Improved rear cameras and 'forward-thinking' front camera add up to photographic tour de force.
Portrait Mode for selfies is excellent
Optical Image Stabilisation on both wide-angle and zoom lens
Improved low-light performance for portrait
It's an expensive phone, by any yardstick
The protruding rear camera is vulnerable. So best to invest in a case.
What's new about the iPhone X camera?
You could be forgiven for thinking that the iPhone X’s cameras are identical to those on the iPhone 8 Plus. Around the back, it looks like the same wide-angle lens paired with a telephoto zoom lens, both 12-megapixels in resolution.
And on the front you’ll find an ostensibly very similar seven-megapixel selfie camera.
But the devil is in the detail. As you delve deeper into the apparently minimal differences, you realise the iPhone X brings some vital improvements to the photography tech on the iPhone 8 Plus.
Most notably, the iPhone X has Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS) on both wide-angle and zoom lens. And it’s equipped with an improved zoom lens with a larger aperture that lets in more light for better photos in low-light conditions too.
The iPhone X’s selfie camera is a step up as well. Unlike the iPhone 8’s front camera, it allows you to take so-called ‘bokeh’ shots. That means you can blur out background details and bring your face or your friends’ faces into super-sharp focus, for solo and group selfies that that really stand out.
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Bright light and landscapes
iPhones have traditionally excelled when it comes to Dynamic Range, which means they’re great at capturing details of both the lightest and darkest spots of an image. And the iPhone X camera really excels at this.
A bright blue sky is a simple way to test the dynamic range.
The results in the shot above are impressive: the camera superbly retains colour in the darker areas and even the orange glow of the lamps on the right is well reproduced.
Here I’m shooting against the light. Something that’s a challenge for most cameraphones.
A lesser smartphone camera would have struggled to keep the sky and the skyscraper well defined without significant loss of detail in the darker areas.
I was surprised by how well the iPhone X handled this difficult shot. The photo retains a lot of detail, giving me more options to work with if I want to apply Instagram filters or tweak the colours for an artier shot.
Another very bright shot in unforgiving winter-sun conditions.
Once again, I’m impressed with the iPhone X in this shot. The sun was on my left and the camera still managed to reproduce the shaded side of the lamp reasonably well.
The Portrait Mode is one of the strongest features of the iPhone 8 Plus’s camera. But with the iPhone X, Apple has gone one better.
The aperture of the zoom lens is larger, which results in a noticeably improved low light performance and makes the iPhone X the clear winner for portraiture and close-up photography.
A dark tortoiseshell cat is in low light, against a dark background.
Believe the hype: the iPhone X Portrait mode is brilliant in low light. No flash, of course, and only a table lamp at the back for lighting. The result is excellent.
A spread for the family. Tasted good as it looks too.
Low light and blurred focus mean the surroundings can be fuzzy but the feature can still be used for great food shots. It can be hit-and-miss if the blur is applied where it shouldn’t, so you may need more than one attempt to get it right.
The “True Tone” flash on the iPhone X does an excellent job in delivering more uniform lighting and colour reproduction that you couldn’t achieve with any other smartphone.
The dual camera set-up on the iPhone X makes it possible to zoom in on your subject without loss of detail and image quality.
The telephoto lens has a slightly wider aperture of f/2.4 compared to the f/2.8 seen on the iPhone 8 Plus (the lower the f/ number the more light the lens lets through).
A zoomed lens is also more sensitive to motion and this is where optical image stabilisation makes a huge difference.
Zoomed-in videos are much smoother as a result. This certainly makes videos of school plays shot from the back row far more enjoyable to watch. After all, you want crystal-clear footage to embarrass your kids with when they’re older.
Cows too small or just far away? The 2X zoom delivers a sharp picture with no loss of detail.
Although the secondary zoom lens is equipped with a larger aperture, it’s actually the standard wide-angle lens that the iPhone X uses for low light shots.
But we can confirm that its much wider f/1.8 aperture delivers the same amazingly detailed low-light shots we’ve seen on the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus.
A worst case scenario of a dark tunnel. But the iPhone X handles a challenging combination of artificial and natural light reasonably well.
The seven-megapixel selfie camera is one of the key areas where the iPhone X offers genuine innovation compared to any other phone on the market.
The most notable feature of the front camera is what Apple calls “True Depth”, which delivers the same soft-focus background that has only been available on the rear camera on previous iPhones.
You can enable Portrait Mode by scrolling through the menu. Select it and you can then choose between the various lighting modes including the black-background Studio Lighting effect.
Don't expect this to match the results obtained with the main camera. The edges can be hit and miss and you may have to try a few times before you get the perfect shot.
In good lighting conditions, the results are more than acceptable, even with more than one person in the frame.
As long as they’re at the same distance from the camera, the Portrait Mode will make faces pop sharply against a beautifully blurred background.
Live Photos is also on board the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus. This means that when you shoot an image and “Live Mode” is enabled, the phone records 1.5 seconds of video before and after you tap the shutter button, resulting in a tiny video clip that literally brings your snaps to life.
You can choose a main still image, or just enjoy it as a moving image worthy of a front-page spot in Harry Potter’s favourite newspaper, The Daily Prophet.
The iPhone X introduces optional effects. So if you like experimenting, you can edit every live photo to loop, bounce back and forth, or even merge all of the frames in a multiple exposure.
The iPhone X records video in stunning 4K and at 60 frames per second. The upshot is super-sharp, fluid videos.
The downside is that these high-resolution clips will take up a lot of space on your device. So if you’re planning to record a lot of 4K clips, you may want to consider the higher-storage 256GB iPhone X edition.
One interesting observation to report is that, unlike many other phones out there, video recording doesn’t use up more battery life than any other function. Which comes in very handy, particularly if you have your own YouTube channel.
iPhone X camera sample black and white street of houses
iPhone X camera sample St Paul's Cathedral
iPhone X camera sample lake
iPhone X camera sample fruit stand
iPhone X camera sample red pepper
Despite appearances, the iPhone X is actually a major upgrade from iPhone 8 Plus. And it could well be the best smartphone camera we’ve come across.
The superior secondary lens with wider aperture improves on the already excellent Portrait Mode and delivers amazing low-light performance. Meanwhile the Optical Image Stabilisation makes a big difference, especially for video.
The quality of the selfie camera also makes the iPhone X stand out by focusing on delivering a level of detail that’s as yet unparalleled.
It's also much less unwieldy than the iPhone 8 Plus, due to its comparatively small dimensions.
Does this matter to a photographer? Of course it does. The best camera is the one we carry with us and if it fits in your pocket and can be handled comfortably without fear of dropping, the advantage is clear.
So that's the camera. But what else has iPhone X got to recommend it? Head to our review for the inside line.