In our latest YouTube video, we went hands-on with the triple-lens camera in the iPhone 11 Pro Max and compared it to the dual-lens camera in the iPhone XS Max to see just how much of an upgrade it is.
From a pure hardware standpoint, all of the cameras in the iPhone 11 Pro Max are better than the cameras in the iPhone XS Max. The main wide-angle camera has a larger sensor that lets in more light, the telephoto lens now features a larger f/2.0 aperture, and there’s a new ultra wide angle camera (f/2.4) that didn’t exist before.
In practice, though, there isn’t a lot of difference between wide-angle camera comparison shots taken with the iPhone 11 Pro Max and the iPhone XS Max in good lighting conditions.
The iPhone 11 Pro Max is sharper in some situations with more vivid coloring, but there are also instances where certain areas of the image get more blown out than with the iPhone XS Max. Image quality between the two phones may change later this year when Deep Fusion, a new iPhone 11 feature, comes out.
Deep Fusion uses machine learning for pixel-by-pixel processing of photos, optimizing for texture, detail, and noise.
When it comes to Portrait Mode, edge detection in the iPhone 11 Pro Max is also similar to edge detection in the iPhone XS Max, so for well-composed shots in good lighting, you’re not going to see a lot of difference.
There are new portrait mode capabilities worth highlighting, however. You can now take wide-angle portrait mode shots with the 1x lens in addition to the telephoto lens, so you can get more in a shot if desired. The telephoto lens itself has also been improved, so Portrait Mode shots in lower lighting will turn out better.
The iPhone 11 Pro Max has the ultra wide-angle camera, which is entirely new and allows you to take wider shots than were possible with the iPhone XS Max. For comparison’s sake, the ultra wide-angle camera offers a 13mm equivalent focal length, while the wide-angle camera is 26mm and the telephoto is 52mm.
The new 13mm focal length makes a world of difference for landscape and architecture shots, plus it can be used creatively for closer shots with unique perspectives. An ultra wide-angle lens is an excellent addition to a smartphone and is perhaps more useful than even a telephoto lens.
The ultra wide-angle lens has an f/2.4 aperture and no optical image stabilization like the other lenses in the iPhone 11 Pro Max, so it doesn’t do quite as well in lower lighting conditions and images aren’t quite as crisp, but it’s great in the proper lighting, such as outdoors.
All three cameras are available for both photography and video recording, and you can switch between them at will with a new toggle in the camera app.
Along with the wide-angle lens, the real difference between the iPhone 11 Pro Max and the XS Max is the new Night mode and the low light capabilities of the 2019 iPhones.
The iPhone 11 Pro Max’s Night mode uses machine learning and multiple shots to create usable photographs even when it’s close to pitch black outside, while still preserving the color and the feel of a night time photo.
Night mode is drastically different than even the best low light shots from the iPhone XS Max and it allows iPhone users to capture shots that just wouldn’t have turned out on the iPhone XS Max.
Night mode exposures range from 1 seconds to 10 seconds, based on the ambient lighting conditions, how still you hold your iPhone, and more, and the feature basically uses multiple combined shots to create one image so you need to make sure you’re holding the iPhone steady or using a tripod.
Shots taken this way aren’t great for moving objects like pets or kids, and Night mode photos aren’t always as crisp especially when it’s close to pitch black, but you can get some amazing looking images when using it.
As for the front-facing camera, it’s also been improved. There’s a 12-megapixel lens (up from 7-megapixels) and Apple is using next-generation Smart HDR (this is available for the rear camera too), so that “beauty filter” that people disliked in the iPhone XS Max has been toned down. In good lighting, though, there’s not a ton of difference between front-facing shots from the iPhone 11 Pro Max and the XS Max.
The front-facing camera supports 4K at 60 frames per second and slow motion 120fps video at 1080p, allowing for slow motion selfies, aka “Slofies.” The other major change to the front-facing camera is an option to get a wider shot, so you can zoom in or zoom out as desired, which is perfect for group selfies.
All in all, most iPhone XS Max users may not want to upgrade to the iPhone 11 Pro Max, but the exception is people who love taking photos with the iPhone. The cameras are dramatically improved with the ultra wide-angle lens and the new Night mode, letting users capture shots that were not possible with the previous-generation device.
For more on the differences between the iPhone 11 Pro Max and the iPhone XS Max, make sure to check out our comparison guide. We also have more info on the iPhone 11 Pro Max in our roundup, and we’ll have more iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro camera coverage and comparisons coming in the near future.