The iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus Review: Iterating on a Flagshipby Joshua Ho & Brandon Chester on October 10, 2016 8:00 AM EST
While still images probably constitute a significant portion of what a smartphone camera is used for, video performance still remains important as anything moving or with a notable sound requires video or something that is but quite isn’t a video. In order to test video performance, we use direct comparison with two devices recording simultaneously on the same rig.
|iPhone 7 Video Encode Settings|
|1080p30||16 Mbps H.264 High Profile||86 Kbps, 44.1 KHz AAC|
|1080p60||25 Mbps H.264 High Profile||86 Kbps, 44.1 KHz AAC|
|4kP30||48 Mbps H.264 High Profile||86 Kbps, 44.1 KHz AAC|
|1080p120||38 Mbps H.264 High Profile||86 Kbps, 44.1 KHz AAC|
|720p240||38 Mbps H.264 High Profile||86 Kbps, 44.1 KHz AAC|
Before we get into the actual results I want to discuss the video encode settings. It's kind of interesting to see how the iPhone only records mono audio, which I suspect is a function of not having enough microphones to do noise cancellation and useful stereo recording. It's also interesting to see how Apple can actually encode AVC High Profile for all video – including 4kP30 at 48 Mbps – which is more than I can say for a number of high-end flagships this year. This suggests that the encode blocks are capable of keeping up without any strange problems.
Looking at 1080p30 video I'm just profoundly disappointed by how high-end Android devices perform in comparison. The state of affairs here is so depressing there's really no reason to compare 1080p60, 4K, or slow motion capture because it's clear to me that something is just fundamentally broken (or consistently misconfigured) with Snapdragon 820's encode blocks. Even casual examination reveals massive macroblocking any time the sky comes into view, which is something we've consistently seen with the HTC 10, Galaxy S7, LG G5, and OnePlus 3. Other than this, the LG G5 and Galaxy S7 both have extremely oversaturated color rendition which just doesn't represent reality. The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus clearly have better output than any other Android device. The iPhone 7 Plus and iPhone 7 with the 28mm focal length camera perform quite similarly to the iPhone 6s Plus other than some improvements in dynamic range and noise reduction, so I'd refer back to the iPhone 6s review for those interested in learning about how the iPhone 7 stacks up because the state of the art in Android has not progressed since then.
In the interest of trying for completeness anyways, I also tested image stabilization performance. Relative to the Galaxy S7 we continue to see how the lack of software stabilization to go with the hardware stabilization leads to really shaky and jerky footage when recording while walking. The iPhone 7 still shows large motions, but it's much smoother and also handles wind noise better. The HTC 10 is much more competitive with the iPhone 7 here but I would say that Apple's software stabilization appears to be slightly better and the lack of PDAF on the HTC 10 camera is definitely noticeable in the focus transition testing but it's important to keep in mind that the HTC 10 has no software stabilization if you enable 4K video. The LG G5 has basically all of the same traits as the Galaxy S7 in this test and needs improvement in all of the same areas as a result. If you're upgrading from either the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, or 6s you're going to also see a major improvement as the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus both have OIS which works with the software stabilization to maximize the reduction in hand shake when capturing video.
I also went ahead and tested the iPhone 7 Plus with some quick footage to see what difference it provides when capturing video, and it's fairly obvious that the secondary camera lacks OIS but also dramatically increases captured detail which makes it useful for static shots where you can avoid inducing hand shake but its utility rapidly decreases in low light or high hand shake conditions.
Overall, the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus remain the best phones on the market for video capture. Strange issues with Snapdragon 820 video encode blocks mean that all Snapdragon 820 devices are just barely passable for video capture. Considering how OEMs have had almost a decade to get this right, it is truly incredible that phones costing 600 US dollars still have these obvious problems, and that Apple remains among the few to get it right.