Camera - Quick Evaluation

As noted in the intro, the camera of the new iPhone SE isn’t all that new. It’s essentially the same generation sensor as found on the iPhone 8. The reason for this likely is due to the fact that Apple was limited by the physical form-factor of the phone, particularly the z-height of the camera module, unable to include any of the newer and bigger generation modules.

What’s also lacking from the iPhone SE are some of the machine-learning features such as night mode and Deep Fusion. I think that’s partly due to the fact that those modes rely on stacking multiple images captures together, and my hypothesis is that Apple was making use of the newer generation’s sensor dedicated DRAM chips to capture very quick consecutive exposures. As these older sensors lack dedicated DRAM, it wouldn’t be possible to capture quick consecutive exposures like that, and the phone wouldn’t be able to guarantee the same level of quality.

Whilst the hardware limits some of the capabilities of the camera, the new A13’s ISP does make up in other areas when it comes to image processing. Here we’re expecting to see some of the same advancements that were also been able to see in the last few generations of iPhones.

For the camera comparison today, due to the time rush and for simplicity’s sake (it’s a single-camera phone after all!), we’re limiting ourselves to the comparison of the iPhone SE vs the iPhone 8 vs the iPhone 11.

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Starting off with the first scene, the first thing that pops out to the eye is that the exposure of the scene is completely different to the iPhone 8, and the new SE almost identically tracks the composition of the new iPhone 11. The HDR processing is much superior, with better retention of shadows as well as less blown-out highlights near the sky.

This scene is also extremely detail-rich, but the new SE essentially tracks in with the iPhone 8’s capture, which makes sense given that the two units have the same camera modules. The iPhone 11 still has a lead here, but again, that makes sense given that phone’s bigger sensor with bigger pixels and much newer deep-trench isolation (DTI), allowing for much better noise characteristics.

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In this next scene, again what’s immediately noticeable is the exposure and composition which closely tracks what the iPhone 11 is able to achieve. All the phones are still a bit dark here as the brightness in real life was much higher, especially the cloud highlights are a bit too tame, but overall, still a good shot.

The SE more noticeably improves noise handling in the darker areas of the scene.

What’s also a big difference between the new SE and the iPhone 11 is the colour temperature of the scene. The iPhone 11 has a much more natural and cooler picture than the very warm results of the SE. Here the SE tracks things more closely with previous generation iPhones which traditionally always had a warm colour cast to them, something that Apple changed only in more recent iPhone generations.

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The next shot again is exceedingly similar to the iPhone 11 in terms of composition, with better HDR and more details in the shadows compared to the iPhone 8. Detail is excellent, probably even slightly better than the iPhone 11 here.

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This flower shot again marks the huge HDR differences between the SE and the iPhone 8, as the new phone has much better shadows and highlight retention. The iPhone 11 even goes a bit further in this regard and the HDR processing is even stronger (flatter) with a tad more saturation in the greens.

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In challenging high-contrast scenes like here we again see the SE do a great job, maintaining better highlights without flattening things too much like on the iPhone 8. There’s also a much better black-point, generally creating better contrast.

When we compared it to the iPhone 11 result, the SE still looks a bit tame and flat, I guess we’re hitting the limits of the sensor. I would have preferred the SE here to track the better colour temperature of the iPhone 11.

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In the last outdoor scene, the iPhone SE does an excellent job in the exposure and HDR. The only obvious differences here that pop out is the colour temperature which is again on the classical iPhone warm style on the SE, versus the cooler more natural colour on the 11.

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Even though this is an in-door shot, the iPhone SE’s higher dynamic range is again obviously present in the picture. Detail-wise, it’s rich, but doesn’t quite hold up with the iPhone 11 which in scenarios like this one also very likely has deep fusion enabled.

Overall Initial Daylight Impressions

Overall, the new iPhone SE is seemingly an excellent performer and as promised, it inherits the general image processing capabilities of the new A13 and ends up with similar compositions as found on the iPhone 11. This means that even though the phone has older camera hardware, the new iPhone SE has much better dynamic range compared to the older phones.

Whilst in most situations it closely tracks the iPhone 11’s cameras, there’s a few situations where we do see the limits of the older sensor. In the highest contrast scenes we see the iPhone 11 pull ahead in dynamic range and colour retention, and that’s just pure camera sensor ability.

Detail-wise, while the iPhone SE is excellent and certainly gives any other phone on the market a run for its money, the it’s still a tad behind the iPhone 11 and that’s again due to hardware. Indoor shots the lack of deep fusion will also be noticeable.

All in all – it’s an excellent shooter given its price.

Low-Light Impressions

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I’ve didn’t have time for a more extensive outdoors low-light testing, but in my limited indoor testing I noted that the new iPhone SE’s low-light capabilities are massively superior to that of the iPhone 8. While the resulting pictures are quite noisy, they still retail a lot of detail of the scene whereas the iPhone 8 remains a blur. It’s a respectable result for the phone given its hardware and software limitations.

GPU Performance Camera - Quick Evaluation (Outdated)
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  • name99 - Saturday, April 25, 2020 - link

    "In JetStream, the phone even gets a boost here, which might be due to the newer iOS version."

    Not "might be", *is* a result of newer iOS. Apple's constantly improving Safari performance.
    Some of the tech behind the most recent improvements is detailed here:

    https://webkit.org/blog/10298/inline-caching-delet...
    Reply
  • LeftSide - Saturday, April 25, 2020 - link

    Could the oddly close battery life numbers be related to the oddly close name of a particular apple employee and the name of this site? Reply
  • yeeeeman - Sunday, April 26, 2020 - link

    With this article my suspicion of you guys being either paid my Apple or Apple fanboys has been confirmed.
    There are a ton of interesting, cheap Android devices in THE SAME price category as this old junk, but you never get the time to cover them. Some of them even have SD865 and the lot at close to same price as this phone, but neah, don't bother to write about them.
    No, you instead waste your time and our time to write a long article, to repeat basically all that was valid for iPhone 6 in 2015. Sure, you are free to do it, you are the writer.
    Sorry to be so harsh, but I feel like this site is going into a wrong direction.
    Reply
  • toyeboy89 - Monday, April 27, 2020 - link

    The fact is that Apple is more popular. They are going to get more hits on an article for a new iPhone. Just because a design is old doesn't make it junk. It's a proven design that many people still prefer to the swiping gesture based controls of the newer full screen iPhones. Most people don't look into these off brand budget phones you speak of for the same price. I personally wouldn't risk spending $400 on a brand with no service center in my country, Apple is everywhere, and you can walk into a store and get service the same day on your device. Reply
  • trparky - Friday, May 1, 2020 - link

    A lot of those cheap Android phones are from China. That's a hard NOPE in my mind. Reply
  • shady28 - Sunday, April 26, 2020 - link

    Honestly my untrained eyes can't see much if any difference between the iPhone 8 and SE 2020 video. I do see a slight but noticeable difference vs the iPhone 11 Pro video though.

    There is at least one side by side speed comparison with the SE and 8 out there now. Basically, normal stuff it's a toss up. But in more demanding applications, longer loading apps and so on, there's a pretty large difference.

    My take on all this is that the SE 2020 is essentially a more future proof variant of the 8, but the 8 is still a very capable and fast phone to the point where the differences are undetectable except under the most demanding of apps (there is a significant difference in the comparison when the phones are pushed, but how many people push their phones SoC to the limit with any frequency?). This shouldn't be too surprising, any competing phone running less than a Snapdragon 845 is going to get thumped hard on performance by the iPhone 8 - which is to say anything short of a 2019+ flagship android.

    So, as an 8+ owner who disdains facial recognition, I'm not seeing this as much of an upgrade path. I don't want to go back to the smaller screen, my camera is already better than an normal 8 and probably better than this 2020 SE, and I'm not interested in losing my home button on the new iPhones.
    Reply
  • Deicidium369 - Sunday, April 26, 2020 - link

    Yeah I remember when my Atari 800XL with disk drive was future proof. Reply
  • toyeboy89 - Monday, April 27, 2020 - link

    To be fair CPU and GPU in phones have plateaued in recent years so shady28 does have a good point. Reply
  • Drakkon801z - Monday, April 27, 2020 - link

    I don't understand about bezels, phones with thicker bezels have higher chace to survive after accidental drops, I lost cout of how many thin bezel phones that has latest version of protective screen, been smashed/cracked just because of 30 cms drop. For practical purposes, thicker bezels is like the only choice, unless you add good quality material like higher quality quartz/sapphire glass to entire front. Untill then, I will prefer thicker bezels on my phones. Reply
  • pav1 - Monday, April 27, 2020 - link

    As usual, Anandtech reviews dote on CPU, giving us an A13 review which we already know is fast and largely wasted on such a device. Reply

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