Camera Comparison: iPhone XS Max vs. iPhone X

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Compared to the iPhone X, the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max offer up an upgraded wide-angle camera with a larger sensor and new features like Smart HDR and Depth Control, all of which bring quite a few changes to photo quality on Apple's newest iPhones.

We did an in-depth comparison between the iPhone X camera and the camera in the iPhone XS Max to highlight the feature updates and what you can expect to see in your images when upgrading from iPhone X to iPhone XS or XS Max.


Both the iPhone X and iPhone XS Max feature dual-lens camera systems with an f/1.8 12-megapixel wide-angle lens paired with an f/2.8 12-megapixel telephoto lens that enables 2x optical zoom, but there are some notable differences between the two.

The wide-angle camera on the iPhone XS Max is just a bit wider with a 26mm focal length equivalent vs. the 28mm focal length equivalent on the iPhone X, and Apple has introduced a new image sensor that's twice as fast and 32 percent larger with bigger, deeper pixels that bring out more detail in your photos.


Both iPhones use a TrueDepth camera system with a 7-megapixel front-facing camera for selfies, but the iPhone XS features a faster A12 chip with an upgraded Neural Engine and a new image signal processor, enabling several new features for both the front and rear-facing cameras.

A Smart HDR option offers better dynamic range, bringing out more detail in the highlights and shadows of your images, while a new Depth Control option for Portrait Mode lets you adjust the amount of background blur in your images after a photo is taken. Apple has also introduced improved bokeh, for more aesthetically pleasing blurring of the background details in a photo when using Portrait Mode.


In our experience, Portrait Mode with both the rear and front-facing cameras is improved in the iPhone XS Max compared to the iPhone X with the new features Apple has introduced. The camera is better able to distinguish between the foreground and the background of a photo so it doesn't blur out as much detail as the iPhone X. It's by no means perfect and there are still issues with some images, but it's a definite improvement.


Apple's Smart HDR feature brings out more detail in iPhone XS Max photos when compared to photos taken with the iPhone X. For example, in images of the sky, the iPhone X will blow out the details due to the variance in lighting, while the iPhone XS Max is able to provide a better photo with the Smart HDR. Smart HDR kicks in often, and paired with the larger sensor, it offers up images with more detail in most photos with low lighting.


Almost all iPhone X photos in low light or with areas where there's a lot of difference between brightness and darkness overexpose photos or feature too much overcompensation for shadows, a problem that the iPhone XS Max does not have.


Unfortunately, in some situations, Apple's Smart HDR and/or some heavy-handed noise reduction blurs or smooths out images, something that's especially noticeable with the front-facing camera in lower light. There is, for example, an entire thread on Reddit filled with users complaining about the ultra smoothing Apple has introduced for the selfie camera.


The strange smoothing effect is primarily noticeable with the front-facing camera when lighting is not great, but it does also affect the rear-facing camera and can sometimes result in soft images that lose their crispness. The iPhone X, which does not use Smart HDR or the same noise reduction algorithms, does not seem to have this issue.


When it comes to capturing video, the experience is nearly the same, though we did feel stabilization was a bit better. The iPhone XS Max continues to be able to record 4K video at up to 60 frames per second, but audio is improved due to new stereo recording functionality.


All in all, iPhone XS Max photos are better than iPhone X photos with a noticeable difference between the two cameras, but there are quirks to be aware of, such as the Smart HDR and heavy noise reduction.

The images featured in the video and in the article can be found in a higher resolution in an Imgur album for clearer comparisons. What do you think of the camera in the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max? Let us know in the comments.

Article Link: Camera Comparison: iPhone XS Max vs. iPhone X
 

SteveJobs2.0

macrumors 6502a
Mar 9, 2012
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Let’s hope that iPhone XI pushes the photography boundaries further. For one, I would like to see better stabilization as is found in the upcoming Hero 7. Also, we will hopefully get video HDR, Smart HDR with a greater number of frames, brighter flash, 1080p 360 fps slow-Mo, etc.
 

Even Longer

macrumors 6502
Dec 12, 2012
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Got the Xs and my wife keeps the X, so I have a comparison.
HDR and low light exposure are way better on Xs, even if not totally perfect, but still impressive. New sensor seems to be working faster indeed.

As for other advertised featured, like faster FaceID etc. - I can not say, but the difference in speed is minimal. A12 Bionic chip speedup? Maybe, but I don't really care about anything but the camera improvements in those iPhones nowadays.
 

SteveJobs2.0

macrumors 6502a
Mar 9, 2012
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Let's hope the Roman Numerals stop at X...

Do we really want an iPhone LXXXVIIIs Max (to the third power) or iPhone XLVIII? I mean those numbers are not used everyday for a reason.
It will probably be iPhone 11 since the general population is not familiar with Roman numerals.
 
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840quadra

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Smart HDR could not be given via software update to the X? Annoying. Apple holding back features like usual.
That's like saying the Pixel 1 should be able to do what the Pixel 2 can, even though it lacks the Pixel core processor. Apple added extra cores, and an overall more modern framework to their processors to essentially do the same thing.

I am sure it may have worked on the X, but it likely would have been much slower with less "keepers".
 

Rocko99991

macrumors 6502a
Jul 25, 2017
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We have a great thread with lots of sample images on the iPhone forum, including some comparison to the X and other models.

The thing I really came away with in my tests was the detail the Xs is able to pull out of what is normally blown out (highlights) with the X.



Would you say the noise reduction is more aggressive with the newer phones than previous models?
 

noraa

macrumors 6502
Jun 23, 2003
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No, I am not upgrading for a camera. Nice try.
What a weird thing to post. There are a lot of other advancements in the XS vs. the X. Not really sure what the point of your post is...
[doublepost=1537917816][/doublepost]
Smart HDR could not be given via software update to the X? Annoying. Apple holding back features like usual.
No, it couldn't. Smart HDR greatly depends on the HARDWARE updates Apple made to the Neural Engine in the A12 chip. How is this Apple holding back features?
 

Zaft

macrumors 601
Jun 16, 2009
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You bought an iPhone X last year for all of the features that Apple advertised last year. You are not entitled to new features every year. If you want the feature that badly, upgrade your phone.
HDR is software, i should not have to upgrade for that.
[doublepost=1537917901][/doublepost]
What a weird thing to post. There are a lot of other advancements in the XS vs. the X. Not really sure what the point of your post is...
[doublepost=1537917816][/doublepost]

No, it couldn't. Smart HDR greatly depends on the HARDWARE updates Apple made to the Neural Engine in the A12 chip. How is this Apple holding back features?
Low light should be better of course because of the hardware, but HDR could have been updated on the X as well. Just my opinion.
 

840quadra

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Would you say the noise reduction is more aggressive with the newer phones than previous models?
I haven't seen that as being the case yet, though I have not exclusively done night shots just yet. Hoping to get some skyline shots this weekend as it has been nearly nonstop rain and clouds since I returned home (Twin Cities).

In the iPhone forum, I would have to say the shots that people have been posting look quite good. Though I have not seen 100% crops or full resolution images. I am looking forward to testing and posting my results within that thread.
 
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noraa

macrumors 6502
Jun 23, 2003
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HDR is software, i should not have to upgrade for that.
[doublepost=1537917901][/doublepost]
Low light should be better of course because of the hardware, but HDR could have been updated on the X as well. Just my opinion.
No offense, but your opinion is wrong.

HDR is software AND hardware driven. Standard HDR is very simple, take multiple photos at different exposures and combine them together into a single photo. Smart HDR, on the other hand, dynamically determines what the exposures need to be on the fly, in an attempt to create a "perfectly" exposed photo. This requires some extremely complex calculations that the A11 chip is just not able to supply.
[doublepost=1537918168][/doublepost]
Its funny to see that last year's iphone X photos look like utter crap compared to this year's XS. And what was all the hoopla last year when the X debuted? Ooh! The camera is the best camera ever in an iPhone .. Ha!
Well, at the time it was the best camera. Shocking how hardware continues to get better. Next year, the new iPhone will have an even better camera.
 

jona2125

macrumors 6502a
Jul 12, 2010
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It will probably be iPhone 11 since the general population is not familiar with Roman numerals.
My guess is that next year's iPhone will, with high hopes, ditch the notch in favor of a better solution and the name scheme will restart with a total new era of innovation: iPhone. Keeping it much akin to how they did the iPad. Doubtful in reality though but I just feel like they've fragmented it with the generation offsetting the given number in it's name. Who knows though lol
 
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840quadra

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Feb 1, 2005
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My guess is that next year's iPhone will, with high hopes, ditch the notch in favor of a better solution and the name scheme will restart with a total new era of innovation: iPhone. Keeping it much akin to how they did the iPad. Doubtful in reality though but I just feel like they've fragmented it with the generation offsetting the given number in it's name. Who knows though lol
I honestly hope they do what car companies do, and just go by the year the device is created. Thank heavens Honda doesn't call the current Civic Model the Civic 10.3. o_O
 

jona2125

macrumors 6502a
Jul 12, 2010
780
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I honestly hope they do what car companies do, and just go by the year the device is created. Thank heavens they don't call the current Civic Model the Civic 10.3. o_O
Haha I'm surprised they didn't start with that. Maybe that will be the new trend. It would be completely logical, they could refer to the generations by the chassis so that the iPhone and the follow up S model is all within one bound. It's gotta be a headache for the internal guys always trying to sort this stuff out lol
 
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Cosmosent

macrumors 65816
Apr 20, 2016
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La Jolla, CA
Nice comparison Article, thanks !

BTW, the new image sensor that AAPL selected for their new iPhones is from Samsung, the 3-stack ISOCell Fast 2L3, which Samsung first introduced in their Galaxy S9 family.

It's an absolute "Gem" of an image sensor, & it's what makes most of the camera upgrades for the new iPhones possible.
 

ZCT

macrumors 6502
Sep 15, 2014
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Minneapolis, MN
I'm upgrading from the X to the XS Max for several reasons. I do think the camera is better on the newer phone, especially in more challenging conditions, and if it captures more detail I can work with Lightroom to tease even more out of it. Having the Max screen will help me better edit my pictures in post, and enjoy them more when looking at them. The iPhone X is a bit narrow for that purpose.

But for me, I've been upgrading every year for years now. And one of my reasons for doing this is that I am off contract, I pay cash, and each improvement has been worth it to date. Also, upgrading now means I get max payout on my 'old' phone, so my net upgrade cost isn't that bad. If I wait around for that perfect iPhone, my existing iPhone will depreciate to nothing.

I travel a lot, and unless I am going somewhere really special (where I would take my Sony mirrorless camera), there is a good chance my phone camera will be all I have with me. So the better it is, the happier I'll be.

Regardless of the content of this video, the consensus is that the new iPhone takes better pictures, and that's good enough for me.
 

joeblough

macrumors 6502
Sep 30, 2006
371
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come on people, all computing devices are turing complete. the iphone X is fully capable of doing all the calculations needed to take an iphoneXs style HDR image. obviously it may be slower, but i'd wager it's still fast enough to get it done. it's only a year old, after all. did they improve the ISP in the Xs? yes. are the things it does *completely impossible* to do in a year-old device? doubtful.

just about the only salient feature in the Xs image pipeline is the larger pixel size / deeper well depth. that's definitely helping with the HDR stuff and preventing overexposed images in the first place. but it's an incremental change from the X, not a revolutionary one.
 
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