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

  • sweenish - Monday, October 10, 2016 - link

    And if I had been waiting for an HTC 10 review? This iPhone review is nearly instantaneous by comparison. Reply
  • jtang97 - Tuesday, October 11, 2016 - link

    Actually, this review came out about 5 times faster than the HTC 10.

    1 month compared to 5...

    I'd say that that's an achievement. Add to the fact that it's a double phone review as well...
  • DLeRium - Tuesday, October 11, 2016 - link

    As a long time Anandtech reader one would notice the reviews are now standard 7 page affairs. Look at the iPhone 5 review and how Anand went in detail about CPU performance and power consumption. That kind of stuff doesn't happen anymore. And no offense Josh, taking a photo of a bush is pretty poor photography.

    We can't even compare against the Nexus phones. I understand some of this is challenging because different reviewers work on different parts of the review. I know Josh likes to take photos at UCLA whereas Brandon takes photos elsewhere, but it's very annoying I can't compare across all these phones because of that. You guys need to work something out for this. The same goes with benchmarks too and carrier tests. Maybe you guys need to standardize on reviewing GSM devices only and use a T-Mobile or AT&T SIM across the board.
  • dsumanik - Wednesday, October 12, 2016 - link

    Wondering why "previous iPhone models had serious display variance' was not mentioned until now.

    IPhone shortcomings are only mentioned in the next generation device review. Hence I predict the iPhone 8 review will have the following statement

    "with the iPhone 7 Apple made the move to remove the headphone jack, however they were not yet able to replace wired headphones on cost and quality. With the iPhone 8 I can safely say the issue is now moot"

    Damn it's hard being right.
  • hans_ober - Saturday, October 15, 2016 - link

    +1 Reply
  • maher86 - Sunday, April 9, 2017 - link

    Win the new iPhone 7- australia only
  • Wicasa - Monday, October 10, 2016 - link

    Remember: "One-fifth of the people are against everything all the time." Reply
  • ddriver - Monday, October 10, 2016 - link

    And the rest 4/5 are complacent sheeple that settle for anything.

    And judging by the responses, the "attention paying" skills of the status-quo are just as poor as expected, since I clearly didn't mean to complain about a "late review", but was rather making a point that when it is an iphone, the review is rather on time, at least relative to the AT standards of late.
  • dsumanik - Wednesday, October 12, 2016 - link

    Dude the site is resting on the laurels of past achievements.

    The staff should be able to handle an iPhone review in one week or less.

    But honestly I'll save you trouble, Tania going to recommend it to be the the best phone ever and must buy, like every other iPhone review.

    If you want the real opinion you have to read between the lines in next years iPhone 8 review about all the problems the old device had.

    Best bet make up your own damn mind.

    No headphone jack, yet a fav exists onboard that is used with the adapter and onboard speakers.

    Would u rather have a top mounted speaker or be able to use headphones, forced to buy expensive poor performing Apple licensed ones.

    If wireless was the future beats would make wireless only, and they would be so much better that no one else bought wireless headphones anymore.

    I'm mean after all the flip phone was replaced by a smartphone and wired headphones were replaced by...???

    Expensive crap.
  • dsumanik - Wednesday, October 12, 2016 - link

    The above comment was written on an iPhone 6s pretty iRonic an iPhone can't type a simple website comment ahahahahaha Reply

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