Camera Quality

The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus offer all new cameras, with the Plus getting an exclusive dual-lens system. Looking past the second camera on the Plus for a moment, the wide-angle cameras on both phones are identical. This year’s model is the same 12 MP resolution as last year, but now features a larger f1.8 aperture (up from f2.2), optical image stabilization, a 6-element lens (up from a 5-element), and quad-tone LED flash (up from last year’s 2-tone flash). This is an improved camera in every way, particularly for the 4.7-inch device.

Here are the some of the camera specs from Apple:

iPhone 7: 

  • 12MP camera
  • ƒ/1.8 aperture
  • (Digital zoom up to 5x)

iPhone 7 Plus:

  • 12MP wide-angle and telephoto cameras
  • Wide-angle: ƒ/1.8 aperture
  • Telephoto: ƒ/2.8 aperture
  • (Optical zoom at 2x; digital zoom up to 10x)

Both models:

  • Optical image stabilization
  • Six‑element lens
  • Quad-LED True Tone flash
  • Panorama (up to 63 megapixels)
  • Sapphire crystal lens cover
  • Backside illumination sensor
  • Hybrid IR filter

(Full specs available from Apple here.)

Most of my time was spent with the standard iPhone 7, and as interesting as the dual-lens system in the Plus is, I think it might be more important that buyers of the 4.7-inch phone no longer have to make a concession with the primary camera’s quality. The previous iPhone 6/6s models offered optical image stabilization (OIS) only on the larger phone, and this feature goes a long way in providing better quality photos, with longer exposures at lower ISO speeds possible in the same lighting conditions.

iPhone 7, daylight, default settings (photos are untouched):

iPhone 7 Plus, sequential 1x/2x optical zoom example, default settings (photos are untouched):

I found the overall camera experience to be excellent, and the quality speaks for itself. Having used a wide range of smartphones over the last two years, I have become painfully aware of just how large an impact camera quality has on the overall experience. If I love every other aspect of the phone, I will still find myself making concessions to use a phone with a better camera. There are too many lost opportunities with an inadequate camera when, for example, you’re trying to document the random happenings of a toddler.

I still find Apple to provide a camera experience that favors quality over speed. For example, if you expect to open the camera app, hit the shutter button, and have the image snapped that instant, you’ll be disappointed. I’ve seen that kind of speed from current Samsung offerings, but the iPhone still acts more like a point-and-shoot camera. The quality is excellent, but it does take a moment to focus and snap the photo in average lighting (it's much faster in great lighting outdoors).

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