Comparing the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X - PF 093

PF 093: Comparing the iPhone 8, 8 Plus and X for Photographers

The tenth anniversary of the iPhone brings three new models, and we're comparing the iPhone 8, 8 Plus and X for photographers.

Here's What the iPhone Does Well for Photographers

The iPhone is an incredible boon for photographers. Not only does it give us a compact travel camera, it provides a platform to share your photos online and in person.

A Thousand Photos in Your Pocket

Think about it. If the iPod put a thousand songs in your pocket, the iPhone let you put a thousand photos (or more) in your pocket.

It doesn't matter if they're snapshots, family photos, precious memories or examples of your portfolio. The iPhone doesn't just take photos. It displays them on demand. It shares them with the world as long as you have a network connection.

The iPhone started a trend of promoting photography like no other device in the world, paving the way for other smart phones to continue the tradition Apple made possible.

The iPod put a 1000 songs in your pocket. The iPhone put a 1000 photos in your pocket.Click To Tweet

The Best Travel Camera Ever Invented

It doesn't matter if you travel a mile or around the world. The iPhone became the best travel camera ever created. Other phones had cameras, but they did little more than document subjects. The iPhone became a tool for the artists on the go. Again, it paved the way for the smart phones that followed, and the incredible rise of social media.

Thanks to Apple for putting a usable camera in a small form factor that could easily share online, there are now more photos taken annually than in the previous combined history of the world.

In 2000, Kodak announced that we took 80 billion photos. By 2015, we took a trillion photos and the numbers keep growing.

We have a propensity to create new photos. Some are for memories. Others for art. Thanks to Apple, photography is within the grasp of millions of people who never would've spent the money on a “real” camera.

In 2000, Kodak announced that we took 80 billion photos. By 2015, we took a trillion photos.Click To Tweet

The iPhone isn't Perfect

While Apple keeps enhancing the camera in the iPhone, there are still some things it just doesn't do as well as other cameras.

Reach and Resolution

Scott Diussa is a friend who works for Nikon Professional Services. I noticed something he posted on Facebook comparing the iPhone to the Nikon D850 that just came out – along with a 500mm lens.

Standing on the edge of a tarmac with fighter jets in the distance, he compared the reach of an iPhone with the D850. Yes, it's a bit of a joke, but it goes to show that we aren't planning on giving up the rest of our camera gear just because Apple brought out a new iPhone with an improved camera.

The iPhone shot showed some planes in the distance. Recognizable, but not distinguishable.

The D850 with a 500mm lens filled the frame with a jet. Then Scott took it a step further with a 100% crop showing the cockpit and very sharp lettering outside on the plane. With 46 megapixels, it was incredibly clear and impressive. Despite the advances in miniaturization and improvement in image quality, the iPhone camera just doesn't have that resolution or reach.

Some Photographers Fear the new iPhone Camera

Another post in a Facebook Group grabbed my attention. A photographer asked if we were worried about the new iPhone models. He'd seen a major magazine that shot its cover using an iPhone.

What that tells me is that a photographer can still get work no matter what tool he (or she) uses.

We routinely shoot images on our iPhones for marketing, social media and web graphics. It's nice to know that it can create a magazine cover under the right conditions. When you have good light, even a tiny camera and sensor can deliver great images.

Of course, it can also take a lot of crappy photos. It's the photographer who makes the difference, which is why we don't need to fear losing potential clients to an iPhone camera.

Examining the iPhone 8, 8 Plus and X for Photographers

Despite their outward differences, the cameras for the iPhone 8, 8 Plus and X have a lot more similarities than differences. Here's what they all have in common:

  • 12MP wide-angle and telephoto camera with ƒ/1.8 aperture
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Wide color capture for photos and Live Photos compared to previous versions
  • Quad-LED True Tone flash with Slow Sync
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Six?element lens
  • Quad-LED True Tone flash with Slow Sync
  • Panorama (up to 63MP)
  • Sapphire crystal lens cover
  • Backside illumination sensor
  • Hybrid IR filter
  • Autofocus with Focus Pixels
  • Tap to focus with Focus Pixels
  • Live Photos with stabilization
  • Wide color capture for photos and Live Photos
  • Improved local tone mapping
  • Body and face detection
  • Exposure control
  • Noise reduction
  • Auto HDR for photos
  • Auto image stabilization
  • Burst mode
  • Timer mode
  • Photo geotagging
  • Image formats captured: HEIF and JPEG

With that much in common, what's different when comparing the iPhone 8, 8 Plus and X for photographers?

The iPhone 8 Camera

The iPhone 8 camera is the only model with a single camera in the system. It's a wide-angle, 12 megapixel f/1.8 camera that does a pretty decent job of taking photos.

It doesn't do Portrait Mode or Portrait Lighting, like the iPhone 8 Plus or X. Those features require the dual-camera system.

Yet for most photos, a single camera still serves most of your needs.

Lee has an iPhone 7 Plus and I have an iPhone 6s Plus. You'd think we would see differences in the quality of our photos, but we really don't. More than once I asked Lee to take a photo with her iPhone, thinking the result would be better. When I compare it to my 6s Plus photo, they are pretty much the same.

Do you need to spend more money on a larger iPhone to get a better camera? Only if you want the Portrait Mode and Portrait Lighting features. Otherwise, we don't see much of a difference between our shots.

The iPhone 8 Plus Camera

The noticeable change here is the addition of another camera. In this case, it's a telephoto lens with an f/2.8 aperture. Why dual cameras?

The first reason is to provide optical zoom instead of digital zoom. The wide angle camera is roughly equivalent to a 28 mm lens. The telephoto (Apple's description) is roughly equivalent to a 56 mm lens. That prevents losing quality when you want to get a bit tighter on a shot.

The second reason is that it allows the iPhone a stereoscopic view of your subject. Working like a pair of eyes, it allows the iPhone to understand depth. That's the factor that allows the iPhone to generate a blurred background (or now a black background in Portrait Spotlight mode) for your subjects.

If those factors are important to you, reach for the iPhone 8 Plus. I did.

The iPhone X Camera

You would think the camera on the top end iPhone X would blow away the other models, but it isn't that much more sophisticated in comparison.

The telephoto lens on the iPhone X has an f/2.4 aperture to let in a little more light. That's a good thing, but you have to really want it to pay $200 more for it. To some people, it's worth it for about a third more light when wide open.

The other key difference is that the dual camera orientation is different. When you hold your iPhone, it seems like Apple arbitrarily positioned the cameras vertically to differentiate the iPhone X from previous models.

The real reason is for a better result when using Augmented Reality.

Then you hold your iPhone in landscape mode (as everyone should when taking photos), the cameras align horizontally. We're told that works better in landscape mode for augmented reality, so it should also help out landscape mode photographers.

What About Front-Facing Cameras?

What self-respecting photographer takes selfies, anyway? Oh, apparently plenty of them.

The front-facing camera on the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus is identical. You get a 7 megapixel camera capable of recording 1080P HD video and a True-Tone flash.

With the iPhone X, you get more bang for your buck.

Those features like Portrait Mode and Portrait Lighting also work on the front-facing camera. You also get the next embarrassment of technology – animojis.

My daughter will love this iPhone in a year or two. However, this wasn't a feature that concerned me, which is why I went with the iPhone 8 Plus.

New Photo File Formats in iOS 11

By default, iOS 11 no longer uses JPEG for photos. Instead, it uses the High Efficiency Image File Format (HEIF/HEIC) format created by the MPEG group.

Here's the good news. Your images now take less space and look better. HEIC isn't a proprietary Apple format. It comes from the same group that brought you MPEG video files. iOS can convert to JPEG for use with apps like Twitter or Facebook so you can keep on sharing photos from your phone, and MacOS High Sierra 10.3 can support and view these files.

On the other hand, Windows 10 does not yet support HEIC images. Neither do Adobe products. That will likely change in the future, but there is no current announcement from Microsoft or Adobe about support.

You can always export to JPEG when you share from iOS. The format saves about 50% space, so it's a nice step away from JPEG as an outdated standard. You just need to be aware that not everyone is taking this step at the same time.

You can convert from HEIC to JPEG with this converter, though.

Comparing iPhone 8, 8 Plus and X for Photographers

Apple does a good job of hyping it's products at these launches. I have a very simple view to help me decide when it's worth spending my money on a new iPhone.

I Like a Two Year Upgrade Cycle

This almost came by default with the carrier model of 24 month payments before you were eligible for an upgrade. A few years ago, new plans came out that let you get a new phone each year.

Those plans made me feel somewhat dubious. I never thought that the AT&T Next plan was a good value, so I stuck with the two year cycle that I started with after the iPhone 2. Buying a new phone every year can be expensive. I skipped the iPhone 3G and got on the “S” cycle.

Honestly, those models had the features I wanted more than the primary years.

While I expected an iPhone 7s this year, the iPhone 8 is still 2 years out. However, I'm giving myself the potential to change my mind.

The Apple Upgrade program still has a 24 month cycle, but you can switch to a new model the next year if you want. You still get on the hook for another 24 months after upgrading, though.

I Want Benefits, Not Features

If I don't see a benefit to upgrading, then there isn't a compelling reason to make the switch to a new iPhone. The features on the iPhone X don't really translate into a benefit for me.

I don't take selfies. Face ID is cute, but not compelling over Touch ID. Animojis make me want to vomit. Yes, the screen is better, but I think the iPhone 8 Plus suits me well enough. Having an edge to edge display is cute, but not worth $200 to get it.

Considering that many of the other features in the iPhone X exist in the iPhone 8 Plus at a lower price, it's a much better value for me. I could use more storage capacity and faster performance to use new iOS features. The iPhone 8 Plus does that for me where my iPhone 6s Plus has cracks in the screen. I decided it's time to move up again.

I think Portrait Mode and Portrait Lighting is a bit of a gimmick, but I'm willing to give them a try.

When you look at the iPhone 8, 8 Plus and X for photographers, I don't think it's extremely compelling unless you have something older (or smaller) than an iPhone 6s Plus.

Of course, your mileage may vary. Leave a comment and tell me what you think of the photography aspects of the 2017 iPhone lineup.

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