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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  • eek2121 - Friday, April 24, 2020 - link

    I am using my 11 pro max with one hand right now. Reply
  • Deicidium369 - Sunday, April 26, 2020 - link

    I bet you are, I bet you are... just clean up the area when you are done, and close down Pornhub. Reply
  • Maltz - Friday, April 24, 2020 - link

    I've never understood this raging debate. Why is it so hard to understand that some people want one-handed operation, and other people want larger screens? They make both, so what's the problem? Reply
  • eek2121 - Friday, April 24, 2020 - link

    The people slamming phones with big screens have no basis for doing so IMO. Excluding hand sizes, some of us like large phones with giant high resolution screens. You won’t find me complaining about the 11 Pro Max, for example. I don’t have big hands, but I enjoy the phone. Reply
  • Retycint - Friday, April 24, 2020 - link

    That's exactly why. I used to own a Nexus 6, and loved it despite it being humongous. The extra screen estate compared to flagships at the time was such a joy to have.

    But for some reason, these "one handed usage" whiners seems to think that only their opinion is correct and acceptable, and everyone else is somehow wrong despite it being a matter of personal preference
    Reply
  • boozed - Saturday, April 25, 2020 - link

    You can't get high end components without having to also get a gigantic screen. There's the rub. Reply
  • Deicidium369 - Sunday, April 26, 2020 - link

    Well when I buy a gigantic screen I EXPECT high end components Reply
  • nathanddrews - Friday, April 24, 2020 - link

    Bought one for my mom to upgrade her Lumia 635. She always complains about larger phones and doesn't understand why her Windows Phone doesn't "time face" with her grandkids. This should last her many, many years. Reply
  • Speedfriend - Friday, April 24, 2020 - link

    I don't see the excitement about this phone. For most who will buy this phone, the speed and GPU is meaningless. But you get a screen size and shape from years ago, a mediocre camera, mediocre battery life. Reply
  • The_Assimilator - Friday, April 24, 2020 - link

    The excitement is that it's finally an iPhone at a price that represents decent value. At a time when the Android vendors seem to be going for thousand-dollar flagships, and the global economy is suffering its worst downturn in years, this phone is gonna sell like hotcakes. Reply

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