Every new batch of iPhones has sparked excitement among photographers, with Apple devices having long been popular with the imaging community. For this “12” generation, Apple has been cautious – conservative – in terms of focal range: apart from the new telephoto lens of the iPhone 12 Pro Max (not very powerful), we remain more or less on the same score as the “generation”. 11 ”.
Here and there, Apple has made adjustments – optics of the main camera module revised to be a bit brighter – and introduced the Lidar in the Pro range. But the bulk of our expectations are to be found not on the hardware side, but rather on the software side.
Software at the heart of improvements
Apple has done a lot of work on the software part, common to all terminals. First, we note the arrival of the Smart HDR 3, a nomenclature that highlights that Apple seems to have produced a whole new software mill. With Apple’s mastery of color, a lot is expected.
Deuxio, Apple has generalized its visual computing “Deep Fusion” on the four potentially available camera modules (Pro and Pro Max). Enough to offer background blur and other crisp low-light shots at both telephoto and front camera. A very good point.
To demonstrate its work in this area, Apple has set out to detail the work of its A14 Bionic chip: from the image processor (ISP) to the CPU via the GPU and the neural processor (NPU), all sub- computational elements work together in image processing.
Until now, to recover digital negative files – the famous RAW format – it was necessary to go through third-party applications, the Apple Photo application only offering Jpeg or HEIF format. An approach that had the limit of not having Apple software grinders such as Deep Fusion or Smart HDR.
Generation 12 iPhone therefore brings with it the “Apple ProRAW” format, a raw file format enriched with all the information and image processing processes that the A14 Bionic chip is able to collect and calculate.
Enough to promise photographers a development potential above all that is done in smartphotography. Indeed, the new ProRAW file format has (or will have at its launch later this year), in addition to luminance and chrominance information, a histogram, tone mapping, etc.
We can’t wait to see how this will translate into digital development applications.
Video: Dolby Vision HDR for everyone!
If iPhones are no longer the first of our Top 10 in photo, there is one point in which their dominance is indisputable: the video. And generation 12 risks driving the point home even further with the generalization of Dolby Vision HDR for all 4 devices.
The beauty of this technology is not only the richness of the color sampling – 10-bit HDR has a palette of 700 million colors – but also the information behind it. Each frame has its own histogram, which makes it (much!) Easy to calibrate post-production color.
The iPhone 12 are thus the first terminals in the world to capture, edit, view (Super Retina XDR screen) and share in Dolby Vision HDR. You know all – or almost – software improvements, now let’s go to the shelling of the four terminals!
iPhone 12 Pro Max: the king of the image
The giant of the iPhone 12 lineup is Apple’s imagery flagship. From the “11 Pro” generation, it only retains the ultra-wide angle, the other two modules are new. Ultra wide-angle is therefore the (mediocre) 13mm f / 2.4 equivalent found in all models of the “11” generation. A module that covers a wide angular range, but with somewhat average image accuracy, especially compared to the fabulous ultra-wide angle of the Huawei P40 Pro.
The main wide-angle module, still equivalent to a 26 mm 12 Mpix, is for its part revised from top to bottom. The new sensor is not only larger (1.7 micron photodiodes, surface area up by 47%) but above all it incorporates the first mechanical stabilization in iPhone history. Coupled with optical stabilization, it can further enhance the potential for shooting at slow speeds – Apple claims crisp shots up to 2 seconds. On the optical side, the new formula goes from 6 to 7 elements and the aperture to f / 1.6. What to collect, again, more light.
Another completely revised module, the telephoto lens. As for the power of magnification, it is a disappointment: we go from a 52 mm equivalent for the older generations to … a modest 65 mm f / 2.2. Nothing to compare to P40 Pro + and another Oppo Find X2 Pro with their +200 mm, but this gives an additional zoom coefficient which goes from x4 (11 Pro / Max) to x5. Apple doesn’t want to take any chances when it comes to collecting light.
In addition to these imaging modules, there is the Lidar introduced in the latest generation of iPad Pro. A module capable of mapping the environment in 3D by measuring the distance using a pulsed light system (read “How ToF sensors work, these cameras that see in 3D thanks to the speed of light“).
In addition to the potential in augmented reality applications, Apple uses this Lidar to facilitate and speed up focusing, especially in low light where traditional AF systems suffer.
On paper, the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max should be faster and more reliable when it comes to focusing, a first in the iPhone world.
iPhone 12 Pro: iPhone 11 Pro optics (a little) improved
When it comes to focal range, definition and sensor size, the iPhone 12 Pro looks like the iPhone 11 Pro. Like the 12 Pro Max, it takes advantage of the same ultra-wide-angle module as the previous generation. And if the main module couples the sensor of the 11 Pro and a new lens a bit brighter (f / 1.6), the telephoto lens remains the same 52mm f / 2.0 equivalent. Its zoom coefficient is therefore lower and remains at x4.
But in addition to the software package, it also benefits from the Lidar which should make it more efficient in AF than the “normal” iPhone 12s.
iPhone 12/12 mini: the scent of iPhone 11
Without Lidar and telephoto lens, the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini retain the hardware photo partition of the current iPhone 11, with one optical modification. The ultra wide-angle module is therefore the equivalent of 13 mm, and the equivalent 26 mm wide-angle module is that of the “normal” iPhone 12 Pro, namely the sensor of the iPhone 11 Pro with the improved optics in seven elements . In short: for them, the improvements will be mainly due to the software.
Apple is betting (again and again) on software
What to remember from this deluge of details? First of all, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is THE champion of Apple imagery. Whether you like it or not, you will have to buy the largest terminal in the range to take advantage of the best low-light performance (larger and stabilized wide-angle module sensor) and the most powerful telephoto lens.
There is also a very (too?) Great conservatism when it comes to angular coverage – the x5 zoom does not change the game too much – and little effort in the size of the sensors. With the example of the P40 Pro range and the incredible shots of the “giant” sensor of their ultra-wide-angle module, one would have hoped that Apple would do the same.
But the brand preferred to work on its range effect and take care of its software part. It relies on the software and its know-how in visual computing and colors to make (or not) the difference with the stiff competition of Android …