iPhone XR vs XS: Night Portrait Mode Comparison

iPhone XR vs XS: Night Portrait Mode Comparison
The iPhone XR may only come with one camera, but it can still do portrait mode shots like dual-camera iPhones. The question is: are those portrait shots any good and is there any significant difference between photos from the XR and the more expensive phones like the XS and the XS Max?

To best see the difference, we went to shoot portraits at night, at a bar, one of the most fun places to be at night and also one of the worst places if you are trying to take pictures with a phone. It was a challenge.


Interestingly, the iPhone XR surprised us with its solid performance. While the XS uses its secondary, telephoto camera that has a slower aperture, the XR relies on the wider main shooter which has a much faster aperture and it consistently shot much brighter pictures. And sometimes the difference was that between a pitch dark photo that is practically unusable and one that you could actually share with your buddies. It was also easier to focus with the XR.

But enough spoiling, take a look at the pictures right below.

#1 A Difference in Exposure



Right from the start, we have to stress that there is a very clear difference in exposure between portrait mode shots on the iPhone XR and XS. The lack of a telephoto camera and the fact that you have to shoot with the main one is actually quite beneficial for night-time images. The XR photo is brighter, you can see a bit of the background for added context, and this makes it a much better image.

#2 A Difference in Bokeh



The colorful bokeh balls on this picture show that you get a drastically different look between these two cameras: both are set at the same "aperture" for the portrait, yet the iPhone XS has much bigger bokeh balls. This, however, does not make it the better camera here, as the background is too dark and the whole image looks a bit unnatural. We've had to fire the flash on both phones here, since it was impossible to get portrait mode to even work when the environment was this dark. Notice how you can see the bar in the background on the photo from the XR, it's clearly the better image.

#3 The exposure differences can be shocking



In this photo, the XS captured a pitch black photo that is not worth sharing, but we just wanted to show you how much more light you get when you shoot portraits with the iPhone XR. The XR photo is also very underexposed, but usable, unlike that XS photo. We have also captured the same scene with the flash on. Notice how the flash illuminates me much better when it fires from that close on the XR, while on the XS the illumination from the flash is very faint.

#4 A Difference in Perspective



In this photo, we wanted to showcase the big difference in the perspective. Notice how the telephoto lens on the XS closes the background and makes it a much more intimate photo, focused on the subject, while the XR shows the background fully and provides much more context.

#5 Wide vs Tight



You can see this once again on this picture here: notice the trees in the background that is far wider on the iPhone XR. You simply cannot see them on the iPhone XS. Of course, the change in perspective also has a different angle and that is about the proportions of the person in the shot: facial features look much more flattering and symmetrical on the XS.

Final Words

Apple, how about you give XS users the option to use the main camera for portraits?

In conclusion, it is clear that there are big differences to the way portrait mode operates on the iPhone XR and the XS. In most cases during the night, we preferred the image from the XR over the XS simply because it was much better exposed, but also because it provides a lot more context.

We are puzzled why Apple has not allowed users on the iPhone XS and XS Max to use the main camera of the phone for portrait mode. This would clearly bring the best of both worlds to the XS series. Right now, the more expensive iPhones will often take worse portrait pictures at night than the cheaper iPhone XR simply because you don't have the option to shoot with the main camera on the XS family.

Related phones

iPhone XS
  • Display 5.8" 1125 x 2436 pixels
  • Camera 12 MP / 7 MP front
  • Processor Apple A12 Bionic, Hexa-core, 2490 MHz
  • Storage 64 GB
  • Battery 2659 mAh(20h talk time)
iPhone XR
  • Display 6.1" 828 x 1792 pixels
  • Camera 12 MP / 7 MP front
  • Processor Apple A12 Bionic, Hexa-core, 2490 MHz
  • Storage 64 GB
  • Battery 2942 mAh(25h talk time)

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7 Comments

1. cncrim

Posts: 1588; Member since: Aug 15, 2011

Redo or long over due? Someone mind to buzz in?

6. worldpeace

Posts: 3135; Member since: Apr 15, 2016

Just trying to give another boost for XR sales.. Normally, they should compare it to Pixel or Mate 20 pro's night mode. But that won't end well on Apple's side.

2. cmdacos

Posts: 4264; Member since: Nov 01, 2016

Oof some of those shots are pretty bad. Overall I think the XR did better but neither was overly strong.

3. skymitch89

Posts: 1453; Member since: Nov 05, 2010

Considering that the point of portrait mode is to focus on the subject right in front of the camera, NOT the background, I would say that the Xs did better at that. In "#2 A Difference in Bokeh" the XR there's nasty red eye becasue of the flash, where the Xs doesn't have that. Also, in the images with flash used, the XR seems to blow out the skin and bright color, but the XS keeps the brightness down on those.

7. cmdacos

Posts: 4264; Member since: Nov 01, 2016

If that's achieved by nearly eliminating the background, I'd agree

4. Cat97

Posts: 1931; Member since: Mar 02, 2017

The conclusion is pretty obvious, multiple cameras are a gimmick. One good camera is more than enough.

5. japkoslav

Posts: 1517; Member since: Feb 19, 2017

We know, we have Pixels for years now.

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