Apple iPhone 7 and 7 Plus camera explained: a revolution in smartphone photography

Apple iPhone 7 and 7 Plus camera explained: a revolution in smartphone photography

By the time Apple was about to unveil its new iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, it seemed that everything about it has leaked out: the dual camera module on the iPhone 7 Plus, the details about the new camera on the iPhone 7, and so on.

Nonetheless, when Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller took the stage at the unveiling of the phones, the crowd was impressed and for a good reason. Here is why.

Apple iPhone 7: brand new sensor, brighter lens

The new f/1.8 lens allows 50% more light for sharper and better images in dim environments. OIS is also on board.

Apple iPhone 7 and 7 Plus camera explained: a revolution in smartphone photography

Before we get to the one truly revolutionary piece, we ought to take a look at the smaller of the two new iPhones, the iPhone 7. While the resolution of its camera does not change at 12 megapixels, what has changed is both the sensor and the optics on top of it. Apple does not disclose details about this new sensor, but what we do know is that it now supports optical image stabilization (OIS), which is a first for the smaller iPhone. This allows longer exposure shots and ultimately sharper pictures.

The new iPhone 7 has also got a much wider, f/1.8 lens (up from f/2.2 on earlier iPhones), and the wider the lens, the more light it can capture - 50% more in fact - and this means it can shoot much better-looking images in dim environments. The optical stack now also features six optical elements for better quality and sharper picture throughout the frame, while previous iPhones were equipped with a 5-element lens.

Apple quoted a prominent photographer for saying that the iPhone 7 captures images that have a film-like look to them, and we found this to be true based on the official camera samples provided by Apple itself.

Then, there is the quad-LED true tone flash, an upgrade from a two-LED flash used on the iPhone 6s. Not only this quad-LED flash illuminates scenes up to 50% better, but it also adjusts itself to the color temperature of the particular location. The iPhone 7 also has a new flicker sensor that allows the phone to automatically adjust shutter speeds to avoid nasty flicker from indoor lights.

Apple iPhone 7 Plus' dual camera: a revolution in smartphone photography

The second camera has a new telephoto lens for a 56mm field of view, much better for portraits

Apple iPhone 7 and 7 Plus camera explained: a revolution in smartphone photography

The real breakthrough and the small revolution in smartphone photography, however, takes shape in the iPhone 7 Plus with its brand new dual-camera system. For the first time on a mainstream smartphone, you get a secondary telephoto lens with an f/2.8 aperture that allows you to capture an image that is two-time closer at a focal length of 56mm. A single tap on a new 1x and 2x button in the camera app allows you to switch between the two built-in cameras for an optical zoom-like effect, while a slider will allow you to further zoom in with digital zoom and an increasing degradation in quality.

Not only this: by using computational photography, Apple is able to bring shallow depth of field, or the so called bokeh effect that is best achieved on expensive full frame cameras, to its iPhone 7 Plus. This is done via a new 'Portrait' mode in the camera application that will smartly blur out the background of an image.

Regular view from iPhone camera (on the left) and telephoto lens view (on the right)

Regular view from iPhone camera (on the left) and telephoto lens view (on the right)


This particular feature is not yet fully ready, and will come via a software update within the next few months. The sample that Apple showed did look very impressive, but the usual problem with those computationally generated bokeh images is that there is an overlap between the area that's out of focus and in focus. This means that your subject does not usually stand out from the background in such an imposing way as on a DSLR or a full-frame camera. We're looking forward to seeing how Apple has handled that one common issue.

What makes this possible: ISP with twice the throughput


Apple iPhone 7 and 7 Plus camera explained: a revolution in smartphone photography

There is one particular piece of silicon that makes all of this possible: a brand new image signal processor, or ISP, that is 60% faster and 30% more efficient. This new ISP comes as a part of Apple's A10 Fusion chip and is capable of performing more than 100 billion operations in just 25 milliseconds and use machine learning to enhance your images.

And if you were wondering what is it that an ISP does exactly, Apple kindly explained: it sets auto-exposure, focus, white balance, color, tone mapping, noise reduction, combining multiple images (if necessary), and so on. 

Many other improvements: sharper front camera, stabilized live photos, RAW capture


The list of improvements to the camera in the iPhone 7 family does not end here: Apple brings a brand new 7MP front camera that features technologies that were previously introduced on iPhones like deep trench isolation for better colors and sharper images. The new front-facing snapper features Retina Flash to capture those special moments when light is scarce, plus, color is richer and images are sharper. It also captures videos at Full HD resolution, while earlier iPhones maxed out at 720p.

Apple has also improved the quality of Live Photos with added stabilization and the wider color capture option applies to them as well.

The rear camera is also capable of capturing RAW images that you can later process to bring out the best of detail and color out of them, information that is impossible to retrieve from a regular JPEG file.

iPhone camera comparison: all models


Wrapping things up, here is a technical specs comparison of the cameras on all new iPhones and the small, but important ways in which they differ. Apple has provided this detailed table on its website, but we're also looking forward to testing the new iPhone 7 camera in real life and see how well those specs translate into real improvements to images and video.

Apple iPhone 7 and 7 Plus camera explained: a revolution in smartphone photography

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111 Comments

1. adi90

Posts: 554; Member since: Dec 21, 2015

My question to all android trolls, especially samsung trolls - is it not an innovation in smartphone world ? Please let me know your views.

3. trojan_horse

Posts: 5868; Member since: May 06, 2016

It's an upgrade, not an innovation.

17. adi90

Posts: 554; Member since: Dec 21, 2015

By that standard every flagship mobile released in 2016 has more upgrades than innovation including lg v20 and note 7. So please do Not give an impression as if apple has done some sin by launching new iphones.

41. trojan_horse

Posts: 5868; Member since: May 06, 2016

Do you know what an innovation is? We're talking about the iPhone7's camera here. What innovation has the LG V20 and Note7 brought with their cameras? Nothing. Besides, what does the LG V20 and Samsung Note7 even have to do with my response to post #1? "Not give an impression as if apple has done some sin by launching new iphones" WTF? What does your last sentence have to do with anything I said?

87. vincelongman

Posts: 5585; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

BTW anyone else notice that their "x-ray" picture of the iPhone 7+ seems to show that the telephoto lens doesnt have OIShttp://i-cdn.phonearena.com/images/articles/256375-thumb/iphone-2.jpg That would be a strange choice since stablisation is very important when you zoom, as shakes are more noticeable But since its 2x optical zoom, it won't a major issue

90. techperson211

Posts: 1280; Member since: Feb 27, 2014

Really revolution? Hahaha. When apple does it it's freaking revolution, when other it's meh.

104. BlackhawkFlys

Posts: 899; Member since: May 07, 2014

It's not just a revolution, It's magic and some other big words.

89. adi90

Posts: 554; Member since: Dec 21, 2015

If you(meaning samsung trolls) had the capacity to understand, you will not be trolling on iphone related articles.

82. joey_sfb

Posts: 6794; Member since: Mar 29, 2012

Only Apple and it's fans suck up every big words that Apple marketing use to describe their products. Frankly, what is the difference between Apple key note and your local used cars sales man? Nothing! Both try to sell you a cheaply made item with an overblown price tag.

103. BlackhawkFlys

Posts: 899; Member since: May 07, 2014

You are right these are mainly upgrades not innovations. The innovation was when HTC and LG for the first time used dual cameras on their smartphones four years ago to shoot 3D videos and capture 3D photos. The innovation was LG used for the first time laser autofocus. Now Apply using a 2X optical zoom is a good feature but not innovation.

57. zeeBomb

Posts: 2318; Member since: Aug 14, 2014

I like how Apple spends the time to explain ISP and stuff so people know what it is and how it works... But true. No innovation in here. Quad LED? Why not get like a RGB-C camera or a flash that has contrast detection like the V20? Waterproofing? Cool, but late (hurts reparability too). No headphone jack...bold move but others will follow.

60. ibend

Posts: 6747; Member since: Sep 30, 2014

or just use dual-tone + xenon... xenon is old and battery drainer, but still work great :D

73. rakhinesmn

Posts: 15; Member since: Jan 18, 2016

yep no innovation found, iphone always care the quality. overall, not much interesting. Dual camera, almost many brands come with that. water resistant? same too. Dual speaker? HA HA HA For advertising, they have to make sure all of their new features.

88. AmirBudi

Posts: 88; Member since: Mar 21, 2014

How about telephoto lens ?

105. BlackhawkFlys

Posts: 899; Member since: May 07, 2014

Despite the design. I like all the features that iPhone 7 came with. It is a good thing that they felt the need to do some real upgrades like water resistance, dual speaker, a good camera, a fast processor, an okay screen. But nothing is revolutionary here.

118. steodoreben

Posts: 379; Member since: Sep 26, 2013

I agree. It's a copied upgrade. "iPhone 7 and 7 Plus is a revolution in smartphone photography", are you kidding me? HTC's dual camera, Samsung's f1.7 dual pixel like in DSLRs and LG's wide angle laser focus are the true revolution in smartphone photography. Without them, Apple's nothing.

4. Finalflash

Posts: 4062; Member since: Jul 23, 2013

Yea, it is, we totally agree. We've been trying to get the iFans to agree to that since the HTC One M8 and Huawei P9. I mean what is up with the idiocy in the iFan group that until Apple copies it, it doesn't exist and now all of a sudden its an innovation.

26. yyzamin

Posts: 375; Member since: Aug 26, 2015

No one cares who did it first they only care who does it the best. Apple always end up doing it best.

31. frydaexiii

Posts: 1476; Member since: Dec 01, 2011

It does matter because innovation is who came up with it and made it first, which in this case is not Apple, dual cameras have been around since...when did the HTC One come out again? Not 2016 thats for sure.

106. BlackhawkFlys

Posts: 899; Member since: May 07, 2014

Not HTC One. HTC Evo 3D and LG Optimus 3D in 2011

47. Finalflash

Posts: 4062; Member since: Jul 23, 2013

Well it better be the best (even though it's probably not going to be). I mean it's 4 years late and it's the only remotely new thing in this flaming pile called iPhone 7.

54. Unordinary unregistered

HTC One M8? LMFAO! Please tell me you're joking. I have that phone. Its a piece of f**king s**t. Worst camera I've ever used on a smartphone.

108. BlackhawkFlys

Posts: 899; Member since: May 07, 2014

It may have been the worst camera ever, but they did the innovation... i.e they used dual cameras to create a bokeh effect. They did it first. Apple copied it. BTW why are you still having it if it is such a s**ty phone?

5. Well-Manicured-Man

Posts: 648; Member since: Jun 16, 2015

It is. That is why it is so strangely quiet today on phonearena. Apple delivered a great phone. Not much to complain. iPhone 7 will make many android users switch to Apple.

11. Finalflash

Posts: 4062; Member since: Jul 23, 2013

It is strangely quiet because even the iFans can't find anything to talk about concerning the new iPhone. They mentioned the "new" black colors but we got over that pretty quickly. The rest is fairly "meh" and since this is what you waited a year for (which EVERYTHING leaked), there isn't really much to talk or be happy about.

15. kiko007

Posts: 7385; Member since: Feb 17, 2016

The A10 is anything but "meh"...... everything else you said is fine. However, stereo speakers and water resistance are welcomed additions :D.

21. Finalflash

Posts: 4062; Member since: Jul 23, 2013

The A10 will be the same story speed wise, great on single core, not so on multi-core. The power savings from the ARM big.little implementation is what would be really interesting because Apple controls the software switching between the two and can do so from the ground up. If they optimize that properly, it could give a 10% or so boost to battery. The speakers are not stereo just because Apple wants to believe they are. One is facing downwards and one is facing forwards, that would be the worst stereo setup in the history of stereo devices. We shall see how that works out but true stereo devices will still be far better than this most likely. Water resistance is great but honestly, it is only a big deal for iPhone users. Most other flagships already had this for years and well, its meh in 2016.

34. kiko007

Posts: 7385; Member since: Feb 17, 2016

I think you're looking at this with the perspective of an Android user, which is perfectly fine. However, as an iPhone user, the changes are welcome. I don't care about who did it first tbh....... I just want it on an iPhone.

28. TerryTerius unregistered

They are. It isn't really pushing the envelope but it's a good all around device. I just wish Apple was a bit less conservative. To be completely honest, I don't really think that expected upgrades are something to truly get excited about. You already know that's coming, much in the same way that you know every generation of 911 will be a better performer than the last. And to be frank, at this point it doesn't really make any significant difference in terms of day to day performance. Which is kind of an apt comparison to the 911 again, because you won't really notice those advances in performance until you do something that really pushes the machine by taking it to a track. On the road (day to day), it won't be substantially different. What you do notice are the things that push the entire sector forward. The changes in thinking and experimentation.

30. kiko007

Posts: 7385; Member since: Feb 17, 2016

Yay Terry-Senpai acknowledged me! I'm more interested in the GPU capabilities than anything. The demonstration they offered in the keynote was spectacular. The fact that a mobile game (phone) could render so much at once without dropping frames was downright astounding.

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