Still Image Performance

Now that we’ve discussed the basics of the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus camera we can start to get into how it actually performs relative to the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus as well the current competition on the market. While we normally run an ISO test to check spatial resolution this has been deferred to a future portion of the review. Unfortunately we don't really have the ability to do time-invariant testing here in a serious manner to the same extent that an OEM might, so we're effectively limited to tripod comparisons of real-world subjects.

Daytime Photography

In this kind of scenario the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are directly comparable in the 1x mode. Because the primary camera has OIS and the secondary camera doesn't, it looks like it's fairly difficult for Apple to do an exact pixel to pixel correlation to the extent that the two outputs can be merged into a single image. As a result it's fairly obvious that the 1x mode has less detail than the 2x mode here. I can really see how this would be useful in general, as the longer focal length means more detail relative to anything else on the market but also allows for more interesting framing. The 1x camera is identical to the iPhone 7, and here it's definitely noticeable that the iPhone 7 can't quite keep up with the Galaxy S7 or HTC 10 in sheer detail in these kinds of shots.

Daytime Photography 2

In the interest of trying to not just take a single landscape photo and declare it to be a representative sample for all photos ever taken of all time with a smartphone in daytime conditions, I went ahead and took another sample shot of a mostly static subject. Here the iPhone 7 Plus in 1x mode is pretty much comparable to the iPhone 6s and Galaxy S7 as far as detail goes. I would argue that the HTC 10 captures slightly more detail at the center, but this probably isn't a surprise when the sensor is significantly larger. It's also worth noting that the iPhone 7 Plus manages to show better dynamic range here as the highlights off to the right retain more color detail than most devices tested and the shadows contain more detail that what is found on the Galaxy S7 or the iPhone 6s Plus. Once again, at 2x the iPhone 7 Plus is really just ridiculously good at capturing the sheer amount of detail that the tree has which isn't really captured by the 1x mode as most of the detail has to be blurred away to avoid aliasing. It's truly impressive how the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are actually capable of keeping up with the Galaxy S7 despite a smaller sensor, and we're really seeing the product of Apple's ISP lead here.

Low Light Photography 1

It probably is worth mentioning here that in low light the iPhone 7 Plus doesn't actually use the secondary camera at all due to its smaller aperture and lack of image stabilization, which means that the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are identical in low light performance. Interestingly enough detail is fairly comparable between the iPhone 6s Plus and iPhones 7, with some minor adjustment to favor more noise reduction. I'm inclined to say that the Galaxy S7 and iPhone 7 are basically comparable here but the oversharpening on the Galaxy S7 remains fairly obvious and I would expect it to outperform in detail here but it's just comparable to the iPhone 7 due to the rather smeary noise reduction. The HTC 10 is the clear winner here as far as detail goes but both the Galaxy S7 and HTC 10 really oversaturate the green shrubs while the iPhone 7 is much closer to what it should actually be. The oversaturated, smeary look that seems to dominate the Galaxy S7 output continues to be seriously off-putting for me.

Low Light Photography 2

It's interesting to see how Apple's noise and noise reduction seems to have changed from the 6 to 6s to 7 here. Detail is functionality identical but the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus clearly handle shadows better here as there's more detail and noise is controlled noticeably better with better detail and less visible noise. It's really impressive what Apple's processing is able to pull off here when sensor size and sensor technology hasn't really advanced that much from the iPhone 6s to iPhone 7. This is especially obvious when compared to the Galaxy S7, which has comparable overall detail but the noise reduction used is much more splotchy and has obvious oversharpening if you look too closely. Again, relative to the HTC 10 the sensor size deficit is very obvious here if you try to read the text on the trash cans, but the HTC 10's gamma and noise reduction algorithms are just not competitive in the shadows and it's obvious that there are uncorrected optical distortions in the light flares. The HTC 10 also tends to feel like it has a filter over the entire photo that makes it look a little soft compared to the iPhone 7 even if it does have better detail in some parts of the frame.

Low Light Photography 3

For whatever reason this scene always seems to at least mildly challenging. Here we can really start to see the softness that I'm talking about with the HTC 10, as the white pillar "bleeds" a bit into the brick wall exterior of Knudsen Hall. Detail on the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus remains comparable to the iPhone 6s Plus, but with noticeably less noise. The Galaxy S7 manages to deliver similar levels of detail to the iPhone 7, but it definitely oversaturates the red brick colors which might be appealing but really isn't accurate when you look at the RAW reference. The noise reduction on the Galaxy S7 is noticeably splotchier here and gets much worse if you look at the top right quarter of the photo. I would actually say the iPhone 7 outperforms just about everything here but the LG G5, which has better detail but a really strange color rendition.

Overall, the iPhone 7 camera is impressive and I would argue is holistically a better camera for still photos than the Galaxy S7 on the basis of more accurate color rendition, cleaner noise reduction, and lack of aggressive sharpening. It may not be as lightning fast as the Galaxy S7 or have as many party tricks, but what it does have is extremely well executed. The HTC 10 is definitely better than the iPhone 7 at delivering sheer detail when only comparing the 28mm focal length camera, but the post-processing has a tendency to bleed colors in low light which sometimes causes the images to look a bit soft. In daytime the iPhone 7 Plus' 56mm equivalent camera helps to keep it well ahead of the curve when it comes to sheer detail and really is a revelatory experience after years of using smartphone cameras that have focal lengths as short as 22mm and can't really capture what the eye sees. However, in low light the sensor size deficit really starts to become obvious. I suspect the Pixel and Pixel XL will make this especially clear. If there's really no room to go up the ladder in sensor size, Apple really needs to consider some radical approaches to improving sensor sensitivity such as RWB pixel layouts or using the dual camera for an oversampling scheme.

Camera Architecture and UX Video Performance


View All Comments

  • tuxRoller - Thursday, October 13, 2016 - link

    Oh yes, AnTuTu. What does that do again? How does it do it?
    Geekbench is SLIGHTLY better as it explains, at a fairly high level, how each test is performed. It even lets you know that they are preference apple by using llvm everywhere.
    None of these are worth respecting reporting on, however, unless the benchmarks are open source.
  • Ranger1065 - Wednesday, October 12, 2016 - link

    The old Anandtech...maybe :) Reply
  • Dribble - Monday, October 10, 2016 - link

    If you like your wireless headphones that's great, but don't try to sell me that ONLY having them is somehow fine. It's not like you couldn't use wireless for iphone 6 and now suddenly you can. Sometimes wired is better - e.g. phone in the car, you are charging phone and plugging into the jack to play music off it. You don't want to have to take some silly adaptor dongle everywhere with you in case you need wired (that's a bad user experience).

    It would also have been more honest to say why they removed it - it's not for some mythical extra space to add other stuff like you suggested, its 100% to make more $$$. Irrespective of who designs or makes it anything that plugs into apples proprietary jack has to pay apple money because they own the copyright. They don't own any copyright on the 3.5mm jack. Hence they removed the jack to force devices to use apples jack and hence pay them more money (something we the consumer end up paying for).
  • solipsism - Monday, October 10, 2016 - link

    1) Cars with BT have been on the market for over a decade, it comes with inexpensive automobiles, and those buying a new iPhone 7 aren't likely to be driving a 1984 Toyota Tercel.

    2) If you're really against BT, and this is to be used while in the car, then why are carrying around this adapter? Wouldn't you just leave it in the car, which is now a single plug into the device, instead of two. If you claim that you wouldn't keep the adapter in the car, are you also saying that you're moving your USB and analog audio cables with you everywhere, too? If so, then what does it matter?

    3) You don't even have to look at a teardown of the iPhone to see that internal volume makes a difference to what you can include inside a device. Physics still exit, right? Just look at the back of the iPhone to see that the camera is moved down. Then look at the camera, battery size gain, the better taptic motor, and the barometer, to name a few. If anything, I'd say this move is overdue, and you'll soon see this happen to to the rest of the smartphone market.

    4) Apple doesn't own Bluetooth, so how does that argument fit into your 3.5mm jack copyright argument? I assume you know that over 15% of headphone unit sales were wireless last year and that it accounted for over 50% of the market. People typically don't like wires, yet, if you a huge fan of them you have so many options from using a stationary adapter in your car, to not buying a new iPhone, to not buying anything from Apple. Vote with your wallet.
  • Lolimaster - Monday, October 10, 2016 - link

    His is not against bt, he against forced behavior and make the customer believe its the right choice, the future.

    What hes refering to, is that without the jack change, you had both options without hindering aesthetics and without make the device look stupid and retarded (which will make fashionistas wannabes buy the propietary haedphones), and also make sensible people annoyed by having a "dongle" to use their 3.5 headphones for no other reason but sucking more money out of monkeys/isheeps.
  • Dribble - Monday, October 10, 2016 - link

    1) lots of cars don't have BT even those owned by apple users, it's generally an extra that you have to pay (too much!) for, it's also not as reliable as a solid jack connection.
    2) I am charging my iphone and playing music I can't plug in both at once. I am in someone else's car and want to share my music.
    3) rubbish, the space taken by the jack was tiny, every other phone including all the previous iphones manages fine with a jack.
    4) You have to remember to charge wireless headphones, and BT is never as reliable as it's meant to be, it gets confused, takes time to connect. A headphone jack doesn't have those problems, it just works all the time every time. Like I said I am pro having the option to use BT, in fact pretty well every phone on the market and all previous iphones support BT, yet a surprisingly large number of people still use wired - why is that?
  • grayson_carr - Monday, October 10, 2016 - link

    My $19,000 Hyundai Elantra and my wife's similarly priced Honda Civic, both purchased in 2012, both came with bluetooth. And we didn't get the upgraded stereo systems or navigation or anything. If you bought a new car in the past 5 years and it didn't come with bluetooth, you must have really been scraping the bottom of the barrel. Also, I would like to know what car is so barebones? Reply
  • wolfemane - Tuesday, October 11, 2016 - link

    Wife and I bought a uses 2002 Nissan Maxima 4 years ago and it had bluetooth... and a tape deck.

    I don't understand the hate people have towards the removal of the jack. And I wonder how many of those complaining are actual iphone users? I can't remember the last time I even used the headphone jack, been bluetooth for so long.. Personal, and anecdotal, but to the point.

    oh and I have an iPhone 6s plus. First iPhone I've ever owned, came from a long line of Android phones (mainly Galaxy's). Gotta say, I dig it a lot more than my old S6.
  • Klug4Pres - Tuesday, October 11, 2016 - link

    People like open standards, and solutions that are effective technologically.

    Wireless headphones might be "good enough" for many people, but consider that some have invested quite a lot of money in a superior, wired set of headphones. Yes, they can still use them with a dongle, but that is a "friction point" and causes problems with charging while listening to music.

    Apple has done this to make money selling Airpods. Remember, it bought a purveyor of crappy headphones, and the company has to get a return on that investment.

    This is an unsettling reminder that when buying many consumer electronic devices, we are beholden to companies who will position their products in such a way as to maximize their profits, and not in such a way as to give the best possible value to consumers.

    Yes, I know, we can choose to buy or not buy etc. That is what critics are saying - they won't buy, or they will, but reluctantly. Markets do not always provide what people would like to buy. In the smartphone industry, Apple has significant market power, and knows how to milk the consumer (e.g. by drip-feeding features to boost unit replacement, RAM rationing, controling OS updates to break or cripple older phones etc., limiting repairability, sealed batteries, to name a few). On the other hand, a forced replacement cycle is what funds R&D, OS development, customer service, people with jobs at Apple, people with jobs in China, and so forth.
  • azulon1 - Thursday, October 13, 2016 - link

    Look some of your stuff is a little over the line. I think the general argument is that they make their phones only as good as they must to defeat the competition. And I think that they are doing a fine job at it. For instance when you talk about ram rationing? Do they need to add more ram to defeat android headsets? Reply

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