Comparing cameras – iPhone 11 Pro versus iPhone 7 Plus review

Tuesday 12 November 2019

I've spent plenty of time over the years looking at reviews of cameras and lenses, but rarely comment about equipment here on my blog. Although I'm a physicist and can get geeky over the details, I prefer to concentrate on the photos, not the tools. That said, I do care about getting high quality results. I wouldn't lug heavy cameras on multi-day mountain backpacks if I didn't. So nearly everything I share here has been taken on a Nikon DSLR and post processed in Lightroom - I've only once previously posted some phone photos.

As the saying goes, the best camera is the one you have with you. For most of the world, that's their phone - which really is a remarkable change over the last few years. For the past couple of years, I've used an iPhone 7 Plus, which I bought despite its large size because it had a second telephoto camera. I like the change in view that gives and also the clever low depth of field portrait mode that dual cameras enable. But technology marches on and I recently bought the new iPhone 11 Pro, tempted by the camera improvements, smaller size (although the weight is similar) and better battery life.

Enough words, let's see some comparision photos. Unless I say, these are all unprocessed from the default Apple camera app. First up, using the standard wide lens, the Clifton Suspension Bridge, taken with strong sunlight from the side. The iPhone 7 Plus struggles with the dynamic range in this shot, losing detail to black in the shadows and blowing out the sky highlights to a featureless white. The HDR mode helps a bit, but still doesn't capture the full range of this contrasty scene. The iPhone 11 Pro manages much better, maintaining detail in both the sky and the shadows. However, the iPhone 11 Pro needs its lens shading from direct sun, even though the sun is out of shot, otherwise there is significant flare.

iPhone 7 Plus, wide (no HDR)

iPhone 7 Plus, wide (no HDR)

iPhone 7 Plus (HDR on)

iPhone 7 Plus (HDR on)

iPhone 11 Pro, wide (sun on lens)

iPhone 11 Pro, wide (sun on lens)

iPhone 11 Pro, wide (lens shaded)

iPhone 11 Pro, wide (lens shaded)

The telephoto lens is a similar story. There is much more detail in the shadows on the iPhone 11 Pro compared with the iPhone 7 Plus, but again it suffers more from flare in this strong sideways sunlight. I've not seen many people comment, but the iPhone 7 Plus has a slightly more "zoomed-in" telephoto lens than the 11 Pro - a focal length of 60mm compared with 51mm (full frame equivalent) according to the Halide technical readout. Personally I prefer the longer focal length - ideally I'd like a 85mm lens on my phone.

iPhone 7 Plus, telephoto (HDR off)

iPhone 7 Plus, telephoto (HDR off)

iPhone 7 Plus, telephoto (HDR on)

iPhone 7 Plus, telephoto (HDR on)

iPhone 11 Pro, telephoto (sun on lens)

iPhone 11 Pro, telephoto (sun on lens)

iPhone 11 Pro, telephoto (lens shaded)

iPhone 11 Pro, telephoto (lens shaded)

The iPhone 11 Pro has an extra camera compared with the 7 Plus, with an ultra wide lens. I'm not a big fan of this focal length, but perhaps having it available on my phone will help me see the appeal. I don't think the quality is as good as the standard wide camera - for static scenes like this I suspect a short panaroma with the wide lens will give better results.

iPhone 11 Pro, wide

iPhone 11 Pro, wide

iPhone 11 Pro, ultrawide

iPhone 11 Pro, ultrawide

With my Nikon DSLRs, I always shoot in raw and post process my photos in Lightroom. So let's look at that on the iPhone 11 Pro, using the excellent Halide to capture the raw file. With the full size images (rather than the resized versions here) it's apparent the raw file has slightly more detail, albeit with an increase in noise. One advantage of raw is allowing the photographer to decide that detail/noise compromise. But for me, the biggest advantage is making more decisions about white balance and contrast myself, rather than giving up control to Apple's (admittedly rather good) algorithms. Check out the colour on the golden autumn leaves in my raw edit, plus I prefer to keep the colour of the sky and contrast with the clouds a bit more realistic than Apple's version. On the flip-side, it's remarkable the amount of processing that happens so fast on a phone nowadays, without effort from the photographer.

iPhone 11 Pro, wide, standard camera app, unprocessed

iPhone 11 Pro, wide, standard camera app, unprocessed

iPhone 11 Pro, wide, Halide raw, processed in Lightroom

iPhone 11 Pro, wide, Halide raw, processed in Lightroom

iPhone 11 Pro, wide, standard camera app, unprocessed

iPhone 11 Pro, wide, standard camera app, unprocessed

iPhone 11 Pro, wide, Halide raw, processed in Lightroom

iPhone 11 Pro, wide, Halide raw, processed in Lightroom

Wandering into Clifton changes the scene, but not the story. The iPhone 11 Pro has a significantly wider dynamic range than the iPhone 7 Plus, and a slightly wider standard lens too (26mm versus 31mm according to Halide).

iPhone 11 Pro, wide

iPhone 11 Pro, wide

iPhone 7 Plus, wide

iPhone 7 Plus, wide

iPhone 11 Pro, wide

iPhone 11 Pro, wide

iPhone 7 Plus, wide

iPhone 7 Plus, wide

Using portrait mode tends to show a sharper image on the face with the 11 Pro compared with the 7 Plus. There's not so much difference in the out of focus bokeh to my eyes, although it's adjustable with the iPhone 11. Surprisingly, in dimmer light for the signs shot in portrait mode, the iPhone 7 Plus is both sharper and did a much better job correctly applying the out of focus effect between the signs than the iPhone 11 Pro - I tried a couple of times with the 11 Pro and got similar results, whereas the 7 Plus got it right first time. One advantage for the iPhone 11 over the 7 Plus is that portrait mode is also available on the wide lens, not just the telephoto lens. Presumably this is thanks to depth data from the ultra wide angle lens. This wide portrait mode gave a good result across a small table in a dim cafe, whereas the telephoto lens would have given a different feel, capturing less of the surroundings.

iPhone 11 Pro, Portrait mode (2x)

iPhone 11 Pro, Portrait mode (2x)

iPhone 7 Plus, Portrait mode

iPhone 7 Plus, Portrait mode

iPhone 11 Pro, Portrait mode (2x)

iPhone 11 Pro, Portrait mode (2x)

iPhone 7 Plus, Portrait mode

iPhone 7 Plus, Portrait mode

iPhone 11 Pro, Portrait mode (1x wide)

iPhone 11 Pro, Portrait mode (1x wide)

Night mode on the iPhone 11 has received lots of attention. It's remarkable, enabling hand-held photos in near darkness. As the day turned to night, the iPhone 11 Pro was obviously so much better than the iPhone 7 Plus, I'm going to finish here and let the photos do the talking.

iPhone 11 Pro, wide, night mode

iPhone 11 Pro, wide, night mode

iPhone 7 Plus, wide

iPhone 7 Plus, wide

iPhone 11 Pro, wide, night mode

iPhone 11 Pro, wide, night mode

iPhone 7 Plus, wide

iPhone 7 Plus, wide

iPhone 11 Pro, wide, night mode

iPhone 11 Pro, wide, night mode

iPhone 7 Plus, wide

iPhone 7 Plus, wide

iPhone 7 Plus, wide

iPhone 7 Plus, wide

iPhone 11 Pro, wide, night mode

iPhone 11 Pro, wide, night mode

All in all, the iPhone 11 Pro camera is a pleasing step forwards from the iPhone 7 Plus. If you just take photos in suitable light, like an overcast day, you won't notice that much difference between an iPhone 11 Pro and 7 Plus. But as the light gets more challenging, the 11 starts to get much better results than the 7. I've shown two cases here, firstly high contrast light - like the sunlight I saw on the bridge. Then in lower light, the iPhone 11 can take photos that really hardly worked on the iPhone 7. Is the iPhone 11 Pro really a pro camera? Not really, I'm still unlikely to sell a large print from an iPhone photo. But it is definitely the best camera I have in my pocket and that counts for a lot.

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