Camera - Low Light Evaluation

Low-light capture on the iPhone 12’s should be improved for two reasons: First of all, the new f/1.6 lens of the main camera should allow for 27% better light capture compared to the f/1.8 unit of the iPhone 11’s. Secondly, Apple with this generation has finally addressed the lack of Night Mode on the ultra-wide and telephoto modules, resolving a quite huge handicap that was present on the iPhone 11 generation of devices.

Click for full image
[ iPhone 12 Pro ]
[ iPhone 11 Pro ]
[ Note20 Ultra (S) ]
[ S20+ (E) ]
[ Pixel 5 ] [ X-T30 ]

In this first scene, the results are actually a bit disappointing as we’re seeing almost no differences between the 12 Pro and the 11 Pro. The new phone uses half the exposure time according to the EXIF data, but has to use a higher ISO level to compensate. The only thing that’s noticeably better on the 12 Pro is the improved lens flare produced by the street light.

In general Apple’s Night Mode still doesn’t look to be as competitive as Google’s or Samsung’s implementation, as the S20, Note20 Ultra and the Pixel 5 perform quite better here.

On the ultra-wide angle, the inclusion of Night Mode now turns this camera module from something unusable to rather passable results. It’s a huge upgrade compared to the iPhone 11 series, but still lags behind the Pixel phone as far behind Samsung’s implementation.

Click for full image
[ iPhone 12 Pro ]
[ iPhone 11 Pro ]
[ Note20 Ultra (S) ]
[ S20+ (E) ]
[ Pixel 5 ] [ X-T30 ]

Night mode being fully automatically triggered on the iPhone’s camera, means there’s no way to force it on when there’s too much light, such as in this scene – which is really odd given that it did trigger on the iPhone 11 Pro, thus producing an overall better result than the 12 Pro.

The UWA again gains massive usability with the addition of Night Mode, although all the phones here produce quite bad results for a variety of different reasons.

Click for full image
[ iPhone 12 Pro ]
[ iPhone 11 Pro ]
[ Note20 Ultra (S) ]
[ S20+ (E) ]
[ Pixel 5 ] [ X-T30 ]

Here, the 12 Pro uses the larger aperture optics to reduce the ISO from 800 to 640. There’s a slight change in colours, but overall I wouldn’t say that it’s something that would be immediately noticeable between the two generation of phones.

Click for full image
[ iPhone 12 Pro ]
[ iPhone 11 Pro ]
[ Note20 Ultra (S) ]
[ S20+ (E) ]
[ Pixel 5 ] [ X-T30 ]

This scene was a bit odd for the two iPhones as they both showcased identical exposure times as well as ISO levels, although the iPhone 12 Pro shot is brighter due to the larger aperture. The phone didn’t trigger Night Mode for this shot as it was too bright.

Night Mode for the UWA is a large jump for the iPhone 12, but it can’t compete against the Samsung devices or the Pixel phone, although the latter got the colour temperature completely wrong.

Click for full image
[ iPhone 12 Pro ] [ iPhone 11 Pro ]
[ Note20 Ultra (S) ] [ S20+ (E) ]
[ Pixel 5 ] [ X-T30 ]

Here again the iPhone 12 Pro uses the larger aperture in order to reduce the ISO levels of the shot, which is a bit odd given that I feel that the iPhone 11 Pro had the sharper and less noisy shot. There’s also a change in colour temperature although saying which is better is subjective.

Click for full image
[ iPhone 12 Pro ] [ iPhone 11 Pro ]
[ Note20 Ultra (S) ] [ S20+ (E) ]
[ Pixel 5 ] [ X-T30 ]

Finally, in an extreme low-light shot I’m simply challenging the light capture abilities of the cameras here. This scene was extremely dark and the first sample shot of the Fuji is likely better representation of the scene as experienced in-person, while the EV+2 shot is closer to the exposure the phones are trying to achieve.

Neither of the phones are faring well here, and the iPhone 12 Pro does change a bit of the tone-mapping compared to the iPhone 11 Pro, faring a bit better, although I feel the Samsung phones are producing a more natural look.

Low-Light Conclusion: Improved, but not Competitive

In general, I feel that Apple may have overpromised a bit on the part of the low-light capture ability of these new phones. While we do notice the larger aperture optics of the new modules in the resulting captures, Apple doesn’t seem to have substantially changed their Night Mode processing this year as sometimes it’s very hard to distinguish the iPhone 12 from the iPhone 11 results.

On the ultra-wide angle, the new Night Mode options obviously transforms previously unusable results into something that’s more passable. I feel that this shouldn’t be taken as praise versus Apple finally addressing a huge feature lack in the iPhone 11 series, as they were the only devices on the market actually lacking this functionality on the ultra-wide modules.

Although the results have improved, Apple here still largely lags behind the competition which sports better hardware, and also has been able to iterate on their computational photography modes over the past year.

It’s a pity that Apple chose to only employ a larger improved camera sensor on the iPhone 12 Pro Max, creating model differentiation on the cameras that previously didn’t exist – I would have had at least wished the 12 Pro to also house this improved sensor, if possible.

Camera - Daylight Evaluation Video Recording
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  • DejayC - Monday, November 30, 2020 - link

    I find the flat edges of my iPhone 12 mini to be easier to grip on to than the curved edges of the older iPhones. Reply
  • FunBunny2 - Monday, November 30, 2020 - link

    I was just about to post just that. could it be that short people with small hands are the only ones to complain about flat edged phones (and other things)? those for 4 edges, intelligently chamfered of course, are what give you purchased to hold on to that slippery thing. Reply
  • jeremyshaw - Monday, November 30, 2020 - link

    I think completely flat edges work better on smaller phones. Mini, 5, 5S, 5C, etc. 4 and 4S as well. Though the 4 and 4S were "technically" flat, they did have the actual back and screen protruding enough to be a stepped approximation of a curved edge. Reply
  • xaneo - Saturday, December 26, 2020 - link

    I'm jumping onto the flat edges bandwagon, all for it. Reply
  • milkywayer - Wednesday, December 2, 2020 - link

    I still don't understand what makes the iPhone 12 worth ~$850 after tax compared to iPhone 11 that apples website is selling for $640~? Can someone explain?

    My biggest gripe with iOS is it kills my previous app pretty fast e.g. I could be watching YouTube or browsing a chrome tab but if I switch to reddit and or then whatsapp and then come back to the chrome or youtube, it'll make likely reload the entire app/page and I lose my progress.

    I got tired of the small keyboard on my 2020 iphone SE and was going back and forth between picking iPhone 11 vs iPhone 12 and when I realized the 13 still has the same 4gb RAM, it was an easy decision going for the iphone 11 as both have the same display size and except for the tiny bit faster cpu which I probably wouldn't have noticed browsing chrome or reddit and the oled screen which isn't a big deal.

    I couldn't justify spending almost 35-40% more for a tiny tiny upgrade.

    What I would love for would be to get a bigger screen size like the pro max but apple has prices those out of my budget and most people's budgets I'd assume.
    Reply
  • Frantisek - Friday, December 4, 2020 - link

    I guess very durable screen on 12 can pay for itself. Reply
  • Speedfriend - Sunday, December 6, 2020 - link

    Your point about iOS is one of the main reasons I don't use an iPhone. I day trade and iOS suspending apps in the background means that I have switched quickly to a trading app to check prices not realising they are totally out of date. Totally useless Reply
  • blackcrayon - Thursday, December 10, 2020 - link

    That sounds like that particular app doesn't work properly. Apps can refresh in the background, but even if not, why would it take more than a second to update from waking a suspended app? Reply
  • ZGamer - Monday, December 7, 2020 - link

    12 Pro models ship with 6GB ram vs 4GB.

    As with everything it depends on which models your looking and how your looking to buy. If looking at purchasing outright for some of the mvno carriers or prepaid service the 11 is a better deal. If looking at deals with bill pay credits and other incentives it can be very cheap to get a 12.

    Sales around Black Friday had the iPhone 12 for free with qualifying trade and bill pay credits....12 Pro for $99 and 12 Pro Max for $199 if you had the right set of circumstances (new line/port-in only for AT&T and Best Buy).

    In general year or year performance gains are generally pretty small, it's the two to five year old devices that can see larger performance improvements.....and a fresh battery.
    Reply
  • ebernet - Wednesday, December 9, 2020 - link

    @milkywayer these are some of the reasons that would lead me to pick a 12 over an 11...

    1. The iPhone 11 is an LCD screen instead of OLED, with a 2x Retina display and 1792‑by‑828‑pixel resolution at 326 ppi. The 12 is OLED with a 3 pixel per point for 2532-by-1170-pixel resolution at 460 ppi. The OLED allows the screen to be closer to the edge. I would think that is the biggest reason.
    2. Significantly better night mode
    3. Only 32% more, not 35-40

    There are a bunch of other reasons to choose the 12 over the 11, but for me the change from LCD to OLED at MUCH higher pixel resolution and a more durable screen is sufficient.

    That being said, I am still on my XS Max and will be waiting for the 13. There were days when I would upgrade my iPhone EVERY year (original all the way through the 4S). As the curve of improvements slowed down I went to every other year (5S, 6S Plus). Now I am on a 3 year tick and the XS Max is plenty good enough for me. I am looking forward to HOPEFULLY some kind of better optical zoom in the iPhone 13. However, if this was my tock year I'd be going for a 12 Pro Max with 256, but if I had to choose between an 11 and a 12 it would be a NO brainer, much more than last year choosing between the 11 and the XR (much more of a valid comparison because they both shared very similar screens). The screen on the 12 is on its own worth the price delta between the 12 and 11.
    Reply

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