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iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus camera review

Apple has really talked up the iPhone 8's camera. We get behind the hype to put you in the picture.

The iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus look almost identical to their predecessors: same shape and dimensions and same screen size. And at first glance, the same cameras with identical resolutions too.

The iPhone 8 comes with a 12-megapixel wide-angle rear camera and a seven-megapixel selfie camera at the front.

The iPhone 8 Plus has the same front camera for selfies. But around the back, you’ll find dual 12-megapixel cameras: a wide-angle snapper and a telephoto camera.

Why would you need two cameras at the back? Well, for starters they allow you to zoom in on your subject without affecting image quality.

But that’s not all. The secondary camera also enables you to achieve a beautiful ‘bokeh’ effect on portraits. That’s when you blur out the background, while bringing your subject into super-sharp focus.

Those of you who pay close attention to specifications may have noticed that on both phones the megapixel grading is unchanged from last year.

But to interpret this as a sign that nothing much has changed and the camera quality has not improved would be a mistake.

Pixel count is no longer a reliable indicator of image quality. Instead of adding more megapixels, Apple has enhanced the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus' camera with sophisticated engineering that’s able to recognise the type of subject and adjust exposure settings accordingly.

And as we’ll see, it’s proved a very worthy investment indeed.

uSwitch exclusive: Pick up the iPhone 8 on Three for £55 per month and £79 upfront. And you get a free £100 voucher too. Check out deal here.

Bright light and landscapes

Dynamic range is a technical term that refers the value of the brightest and darkest tones that a camera is able to record within an image.

It also happens to be one of the areas where Apple claims its enhanced image processing technology will particularly improve the quality of your images.

A bright afternoon was the perfect setting to put this to the test.

With the sun behind me it’s undeniable that the shot below is impressive, with the image retaining details of the sky and darker areas of the bush.

iPhone-8-camera-sample-house-blue-sky

A blue sky and detailed shadow in the same picture is normally very hard to achieve.

With the sun to my left, the lighting for this shot is slightly less conducive to good results. Yet the image still manages to capture the details of the front of the house as well as the sky.

iPhone-8-camera-sample-cottage

The red creeper looks very dark in some areas, but an acceptable result overall.

Things go a bit less well in more challenging conditions, though.

Sitting under a white canvas with light spread overhead, you can see how as the camera attempts to expose the darkest areas of the van, the load of pumpkins becomes somewhat overexposed and becomes all-white and indistinct.

In this case, the HDR (High Dynamic Range) didn’t activate automatically and we’re left with less than attractive results.

iPhone-8-camera-sample-truck

Things break down when you have very dark and very light areas. The background is overexposed, resulting in loss of detail.

HDR is a great technique cameras employ to increase their dynamic range artificially by merging different exposures into a single image. The result is a picture that would be impossible to obtain with one exposure level.

In the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, running iOS 11, the HDR is set to “Auto” by default, this means you have no control over when it is activated.

However it is easy to make it appear on the camera interface:

Open Settings > Camera, then scroll down until you see the HDR (High Dynamic Range) section.

In here are two options: “Auto HDR”, and “Keep Normal Photo”.

By Flicking “Auto HDR” you add the option to the camera interface. The second one gives you the option to keep the non-HDR version of the picture.

However, I advise you to leave that alone unless you have a good reason, or you’ll end up with a lot of duplicate images.

For the image below we tried another another diffused-light setting. But with less black to expose to, the results are much better.

There’s considerable over-exposure in some areas and the white flowers lose some detail, yet the colours in the foreground appear natural and there's plenty of detail in the darker areas.

iPhone-8-camera-sample-pumpkin-patch

Dark areas still lose detail, but a pretty good result overall.

Colour reproduction

In general, iPhones have a tendency to over-saturate colours so they look a bit unnatural. That’s true this time around too, especially with reds and oranges.

Whether you like how this looks is a matter of personal taste. Of course, saturation can be toned down afterwards if you’re not keen.

iPhone-8-camera-sample-birds

Shiny metal birds get the iPhone 8 saturation treatment.

iPhone-8-camera-sample-colourful-toys

Danger Colour Overload! An example where saturation is pushed to the limit.

Portrait mode

Portrait mode is what really sets the iPhone 8 Plus apart from its smaller sibling and, to an extent, from any other smartphone out there.

Accessed using the text-menu running above the shutter button, it gives a number of options that enable you to harness the power of the Plus’ secondary rear camera to create amazingly arresting portraits.

iPhone-8-camera-portrait-mode-in-hand

The most important thing to note is that the portrait effects are not simply filters that are added to the image after you’ve captured it.

When you take the picture, the sensor reads the contours and the dimensions of the face or the object it detects as the main subject. It then adjusts the exposure accordingly.

The result is that it’s separated from the background light.

The effects also simulate studio settings that would normally require what photographers call ‘coloured bounce cards’. These are photography aids that consist of a reflective surface that artificially boosts lighting conditions.

Some of the Portrait mode’s tools, such as the studio-light, are in currently in beta mode. That means that the version you’ll use now is a work-in-progress and isn’t quite ‘there’ just yet.

Consequently, sometimes the results are hit and miss.

However, you won’t need to rely on them to obtain a great portrait. As you can see here, simply hitting the “Portrait” option and framing your subject guarantees excellent shots.

iPhone-8-camera-sample-Halloween-doll

Portrait mode makes for great close-ups by blurring the background. I was impressed at the lack of distortion around the edges.

iPhone-8-camera-sample-football

The calm before a rocket-powered free-kick? Or a metaphor for loneliness? Either way, just the right amount of blur makes for a beautiful shot.

iPhone 8 portrait mode iPhone 8 standard lens

iPhone-8-camera-sample-pumpkin-portrait-mode-close-up

Close-up in Portrait mode. This is where the iPhone 8 Plus really gives best results.

iPhone-8-camera-sample-dog

Portrait Mode is perfect for pets. Zoom isn't available, so prepare to get up close.

iPhone 8 apples portrait mode iPhone 8 apples standard lens

It’s worth remembering that although you can change the Portrait lighting modes by editing the image, the level of background blur cannot be adjusted.

Low light and night scenes

Smartphone cameras in general struggle with low-light conditions. Which means that images taken at night, indoors or in the gloaming usually don’t match up to daytime shots.

But we found the iPhone 8 bucks the trend. Not least here:

iPhone-8-camera-sample-night-street

Low-light and night photography is all about choosing light sources carefully. The standard wide angle lens, which features on the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, is very forgiving and preserves a surprising amount of detail.

iPhone-8-camera-sample-car-park-at-night

#evilbuilding? A dull car park by day can get interesting at dusk with no editing involved.

iPhone-8-camera-sample-stained-glass

Taken from within a dark cabin looking out. I’m amazed at the amount of details visible both inside and outside, as well as the rich colour of the stained glass. This is the kind of shot you couldn't possibly get without HDR.

Selfie camera performance

The selfie camera is fast and records an incredible level of detail.

It has face detection technology and adjusts its exposure accordingly. This means that in many cases the exposure of the background is altered to show you in the best light.

For best results, take selfies at arm’s length to avoid distortion (a tip that applies to all cameras). It’s also smart to avoid white or very light backgrounds, as they tend to get overexposed.

iPhone-8-camera-sample-selfie

A great face for radio. Selfies? Not so much.

Verdict

Pros:

  • Amazingly detailed low-light and night photography
  • Both phones seem to favour portraiture and low light
  • iPhone 8 Plus by far the best phone you can buy for portrait photography

Cons:

  • Portrait wizardry is only available on the iPhone 8 Plus, as it requires dual cameras
  • Some of the iPhone 8 Plus’ portrait effects can be gimmicky
  • Colours can look a bit artificial. But that's a matter of taste
  • The iPhone 8 Plus’ sheer size means one-handed photography is out of the question if you don’t want to risk dropping the phone. A good protective case is strongly advised

The iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are undoubtedly among the best smartphone cameras we’ve used. And we’d be happy to recommend them to pros and novices alike.

As for which one to choose, that largely depends on what sort of shots you’re after

There’s no discernible difference in performance between the two models when shooting with the standard, main camera.

Both iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus work brilliantly in low light and take great snaps of urban landscapes, parties and holidays. Images are sharp and the level of noise is ridiculously low.

When it comes to portraits and close-ups, however, it’s a very different story.

As soon as you hit that “Portrait Mode” button on the iPhone 8 Plus, you realise the dual cameras make this the perfect phone for any instagrammer, food-blogger or anyone that wants simply the best that can be achieved with a smartphone today.

Some of the most advanced features are still in trial mode and may not always yield brilliant results.

But it’s clear that Apple has seriously given portraits a lot of thought and this is where their efforts will be directed with updates and refinements.

iPhone 8

Primary camera:

  • 12-megapixels
  • f/1.8 aperture
  • 28mm
  • Phase detection autofocus
  • Optical image stabilisation
  • Quad-LED (dual tone) flash

Selfie camera:

  • 7-megapixels
  • f/2.2 aperture
  • 1080p@30fps
  • 720p@240fps
  • Face detection

iPhone 8 Plus

Main lens:

  • 12-megapixels
  • f/1.8 aperture
  • 28mm

Telephoto lens:

  • 12-megapixels
  • f/2.8 56mm
  • Phase detection autofocus
  • Optical image stabilisation
  • Quad-LED (dual tone) flash

Selfie camera:

  • 7-megapixels
  • f/2.2
  • 1080p@30fps
  • 720p@240fps
  • Face detection

uSwitch exclusive: Pick up the iPhone 8 on Three for £55 per month and £79 upfront. And you get a free £100 voucher too. Check out deal here.

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