iPhone Camera Evolution: how iPhone cameras changed from iPhone 6 to iPhone 11 Pro Max


You hear this all the time: "smartphone cameras are improving!"

But what does this even mean? Is it more megapixels? And who cares about numbers if the images don't look better?

We were especially curious to see all of these improvements with the launch of the new iPhone 11 Pro Max, so that is why we put all numbers aside for a different time, and just took pictures. And we mean a lot of pictures with a bunch of iPhones. We dug up an old iPhone 6, added an iPhone 6s, then an iPhone 7, the newer iPhone 7 Plus, and of course, the more recent iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone XS Max and the latest iPhone 11 Pro Max.

Let's see if all this talk about improvements is something that real users can see right away. This is the way iPhone cameras have evolved from the iPhone 6 way back in 2014 to the iPhone 11 Pro Max in 2019.

Scene 1



The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s series look really quite similar: photos are noticeably darker than the rest and you lost a lot of detail in the shadows. Those are decent photos, but by no means great. The iPhone 7 captures a brighter and more cheerful photo that looks better, and then the iPhone 8 Plus does something interesting as it switches colors and has a very distinct yellow tone (not a great thing!). The iPhone XS is the first image that we really like. The XS and XR series were the first to feature Apple's new Smart HDR features that increases the dynamic range in a huge way. The iPhone 11 Pro Max is further improvement: you get even better dynamics, but the big change is that the photo is just a lot sharper and has better detail.

Scene 2



Here, images from the iPhone 6 and 6s series appear way blurrier and lose a ton of detail in the shadows. The iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 series are a definite improvement, but notice the HDR halo around the trees that looks very unnatural. The XS series finally gets rid of that and captures a truly great-looking photo, and the 11 Pro Max does even better with sharpness and dynamic range.

Scene 3



In this challenging scene you have the bright shoreline in the back and up front the entrance, and the iPhone 6, 6s and 7 have trouble capturing the full dynamics. The iPhone 8 Plus improves slightly, but only the XS and 11 Pro series capture an image that we would consider looking great.

Scene 4



We see the same evolution from iPhone 6 to iPhone 11 Pro Max: the poor dynamic range of the 6 is replaced with a bright image with detail in the shadows, and a great amount of detail. The improvement is really very noticeable. 

Scene 5



The same observations apply to these few scenes. Notice here with the sun how the iPhone improve: it's so hard to shoot against the sun and get a decent photo, but the latest XS Max and 11 Pro Max do a very good job.

Scene 6



It's really quite obvious how much brighter and better looking the photos on the latest iPhones look when you have earlier iPhones for contrast.

Scene 7



What's striking about this photo is the way that halo around the trees resolves in the latest iPhones, so you get a very smooth transition from the blue color of the skies to the trees.

Scene 8



In this scene, the differences are far less subtle as you have less dynamics, but you can still see how the latest iPhones stand out.

Scene 9



The first night shot is really a shock: from a blurry dark mess on the iPhone 6 through 7 to an image that one could actually share on social media with Night Mode on the 11 Pro.

Scene 10



Nothing speaks better about good times than good company, but if you relied on those earlier iPhones you would not be able to get a usable image in this bar unless you use the flash. Night Mode truly makes a massive difference and elevates iPhone photography to the next level. One interesting detail that we noticed is that if your subjects move, the iPhone would be smart enough to notice that and you will NOT get a blurry photo.

Scene 11



From the dark images on iPhones 6, 6s and 7, to the incredibly yellow-ish photo from the iPhone 8 Plus that just looks wrong to the again dark photo on the XS Max, and finally, the radical change that comes with Night Mode and the iPhone 11 Pro Max.

Scene 12



We can only think about so many good words to say about the new Night Mode. It really is a game-changer.

Scene 13



The sign here only looks great on the last picture, but you may argue that the others despite being darker were a bit more realistic. Still, it's hard to argue that the last picture is the one that one would want to share on social media.

Scene 14



Neon signs were a huge challenge for iPhones until the XS Max came along, and the 11 Pro Max increases the quality with better dynamics and sharpness.

Scene 15



Finally, in this last shot, notice the feather at the top center and how it's burned out on earlier iPhones. It's a small detail, but one that only the last two iPhones get right and the advantage in sharpness and detail you get on the 11 Pro Max is noticeable.

Final Words


We can discuss megapixels and sensor sizes all day, but at the end of the day, it is the actual pictures that you have and you want them to look great.

In this camera comparison, we can thankfully see one thing: evolution and improvement is alive and well. The iPhone 11 Pro Max is leaps and bounds ahead of iPhones even two years ago, and while the difference from the XS Max is not that huge, it's still there and we did not even touch on that game-changing ultra-wide camera. Night Mode is such a huge feature and Apple has implemented it the right way: you don't have to remember to turn it on and deal with all sorts of complications, it just works. Shutter-bugs like myself were impressed with the 11 Pro Max, it really takes things to the next level for iPhones and puts them at the forefront of the camera game.

FEATURED VIDEO

54 Comments

1. ahmadkun

Posts: 613; Member since: May 02, 2016

I have iPhone 7 and It's pure garbage at night

6. AllPhonesMatter

Posts: 35; Member since: Sep 29, 2019

I believe you. However, my iPhone 11 Pro Max is hands down the best smartphone camera I have ever used. Getting very high quality night shots, and is an all-around beast.

29. Phullofphil

Posts: 1822; Member since: Feb 10, 2009

Keep in mind depending on what your looking at the images on you might not be seeing what the pictures are doing and what they look light because each screen is going to change what they look like

2. Dr.Phil

Posts: 2441; Member since: Feb 14, 2011

I’m interested to see the changes in photo quality after Deep Fusion is released in iOS 13.2. That was something Apple really tried to say would be a game changer so I’m curious.

8. cmdacos

Posts: 4261; Member since: Nov 01, 2016

Just adds sharpness. Hit and miss in results.

14. vincelongman

Posts: 5723; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

I'm interested to see Deep Fusion vs Night Sight Deep Fusion seems to be Smart HDR's semantic rendering on roids. Its focused on improving sharpness, so its wide dynamic range isn't as wide as Smart HDR Night Sight has elements from Super Res Zoom algorithm, but is focused on dynamic range, not sharpness. But it still gets better sharpness and details than HDR+ Enhanced I wonder if Google is working on a "Super Res" mode where it uses the Super Res Zoom algorithm even if you don't zoom. Which should in theory should get similar results to Deep Fusion

16. Notasaurus

Posts: 3; Member since: Jul 01, 2018

To an extent they already have that. Shoot with night sight mode during the day. It combines multiple exposures for some really beautiful sharp pictures.

36. vincelongman

Posts: 5723; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

Yea, that's why I want to see Deep Fusion vs Night Sight Like I said, Night Sight takes sharper and more detailed photos that HDR+ That being said, Night Sight is still focused on dynamic range Super Res Zoom achieves more details than Night Sight (obviously asuming lighting is good enough like with Deep Fusion) So in theory, Super Res Zoom would be Google's best bet against Deep Fusion

17. chris2k5

Posts: 281; Member since: Nov 17, 2012

Deep Fusion has been proven already to pick up details. The comparison done vs the Note 10 blew the Note away. They even added sharpness in post to Note 10 pic and it couldn’t keep up with iPhone Deep Fusion.

35. mackan84

Posts: 551; Member since: Feb 13, 2014

Just saw that YT video. Deep fusion looks great.

20. Dr.Phil

Posts: 2441; Member since: Feb 14, 2011

Yes but they claim shots in low to medium light are where it really shines.

24. Phullofphil

Posts: 1822; Member since: Feb 10, 2009

Go get a beta addition 13.2 is out now. I just have to go home for my WiFi to install.

3. LawnBoy

Posts: 198; Member since: Feb 23, 2019

In other words, iPhone at best has a kid range phone cam. Pixel, Huawei and Samsung in that order

4. shield

Posts: 852; Member since: Sep 12, 2015

All ugly camera quality but New 11 very bad in los light.

21. darkkjedii

Posts: 31299; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

C'mon dude, just stop it. The iPhone 11/Pro/Max has possibly the best camera in a cell phone right now...arguably. There's no way, it's very bad in any situation. If you hate iPhones, fine, but c'mon dude.

5. Nexus4lifes

Posts: 298; Member since: Feb 13, 2014

my pixel 2 takes better low light pics than iphone 11 pro wax

25. Phullofphil

Posts: 1822; Member since: Feb 10, 2009

No it does not.

40. Octane

Posts: 10; Member since: Oct 13, 2017

Stop lying to yourself..

42. ScottsoNJ56

Posts: 125; Member since: Oct 01, 2017

My Galaxy S4 takes better pictures than a Pixel 2

7. AllPhonesMatter

Posts: 35; Member since: Sep 29, 2019

iPhone 11 Pro Max is a freaking beast for photos. Loving mine!

9. bucknassty

Posts: 1350; Member since: Mar 24, 2017

holy s**t.... dare i say, besides one pic.... the XS is the best

10. Sategi

Posts: 6; Member since: Feb 06, 2019

In scenes 9 and 10 I prefer XS photos . I don’t like reddish scenes from iPhone pro

45. Vega007

Posts: 85; Member since: May 18, 2017

I agree - why is it so red looking? Not a fan.

11. Guaire

Posts: 890; Member since: Oct 15, 2014

"Game changing" night mode done by Google years ago and made it a popular feature. "Game changing" ultra wide camera done by LG many years ago, which you never give the credit where it's due. Also look at first scene and talk about the details on the tree turnk! Which you can't see on the 11. Not to mention there shadows are too dark compare to XS for example, even compare to the 8. Many scenes there is hardly any improvement. Seems like a serious color calibration issue at the scenes 9 and 10. Color wise previous iPhones have looks much better.

26. Phullofphil

Posts: 1822; Member since: Feb 10, 2009

It don’t matter who is first it’s not what the article is about. Google pixel 3 takes great pictures but right now this iPhone 11 pro has the best camera in a smartphone. That is until the pixel 4 comes out

41. Octane

Posts: 10; Member since: Oct 13, 2017

It’s not who did it first but who does it better.

46. Guaire

Posts: 890; Member since: Oct 15, 2014

If you are not the first one and set the trend you can't be gamechanger. End of the story.

12. aegislash

Posts: 1516; Member since: Jan 27, 2015

Well I mean, at least iPhone will hold the title of best photos for a month or so, until the next Pixel comes along. Seems to be a yearly occurrence lately.

19. Priyam009

Posts: 56; Member since: Oct 23, 2018

Lol Huawei holds it currently iphone not even there in the picture with those reddish creepy night shots no way! Pixel vs Mate 30 fight will be a legit one!

27. Phullofphil

Posts: 1822; Member since: Feb 10, 2009

Color is from the candle light off of the wood. I have a iPhone 11 pro and it takes great realistic looking photos in little light.

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

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