iPhone Xs Max Photo Review with real world photos

iPhone Xs / Xs Max Photo camera review

Posted on Sept 21, 2019

Now that the new iPhone 11 and 11 Pro have been officially introduced to the market, many users wonder if it makes sense to buy the old models, the iPhone XR or the XS / XS Max model.

This is intended as a review of the iPhone XS / XS Max camera with some real-world photo samples.

iPhone Xs / XS Max Photo camera: good points and new features.

Surely the iPhone Xs and XS MAX have an excellent camera with many strengths but also with some limitations.

Let’s start from the strengths: surely as always, the power of Apple’s simplicity in shooting and photo management in the native Photo App is a great advantage for all users who are looking for simplicity in shooting without omitting the possibility of subsequent editing.

The shots in a good light situation are always very well balanced in colors. It is rare to find a photo with the wrong white balance, so we say that all landscape / urban photography situations are always very well balanced.

One of the new features that I liked is the possibility to change the “virtual” f/ aperture value after shooting in portrait mode. In this way after shooting you can decide how out of focus you have, going to simulate an aperture from f/1.4 to f/16.

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Portrait photography on iPhone XS / iPhone XS Max

The topic of portrait photography is different. Despite the “portrait” mode continues to improve, allowing to simulate the depth of field of a real lens even better, what I can’t find to fit is the skin tone color.
In the presence of very strong brightness, the HDR algorithm tends to propose a fairly flat skin with a not very pleasant orange cast.

Speaking of noise and detail, I have nearly always found an excellent balance in the pictures taken, although obviously, the night photos are those that always present the most critical details.

Quality of the .raw file and noise with the iPhone XS / iPhone XS Max and iPhone XR

I have to make an important discourse about the noise in the photos taken in raw mode with the iPhone XR / Xs and Xs Max. There have been some changes in the management of the raw file compared to the generations of the previous iPhones, so all the photos taken in raw mode appear to be overexposed. This problem seems to arise since the camera’s algorithms prefer a faster shutter speed with a higher ISO to make the fusion of multiple images work better in JPG mode. I use an App called Halide that allows shooting in Raw + jpg mode. Halide, as explained on his blog, has created a proprietary system to try to work around this problem of the overexposure with the raw files. Honestly, even using Halide with the Smart Raw, the raw files that come out of the iPhone XR / XS and XS Max have much more noise on the basic exposures compared to raw files coming out of Google Pixel 3 or OnePlus 6t.

the camera setup on the iPhone XS / iPhone XS Max and iPhone XR

A quick remind:  iPhone XS and XS Max have the same cameras, that is a wide-angle lens corresponding to a 26 mm and a telephoto lens (it would be more correct to call a focal length) corresponding to a 51 mm. The iPhone XR instead is equipped with a single lens equal to the 26 mm focal length of the iPhone XS. In practice, therefore, the quality of the photos between XR and XS / XS Max when taken with this focal length will be the same. The portrait mode is different: on the iPhone XR, since the second lens is missing to create the depth map, the smartphone uses mathematical algorithms (a bit like Google Pixel 2/3 does, which also have only one lens) for achieving it. The result is quite good, though not perfect. Also, remember that you cannot use the portrait mode on the iPhone XR with animals as the algorithm is “trained” to recognize only human people.


At this point, the question that arises is: does it make sense to buy an iPhone XR or iPhone XS / XS Max now (September 2019) when the new iPhone 11 and 11 Pro have just come onto the market.

The answer always depends on the offer that one can find on the market. On the paper and looking the first tests, the new iPhones promise a remarkable leap forward in the critical areas I mentioned before: quality of skin tone colors, reduced artifacts in creating the mask for the out of focus in portrait mode, overall quality of the noise in night photos.
To all of this, you add an ultra-wide-angle lens in the version of the iPhone 11 Pro and also in the version of the iPhone 11 (which however does not have the telephoto focal length) and a new Night Mode that works even better than the one in the Google Pixel 3.

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