Apple has done it again: they’ve created new phones with significantly different features and some of the changes include new cameras and software cheats for “better” pictures. I’ve watched the Keynote and read the press releases, and here are my impressions of the new iPhone X and iPhone 8/8+.

First of All…

In the Keynote they said that these new camera phones will help you make better pictures, but I take issue with that statement. These new phones will provide better image quality than ever before from a super tiny camera that is really easy to carry around, but making better pictures is always up to you. Composition, perspective, and interesting subjects have nothing to do with the camera and the way you’ll make better pictures is to get out and practice making more pictures. iPhones have certainly helped millions of people make more pictures and that practice is good, but nothing about these phones will make you a better photographer–that’s up to you. On the other hand, they are also initiating group photo walks at their stores so you can practice making pictures with others, and that’s the biggest improvement to photography they’ve ever made.

Now for the technical stuff.

Portrait Mode & Portrait Lighting

Both iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X will have Portrait Mode, which was introduced last year on iPhone 7. This mode uses both the wide angle and moderate telephoto lenses. It uses the more flattering telephoto lens to make the picture of the subject, but it also utilizes the wide angle lens and software to apply a blur to the background. On iPhone 7 it works pretty well, but there are often areas of the photo that look a little hinky because the automatically generated mask on the background isn’t perfect. The new phones boast a big upgrade in computing power, so maybe this will be improved. The models in the example pictures all have smooth, well-coifed hair that is easily selected, though, so we don’t know how well it will make selections, yet.

The big new tool is Portrait Lighting. Not only can you have a blurry background, but you can now have a totally dark background and the phone will recognize the shape of your subject’s face and apply gentle highlight and shadows masking for different dramatic effects. The photos above are demonstrated on iPhone 8 Plus, and these are on iPhone X.

Please note that iPhone 8 will have neither of these modes–only 8 Plus and X.

In the keynote, they talked about how important lighting is in professional photographs and then introduced this tool. It’d be easy to feel like they’re under appreciating a professional’s skill in lighting, but I think instead that this will emphasize how good professional lighting actually looks. This tool doesn’t make light, it only adjusts brightness on the face in certain areas, and it’ll look good in certain circumstances, but not all the time and nothing like what you can do with even a simple 5-in-1 reflector. It’s a fun tool, but it’s not a lighting tool, and I think it’ll help make the contrast between well-made pictures and phone pictures even more apparent.

Retina HD and Super Retina Displays

I’m probably most excited for the new screens. I rarely share photos I make with my iPhone but I share photos on my iPhone daily. These new screens boast more color and finer resolution than ever before, and that should make your work look good when you share pictures with people by showing them your phone. I share portraits on my phone and iPad at networking meetings and usually get hired because of it. iPhone X’s new OLED screen covers the entire area of the front of the phone, and I have mixed feelings about this for sharing pictures. It’s nice that it’s bigger without making the phone too much larger, but I suspect the Photos app will try to fill the screen with the image every time, and that means it’ll show at 16:9, which will crop the top and bottom off of every picture. It won’t crop them permanently, but the initial view will probably not include the top and bottom of the frame. I guess we’ll all have to start cropping to 16:9 to show our pictures at their best.

iPhone X (which is read “iPhone Ten”) will have the new Super Retina display. The Retina HD on iPhone 8/8 Plus is 1920 x 1080 pixels (a.k.a. Full HD resolution), but iPhone X will be 2436 x 1125 pixels. That means you’ll be able to share those pictures on your device and zoom in to show more detail. Remember, you’ll need to export your photos at this much bigger resolution to get any benefit.

Camera Sensors

These phones get a new larger sensor, which is great news. It’s still 12 megapixels like the iPhone 7, but the larger sensor with deeper pixels should make the image quality much better. They are claiming better low light performance and faster autofocus in low light. I’ve certainly had problems with my phone focussing in low light, so this is a good improvement. I’m glad they didn’t increase the resolution, too. 12mp is more than enough.

Image Stabilization

Both iPhone 8 Plus and X will have stabilized lenses that compensate for your movement in slow shutter speed situations. This is good, but I bet it’s still not enough to compensate for the shake when people punch the shutter button on the screen to take a picture ;) Still, it should help with slow shutter speeds, and it’s remarkable to have it in such a small package.

Color

They haven’t elaborated, but they said these phones have a new color filter on the sensor. I’m not sure what it means, but the pictures they are showing certainly have terrific color rendition and gradients. Remember, these cameras are also capable of shooting RAW files, and I’m most excited to see what Lightroom Mobile’s camera and tools can do. It’s got full manual controls and should be pretty fun to use to make pictures.

Lenses

All three have a wide angle lens that is similar to a 28mm lens on a full frame camera, and they boast a fast f/1.8 aperture. Telephoto lenses on the 8 Plus and X are similar to a 56mm lens. The 8 Plus has a f/2.8 aperture, while the X has a slightly faster f/2.4 aperture. Remarkably, they have six lens elements jammed in those tiny lenses, and we all know that they can do a pretty good job. What we really need on these cameras is an anti-fingerprint filter.

Conclusion

The new iPhone 8, 8 Plus, and X feature improved sensors, low light performance, and color rendition. The screens will look better than ever, and if you go out and practice, it may even help you make better pictures. They are available for pre-order on September 15th and delivery will begin the 22nd, and you’ll find all kinds of accessories from B&H right here.

Click here to view the Keynote from 9/12. The talk about the cameras begins at 1:04:18.