We expect smartphones to provide rapidly improving cameras, and the reveal of iPhone 8 and X brings lots of new tech. However, better photos and video are no longer the main objective: The new target is augmented reality (AR).
While the future of virtual reality entertainment is an ongoing debate, Apple, like other major tech companies, assumes AR is the future. Much of the new camera’s tech is designed for AR — the image signal processor, TrueDepth camera, dot projector, ambient light sensor. The iPhone cameras, particularly the completely new iPhone X, can read three-dimensional space and light; the volumetric readings can create a three-dimensional gaming experience, or allow you to point a camera at an object and get information about it. (Apple released the ARkit to developers earlier this year.)
While companies will develop apps to take advantage of the AR-calibrated iPhone camera, the immediate use is facial recognition capabilities that let you unlock your phone simply by looking at it or creating an animated emoji with your facial gestures and voice.
This AR camera technology does boost some specific improvements to the iPhones’ photo and video capabilities.
Sharper Images: The ability to read an object’s distance from the camera should vastly improve the camera’s auto-focus, resulting in better detail and texture in all three cameras.
Smoother Videos: All three cameras have a sophisticated motion tracking system, which should lend itself to smoother, more fluid videos of moving objects, especially when shooting at a higher frame rate.
Portrait Lighting (beta): First introduced on the 7 Plus, the portrait mode brings your subject into sharp relief and forces the backdrop to fall out of focus, mirroring a portrait taken with a long-lens DSLR camera. The 8 Plus and X will also now include the beta version of “portrait lighting,” which reads the three-dimensional shape of your subject’s face and presents different studio-lighting presets.
While Apple’s Phil Schiller bragged that the iPhone 8 and 8-plus now featured the “highest-quality video capture in a smartphone ever,” the specs are not radically different from the 7 and 7-Plus. The 8 and 8-plus both still have a wide angle, 12 megapixel rear-facing camera that opens up to a f/1.8; the 8-plus keeps second telephoto lens with a f/2.8.
Here’s some specific improvements to consider:
Better Slow Motion: Apple has improved their video encoder to allow faster frame rates, which can now shoot 4K video at 60 FPS and 1080p video at 240 FPS. Expect higher quality and more detailed slow motion.
New Sensor: Much of the improved photo and video capabilities will need to be tested and can’t be measured in specs. Both the 8 and 8-Plus have a new sensor that Apple says will supply deeper pixels, an improved color filter, a wider dynamic range, and lower noise.
Better Stablization = Low Light: Possibly the biggest improvement is the improved image stabilization system, with a new gyroscope and accelerometer. (It’s part of the AR calibration.) Because the camera is more stable, it means the shutter can stay open longer, letting in more light, but resulting in less motion blur. Beyond getting smoother shots when you try your own “Goodfellas” steadicam, it will make the iPhone a better a low-light camera — a distinct shortcoming of the 7.
The iPhone X
The X is a radically different iPhone, but the changes have more to do with AR and how you interact with your iPhone. Here are some additional camera improvements that are specific to the model that Tim Cook called the “future of the iPhone.”
Better Selfies: Improved TrueDepth camera capabilities means a vastly improved front-facing camera. Expect higher-quality selfies — and the ability to use portrait mode on yourself.
Even Better Stabilization: The X has a new dual optical image stabilization system, making it the smoothest and best low-light iPhone camera ever.
Low Light: In addition to increased stabilization, the X has larger and faster light sensors for shooting in low light. Like the 8-plus, the X has two rear-facing lenses, but the telephoto lens opens to a f/2.4 — meaning it will let in 36 percent more light than the 8-plus. Apple also says the zoom will work better in low light.
Finally, you can also make a poop emoji talk like you, if you want to send someone a special text message.