iPhone 13 Revamps, Not Rethinks, Its Camera

Apple’s annual iPhone update is here, once again in four versions. The standard iPhone 13 and the small mini include dual-lens rear camera stacks, while the larger 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max have triple lens arrays. Both camera systems were updated, with new optics and, behind the scenes, a new image processing engine powered by the phones’ A15 Bionic processor.

I haven’t had a chance to use the phone yet, but I’ll do my best to discuss the basics of iPhone cameras from a photographer’s perspective.


Computational photography rules everything around me

The first iPhones couldn’t compete with dedicated cameras, but the scales slowly changed over time. While traditional camera makers (Canon, Nikon, Sony, and the rest of the bunch) put longer zooms and higher megapixel chips in pocket cameras, Apple laid its eggs in the software basket, keeping resolution at a low. 12MP sensible and using computational photography to enhance its function.

The iPhone 13 and 13 mini have dual rear cameras, a 13mm ultra-wide and a 26mm wide-angle.

With the iPhone 13, the story is the same as it has been for the last few generations: the phone uses high-powered processing and multiple lenses, outperforming what most point-and-shoot cameras can do for still images and shoot them. of the water on video.

The economy plays a role. IPhones (and quality Android competitors, including the Google Pixel, OnePlus, and Samsung Galaxy lines) have incredible CPU power inside them. A chip like the A15 is overkill for a compact camera, but with a device like the iPhone it does a lot more.

The days of debating whether a phone can replace a camera are over, at least for most of us. Family photographers who loved their Canon PowerShot or Nikon Coolpix digital can grab a smartphone and enjoy speed and image quality beyond what a pocket camera can deliver. This is especially true if you’re a person with automatic settings – the iPhone’s HDR image processing is tuned for illuminated snapshots and avoids the deer-like look in the headlights you get from mostly flash-lit low-light shots.

IPhone 13 Pro Family

The triple-lens iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max offer better lenses everywhere, plus a 77mm telephoto for portraits.

There are still reasons to choose a real camera. We covered them in detail a couple of years ago, comparing the iPhone 11 to Canon’s best point-and-shoot system. Much of it is experiential: Enthusiast cameras offer eye-level viewfinders and touch controls that are more pleasant to use than the iPhone’s large touchscreen. If you are the type of person who wants to play with raw files, or you just prefer to hold a camera in your hands, a camera is even better.

IPhones have gotten a bit better over the years, but small cameras haven’t come by leaps and bounds. The G5 X Mark II from our iPhone 11 shootout is still your best point-and-shoot option. Like other camera companies, Canon has focused its development efforts on mirrorless cameras with interchangeable lenses, the kind that professionals and serious hobbyists prefer.


Cameras iPhone 13 and 13 Pro

The standard iPhone 13 and 13 mini use dual-lens rear cameras. The prime lens matches the view of a 26mm full-frame prime lens, an angle older photographers still consider wide-angle, but it’s similar to where most compact and starter lenses for interchangeable lens models begin their zoom. The sensor is larger than last year’s iPhone 12 and is mounted on a sensor swap system for sharper photos and more stable portable video.

iPhone 13: main lens

The primary lens of the iPhone 13 and 13 Pro captures images with a moderate wide field of view, a versatile angle for snapshots, travel and cityscapes.

The second lens is ultra-wide, matching the look of a 13mm full-frame optics, with the same f / 2.4 aperture used by the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro series. It’s an extreme view, one you won’t find anywhere. point-and-shoot functionality, and an expensive add-on lens for SLR and mirrorless cameras. If you’re moving from an iPhone 11 or 12, you’ll have the same basic toolkit, along with A15 processor-driven software updates.

You will have an improved camera experience if you opt for a more expensive Pro model (starting at $ 999). The 13 Pro and Pro Max include three cameras: a brighter 13mm F1.8 ultra-wide angle for better night images and 2cm close-up focus, the standard 26mm F1.5 stabilized lens, and a telephoto short 77mm F2.8, a perfect sight for head and shoulder portraits.

iPhone 13 Pro: Macro lens

Adding some macro to the phone is appreciated, although we will have to see how it works. Close-up focus has been somewhat difficult for some smartphones. The Samsung Galaxy Ultra S20 touted the feature, but almost every review pointed to poor focus performance.

We will have to see if Apple’s implementation is better. Its previous ultrawide efforts sidestepped the poor image quality of others trying to zoom in on smartphones. The sample shots Apple showed looked good, but we’ll reserve judgment until we can test them in real life.

iPhone 13 Pro: Macro lens

Focusing closely on subjects can create perspective distortion. It’s very visible in this sample shot from Apple; blueberries near the edges of the frame stretch unnaturally. It is an unavoidable effect of using ultra-wide lenses at very short working distances.

We can expect some optical bokeh, not the simulated portrait effect, when working this close. When I’ve used additional macro lenses with other iPhones, they’ve shown really nasty specular reflections, a result of the molded plastic elements that make up a phone’s lens. Angle of view is also a concern – professional macro lenses are typically telephoto designs, so you can put some distance between the camera and the subject to avoid perspective distortion and casting shadows.

On the other hand, the change to 77mm F2.8 is welcome. Apple’s previous 56mm lens had a more standard angle than telephoto, and this one is better suited to portraits that isolate the subject from its surroundings. However, it is not long enough to capture the action on the field from the stands or get up close to a hummingbird; you will still need to reach an ILC with a large lens or bridge zoom camera, for those kinds of images.

iPhone 13 Pro: Portrait Lens

The 77mm Pro lens is the perfect angle for headshots.

Apple has yet to put a folded-lens zoom on the iPhone, another trick Samsung has done with its Galaxy Ultra series. However, I am not convinced that smartphones make good cameras for bird watching and action from a distance. It’s all about the form factor – it’s not a pleasure to hold a tiny, lightweight phone at extreme telephoto angles, especially when held at arm’s length. For distant action, an eye-level viewfinder and heavier camera create a more stable platform.


Photo Styles and Cinematic Bokeh

Both iPhone 13 camera systems have enjoyed hardware updates, but software is the real driving force behind iPhone photography. The features that smartphone photographers have come to rely on in previous iPhones continue; Portrait mode blurs the background to simulate the look of interchangeable lens systems, and you can adjust the bokeh and lighting after taking the photo. There are improvements to existing functions. Night mode didn’t work with all lenses on the iPhone 11 and 12 generations, but it did work on the 13.

Apple is promoting Photo Styles as a new feature. It is a set of custom profiles that give images an artistic tone, similar to the look of the films that come with Fujifilm X digital cameras. We see this as an improvement on Dramatic, Vivid Cool, Noir films and other films available on current models.

If you want to edit your photos, you’ll want to consider moving to the Pro series. Apple’s Pro Raw format is still unique to triple-camera phones. It supports all of Apple’s computational photography tricks, but saves images in a more flexible 12-bit Raw format for editing. With the standard iPhone 13 and 13 mini, you have to choose between capturing Raw, without the benefit of software assistance, or taking compressed HEIF photos with the benefit of portrait mode, stage lighting, night mode, and the rest.

I saved the most dramatic feature change for last: Cinema mode. All iPhone 13 models can record 4K Dolby Vision video with simulated depth of field effect. This opens up new creative options for movies: subject isolation and focus frames. The phone can blur the backgrounds behind your talent or change the plane of focus to highlight an object in the frame.

Apple iPhone 13: cinematic mode

Cinematic mode adds bokeh and focus racks to video.

Apple showed the feature in a brand outside of Knives out video spoofing and handed the phone over to Breaking point director Kathryn Bigelow for a more action-oriented short film. An Oscar winner is sure to produce great looking content on any modern digital device, especially when backed by a production designer, cinematographer, editor, and on-screen talent, so don’t wait to unpack your iPhone and do a piece of work. teacher. the bat.

We’ll have to see what kind of video mere mortals can pull off the iPhone. Apple says it has worked hard to develop automated tools to help budding filmmakers achieve better results. These aids include subject recognition and tracking, and he’s even smart enough to shift focus when an actor turns his head away from the frame. And Apple promises some help if you lose focus in a shot. You can change the focus point after recording a video, just like with an iPhone portrait effect photo.

We’ll have more on the iPhone 13 and 13 Pro cameras when we get a chance to review them. Until then, watch this video for a rundown of everything Apple introduced this week.

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