The iPhone X features Apple’s latest-and-greatest camera technology, but does the device actually capture better photos than any of the iPhone models that came before it? Here, we pitted the four latest iPhones — from the 6S Plus to the X — to see just how much Apple’s camera technology has improved over the past several years.
When available, we opted to use the Plus versions of each phone over the release version, namely because their enlarged size of these devices allowed Apple to equip them with slightly better cameras than their predecessors. For our tests, we also decided to use the rear-facing cameras, which offer high resolution than their front-facing counterparts.
Apple continues to make routine improvements to the cameras found on its flagship product, and in recent years has added optical image stabilization and Portrait Lighting, the latter of which allows you to pre-set lighting affects to a subject’s face. But do these software enhancements translate into actual photo quality?
The first picture featured in our test, a latte on a wooden surface, looked about the same across all four devices, with some slight differences between the 6S Plus and 7 Plus. This doesn’t tell us much, other than perhaps that ideal lighting can produce quality photos across all of these devices.
The next photo, which showcases a woman working on a laptop in a well-lit room, is where the differences start to appear. The photo from the 6S Plus is substantially darker than the others, with less detail on the woman’s hair and face in particular. The 7 Plus is also less detailed, but remains brighter overall. The 8 Plus and X looked considerably better than the other two, but similar to one another, which makes sense considering they feature many of the same hardware components. Unlike the first picture, we can see a clear trajectory, with steadily sharper images and better lighting with each consecutive model.
Next, we headed to the Kelloggs Store in New York, where they had several boxes of cereal lined up. The lighting for this picture, like the first one, was also pretty good, making it harder to tell a difference between the four devices. If we zoom in on one of the boxes, however, we can still see that the 8 and X produce slightly sharper images than their predecessors.
When looking at images of the Flat Iron building, there is also a noticeable difference. The 6S Plus image was darker and fuzzier than the rest, though, the images produced by the 7 Plus images were similar, if not slightly brighter. The iPhone 8 image looked great, as did the iPhone X, which ended up a bit more blue than the 8. That said, the bluer hue was likely the result of a color temperature decision that was made by the phone in the moment.
Where many cameras tend to struggle is in low-light scenarios, which were the backdrop for the next two photos. Both of these images were taken outside, at night, one with a lit building in the distance and another with statues closer in. The 6S Plus produced relatively dark images, both of which featured a smudged affect. You can, however, begin to see some noticeable improvement as you move toward the newer phones.
The final image — which was essentially our motion blur test — was taken in a bar at night. We took about eight photos with each phone as people moved around the space, and chose the ones that had the least amount of blur. For some reason, the 8 Plus really struggled with producing a clear photo under these conditions, which doesn’t make much sense considering all the other phones, even the 6S Plus, were able to produce decent-looking photos. In the end, we chalked this up to a fluke or user error.
At the end of the day, each camera is capable of producing excellent photos, especially with the right lighting conditions. There is nothing wrong with the 6S Plus photos. They are a bit darker, sure, and not as sharp as they could have been, but it’s only really noticeable when you compare it to the other cameras in our lineup. The 8 Plus and X have similar cameras, and as such, produced nearly identical photos. Point being: The cameras on each phone have steadily gotten better with each iteration, with only minor differences between the iPhone 8 and X.
David Cogen — a regular contributor here at Digital Trends — runs TheUnlockr, a popular tech blog that focuses on tech news, tips and tricks, and the latest tech. You can also find him on Twitter discussing the latest tech trends.