhone 11 Pro uses a “super retina XDR” screen which promises to display your images brighter and sharper than ever before. It boasts a wide colour gamut, True Tone (to match the white balance of the room), and True Blacks.

Battery life has long been a sore point for iPhone, but Apple says that the iPhone 11 Pro will last four hours longer than its predecessor, while the larger iPhone 11 Pro Max will last for five hours longer. It also has the ability to charge up to 50% with Fast Charge. Apple doesn’t like to reveal its exact battery ratings, but this all sounds promising for those who are likely to take a lot of photos or video.

Finally, the iPhone 11 Pro claims to have the toughest glass in any smartphone, both on the front and the rear, while it’s also splash, spill and dust-resistant (it’s the most water-resistant iPhone to date).

iPhone 11 Pro Price and Availability

The iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max are available to pre-order from the 13th September, with delivery from the 20th. Prices start at £1049, so, as always from Apple, it’s not a “cheap” or “budget” option.

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Apple iPhone 11 Pro Camera