iPhone X Low Light Photography Test Demonstrates Improved Telephoto Lens

The 2016 iPhone 7 Plus was the first Apple smartphone to feature a dual lens camera, and this year's iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X followed suit, improving upon last year's design with larger sensors and better signal image processing. The iPhone X also benefits from added optical image stabilization and larger aperture on the telephoto lens.

In what may come as a surprise to most casual snappers, the telephoto lens in Apple's dual camera isn't always activated when the 2x zoom is selected in the native Camera app. In some low light scenes, iOS opts to crop a wide angle image instead in an effort to obtain a better image with less noise and a lower likelihood of blurring.

With this in mind, Studio Neat designer Dan Provost recently conducted an experiment to see how much the telephoto lens in the iPhone X improves upon the one in the iPhone 7 Plus. To do this, he looked at how much light is required before an iPhone 7 Plus and iPhone X switches to the telephoto lens when the 2x zoom mode is selected. This would show Provost if the frequency of cropping an image is at all reduced in Apple's latest smartphone.
I placed an object (in this case, an old Rolleiflex camera) on a white backdrop, and flanked it on both sides with two LED studio lights. I set up the iPhone 7 Plus and iPhone X on tripods (using the Glif, natch) and positioned them to keep the framing as similar as possible. Then, starting from a completely dark room, I slowly raised the light levels and observed when the lens switched on each camera. The results are in the video below.

As the embedded video demonstrates, Provost discovered that the iPhone X switched to the telephoto lens much more quickly in his artificial low light scenes, requiring approximately 2 fewer stops of light before switching to the telephoto lens, compared to the iPhone 7 Plus.

"This is obviously great news, and speaks to how improved the second lens is after just one year," says Provost. "In my own use of the phone for the past couple weeks, it does indeed seem to be the case that I am very rarely presented with a 2X cropped image."

You can learn more about Provost's iPhone X low light photography experiment over on the Studio Neat website.

Related Roundups: iPhone 7, iPhone 8, iOS 11, iPhone X


Top Rated Comments

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8 months ago

Yet, no OIS on the telephoto lens on the 8 plus. £800 for a phone that is purposefully handicapped.

No, the iPhone 8 is not purposely handicapped. You are correct that it doesn’t have OIS on the telephoto lens like the flagship iPhone X does, but then again it is $200 cheaper than a X. The iPhone 8 also doesn’t have FaceID, and there are other differences.

Weird that this requires explanation, but you won’t get all the features of the highest priced phone unless you buy the highest priced phone.
Rating: 7 Votes
Avatar
8 months ago
I can confirm that the telephoto lens is MUCH improved over the 7+. A shot like this would have been impossible to get with the old phone in portrait mode, it was super dark there. Look at the bokehs!

Rating: 5 Votes
Avatar
8 months ago

Yet, no OIS on the telephoto lens on the 8 plus. £800 for a phone that is purposefully handicapped.


Yet, no turbo on my base model Porsche 911. $94K for a car that is purposefully handicapped. Oh, wait...
Rating: 4 Votes
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8 months ago
It's funny to me that 2X isn't ALWAYS the tele lens on the X. Even with OIS and wider aperture, Apple still knows best on what I really want. :rolleyes:
Rating: 2 Votes
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8 months ago
Is Apple still applying way too much noise reduction and JPEG compression? In other words, do the photos still look like smudged watercolor paintings when zoomed all the way in? Every model since the iPhone 6 has had this problem, and I'm surprised that none of the camera reviews so far has mentioned this.
Rating: 1 Votes
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8 months ago

And you always shoot at base ISO? However well you can stabilise your camera, adding IS allows you to use a lower ISO for the same amount of motion blur. So, of course, if you always shoot at base ISO (and shutter speeds fast enough to avoid motion blur using your shooting technique), then IS doesn't add anything for you.

But you then also would never be affected by the camera module switching, which only happens when the light is low enough to require an ISO higher than base ISO.

That has nothing to do with anything I said. You're just confusing the issue. OIS is physically unavailable on my iPhone 6, which also has nowhere near as good an image sensor as the 8+ or X, and I manage to get results I want without it.

Just think of the 1x and 2x buttons as AOV selectors, not lens selectors. Problem solved. Your position is not dissimilar to someone whose favourite recipe was altered without telling him or her and who then complains despite actually liking the result more.

The standard camera app takes many automatic decisions, from focus to exposure, to ISO, to WB, to HDR, to noise reduction, why be upset about this one. Heck, modern smartphone cameras not only take multiple exposures and merge them for HDR purposes, they also do so to improve resolution. Computational photography has reached a level where complaining an implementation detail is missing the bigger picture.

I'm upset because by cropping to simulate 2x I lose 75% of my image data, which sucks if I want to work in any media beyond the screen.
Rating: 1 Votes
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8 months ago
Too bad the cameras are so good but with removal of an audio port a semi professional video setup is much more complicated.
Rating: 1 Votes
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8 months ago

Is Apple still applying way too much noise reduction and JPEG compression? In other words, do the photos still look like smudged watercolor paintings when zoomed all the way in? Every model since the iPhone 6 has had this problem, and I'm surprised that none of the camera reviews so far has mentioned this.

I feel it has gotten a little better with HEIF. But a scientific observation would be interesting in fact.

I was shocked when I took my first pix with the Lightroom app and saw the real quality that the camera can deliver without all this compression!!
Rating: 1 Votes
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8 months ago

I highly doubt you'd actually accept the noise and/or motion blur. Once an image gets noisy (and/or blurry) enough, people tend to not display it at 100%, they'd display it smaller to hide some of the noise (and/or motion blur). And if a downsampled 'tele' photo looks worse than a full-size wide-angle shot in a double-blind test, there is zero reason to prefer it.
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Unless the phone does upsampling, the image should have smaller dimensions (ie, less than 12 MP).
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£800 and it doesn't have FaceID. £800 and it doesn't have a 5.8" screen. £800 and it doesn't have an OLED screen. £800 and it doesn't have a 458 dpi screen.

1. Based on my experience, the zoomed wide angle lens shot is indeed better at a casual glance in most normal point-and-shoot situations. However, you can get a sharper result with the telephoto if you tweak the settings... but by that point you're just better off using a 3rd party camera app. They let you select the type of lens being used anyway.

2. It seems you haven't taken a look at how the default iPhone camera app takes photos. It always does upsampling regardless of the digital zoom level, so that the resulting photo has the same dimensions. It's frankly quite annoying sometimes.
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How can you tell if it’s cropping the image from the sensor with wide angle lens or using the one with the tele lens?

Two ways.

1. Use a photo app with EXIF info display. You'll be able to know what lens the photo was taken with.

2. In the case of the video in the article, you'll notice a slight shift in the location of the object on the screen when the lens is switched. Because the two lenses are located apart from each other, this is inevitable (and also useful for obtaining depth information, to a degree).
Rating: 1 Votes
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8 months ago

No, the iPhone 8 is not purposely handicapped. You are correct that it doesn’t have OIS on the telephoto lens like the flagship iPhone X does, but then again it is $200 cheaper than a X. The iPhone 8 also doesn’t have FaceID, and there are other differences.

Weird that this requires explanation, but you won’t get all the features of the highest priced phone unless you buy the highest priced phone.


The only good example i know of of “purposely handicapping” something is when Intel physically cut a circuit board line to disable the 486DX (they called it the 486SX)... so they could sell cheaper and more expensive options.
Choosing to not put a feature in a phone is not purposely handicapping.
Rating: 1 Votes
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