Still Image Quality

Like the iPhone 6s, the iPhone SE has a 12MP 1/3" camera sensor, and a lens with an f/2.2 aperture. With the A9 SoC also comes the same image signal processor (ISP), and so in theory photos should be identical between the two phones. This represents an enormous improvement from the iPhone 5s, which used Apple's first 1/3" sensor with a resolution of 8MP. Moving to a higher resolution sensor has enabled UHD video recording, and the new ISP built into A9 allows for 1080p120 slow motion video as well as Apple's Live Photos feature. Based on my experience, the iPhone SE and the iPhone 6s produce identical results when taking photos and shooting video, but I've put together two comparisons below just to illustrate that fact.

Daytime Photography

Photos taken in the day with the iPhone SE look quite good. Photos are noticeably sharper than on the 5s, which is a combination of the higher resolution sensor and two years of improvements to Apple's image signal processor when going from Apple A7 to Apple A9. As expected, the image quality is essentially the same as the 6s due to their shared camera and ISP, and it definitely gives the best results I've seen from a $400 phone.

Night Photography

Night time photos on the iPhone SE are identical to those from the iPhone 6s. In this case it almost looks like I just took the one photo and shifted it slightly, as the exposure, processing, and level of detail are the same between the SE and the 6s.

What’s interesting about the iPhone SE sharing a camera with the iPhone 6s is the fact that they’re priced $250 apart. Daytime photo quality on the iPhone 6s is quite good, but it’s definitely a step behind the 6s Plus and the best Android device in low light due to its smaller sensor than the Android flagships and the lack of OIS which is included on the 6s Plus. At $400, Apple is playing a completely different game, as the camera quality is often one of the first things to be sacrificed when you step down from the flagship price bracket. I would argue that the iPhone SE gives you the best camera in a smartphone at its price point.

Given that the iPhone SE and iPhone 6s use the same camera, there's not much point in repeating a large number of photo tests. My Galaxy S6's VCM also broke which unfortunately prevented me from including it in these comparisons. For some additional photo comparisons and some video comparisons you can take a look at those sections from our iPhone 6s review where a number of 2015's Android flagship smartphones are also compared.

Display Analysis Experience: Going Back To 4 Inches


View All Comments

  • Daniel Egger - Monday, May 16, 2016 - link

    Once this thing goes on a sale it might actually be the first iPhone I buy with my own money to replace my Moto E (2015) as my second phone. Reply
  • Guspaz - Monday, May 16, 2016 - link

    Sales on apple products are rare, and when they happen, the discounts are very small. Reply
  • Daniel Egger - Monday, May 16, 2016 - link

    I'm well aware of that. But here in the EU (where the Apple prices are higher in general) the discounts also tend to be greater if they happen. Reply
  • TEAMSWITCHER - Monday, May 16, 2016 - link

    Best Buy was selling MacBook Pro laptops with a $300 discount about three weeks ago. Granted this was probably to clear inventory in preparation for the 2016 models. That's probably the best time to go Apple shopping. Reply
  • Speedfriend - Tuesday, May 17, 2016 - link

    "Sales on apple products are rare, and when they happen, the discounts are very small."
    I just bought my partner a iPhone6S on a contract in the UK where the phone effectively cost £250.
    On a side note, as an Android user, I found it very disappointing, there is lag at some points, its ability to hold a signal in my house is poor and it really is no more exciting than the 5S it replaced. And it is full of Apple bloatware that you can't uninstall or remove from the home screens.
  • RealityMonster - Tuesday, May 17, 2016 - link

    Eeeehn, it's a bit of a stretch to call it 'bloatware'. It doesn't take up much space, except in screen real estate, and most of it is actually legitimately useful if you haven't downloaded any apps yet. It does suck that you can't hide the ones that you don't want, though. Reply
  • hMunster - Monday, May 16, 2016 - link

    "there’s absolutely no reason to arbitrarily redesign a product every cycle"

    Thank you for saying this!
  • Alexey291 - Monday, May 16, 2016 - link

    There's absolutely no reason to release a new phone every year either. Reply
  • ATC9001 - Monday, May 16, 2016 - link

    Except to make money...add new features, cater to a different crowd, prevent product lines from going stale...I could go on, but there's absolutely no reason to continue explaining... Reply
  • Alexey291 - Monday, May 16, 2016 - link

    Earn money yes. The rest is nonsense. But it's cute that you bought into the marketing. Reply

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