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Photo Kit: Focusing on the iPhone 7 Plus camera


  • Tech News
  • Thursday, 27 Oct 2016

More fun with two: The iPhone 7 Plus' dual lens system gives you the ability to zoom in on your subject.— Photos: TAN KIT HOONG/The Star

More fun with two: The iPhone 7 Plus' dual lens system gives you the ability to zoom in on your subject.— Photos: TAN KIT HOONG/The Star

One of the things you hear people say a lot these days is that "the best camera is the one you have with you."

I tend to think the saying is overused, but it is true – any camera you have to capture the moment is better than nothing at all.

I recently had the opportunity to test out the new iPhone 7 Plus with its funky new dual lens camera – while Apple isn't the first to put in a dual camera into the back of its smartphones, the company's implementation is a little different, with one having an optically-stabilised 28mm f/1.8 lens while the second camera is a 56mm f/2.8 lens with no optical stabilisation.

Apple combines the two into a seamless experience in the Camera app and allows you to either switch between the wide-angle and the short telephoto lens directly or perform a smooth zoom that brings you from 1x all the way to 10x using software.

Anyway I was quite interested to try out the camera on a day-to-day basis to see just how it performs in a variety of situations.

The view from the 28mm lens (left) and the 56mm short telephoto (right). You can also zoom all the way to 10x using digital zoom.

Zooming

In use, the zoom feature works quite well – while you can tap and drag your finger to smoothly zoom from 1x to 2x and beyond, I generally just tapped on it to bring it from 1x immediately to 2x when taking photos.

While this isn't an extreme telephoto, the 56mm equivalent focal length actually makes it quite suitable for portraits of people – in fact, if you use Portrait mode (see below), the camera defaults to the 56mm focal length instead of the 28mm.

Oh yes, when you shoot videos, you can actually use the finger drag to produce a smooth zoom in your photos.

Portrait mode on the iPhone 7 Plus works best when shooting people. Seen here is a before and after shot. (Click for larger image)

Portrait mode

Just made available in iOS 10.1 that's just been released but only for iPhone 7 Plus users, Apple's Portrait mode attempts to reproduce the shallow depth of field effect that you see in DSLRs with wide aperture lenses.

Again, while this isn't new in a smartphone, as you can see in these photos, Apple's implementation is actually really good, with some very natural looking (and very smooth) blur or bokeh applied to the background.

So why would you want to blur the background, you ask? Well as you can see in some of these photos, isolating the subject matter by blurring out a busy background helps to focus your eye on what's important in the picture.

Apple uses the two lenses to build a 3D map of the scene and then tries to apply a natural-looking blur effect – you do have to make sure your subject matter is about 2.5metres away from the camera for it to work, otherwise the iPhone will tell you that it can't apply the effect until you move further or closer.

Portrait mode isn't perfect and does occasionally produce some weird edges on some images. Notice though, how the blur has isolated the subject from a busy background. (Click for larger image)
 

In most situations, it works really well, especially when shooting people.

It still isn't perfect though – the flower photo for example still has some rather dodgy-looking and unnatural edges, in my opinion.

Nevertheless, it's a good effort – the shallow depth of field effect on the iPhone 7 Plus is actually a lot more realistic than on many of the smartphones I've tried.

In bright light, the iPhone 7 Plus can capture a lot of fine detail as can be seen from this 100% crop of the image on the left. (Click for larger image)

Detail

In bright light, both the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus produce very, very good photos with loads of detail.

I generally found the new six-element lens produces images with very good corner-to-corner sharpness in very bright light.

In low-light situations, images are much better exposed than on previous iPhones, thanks to the f1.8 aperture which is letting in a lot more light than before.

Of course, images shot in low-light still can't compete with DSLRs with much bigger sensors which capture more total light, but the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus produce perfectly acceptable images

Saving the image in Adobe DNG RAW format, I was able to recover some detail in the bright areas and adjust the colour and reduce noise to make a photo with more pop compared with the default JPEG on the left (Click for larger image)

RAW format support

I've saved the best of the new features for last – if you've got iOS 10 and any of the newer iPhones from the iPhone 6s and up, Apple now allows for RAW format image capture.

If you're a photographer, you'll already know that RAW is the digital negative that captures all the information that the image sensor receives as opposed to JPEG format, which throws out most of the information you can't see in favour of smaller files.

The catch though, is that Apple's Camera app does not support RAW image capture and you'll have to download a third party camera app like Adobe Lightroom Mobile or ProCam 4 to be able to shoot and save in RAW format.

These apps will allow you to shoot in Adobe's DNG RAW file format and edit these photos right in the app or using the desktop PC versions of Adobe Photoshop CC  or Lightroom CC.

So what's so great about shooting in RAW? Well it allows you to recover detail in bright overexposed areas or darker, underexposed areas in addition to a lot more control over colour and detail post capture.

Tan Kit Hoong (tankh@thestar.com.my) is a journalist who's been an enthusiastic photographer longer than he's been reporting tech news and this monthly column allows him to ramble on about cameras and photography.

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