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Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Will Apple justify the iPhone 11’s camera bump?

Apple will announce new iPhones tomorrow on September 10, and this year's event will have all the usual trappings of the iPhone introduction, I'm sure. Expect a teaser video that turns off shots of different parts of the phone before revealing the whole thing to you. Expect to talk a lot about how powerful the processor is. Android is never updated, expect docs on it. Expect some kind of Whizbang AR demo.

Most of all, a lot of discussion about the camera is expected. Because the most notable expected change in the size of the phone's original iPhone X-series is that it will feature a larger, square camera module with additional lenses - and everyone is already focusing on it (excuse the penalty) .

Cham Gartenberg has already written all the news about what to do tomorrow. So unless there is some kind of surprise, one realizes that the only things we don't yet know are the quality and capabilities of the iPhone 11 Pro's camera system.

Smartphones - iPhones in particular - have been larger, faster, prettier and well-built over the years now. So in some ways, the camera is the only thing that we can expect to improve year after year, at least in a way that is important to users.

We all expect more battery life, but battery chemistry is a harder challenge than the physics of light. With minimal light, you can apply computation to improve the image.

Such relentless focus on the camera can be a bit boring, but this is the biggest opportunity for Apple to improve. Maybe it is too much for hope, but this year, I would like to see that Apple can do more than improve the camera a little. I want to see something like a generational change, which exists on any phone today.

Rumors point to a three-lens system on "Pro" -level iPhones: a regular, a telephoto, and a wide angle. This system has been de rigueur for Android phones since last one year. Talking about low-light photography and computational photography, Android phones have also surpassed Apple.

In low light and computational photography, it is Google's Pixel that is leading the industry, and both cases are examples of thinking more broadly about a camera sensor. Google sees that sensor as a source of more information than a source of light, and it has been more aggressive in finding creative ways to use algorithms to manipulate that information into something pleasing.

Apple hopes to move a bit in that direction. Rumors suggest that it could use information from wide-angle lenses to improve photos from regular lenses (and, in some cases, save completely). It is also widely believed that Apple will close the gap with Pixel by introducing some type of Knight mode.

that is all right. In fact, it would be a disappointment if Apple didn't at least match what is widely available on Android. But I am looking forward to something else.

I was recently talking to a photographer who just upgraded from iPhone 5S to iPhone XS. I said something about how happy she would be with the huge jump the camera has made in those generations. He looked at me with nervousness and answered, "It is what it is!"

Of course, she knows that it is not. But in a very real sense, he is not wrong. Very good smartphones take photos that are so good that many people can't tell that they weren't taken with a decent point-and-shoot camera. But blow them up on a big screen or actually zoom in on a pixel or check how they handle difficult lighting situations, and you can almost always tell. You can definitely tell if you ever print them.

The best smartphone photograph still looks like a smartphone photograph. I do not want to discredit these pictures. Some of them are amazing, worthy of a billboard or an art gallery, but they are amazing smartphone photos.

My colleague Nilay Patel and I have been preaching the same sermon for a few years now: If you really want the best photos possible, instead of spending your thousand bucks on a smartphone that takes 10 percent better photos , Spend it really nice compact camera.

It's another thing to carry around, sure, but it might be worth it. Once you start seeing the difference between smartphone photos and camera photos, it is difficult to open.

I'd like Apple to create a camera system that shrugs off that logic - or at least makes it harder to defend.

Apple is pushing us away from our traditional two-year rhythm. It used to be that we would get a fresh redesign in one year, then an S model in the second year, and the year after that, we would repeat the cycle. not anymore. And you could argue that it has not happened since the iPhone 7.

This year, we'll still get phones that are clearly in the lineage of the iPhone X and iPhone XR - and that's fine. But if Apple wants us to think of these models as more than an s-iteration of the same old thing, then it has to justify those big, square camera modules.

I expect the camera to be a big step, but not so much that I am demanding or expecting it. The physics of light is difficult, and with clever use of algorithms it is not very easy to squeeze more than sensors.

I am sure whatever these cameras can do, I will fight it. But to convince me to upgrade from my iPhone XR, they need me to at least regret buying the Sony RX100 standalone camera.


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