Apple Camera Exclusive 1
The iPhone 12 and 12 Pro comes packing updated cameras but are they worth the expense? Image Credit: Daanesh Kalyaniwalla

There’s no denying that the launch of a new iPhone paves the way for what’s to come in the world of smartphones. When Apple backs a new technology, it usually means the tech is set to enter the mainstream. One such example is 5G. While it’s been around for almost two years, Apple incorporating the technology into its smartphones will put pressure on telecom companies to bring the technology faster to the masses.

While 5G took the spotlight during the launch of the new iPhone 12 series, another important feature brought forth was Dolby Vision. For those of you who don’t know, Dolby Vision is the brand name for a HDR (High Dynamic Range) standard brought to us by Dolby. Many TVs now support for Dolby Vision. Here in the UAE, we even have Dolby cinemas, which show movies in the Dolby Vision standard.

The iPhone 12 series (12 Mini, 12, 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max) are the only smartphones in the world that support Dolby Vision and this truly is a feat. Apart from shooting 4K video up to 60fps in Dolby Vision, the iPhone 12 series brings a whole lot of new technology including bigger sensors, a LiDAR scanner and much more.

Camera Breakdown

iPhone 12 Camera
The iPhone 12 comes with a dual (Wide + Ultra-wide) camera setup Image Credit: Daanesh Kalyaniwalla

While the new iPhone cameras2 seem similar, if you take a closer look, there are a few differences between the cameras on the four phones. The iPhone 12, 12 Mini, 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max share the same 12 MP (f/1.6) wide lens and 12MP (f/2.4) ultra-wide lens. It’s only the Pro models that have a telephoto lens, but the 12 Pro comes with a 12MP (f/2.2, 52mm) lens while the 12 Pro Max comes with a 12MP (f/2.4, 65mm) lens. Another difference between the 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max is the fact that while the wide lens on the Pro is optically stabilised, the 12 Pro Max comes with sensor-shift (where the sensor is stabilised instead of the lens), similar to the tech seen on high-end DSLR and mirrorless cameras.

iPhone 12 Pro Camera
The iPhone 12 Pro comes with a triple (Wide + Ultra-wide + telephoto) setup supported by a LiDAR sensor Image Credit: Daanesh Kalyaniwalla

When asked about the reasoning behind the difference between the Pro models in an exclusive interview with Gulf News, Francesca Sweet, Product Line Manager for the iPhone at Apple, says, “When we looked at the opportunity that we had, we saw that with the larger size of the iPhone 12 Pro Max, we could really push the limits of our technology and take things even further. When we look at our line-up of products, we design every product individually to make sure that we get the most out of it and that we’re able to deliver the best experience for our customers.”

No 100MP cameras or 100x Zoom? 

Over the years Android has taken its cameras ahead by leaps and bounds (as far as megapixel counts are concerned) reaching megapixel counts like 108MP this year. Apple on the other hand has stayed at the 12MP mark for a long time now and we wanted to know why. Jon McCormack, VP of Camera Software Engineering at Apple, says that the company focuses its efforts on “building a camera that you can live your life with”. He adds that while the competition might provide large sensors with high megapixel counts, most of the brands use pixel binning and bring resolutions down to “around 12 MP anyway". He adds “Yes, you may gain some linear resolution and I will be very careful to use the word ‘some’ there but the thing that you then lose is all of the HDR, all of the image processing because you don’t get that frame fusion and we think that just gets in the way of people taking photos in sort of like their day-to-day life.”

iPhone 12 and 12 Pro
While both phones have a lot of similarities, the cameras on the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro are where you see the biggest difference Image Credit: Daanesh Kalyaniwalla

While talking about the optical and hybrid zooms, Jon didn’t seem impressed with the “party tricks” the competition brings forth. “The reason that 52mm and 65mm (focal length) is important to us is because they’re really beautiful focal lengths to take photographs of people. And, if you think about the sort of the classic schools of photography, there’s a bunch of people who settle around 50 and there’s a bunch of people who settle somewhere between kind of like mid-60s to mid-80s and we didn’t want to give up on that just so that we could do (sort of) weird impressive party tricks.”

Let's talk Dolby Vision

Traditionally Dolby Vision is in the PQ format with regular) SDR/HDR content in the HLG format, like the kind supported on your TV. With Dolby Vision on the iPhone 12 series, Apple has gone for the HLG format, which seems to be made especially for the company. We wanted to know what the reasoning was behind the the decision to go with Dolby Vsion on the new iPhones. “We record in HLG, so the base HDR recording is 10-bit HLG and the thing that we love about Dolby Vision is that it actually allows us to record two encoding tracks at the same time,” explains McCormack. “So now no matter what you playback on, your Dolby Vision playback device can basically look and say, ‘Oh, I’m an SDR playback device therefore I can use the SDR track or I’m an HDR device and I can use the HDR track.” He also added that the recording in two encoding tracks will immensely save time in the workflow of creative professionals.

Speaking of creative professionals, Apple in a future update will bring a new RAW image format to the iPhone 12 series, Apple ProRAW. Creative control in photography has been something content creators have yearned for a while now. While how the new format will work on the phones is yet to be seen, Apple did confirm that editing Apple ProRAW will be supported in the Apple Photos, and third-party apps that support Linear DNG format will also be able to edit Apple ProRAW.

Another new control added this year to be noted are the exposure controls in the Apple camera app. It might be the smallest little change but it does show the direction the company is taking with 'Pro' controls.

iPhone 12 Pro Exposure
This year we also see one more 'Pro' control added to the Apple Camera app, exposure settings Image Credit: Daanesh Kalyaniwalla

Last year, Apple finally brought Night Mode to its cameras. While only supported on the wide lens, the feature did bring a much sought-after feature to users long after the competition. This year night mode comes to all the lenses on the camera including the front TrueDepth camera. Unfortunately, Apple didn’t confirm if these features will be coming to the iPhone 11 series via an OTA update.

Now even though we still haven’t had time with the iPhone 12 Mini and 12 Pro Max, the 12 and 12 Pro have definitely impressed us in our usage.

If you'd like to see how the cameras on the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro face up to each other, we've got the answers for you above GNTECH Youtube

From content creators to amateur users and professionals, the iPhone 12 series has a camera setup suited for everyone. The iPhone 12 and 12 Mini both at relatively affordable prices come packing a whole lot of camera and the 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max definitely take it a step further compared to last year. Which one are you planning to get your hands on? Let us know!