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One could say that the iPhone camera has many issues…

Apple uses small sensors; doesn’t give you a pro mode for better control over your images; the iPhone can sometimes make people look orange (or blue); the ultra-wide and zoom cameras aren’t as good as the primary one, and so on and so forth…

However, all of that aside, the beef I have with the iPhone camera is a bit more specific, or rather more “technical” but at the same time simply related to “how good a photo looks”, if I may say…

The way I see it is that what’s “wrong” with the iPhone camera goes all the way back to the very reason you decide to snap a photo. Then, it ends with, well… the end result, which, more often than not, doesn’t match the initial depiction of what you were looking at / the very reason you decided this was a moment worth capturing, storing, and celebrating.

If none of this makes sense now, I’ll get (way) more specific when we look at the photo samples I took (and then edited)! So, what are the “real” issues with the iPhone camera, and how can you solve them within seconds by hitting the edit button in your Photos app?

Here’s my take…

The real issues with the iPhone 13, iPhone 14 camera relate to Apple’s general philosophy on photography

As I hinted, the real problem with the iPhone camera (at least in my view) ultimately is the fact that Apple doesn’t let us take greater control over our photos (before snapping them)!

Instead, as an iPhone 13 mini and iPhone 14 Pro user (all photos you’re about to see are taken with the iPhone 13 mini, which I prefer carrying around), I get whatever comes with Apple’s understanding of a “good photo”, and I have to… deal with it.

  • iPhone photos are often too bright, which leads to a washed-out look and, therefore, false depiction of the scene – this is in no way exclusive to night photos (in fact, rather the opposite), but it’s way easier to spot when taking Night Mode images

  • Aggressive HDR can make iPhone photos look extremely flat and lifeless, lacking any “drama”, which “real” cameras often give us; technically, this is due to the fact that the iPhone wants to bring highlight (bright parts of the image) and shadows (the darker parts of the photo) closer together, instead of trying to separate them in an authentic fashion

  • Related to the last point and on the opposite end of the spectrum, the iPhone’s HDR often fails to stack images properly, which can lead to overblown highlights that are next to impossible to recover

  • Oversharpening – perhaps the easiest-to-grasp problem with the iPhone camera has existed for 2-3 generations now; unless you’re shooting in RAW/48MP mode (if you have that luxury), trees, branches, and buildings (or anything with well-defined texture) is bound to look way sharper than it’s supposed to

Take “real” photos with your iPhone 12, iPhone 13, iPhone 14! It takes 30 seconds of editing; I snapped hundreds of photos to make sure

How to take DSLR-like photos with your iPhone? It’s easy! Snap the photo and try fiddling with the settings after you hit the edit button in the Photos app. What usually makes my photos look way more realistic and “real” is:

  • Dial back Brilliance by some 30-60% (strongly recommend)
  • Dial down Brightness by some 20-40% (strongly recommend)
  • Reduce Noise by some 15-25% (recommended for photos with a lot of textures, which might look over-sharpened)
  • Add Vignette for a stylistic look (recommended for a more authentic “camera” look and where you need to bring back the “drama” in the scene)

I took hundreds of photos and edited them to look… better and more authentic (original photos on the left, edited on the right)

Apple, please give us a more authentic shooting mode; let us turn off HDR, and maybe change the lens supplier for iPhone 15

As you can see, the iPhone photo traits are as promised – high brightness, added sharpness, and inconsistent HDR. And as mentioned in the beginning, this usually leads to “lifeless” photos, which don’t just look different from reality but also often look… worse.

Just like the editing suggestions I gave towards the beginning, it was very rare that I had to add any vibrance to the iPhone’s photos. In 95% of the cases, I simply reduced the brightness and brilliance of the photos, which automatically helped restore some of the color of the photos. What’s interesting is that there is, in fact, a smartphone on the market right now that takes photos pretty much the way I like them or the way I think the iPhone should also do it, and this phone is the Xiaomi 13 Pro (also, the Xiaomi 12S Ultra which offers an identical experience). This isn’t a Xiaomi 13 Pro story, so I won’t be talking too much about it, but the Leica Authentic Mode within the camera app of this device is what separates it from the rest of the pack (Pixel 7, Galaxy S22, iPhone 14).

What Xiaomi is currently doing is exactly what I imagine the future of the smartphone camera to be – give users a few options for photo styles – which are very different from filters in that they aren’t laid out on top of your photo but are the photo you take.

New iPhone 15 camera rumors and Photographic Styles – the right direction

But wait, doesn’t the iPhone have… Photographic Styles?

Yes, it does, and yes, they do help! However, they are far from making photos look natural. For instance, photographic styles don’t allow you to tweak highlights and shadows individually or reduce the artificial sharpening of photos.

Anyway, the rumors for iPhone 15 say that Apple is about to switch to using newer/better Sony sensors that allow for improved HDR – something that current iPhones can often get wrong…

Better hardware and Photographic Styles are certainly the right direction, but I think Apple should double down and make Photographic Styles the centerpiece of the new-gen iPhone camera, similar to what Xiaomi, OnePlus, Oppo, and Vivo are doing with their Leica, Zeiss, and Hasselblad partnerships.

Giving people the option to take vivid or more natural/authentic photos could take the iPhone camera from really good to outstanding… for more people. Do you agree? And will you use some of the editing tricks I showed off here for your own photos? Let me know!

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