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10 Shooting Scenarios With The iPhone XS - How Does The Camera Perform?

We dive straight in to shooting with the smartphone. Read on to see how we got on using the iPhone XS for a range of different, but common, shooting scenarios.

|  Apple iPhone Xs in Camera Phones
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Iphone Xs Product Shot 01


Announced in September, the iPhone XS (pronounced Ten - Ess, apparently), is a follow up to last year’s iPhone X.

It perhaps represents an incremental upgrade rather than a huge overhaul from its predecessor, but never-the-less it has some interesting camera specifications - some of which are new.

Recently, it has been awarded a very high score by independent analysts DxO Mark, placing it in second place behind the much lauded Huawei P20 Pro. While we are still waiting for the results of some of the other newly announced phones, such as the Google Pixel 3 and the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, there’s no doubt that the iPhone XS is one of the best phones currently available if you’re interested in the photography aspect of a device.

New features for the iPhone XS (in terms of the camera at least), include the use of larger and deeper pixels, the ability to adjust blur after you’ve taken the shot in Portrait mode, and a new processor which promises to improve dynamic range and the quality of image blur. Other improvements which aren’t directly related to the camera, but may be of interest to photographers include a better battery life and the option to purchase a 512GB model for the most storage possible.

Rather than going extensively over the smartphone features, which you can read in the news announcement, we’re going to dive straight into shooting with the smartphone. Read on to see how we got on using the iPhone XS for a range of different, but common, shooting scenarios.


1. Shooting a portrait with the iPhone XS

Portrait1 | 1/1199 sec | f/2.4 | 6.0 mm | ISO 16
Portrait | 1/1199 sec | f/2.4 | 6.0 mm | ISO 16


The iPhone XS has a “Portrait” mode to produce a shallow depth-of-field effect. It’s something that was also found in the iPhone X, but a new feature for this phone is the ability to adjust the amount of blur, or the point of focus after you’ve taken the shot. You get very little control over settings when you’re taking the shot in the first place, but there are different “Lighting” options to choose from, including Natural Light and Stage Light. Again, after you’ve taken the shot you can remove or alter the lighting option if you find it didn’t work quite so well.


Portrait2 | 1/1089 sec | f/2.4 | 6.0 mm | ISO 16
Portrait | 1/1089 sec | f/2.4 | 6.0 mm | ISO 16


As the iPhone XS makes use of both its sensors/lenses to create the Portrait, you’ll notice that you see a zoomed in view of the subject. This makes it less useful if you want to shoot at a fairly wide angle, but it makes sense for a portrait subject. Seen at small sizes, such as for social media, or even relatively small prints, the bokeh effect is fairly impressive and convincing. If you zoom in, it’s possible to see some strange artefacts which reveal that this is an effect, rather than something a “proper” camera would create - here’s where a DSLR or mirrorless camera would produce something much more naturalistic.

Overall, the image is pleasing, with good skin tones and colour reproduction.



2. Shooting a “Selfie” with the iPhone XS

Selfie1 | 1/121 sec | f/2.2 | 2.9 mm | ISO 32
Selfie | 1/121 sec | f/2.2 | 2.9 mm | ISO 32


Just as in Portrait mode, you can create a shallow depth of field when using the front-facing selfie camera. The big difference here is that there’s just one camera on the front of the iPhone XS. It’s a “True Depth” camera which means that it creates a 3D map of your face - the same technology is used to unlock the phone and make payments via Apple Pay. If you prefer, you can choose to shoot without the shallow depth of field effect turned on too, which is useful for showing off whatever it is in the background of your shot - say a famous landmark or possibly a celebrity.


Selfie2 | 1/121 sec | f/2.2 | 2.9 mm | ISO 32
Selfie | 1/121 sec | f/2.2 | 2.9 mm | ISO 32


The results are fairly natural no matter which option you choose. Again, there’s very little in the way of settings or manual controls for the front-facing camera, aside from the same “Lighting” options you get on the rear camera in Portrait mode. Some have complained that the front facing camera applies a heavy “smoothing” type effect, but it seems to have rendered our selfie fairly accurately - you can still see plenty of wrinkles (unfortunately).


3. Shooting in low light with the iPhone XS

Lowlight | 1/25 sec | f/1.8 | 4.2 mm | ISO 800
Lowlight | 1/25 sec | f/1.8 | 4.2 mm | ISO 800


Compared with the iPhone X, the XS uses what Apple says are “deeper and larger” pixels. In theory, this should make it better at collecting light in scenarios where there might not be much.

Here we shot a low-light scene in a darkened corner of a church. The iPhone XS has a wide-angle lens with a fixed aperture of f/1.8. There’s no way to adjust ISO manually through the native camera app, but for this shot, the phone has chosen to shoot at ISO 800.

While the front of the image shows a good level of detail, towards the back you can see a lot more smudginess and loss of detail, especially if you zoom in to examine closely. There’s also some noise apparent, particularly again if you look closely. A shot like this would work fairly well on social media sites or printed small, though.


Lowlight2 | 1/14 sec | f/1.8 | 4.2 mm | ISO 1600
Lowlight | 1/14 sec | f/1.8 | 4.2 mm | ISO 1600


In the second example, the iPhone XS has upped the ISO to 1600. The overall impression of detail is fine when viewed at small sizes, but you can see there is a significant amount of detail missing from the fine mesh areas of the fabric, for example.

As there’s no option to adjust settings manually with the iPhone XS (through the native camera app), you can’t use a slower shutter speed to let more light in. Other phones on the market, such as the Huawei Mate 20 Pro and Huawei P20 Pro also have a “Night Mode” which combine together several shorter exposures to create more impressive low light shots.


4. Shooting a pet with the iPhone XS

Pet1 | 1/122 sec | f/2.4 | 6.0 mm | ISO 50
Pet | 1/122 sec | f/2.4 | 6.0 mm | ISO 50


Pets are probably the most photographed subjects by any smartphone, so naturally, we wanted to see how the iPhone XS got on. You have a couple of options when shooting your pets, the first being the standard Photo mode, and the second utilising the Portrait mode to create a shallow depth of field effect.

The Portrait mode version of this dog shot has rendered her extremely well - with very detailed foreground detail and natural looking bokeh. It’s done a very good job with the outline of the dog’s ears to produce a good fall off in focus - and while it’s possible to see some strange artefacts at 100%, for sharing on Instagram and the like it’s more than acceptable.


Pet2 | 1/122 sec | f/1.8 | 4.2 mm | ISO 40
Pet | 1/122 sec | f/1.8 | 4.2 mm | ISO 40


One of the downsides of using this mode, however, is that you will need to be a fair distance away from your pet to get the whole body into the frame. Alternatively, you can use the Standard photo mode, as shown here. Unlike with other phones, such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 or the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, the iPhone XS doesn’t noticeably alter settings depending on the subject you’re shooting. The result is natural and detailed enough, though.


5. Shooting a landscape with the iPhone XS

Landscape | 1/1916 sec | f/1.8 | 4.2 mm | ISO 25
Landscape | 1/1916 sec | f/1.8 | 4.2 mm | ISO 25


Another popular subject is likely to be landscapes, for those who want to take pictures while on holidays and day trips.

Compared with the iPhone X, Apple seems to have toned down the colour saturation for the XS. That along with a slightly improved dynamic range means that results are much more natural and muted, with landscape shots that show realistic colours which are still vibrant enough to be pleasing.


Landscape2 | 1/2611 sec | f/1.8 | 4.2 mm | ISO 25
Landscape | 1/2611 sec | f/1.8 | 4.2 mm | ISO 25


If you were to compare a shot from the iPhone XS with a similar shot from the Huawei P20 Pro or the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 - especially with artificial intelligence enabled, you’d see that the latter two phones create something much more deeply saturated. The look may be popular on Instagram, but it’s seen as over the top and unnatural by many.

It’s better to shoot with more muted tones that you can ramp up with filters, in our opinion, which is something the iPhone XS does well - it’s a great choice for landscapes.


6. Shooting a close-up with the iPhone XS

Closeup1 A | 1/120 sec | f/1.8 | 4.2 mm | ISO 32
Closeup | 1/120 sec | f/1.8 | 4.2 mm | ISO 32


Traditionally smartphones tend to struggle with close-up photography. In this shot, we can see that the iPhone XS has managed to capture some very fine detail, but it struggled to focus on the large shell in the picture, even when the focus point directly over it was tapped.

With very close-up subjects, occasionally the iPhone XS will display a confirmation of focus even when it’s clearly out of focus - so it’s worth paying special attention to make sure the camera has accurately focused, refocusing if necessary.


7. Creating shallow depth of field effects with the iPhone XS

ShallowDoF | 1/60 sec | f/2.4 | 6.0 mm | ISO 250
Shallow DoF | 1/60 sec | f/2.4 | 6.0 mm | ISO 250


Unlike many of the other smartphones on the market, the iPhone XS doesn’t have an “aperture” or “shallow depth of field” mode. Instead, you can shoot such shots using the Portrait mode.

It’s fair to say that shallow depth of field effects are a little mixed - and it’s perhaps for this reason that Apple called the mode “Portrait”, as it tends to work best with human or animal subjects which are clearly defined.


ShallowDoF2 | 1/122 sec | f/2.4 | 6.0 mm | ISO 20
Shallow DoF | 1/122 sec | f/2.4 | 6.0 mm | ISO 20


If you’re shooting something a little a more complex - for example here with our berries shot - the iPhone XS can struggle to know what’s supposed to be in focus, and what isn’t, resulting in a rather messy affair. Still, this is a problem which is common to many other smartphones and is something you can mitigate for by only shooting clearly defined subjects, or tapping around on the screen to try and get the right thing in focus.


8. Shooting a panorama with the iPhone XS

Panorama | 1/4464 sec | f/1.8 | 4.2 mm | ISO 25
Panorama | 1/4464 sec | f/1.8 | 4.2 mm | ISO 25


The iPhone XS has a dedicated panorama mode. It’s very easy to use - you simply sweep the phone across the scene and the phone will do the rest for you.

You’ll be warned if you’re going too fast, while you should try and keep the phone level with the line that appears on the screen.

I deliberately chose a fairly complex landscape to challenge the iPhone XS, but the stitching it has created is very good - you’ll be really hard pushed to find the joins, even when zooming in fairly closely. This makes it a great option for capturing ultra wide-angle shots, perhaps when you’re on holiday or in picturesque locations.


9. Shooting with the iPhone XS zoom lens

Widelens | 1/1205 sec | f/1.8 | 4.2 mm | ISO 25
Wide lens | 1/1205 sec | f/1.8 | 4.2 mm | ISO 25


Like many smartphones currently on the market, the iPhone XS has both a wide-angle lens and a telephoto option. The wide-angle lens has a 35mm equivalent shooting length of 26mm, making it ideal for landscapes and so on. However, if you want to get a bit closer to the action, shooting with the 2x lens (52mm equivalent) is a good option.


Telephotolens | 1/545 sec | f/2.4 | 6.0 mm | ISO 16
Telephoto lens | 1/545 sec | f/2.4 | 6.0 mm | ISO 16


52mm is close to a classic “nifty fifty” type focal length and is also a useful focal length for portraits and the like. The Huawei P20 Pro and Mate 20 Pro use a 3x lens, which can be less flexible or useful, depending on the scenario.

While the wide-angle iPhone XS lens has an aperture of f/1.8, the telephoto lens has an aperture of f/2.4. With fairly small sensors that won’t make much difference to shallow depth of field effects, but with less lighting hitting that secondary sensor, low-light shooting is far less impressive.

Both lenses offer Dual OIS (optical image stabilisation), which is something that the Huawei P20 Pro lacks, so getting sharp handheld shots with either option is very easy - while video from either lens looks smooth.


Digitalzoom | 1/841 sec | f/2.4 | 6.0 mm | ISO 16
Digital Zoom | 1/841 sec | f/2.4 | 6.0 mm | ISO 16


If you need to get even closer to your subject, there’s the option to engage a digital zoom by pinching on the screen. While this is useful, it’s essentially creating a crop and therefore leaves you with much less detail. It’s less impressive than the 5x “Hybrid” zoom of the Huawei Mate 20 Pro and P20 Pro phones, too.


10. Shooting video with the iPhone XS


The iPhone XS has a range of impressive video features, making it a good choice for those who place high importance on movie functionality. It can shoot at 4K at up to 60fps, while also offering other resolutions and frame rates. Optical image stabilisation is promised for video, no matter which lens you decide to shoot with. There’s also other functionality, such as slow-mo video up to 240fps (at 1080p), and the option to create time-lapse videos.

When shooting handheld, videos display a good level of smoothness with no sudden jerky movements, no matter which frame rate or resolution you decide to shoot in. Switching between video modes can be a bit of a faff though, requiring you to delve into the iPhone’s main menu to make the change, rather than doing it directly in the camera app. You can watch additional sample videos on the ePHOTOzine YouTube Channel.


iPhone XS Verdict

Iphone Xs Product Shot 06


The iPhone XS is a very impressive performer across a number of different shooting scenarios, producing images which have a great dynamic range and excellent detail. Shooting in low light is pretty good, if not quite up to the fantastic capabilities of the Huawei P20 Pro and Mate 20 Pro.

Perhaps the biggest downside to using the iPhone XS is the lack of control afforded to the photographer. The native camera app is extremely simple - which could be seen as a positive for non-photographers - but we’d love to see the introduction of a “Pro” mode for those who wish to take things a step further. The ability to shoot in raw format via the native app would also be welcomed.

Another big drawback is cost - compared to other premium smartphones, the iPhone XS commands an extremely high asking price. With a minimum price of £999 for the 64GB version, if you’re a photographer who shoots a lot, you’ll probably want to opt for at least the 256GB version, costing even more (£1249).

Overall, if you’re a fan of iPhones or the iOS operating system, the iPhone XS is the obvious choice if you want the best that you can get. If you’re on a tighter budget, but still want a brand new phone, consider the iPhone XR, or perhaps look out for a second hand iPhone X model. If however, you’re not brand loyal, other phones offer much better value for money.

Have a look at our 'best budget-friendly' smartphone recommendations or, if you have more money to spend, we've counted down our 'top camera phones for photography'.

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Photographs taken using the Apple iPhone Xs

The River Tyne GodTyne Valley Autumnal SunsetHindley HallAutumn leavesAutumn at BelsayAutumnEdinburghSetting sun on the TyneAmanita muscaria aka fly agaricJedburghRainbowCarlisle CathedralHexham AbbeyArchesCarlisle Cathedral

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28 Oct 2018 4:38PM
250 for a storage increase of 128GB? Even the fastest, most accommodating micro SD cards of that capacity only cost 39. Think I'll opt for a phone that lets me swap cards at will, thank you.

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