Apple’s iPhone 11 lineup is worth it for the camera alone

Apple’s iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max are officially here. The phones, which Apple (AAPL) unveiled on Tuesday, will be available on Sept. 20 and cost $699, $999, and $1,099, respectively.

For its latest generation of smartphones, Apple put much of its focus on its cameras. The iPhone 11 now gets two 12-megapixel cameras equipped with wide-angle and ultra-wide angle lens. The iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max, meanwhile, gets those same cameras, as well as a third 12-megapixel camera with a telephoto lens.

There’s more to the new iPhones than their cameras, of course, but after using them for a brief period, I can say that the cameras are likely more than enough to get consumers to trade in their older iPhones.

Let’s start with the iPhone 11. That phone’s wide angle and ultra-wide angle cameras are all new for Apple. The wide-angle camera isn’t going to be new to most users as far as the kind of shot you’ll be able to take. It’s the standard iPhone camera perspective you’re likely already used to. But the ultra-wide angle lens allows you to capture far more of your subject’s surroundings.

Think about how when you try to take a picture of a subject, but constantly need to back up to try to get it in the frame. Back up too far, and the subject looks, well, far away. With the ultra-wide lens, you can capture your entire subject without having to back up. Apple showed off a few example photos taken with the iPhone 11, and the difference in perspective was impressive to say the least.

The iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max both add that third telephoto camera lens, which, like the telephoto camera on the iPhone XS and XS Max, allows you to optically zoom in on your subjects rather than digitally zoom. Optical zoom is far better than digital because it uses actual lenses, while digital zoom uses software tricks, which causes images to look distorted.

Phil Schiller, Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing presents the new iPhone 11 Pro at an Apple event at their headquarters in Cupertino, California, U.S. September 10, 2019. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Apple makes zooming in and out with the three cameras as easy as it was with the iPhone XS and XS Max. You simply tap the 0.5x to zoom out, 1x to go back to the normal wide-angle shot, and 2x to go to the telephoto shot. You can also adjust your zoom level between those levels for a more fine-tuned photo.

All of those zoom features also work with the Camera app’s video capture feature. What’s more, Apple has added audio zoom that focuses the iPhone’s microphones on whatever you happen to zoom in on.

As for video quality, the three new iPhones are able to capture video that looks like it was shot with a professional camera. I’m not sure if it was the lighting, or if professional videographers were using the iPhones, but a sample video taken of people running on a beach looked incredible. Whether someone like me can recreate that, however, will remain to be seen until I get my hands on the phones.

The three cameras on the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max include a wide-angle lens, telephoto lens, and ultra-wide angle lens. (Image: Howley)

Of course, other smartphone makers, including Apple’s rival Samsung, have been offering ultra-wide angle and telephoto cameras on their devices for some time, so it’s not exactly a revelation in the smartphone space. But true to Apple’s M.O. the company took a technology that other companies have been using, and rounded out the edges.

Finally, Apple added a new Night Mode feature to the iPhones that uses the camera’s updated sensors to make low-light photos look surprisingly well lit. The photos don’t look unnaturally bright or anything, they simply look as you would likely see them with your own eyes.

It will be interesting to see how Apple’s Night Mode stacks up to the current low-light photo king, Google’s Pixel and its Night Sight camera mode.

New looks

Look at the new iPhones from the front, and you’d be hard pressed to find a difference between them and their predecessors. But turn them over, and they are entirely different. The iPhone 11’s dual-camera is now enclosed in a square in the top right corner of the phone. The iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max have a similar setup for the three cameras.

It’s a completely different look for the iPhone, and features surprisingly large camera lenses that are sure to be controversial among some design enthusiasts. I, for one, like the change of pace of the new phones. It also serves as a kind of landmark that tells people you’re using the new iPhone.

Apple has also changed the materials used with the phones. The iPhone 11 has an aluminum and glass design, while the 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max are made of textured matte glass and stainless steel. Importantly, though, Apple says these are the most rugged iPhones ever made. In a demo video, the company showed a new iPhone falling onto what looked like asphalt and surviving unscathed.

The phones also have improved water resistance. The iPhone 11 can take a dip in up to 6 feet of water for 30 minutes and keep running, while the 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max can go as deep as 13 feet and continue working without issue.

A lot more power

All of the iPhones also get Apple’s new A13 Bionic chip, which the company says is the fastest CPU and GPU ever put into a smartphone. I couldn’t really tell how fast the chip is during my hands-on, so I’ll have to save that testing for later.

Battery life is also said to get some major improvements with Apple saying the iPhone 11 will get an extra hour of battery life versus the iPhone XR, and the 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max getting four and five hours more than their respective predecessors the iPhone XS and XS Max.