The iPhone 12 Has Dropped and So Has My Pulse

The iPhone 11 Pro hit the market last year with not two, but three lenses. It was a novel idea to have three lenses, a wide, medium and telephoto, on one phone body. Given that the iPhone 11 series was widely regarded as a stepping stone year, I had high hopes for something big for photography in the iPhone 12. And I was disappointed.

The same three lenses, and the promise of some more computational photography smarts and some form of raw called ProRaw, powered by something called the A14 Bionic chip. There’s even a “Night Mode Portrait Mode.” Frankly, computational imaging is no substitute for actual optics, and A14 Bionic means about as much to the average user as “Digic” or “Expeed” mean to Canon and Nikon users, which is to say not much. 

But more to the point, all of these upgrades are largely software-based stuff. ProRAW and better computational imaging should be in every other iPhone that’s out there now anyway, if the chips from last year were as powerful as claimed. It’s not entirely clear how the LiDAR hardware functions in Night Mode Portraits. It beats up the consumer that just spent $1,000 on the flagship phone last year to make them spend the same money to get useful software features such as ProRaw. It smacks of the same software crippling that camera companies have been accused of for years.

But wait! What about the iPhone 12 Pro Max you say? It has a longer zoom than the Pro! A bigger wide angle sensor! Well, The size of the screen is matched only by the long name. The high price tag (starting at $999 for the base model Pro), buys you a little extra zoom and a bigger sensor size that isn’t really specified for the wide angle lens. If you’re going to make me carry a phone that big and that pricey, it better have a larger sensor or something in it, even if I called that sensor size a lie not that long ago. Yes, there’s some actual hardware improvement here, but for photographers, it feels like a ho-hum refresh.

A Bone For Video Shooters

There are a few small things thrown in for video shooters. Both new phones can now shoot 10-bit HDR video, and there’s a mode called “Night Mode Time-Lapse” which can drag the exposure for better time-lapses, according to Apple.

Indeed, the sample footage on Apple’s website looked good. Really good. But as with anything coming from a company’s press office, what’s not clear is how much extra gear and color grading went into the final product that’s posted on the site. If I had to take a guess, there’s at least a drone of some sort being used and plenty of stabilization tools beyond just the phone, and the color looked just too even across the board to have not been graded. Apple is not known for providing extensive manual controls in its phones to be able to match from shot to shot like this. Details looked sharp, so perhaps video might be a reason enough for some to make the switch.

Will You Make the Switch?

After years of iPhones, I switched to Google’s Pixel 3a XL last year and haven’t regretted it, at least photographically. This year’s iPhones haven’t really moved the needle from last, at least for me, but maybe it did for you. Will you be purchasing the new iPhone for its photo chops? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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35 Comments

Kanchan Saha's picture

We are are eagerly awaiting for release and looking forward to hands on experience.

Tim van der Leeuw's picture

3 lenses was done by other companies before Apple did it, though. They were kinda late to the game.

Anyway, rumour has it that in 2021 they will release a phone with a periscopic zoomlens, that has actual moving parts so it actually optically zooms.

I'll wait for that model. :)

chris bryant's picture

Stay with your goggle pixshit and stop trolling products you are not going to buy.

Deleted Account's picture

You're not allowed to have opinions on products that you don't purchase?

Bernie Bros's picture

Of course you are. For instance, Android based phones are overwhelmingly unrefined kludges with short-lived support.

5 or 6 year old iphones are still in common use, while Android phones typically don't last much beyond 2, due to flaky hardware or abandonment of software support by the manufacturer.

Deleted Account's picture

You're certainly entitled to your opinion, but I don't think that it's very well founded in this case. If you look at flagship Android phones which are comparably priced with iPhones, it's pretty much the same shit in terms of build quality, features, hardware, and longevity. If you want to talk about all of the cheap stuff, you'd probably be right, but it's not like there are Apple phones at those price points to compare them to anyway.

As for whether iPhones last longer than comparable Android phones at the extreme end of the life of the device, I don't really know. Maybe you're right, but I don't really know anyone who keeps their phone for 6 years. My wife's Galaxy S7 is a bit over 4 years old now (IIRC) and it's working fine. We're going to be upgrading it this year not because it has an issue, but because phones just advance so fast that she wants the better features now.

FWIW, perhaps due to the average income of iPhone users vs. Android users, I actually tend to see a lot more old Android phones being used than old iPhones. Out of all of the people I know who use an iPhone, I don't know a single one that's on a longer than 2-year upgrade cycle... certainly not 5 or 6 years. Most of them get a new phone every year so I genuinely have no idea what you're talking about in terms of 5 or 6-year-old phones. I wouldn't want to use a 6-year-old phone even if it worked factory-fresh regardless of it was an iPhone or Android phone.

Two areas where I think Apple does have a distinct advantage are the fact that the App Store is just better than the Play Store and the fact that iPhones hold their value a lot better than even comparable Android phones like the Galaxy series. Some people argue that iOS runs better than Android and that's certainly true, but I wouldn't call that a pure advantage because it comes with the trade-off of user control. Android is a far more open platform and than iOS and that has its benefits as well as its drawbacks.

David Love's picture

Funny comment considering people were upgrading because they added software that drained your battery to trick you into buying a new one.

Colin Robertson's picture

“Frankly, computational imaging is no substitute for actual optics”

That’s actually exactly what they’re designed to substitute.

Good optics are large and expensive. iPhone’s are neither (ok, yes, expensive, but not compared to say canon’s L lenses), so they have to make it up in real-time, on-device processing.

Peter Perry's picture

No, but the smaller the sensor the faster the readout, so it’s possible that the gap could be narrowed by using multiple samples to eliminate noise and increase detail. As for the claim that computational photography is no substitute, it is wrong on so many levels! The number of people that supplement their images with post processing clearly shows that’s plausible and Fuji bodies certainly show some of what’s possible in camera.

Cool Cat's picture

I think Apple has superior products in many ways. But all those projects that Steve Jobs had been working on before he died are drying up. Now Apple seems to be on a downhill spiral ever since.

David Love's picture

No they just wait for other companies to do it first, then copy and all their fans pretend they are the first at everything and then shell out extra money for the prestige of using an apple product.

Cool Cat's picture

Do you feel better now that you have the wrinkles out of your panties?

David Love's picture

Oh am I wrong? Did my comment make you clutch your pearls and iphone?

Cool Cat's picture

Put your lingerie in the clothes dryer if any wrinkles remain.

Peter Perry's picture

Actually you’re very wrong about Apple... They’re playing an integration game that none of the others have even come close to catching up to. Of course, Apple took it to the next level by tying the house and car together with the rest of the eco system.

Pair an Apple TV with dual home pods and you a nice smart audio system.

The home pod takes over “Hey Siri” for all your devices. Now you can ask it for directions and as soon as you leave your house those directions will sync up to Apple car play.

If you open up something on the Mac or iPad you can continue it on the Phone or open on the phone and move it to the Mac or iPad.

I can copy on my iPhone and paste on my Mac or iPad. You might think that’s useless, but if I tap on my iPad Lock Screen with the pencil, it starts up the notes app and as I’m taking notes I pick up my phone to research something else, when I find it, I copy it, and then paste it into the note on the iPad without ever leaving the notes app.

AirPods automatically connect to the device I’m using and if I switch devices they switch too.

The iPhone is not just a phone and that’s the point, it’s part of a bigger system... If all you want is a phone, there might be things that work better for you, but if you want the ecosystem, there’s nothing like it in any other camp.

Alex Herbert's picture

Very true, and for exactly that reason buying into the Apple ecosystem has become more and more of a 2 footed jump.I know people who want to leave but don't think it's worth the trouble.

Miha Me's picture

I'm glad they are bringing back their best design 🌚 Love the sharp features!

David Pavlich's picture

I use an I-Phone because it has Facetime. If my son and granddaughter didn't live 1500 miles away, I don't know what I'd use. It's a good phone and a terrific camera for when I'm at Home Depot and I see something that my wife might like. I can take a snapshot of it and send it to my wife to see if she'd like me to grab it. Other than that....

Alex Herbert's picture

WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Viber, Skype. Literally any messaging app has video calling these days.

Rashad Hurani's picture

I love iPhone because it doesn't have Return button

Warren Marquez's picture

I'll be the first to admit that I actually like the ultra-wide angle lens on my iPhone 11 Pro. But it's the only lens I really use mainly because of convenience. The photos are good.

But at $1,100, I also demand the phone make me look like a Greek god in selfies.

Dan Ostergren's picture

I've never really considered any of my phones as photography devices. The last thing that would make me switch phones would be camera specs, unless they match or exceed the capabilities or quality of my camera, which is a 14 year old DSLR and so far phone cameras fall way short. I like my iPhone because I like iOS and it's ecosystem, and I only ever seem to have to replace my iphones every 4-5 years.

Anthony Cayetano's picture

It’s a good phone and camera, it’ll work seamlessly with my iPad Pro and MBP. That’s all that matters (to me).

Michael Dougherty's picture

I'll stick with iPhones because I'm too old and lazy to learn a new operating system. IOS is quirky enough.

Peter Perry's picture

Yeah, except the BIONIC 14 is much more powerful than any DSLRs image processing chip, so I’m not sure why you would attempt to minimize that as that’s likely as capable as a 9th gen i7 CPU in many aspects.

Jon The Baptist's picture

Cheapest iPhone is best iPhone. At the end of the day they all still run the same software.

Peter Perry's picture

But they don’t, there are apps that need the Lidar to function and I believe the AR headset will need it too, so you won’t get that without the pro models.

Blake B's picture

This is hogwash, good sir. While it may not be revolutionary, it’s at least a normal cycle upgrade or better. And computational imaging is way more important than you make it out to be.

Paul Scharff's picture

I'm in the upgrade program so I'll get it after paying for half of my iPhone 11 PM which I'll relinquish to Apple, but otherwise would not buy the 12 as this seems like the "S" version of the 11.

I'm happy I'll a small bump in camera quality, but I was hoping for some astrophotography capabilities, since Apple usually follows the Pixel by a year or so, but it appears that's not a consideration for them.

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