It’s not just you, your iPhone camera is getting worse with each new generation

Jan 9, 2023

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

It’s not just you, your iPhone camera is getting worse with each new generation

Jan 9, 2023

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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This is an interesting video from tech YouTuber and smartphone aficionado Marques Brownlee that talks about the iPhone’s camera system and why it appears to be getting worse than the competition with each new generation. Having dumped iPhones myself back in 2017, it wasn’t something I’d really paid much attention to, but on watching his video, I realised that he was right. Their quality seems to be getting worse.

Marques has a theory as to why this is happening, and I think he might be right. In fact, he believes that one of them is something which Google has already fallen foul of with their Pixel series of smartphones. Fortunately, for Google’s sake, it looks like they course-corrected pretty quickly, but will Apple? Maybe.

It’s an odd thing because the iPhone consistently touts its new and improved camera system as one of its key selling points with each new generation that comes out, although it consistently misses the top spot in a lot of more objective and lab-based tests. But when you look the images… Like really look at them, they just don’t seem as good as those created by the competition’s latest smartphones.

Part of the problem, Marques posits, is that unlike traditional DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, smartphones are largely computational. The camera’s hardware compared to those large sensor cameras is quite lacking and so the software has to do all of the heavy lifting, often shooting multiple images simultaneously every time you hit the shutter so that it can ultimately produce a fairly good image.

As smartphone hardware has gotten better, though, he suggests that Apple is applying principles and techniques designed for older, less capable smartphone camera hardware. And as the hardware is getting better now, these techniques are not only no longer as beneficial but they can actually be detrimental. Given that 99% of iPhone photos are down to the software that Apple has created to interpret what the sensor sees, he feels they’re very overprocessed. Instead of capturing what the camera actually sees, they’re capturing what the iPhone’s computer thinks you want to see, which can be very different from reality, depending on what you’re shooting. They often have an overly HDR look, with oversharpening and subjects looking like they’ve been composited onto the very real backgrounds behind them.

He points out that Google faced a similar issue when after using the same camera and software combo for several years and then changing things up to a newer and much higher resolution camera with the Pixel 6. They noticed that their performance and quality reviews became worse. When they went back to their older hardware with the Pixel 6A, they were consistently getting those higher scores and more positive reviews again.

It’s been a while since I’ve used the iPhone camera regularly – mostly because I switched away from iPhones six years ago – but lately, I’ve been using iPhones again her and there, and shooting photos with them more often. The images do generally leave me feeling quite disappointed, particularly when shooting side-by-side vs other current flagship smartphones like the OnePlus 10 Pro – and even 2019’s OnePlus 7 Pro (which, by the way, was Marques’ Smartphone of the Year in 2019).

The iPhone camera isn’t terrible by any means. Apple’s been making smartphones with cameras in them long enough to maintain a minimum level of quality and Marques admits that he didn’t test everything. Whether or not Apple will do anything about the criticisms, though, remains to be seen. To be fair, though, many of the criticisms are levied by those who understand photography to some degree. Given that the vast majority of iPhone customers don’t seem to care – at least, not enough to complain – and just want snapshots that let them easily see whatever random scene they pointed their smartphone’s camera at without considering their artistic merit, probably not.

So, if photography is the main reason you’re choosing your phone, it might be worth shopping around – or at least seeing if you can find a good app that overrides a lot of the default automatic Apple processing.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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25 responses to “It’s not just you, your iPhone camera is getting worse with each new generation”

  1. Libby Sutherland Avatar
    Libby Sutherland

    I loved my iPhone 8 and upgraded to 13, mainly because my old phone had seen better days. Was pretty excited about the new macro feature. One day I was in a market and saw an unusual flower in the florist section. Took a closeup, and the iPhone transformed my would-be flower pic into a water color painting 😂 Love my iPhone, but for real work, going to take a real camera 😀

    On the positive side, have gotten day to day shots that I love where I otherwise would not have been carrying a kit. One of my favorite snaps was one that I shot in traffic while a storm front was moving in. The sky was kind of an eerie icky color, and there was a glimpse of sun in front of me and it almost seemed as if the car in front of me had a glow. Probably from the steam rising up from the hot pavement. The iPhone translated the scene perfectly.

    I don’t get along well with android phones so the family will stick with Apple products.

  2. rim ninety nine Avatar
    rim ninety nine

    If you really want good pics don’t use a smart phone buy a DSLR camera. I have an Iphone 14 Pro Max and pics are fine for day-to-day stuff, but for anything more I’ll pull out my 12 year old Nikon D7000 and with the correct lense I get fantastic pics.

    1. Kaouthia Avatar
      Kaouthia

      If you want really good pics, forget 12-year-old APS-C DSLRs. You need 100-megapixel+ medium format cameras. Different products for a different use case… Unless you happen to carry your D7000 with you 24/7 every time you leave the house.

      Sometimes you’re out and you come across a scene unexpectedly. Does that mean you shouldn’t still try to get the best possible image that you can?

      1. rim ninety nine Avatar
        rim ninety nine

        The D7000 is still an excellent DSLR, at the time of release is was Nikons top model at its price point. Like I said my Iphone still captures very good pictures, and I use it all the time, I have to say I have not looked at some of the phones out there with crazy good cameras, the one I did look at was the Pixel 6 and 7 and they had excellent pictures, but didn’t blow away my Iphone. I think its up to the individuals needs.

        1. Kaouthia Avatar
          Kaouthia

          I know it’s an excellent DSLR. I have several of them. The D300s was still better in most respects. If you want an example of when it’s handy to have a smartphone with a good camera and you don’t happen to have a DSLR or mirrorless camera on you, I shot this with the OnePlus 7 Pro 1600ft up from the top of Taipei 101 in 2019. A once in a lifetime thing that I didn’t expect to happen. You can’t always have a DSLR with you but a phone? Absolutely and when you need it, you want the best quality you can get. :)

          https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/21d49ba6a47785ef5db0a150036ec33202a606f37abd7b7608d18330ad44ac73.jpg

          1. rim ninety nine Avatar
            rim ninety nine

            Beautiful picture

  3. Nick Karen M Avatar
    Nick Karen M

    In my opinion. The camera on most iPhones is a piece of crap the quality is poor especially in low light. And apple doesn’t seem to care . For now really great images still belong to the dslr or mirrorless style cameras.

  4. Adrian J Nyaoi Avatar
    Adrian J Nyaoi

    My Samsung does well.

  5. Rebecca O Donovan Avatar
    Rebecca O Donovan

    Patrick O’Donovan I think it’s a great camera to be fair

  6. Patrick O'Donovan Avatar
    Patrick O’Donovan

    Rebecca O Donovan I have to say it is.

  7. John M Fuller Avatar
    John M Fuller

    Hey Matt Fuller , maybe this is what you were noticing in the past with your camera?

  8. Will Rogers Avatar
    Will Rogers

    It’s typical clickbait by putting iPhone in the title.

    He even says that it happened with the Pixel 6 and other phone cameras.

  9. Patrick O'Donovan Avatar
    Patrick O’Donovan

    Rebecca O Donovan 🤔🤔😅🤔

  10. Marco Peixoto Avatar
    Marco Peixoto

    Not even iPhones… on Androids the camera behaves worse at each update.

  11. John Aldred Avatar
    John Aldred

    Will Rogers But the video is SPECIFICALLY about Apple and the iPhone because they’re not learning from their mistakes – where as Google did pretty much instantly. :)

  12. John Aldred Avatar
    John Aldred

    Sam X Sam They only do those adjustments automatically if you’re shooting jpg. And who does that on a DSLR or mirrorless camera if they care about having control over their images?

  13. John Aldred Avatar
    John Aldred

    It’s not really a smartphone vs “real camera” debate, though. It’s an Apple vs the rest of the smartphones thing. You’re not always going to have a DSLR or mirrorless camera with you and nobody’s suggesting to replace your DSLR or mirrorless camera with a smartphone. But when you’re out and about and see a photo and your phone is all that you have with you, don’t you still want the device that’ll give you the result you want and expect?

  14. Sam X Sam Avatar
    Sam X Sam

    John Aldred so you shoot Raw in camera… and good news is you could shoot Raw in phone too ! Then what’s all the point for this video review if everyone care so much for the control? Use Raw in phone 😂

  15. Sam X Sam Avatar
    Sam X Sam

    Go use film camera then. Even DSLR and mirror less do software adjustments.. if you export jpeg directly. Pixel or iPhone? I think just similar like comparing Nikon or canon skin tones… not a new thing in photography world

  16. John Aldred Avatar
    John Aldred

    Will Rogers You realise it’s been an ongoing thing, right? It’s not just an issue with the current model? Did you watch the video?

  17. Tunes Firwood Avatar
    Tunes Firwood

    Sam X Sam Which, of course, is why you never bother to shoot raw.

  18. Tunes Firwood Avatar
    Tunes Firwood

    Sam X Sam Yeah, use raw in phone. Enjoy that tiny noisy sensor.

  19. Will Rogers Avatar
    Will Rogers

    Tunes Firwood
    Yet the 14 Pro is only the first Gen with this new sensor so we won’t know until the 15 Pro is released.

    Again, clickbait.

    Edit:
    I have only had one iPhone since the original one, so I’m not really into brand zealotry.

  20. Will Rogers Avatar
    Will Rogers

    John Aldred
    How can they learn from their mistake with the 14 Pro when the replacement isn’t due to be released until the end of this year 🤔

  21. Tunes Firwood Avatar
    Tunes Firwood

    Will Rogers “Fortunately, for Google’s sake, it looks like they course-corrected pretty quickly, but will Apple? Maybe.”

    Typical brand zealotry: blindly defending their chosen brand in spite of reality.