Camera - Low Light Evaluation

In low-light scenarios, we should see the new iPhone XS showcase significant improvements thanks to the 50% better light capture ability of the new sensor. Apple’s still only employing a f/1.8 aperture lens on the XS - so while it will improve over past phones, at least on paper it’s still at a disadvantage to say Samsung’s latest phones, which have an extra-wide f/1.5 aperture available to them.

Click for full image
[ iPhone XS ] - [ iPhone X ] - [ iPhone 7 ] - [ iPhone 6S ]
[ Galaxy Note9 ] - [ Galaxy S9+ ] - [ Galaxy S8 ]
[ LG G7 ] - [ LG G6 ] - [ LG V30 ] - [ OnePlus 6 ]
[ Mi MIX2S ] - [ Pixel 2XL ] - [ P20 Pro ]

In this first shot, we immediately see the new iPhone’s advantage over last year’s flagship. There is a lot more definition in the grass, less noise throughout the image, and less blown out lights in the scene.

Unfortunately, Apple is as expected still at a great disadvantage to Samsung here, as the latter is just able to give more light onto the whole scene, and the most evident, more colour to the grass. In terms of raw low light capture, the Huawei P20 Pro is still far ahead here, thanks to its massive sensor that is able to collect significantly more light.

Click for full image
[ iPhone XS ] - [ iPhone X ] - [ iPhone 7 ] - [ iPhone 6S ]
[ Galaxy Note9 ] - [ Galaxy S9+ ] - [ Galaxy S8 ]
[ LG G7 ] - [ LG G6 ] - [ LG V30 ] - [ OnePlus 6 ]
[ Mi MIX2S ] - [ Pixel 2XL ] - [ P20 Pro ]

At first glance, the iPhone XS didn’t shoot a much brighter picture than the iPhone X in this construction scene. Opening up the full resolution images however shows that the new XS showcases much better details and lower noise. It’s not enough to compete with the S9+, and certainly not with the insane ISO25600 shot of the P20 Pro.

It’s interesting to see the improvements over the years from the iPhone 6S on – which barely manages to capture anything in this scene.

Click for full image
[ iPhone XS ] - [ iPhone X ] - [ iPhone 7 ] - [ iPhone 6S ]
[ Galaxy Note9 ] - [ Galaxy S9+ ] - [ Galaxy S8 ]
[ LG G7 ] - [ LG G6 ] - [ LG V30 ] - [ OnePlus 6 ]
[ Mi MIX2S ] - [ Pixel 2XL ] - [ P20 Pro ]

The next shot is probably the only one that I found to be really problematic for Apple. Both on the iPhone X and the new XS, the resulting images weren’t consistent in consecutive shots. In four shots in a row, the iPhone XS kept changing the colour temperature. The same thing happened on the iPhone X, so I think this was part of Apple’s exposure / colour balance algorithm.

Colour balance aside, the exposure is similar between the X and the XS, and all the improvements of the new sensor go directly into improved detail and noise reduction throughout the scene, which is significantly better again compared to last year’s iPhone.

Here Apple is very close to Samsung, showcasing a bit better shadows, but still losing out in details in some parts of the scene. The P20 Pro is yet again the low-light kind here, as it just have that much more dynamic range work with.

Click for full image
[ iPhone XS ] - [ iPhone X ] - [ iPhone 7 ] - [ iPhone 6S ]
[ Galaxy Note9 ] - [ Galaxy S9+ ] - [ Galaxy S8 ]
[ LG G7 ] - [ LG G6 ] - [ LG V30 ] - [ OnePlus 6 ]
[ Mi MIX2S ] - [ Pixel 2XL ] - [ P20 Pro ]

Again, the iPhone’s new sensor comes into play in these concrete trucks. The XS makes very good dealing of the blown highlights present in the iPhone X shot. Samsung is able to produce more vibrancy in the blue of the trucks. Huawei’s multi-exposure computational photography night mode is the best of all phones here as it’s just able to bring out that much more from the shadows.

Click for full image
[ iPhone XS ] - [ iPhone X ] - [ iPhone 7 ] - [ iPhone 6S ]
[ Galaxy Note9 ] - [ Galaxy S9+ ] - [ Galaxy S8 ]
[ LG G7 ] - [ LG G6 ] - [ LG V30 ] - [ OnePlus 6 ]
[ Mi MIX2S ] - [ Pixel 2XL ] - [ P20 Pro ]

Apple's use of SmartHDR in this picture is extremely evident, as it really brings down the highlights of the lamp and brings out more shadows throughout the scene. The XS provides better detail, but it’s not as big of a difference as we’ve seen in other shots.

Apple’s usage of HDR here puts it ahead of the Samsung devices, trading blows with the P20 Pro, winning in some regards, while losing in others.

Click for full image
[ iPhone XS ] - [ iPhone X ] - [ iPhone 7 ] - [ iPhone 6S ]
[ Galaxy Note9 ] - [ Galaxy S9+ ] - [ Galaxy S8 ]
[ LG G7 ] - [ LG G6 ] - [ LG V30 ] - [ OnePlus 6 ]
[ Mi MIX2S ] - [ Pixel 2XL ] - [ P20 Pro ]

Finally, I wanted to test the iPhone XS to its limits and see what it can do in essentially impossible scenarios of low light.

Exposure-wise, the iPhone XS is no better than the X here. It provides better sharpness and less noise, however the image is still too dark to be of any use. I wish Apple would introduce a more innovative low light shooting mode, such as LG’s pixel binning mode. Huawei’s ISO51200 capture of this scene is just so beyond any other current phone, that it really raised the bar in what we’d normally expect to see in a smartphone.

Low-light conclusion

The new iPhone XS sensor is a great improvement to Apple’s lineup. Its advantages over the iPhone X are clearly evident in every single low-light shot, showcasing greater detail and sharpness while reducing noise. SmartHDR doesn’t seem to be something that’s solely for daylight shots, as Apple and the iPhone XS seem to make use of it in some low-light scenarios, giving the camera a further advantage over last year’s phones.

While Apple has showcased some really good progress, it’s can still lag behind low-light image quality of Samsung and Huawei’s P20 Pro. The former’s bigger aperture is just a sheer hardware advantage, while the latter enormous sensor makes use of innovative image processing to really raise the bar in terms of extreme low light photography. Here the iPhone XS is good; but it just can’t keep up.

Camera - Daylight - More HDR & Portrait Camera Video Recording & Speaker Evaluation
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  • name99 - Saturday, October 6, 2018 - link

    If you're going to count like that, you need to throw in at least 7 Chinook cores (small 64-bit Apple-designed cores that act as controllers for various large blocks like the GPU or NPU).
    [A Chinook is a type of non-Vortex wind, just like a Zephyr, Tempest, or Mistral...]

    There's nothing that screams their existence on the die shots, but what little we know about them has been established by looking at the OS binaries for the new iPhones. Presumably if they really are minimal and require little to no L2 and smaller L1s (ie regular memory structures that are more easily visible), they could look like pretty much any of that vast sea of unexplained territory on the die.

    It's unclear what these do today apart from the obvious tasks like initialization and power tracking. (On the GPU it handles thread scheduling.)
    Even more interesting is what Apple's long term game here is? To move as much of the OS as possible off the main cores onto these auxiliary cores (and so the wheel of reincarnation spins back to System/360 Channel Controllers?) For example (in principle...) you could run the file system stack on the flash controller, or the network on a controller living near the radio basebands, and have the OS communicate with them at a much more abstract level.

    Does this make sense for power, performance, or security reasons? Not a clue! But in a world where transistors are cheap, I'm glad to see Apple slowly rethinking OS and system design decisions that were basically made in the early 1970s, and that we've stuck with ever since then regardless of tech changes.
    Reply
  • ex2bot - Sunday, October 7, 2018 - link

    Much appreciate the review! Reply
  • s.yu - Monday, October 8, 2018 - link

    Great job as always Andrei!
    I would only have hoped for a more thorough exploration of the limits of the portrait mode, to see if Apple really makes proper use of the depth map, taking a photo in portrait mode in a tunnel to see if the amount of blur is applied according to distance for example.
    Reply
  • Mic_whos_right - Tuesday, October 9, 2018 - link

    Thanks for this comment--Now I know why nothing last year. Great Anandtech standard of a review! Always above my intellect of understanding w/ info overload that teaches me a lot of the product. Reply
  • Moh Qadee - Thursday, November 1, 2018 - link

    Thank you for this great detailed review. I have been coming back to this review before making a purchase. Please make an comparison article of Iphone XS gaming vs other smartphones in market. How much does thermal make difference over longer periods before it starts to throttle or heat up. Would be able to give an approx time before you noticed heat while gaming on XS? I don't mind investing in an expensive phone as long as thermals doesn't limit the performance. There are phones like Razor 2 or Rog out. People make an comparison with an iPhone as it doesn't require much cooling. I wonder if gaming for above 20+ mins makes it challenging for Iphone to heat up enough that you should be worried about? Reply
  • Ahadjisavvas - Monday, November 19, 2018 - link

    And the exynos m3 had 12 execution ports right? Can you elaborate on the major differences between the design of the vortex core in the a12 and the meerkat core in the m3? I would deeply appreciate it if you could. Reply
  • Ahadjisavvas - Monday, November 19, 2018 - link

    And the exynos m3 has 12 execution ports right? Can you elaborate on the main differences between the design of the exynos m3 and the vortex core,that'll be really helpful and informative as well. Also,are you planning on writing a piece about the a12x soc, it'll be really interesting to hear how far apple has come with the soc on the 2018 ipad pro. Reply
  • alysdexia - Monday, May 13, 2019 - link

    "Now what is very interesting here is that this essentially looks identical to Apple’s Swift microarchitecture from Apple's A6 SoC."
    This comparison doesn't make sense and it seems like you took the same execution ports to determine whether the chips are identical, when the ports could be arbitrary for each release. Rather I took the specifications (feature size, revision) and dates of each from these pages: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_ARMv7-... and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_ARMv8-... to come up with these matches: Cortex-A15-A9 A6, Cortex-A15-A9 A6X, Cortex-A57-A53 A7, Cortex-A57-A53 A8, Cortex-A57-A53 A8X, Cortex-A57-A53 A9, Cortex-A57-A53 A9X, Cortex-A73 A10, Cortex-A73 A10X, Cortex-A75 A11, Cortex-A76 A12, Cortex-A76 A12X. For exemplum 5 execution ports could be gotten (I'm no computer engineer so this is a SWAG.) from the 3 in Cortex-A9 subtracted from the 8 in Cortex-A15 but the later big.LITTLEs with 9 and 5 ports could be split from 7 or 8 as (7+2)+(7−2) or (8+1)+(8−3). You need to correct the Anandtech and Wikipedia pages.

    faster -> swifter, swiftlier
    ISO -> iso -> idem
    's !-> they; 1 != 2
    great:small::big:lite::mickel:littel
    Reply
  • RSAUser - Friday, October 5, 2018 - link

    I still don't like iOS tendency towards warmer photos than it is irl. Reply
  • DERSS - Saturday, October 6, 2018 - link

    It is weird because it is warmer in bright light and bleaker in dim light.
    Why can not they just even it out, make the photos less yellowish in bright light and less bleak in dim light?
    Reply

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