iPhone 12 camera review: Doing great things simply…and simple things greatly!
Consistency remains key
There was a time when iPhone cameras were considered to be the gold standard for cameras in smartphones. Any new smartphone that came in the market with the claims to be the best would get pitted against the iPhone and would often lose. Then the Android smartphones pulled up their socks and iPhones went from being the best to being one of the best in the market. Fast forward to 2020, Apple has launched a new line of iPhones, hoping that its cameras will reclaim their throne of being the ultimate smartphone cameras in the market.
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Some things don’t change, they simply improve
Change is not about numbers and that stands especially true in the case of a new iPhone. Looking from afar, the cameras on the iPhone 12 might look exactly the same as the ones on iPhone 11, and stepping closer might not change that view either. The cameras do not just look like the ones on the iPhone 11 but come with pretty much similar-sounding sensors. The iPhone 12 is propped with a dual 12-megapixel camera unit on the back (with OIS) while a 12-megapixel selfie camera sits on the front.
That said, this does not mean you get the same year-old cameras. The changes may be invisible to the naked eye but are certainly there. The main wide-angle camera on the device has gone from an f/1.8 aperture to f/1.6 aperture which allows in more light for better low light performance along with some major software improvements that come into action because of the new A14 Bionic chipset. Apple has introduced night mode on all three cameras which means you can take low-light pictures with the ultrawide and the selfie camera as well. The iPhone 12 also comes with Smart HDR 3 that improves dynamic range in pictures.
Forget the megapixel count, look at them results
The iPhone 12 cameras may not have changed dramatically as compared to their predecessor (well, not on paper anyway), they may not come with exceptional features like 100x zoom or pop out of frames but one thing the iPhone 12’s cameras definitely bring along is the ability to take really good pictures. Really consistently.
The iPhone 12’s and iPhone 11’s camera numbers may be exactly the same but the iPhone 12 does prove its mettle in the performance department. It has a very obviously visible performance upper hand over the iPhone 11. When we first used the iPhone 11, we thought what the iPhone 11 produced was how realistic color reproduction could get on a smartphone. That changes with the iPhone 12. The iPhone 12’s cameras will serve you what you see, especially in daylight. Basically, the colors will be reproduced very closely to how you see them with your eye, if not exactly like it. It is the closest we have seen any phone reproduce colors to the real settings. It was so refreshing to see a smartphone that is not trying to brighten up the reds and the yellows in a shot. The iPhone 12’s cameras left us with a very small scope for complaints, especially while capturing images in daylight.
But it is not just the color reproduction that has improved. The images produced by the iPhone 12 were also sharper and captured more detail as compared to the iPhone 11. In landscape shots, the camera managed to capture a lot of detail and has a pretty amazing dynamic range.
No telephoto, but portrait shots work fine…no major flare-ups
That said, the lack of a telephoto lens haunts the results when you try to zoom into landscape pictures. It never gets colossally bad and it will not really be an issue if you have just been an iPhone user but we have been spoiled by the likes of Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra and well, we hear even the iPhone 12 Pro Max comes with a very good telephoto sensor (both for long shots and portraits), which makes the iPhone 12 look a little more poor in this regard.
The Portrait Mode on the iPhone 12 also behaves itself better as compared to the iPhone 11. Portraits in sufficient light often looked very impressive. It can leave out some edges, sometimes but gets the subject highlighted well in most cases. We were also really impressed with the deep bokeh the cameras create when handling an isolated subject. Even when you are not in Portrait Mode and not close enough for a close-up, the bokeh still comes through. And it comes through brilliantly. Again, would a telephoto have helped matters? We wonder…
Flares have been an issue the iPhone has not handled really well over the last few years. The issue has been addressed with the iPhone 12. The light coming in from aggressive sources does not destroy detail quite as much now. There is a slight catch though -if you point the iPhone directly at the light source you might find a stray green dot in your picture because of all the excess light. You can edit it out or just be cautious enough to look out for it – we had observed it in the Pixel 4a too, although in that case, computational photography almost tried to convert it into an additional object. Nothing of that sort happens here. Apple still seems to be using computational photography to keep pictures real and trim noise, instead of piling on detail, as Google does. Both approaches have their plus and minus points, although we must admit we like Apple’s more.
Night mode is lit…too lit, perhaps? Videos remain boss
Now to one of the most talked-about features of the new iPhone, the Night Mode. Apple has introduced Night Mode on all three cameras on the iPhone 12. This means you can take better lit pictures with the ultrawide and the front-facing camera as well. We know everybody loves a good night mode and the iPhone 12 delivers one but we do not like how artificially lit it gets with the Night Mode. Yes, we know, this is how the mode is supposed to work but we do not like it when the images look like they have been captured at twilight rather than at night. We also got a little annoyed at how night mode got activated automatically, the moment the lights dipped – some might like the pro-activeness of the camera in this regard, but quite often we found shots getting lit up even when we did not want them to.
That said, thanks to the Night Mode and the slightly bigger aperture of the main sensor, the pictures captured by the iPhone even in low light conditions come out with a lot more detail and a lot less noise as compared to the iPhone 11. The same goes for the selfies in low light. The iPhone 12 with the Night Mode retains a lot more detail.
Videos and the iPhone 12 are a combination made for all things victorious. The iPhone 12 does videos brilliantly and captures smoother, richer, and extremely detailed videos, even in low light conditions. The phone’s video capturing abilities have gone up a level or two even in slow motion videos and the addition of Dolby Vision HDR recordings in 4K makes the phone perfect for anyone getting into amateur videography. This remains THE phone camera for anyone who wants to shoot great video on their phones.
It STILL works. Every damn time.
The iPhone 12 cameras may not look like they have a lot of new things to offer but one of the biggest strengths of the iPhone’s cameras is consistency. With the iPhone 12, you know what you will be getting at all times. Yes, it still has some ground to cover in some areas (some would prefer way more options in the camera app, for instance) but the iPhone 12 does what the iPhone line has best been known for: doing simple things greatly.
The iPhone is known for taking good pictures. The iPhone 12 does so under most circumstances. Unlike its Android counterparts, it does not lure you with fancy specs, a detailed interface, and does not come with features that would blow your mind. Is It the best in the world? Does it beat Android’s formidable challenge? Well, let us just tell you what it does:
It is a camera.
It takes pictures and videos well.
With minimum fuss.
Again and again.
It very seldom lets you down.
As we said in an earlier article on the iPhone’s camera – “It works. Every damn time.”
What more do you need?
P.S: Click here for full resolution pictures + additional samples