iPhone 11 Pro vs iPhone XS vs iPhone 8: Camera shootout

iPhone 11 Pro vs iPhone XS vs iPhone 8: Camera shootout
When it comes to cameras, Apple has always had a "quality over quantity" attitude. For the longest time, iPhones had a single camera on the back, while the Android market was exploding with multi-camera devices.  This changed in 2016 with the introduction of the iPhone 7 Plus, which was equipped with a second telephoto snapper alongside the regular wide-angle camera. The iPhone 11 Pro goes a step further and throws in an ultra-wide angle to the mix. It's nothing we haven't seen before, but the most important question is, how good is the new setup?

Since many are wondering if the iPhone 11 Pro camera really offers a meaningful improvement over older iPhones, we decided to test it against the XS Max and the iPhone 8. Why the iPhone 8? Well, because it is still a very popular "budget" model that many people are looking to upgrade from. With that said, let's move on to the test, which will show us how the iPhone 11 Pro, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone 8 compare in terms of general daytime photography, portraits, and night photography.

Daytime test


Scene 1

Overcast days tend to not offer the most interesting scenarios for testing smartphone cameras, but they can be a good test for how much the camera can "spice up" the end result. Photos taken on overcast days can often be flat and drab-looking in their raw state, but can actually look great when processed in the right way. Let's see how three generations of iPhones fare in this regard:


Color-wise, the iPhone 8 and 11 Pro are both similar and quite faithful to the scene, while the XS photo has a slight bluish tint to it. As far as dynamic range and detail, however, the iPhone 11 Pro and XS Max definitely pull ahead of the iPhone 8, which has higher contrast and less detail in the shadows.

Scene 2


Another overcast scene that showcases the differences (and similarities) between white balance across the three models. The iPhone XS Max again leans toward cooler tones, while the iPhone 11 Pro and 8 offer arguably more faithful representations of the scene. The 11 Pro strangely enough has a very subtle green cast, most visible in the highlights in the clouds, while the iPhone 8 photo looks pretty much spot-on.

Scene 3


This scene showcases how much detail all three models are able to resolve at close to minimum focus distance.

There are slight color differences again, with the iPhone 11 Pro this time leaning toward a bluish tint, while the iPhone 8 and XS Max are more accurate. The 11 Pro and XS Max both produce an overall smoother image than the iPhone 8, with better subject-background separation and tonality. 


As far as detail resolving power goes, the iPhone 8 is in last place with the least detail when zoomed in. The 11 Pro and XS Max are close, but you may still be surprised by the results. The iPhone XS photo actually looks sharper, with more detail visible on the butterfly, albeit at the cost of slightly stronger noise throughout the frame. Above is a direct comparison between 100 percent crops from the the iPhone 11 Pro and XS Max.

Scene 4


In this scene, all three phones produce very comparable results. The iPhone 8 doesn't quite measure up to the rest in terms of fine detail, but all three fare similarly overall. The iPhone 11 Pro and XS Max are both marginally sharper than the iPhone 8, while the 11 Pro also has a very subtle HDR effect going on, which gives a slight "punch" to the whole image.


Portrait Mode


Apple talked extensively about the new improvements made to Portrait Mode during the announcement of the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro, so we're expecting the latest model to perform markedly better in this regard. But will it? Let's find out.

Scene 5


This is a very difficult scene, and a good test for Portrait Mode, because we have a lot of detail going on, which will make it harder for the software to separate the subject from the background. The results are not perfect, but the iPhone 11 Pro manages to stand out with very pleasant colors and bokeh rendering in the background. Subject-background separation leaves something to be desired on the 11 Pro, with a noticeable problematic area around the left sleeve. The XS Max actually does an arguably better job in this regard, though the quality of the bokeh effect is not as good as on the 11 Pro. The iPhone 8 obviously lags behind the newer models, with murkier colors, less detail, and obviously worse subject-background separation.

Scene 6


This scene really shows where the iPhone 8 sits against the XS Max and 11 Pro. That is, firmly in last place.

Both the iPhone 11 Pro and XS Max produce pleasant colors, although the new model pulls ahead with an overall better tonality. On the 11 Pro, both the model and background are evenly exposed, while on the XS Max some of the highlights are blown. The iPhone 8 photo has more contrast, with less detail in the shadows and completely blown highlights in the background.

Scene 7


In this scene, the iPhone 11 Pro and XS Max again produce more even exposure across the frame and manage to retain good detail in both the highlights and shadows. The iPhone 8 photo has more contrast, and highlights in the background are more blown, but this look actually suites the scene quite well and really makes it pop. Technically speaking, the newer models are better, but this just goes to show that an older camera may surprise you with some style when you least expect it.

Scene 8


The trend of the iPhone 8 lagging behind its brethren continues in Scene 8. The iPhone 11 Pro and XS Max are neck and neck, with good tonality and color. The iPhone 8 again produces a darker image, with less detail in the shadows and more blown highlights. Since there's not a big distance between the model and the background in this scene, the blurring effect is not as pronounced, but it is there.

Night Mode on the iPhone 11 Pro vs no Night Mode on older iPhones


Over the past couple of years, Night Mode has become a big thing on Android smartphones, while iPhones have been lagging behind in this area. With the iPhone 11 Pro, however, Apple introduces its own take on Night Mode. It isn't as extreme as some other solutions on the market, in that it doesn't quite attempt to turn night into day, and it can be enabled manually. In typical Apple fashion, Night Mode on the iPhone 11 Pro is completely automatic and switches on when it sees fit. It requires you to stand still for 3 seconds, while multiple shots are captured and combined, and we're happy to report that the results are good. The real-time preview in the viewfinder is also a welcomed addition and it really gives you a good idea of what to expect from the final shot.

The iPhone XS Max and iPhone 8 don't have Night Mode, so we're curious to see just how big of a difference it makes on the 11 Pro. Let's find out!

Scene 9


In this very difficult scene, the iPhone 11 Pro really excels with much richer color and more detail over the older models. The XS Max and iPhone 8 both produce much darker, murkier shots, though the XS Max is still a marked improvement over the iPhone 8 in terms of color rendering and noise reduction.

Scene 10


This scene showcases a much more well-defined progression from the iPhone 8 to the iPhone 11 Pro. The new Night Mode really offers a meaningful and noticeable improvement over the XS Max and iPhone 8. Colors are richer in the iPhone 11 Pro photo, with a lot of detail retained in the shadows and highlights. The XS Max and iPhone 8 fare similarly, though the 8 really suffers with the strong highlights on the cathedral.

Scene 11


Scene 11 is another clear win for the iPhone 11 Pro. Richer colors, evenly-exposed highlights, and more detail in the shadows are some of the advantages that Night Mode offers over the older models. The iPhone 8 especially is really struggling between the deep shadows and bright lights in this shot.

Scene 12


If you haven't had enough proof that Night Mode on the iPhone 11 Pro does a good job, here's our last scene for this test (spoiler alert: results are the same)

The iPhone 11 Pro again pulls at the front with a very nice rendition of this cathedral at night. It looks as brilliantly illuminated as it does in real life and detail on the facade is superb. The XS Max and iPhone 8, on the other hand, lack in tonality and color. Weirdly enough, the iPhone 8's contrastier look makes the cathedral pop a bit more than in the XS Max photo, but otherwise it is inferior in terms of detail and tonality.


Conclusion


The iPhone 11 Pro really manages to impress with its improved Portrait Mode and the new Night Mode. Color rendering seems to also have been improved, with the 11 Pro producing some very fine results with pleasant and accurate colors, and improved dynamic range over the other two.

That said, as the first handful of scenes illustrated, all three phones can produce comparable results in most daytime scenarios. The iPhone XS is still great for general photography and is almost on par with the 11 Pro in most cases during the day, while the iPhone 8 is clearly starting to show its age with murkier, overall less-detailed shots. We can't say that we are surprised by this, but we still wanted to see how the iPhone 8 fares against the XS and iPhone 11 Pro, as it is still a popular model that many people will be upgrading from. If nothing else, it serves as a good benchmark to illustrate how newer iPhones have improved in the camera department.

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