Every new iPhone poses the same question: Are the improvements awesome enough to warrant an upgrade? Well, there are tons of reasons to upgrade, but for this article we’re just comparing cameras. Specifically, I put the iPhone 8 Plus against last year’s model, the 7 Plus, to see how much Apple has improved its camera game.
A quick glance at specs doesn’t reveal too much. Both cameras still rock dual 12-megapixel setups, with the normal lens at an aperture of f/1.8, and telephoto lens at f/2.8. Unfortunately, only the normal lens has optical image stabilization (OIS), even though stabilization would be even more useful on the telephoto lens, as its more sensitive to camera shakes.
Nonetheless, the 8 Plus does upgrade its Sony sensor, which has so-called “deeper” pixels, and is more power efficient. But, for the most part, the raw specs look the same. So, let’s cut straight to the chase and check out how the photos look in side by side comparisons.
For these tests, we worked with the lovely model Valeria, and did our best to put the two smartphone cameras in tough lighting situations. Afterward, I brought the photos into Adobe Lightroom, and what I found in the iPhone 8 Plus is pretty damn impressive.
Right off the bat, we see big improvements in color balance. I’ve always been critical of Apple for inaccurate white balance, but the 8 Plus finally gets it right. Check out the image below: Skin tones look so much better on the 8 Plus, even in low light. Apple boasted about having a new color filter inside the lenses, but I think some of the better color reproduction comes down to more accurate processing on the software side.
Speaking of low light, the iPhone 8 Plus performs much better than the 7 Plus when the lights go dim. Check it out: We went into one of the darkest parts of the basement and the results are obvious. I still wouldn’t recommend shooting photos in such a dark environment, but if you need to shoot in low light, then know you’ll get better results from the 8 Plus.
In almost every single photo, the iPhone 8 Plus was noticeably sharper than the 7 Plus. This is due to sharper lenses and the new Apple-designed image signal processor. Most people don’t pixel peep the way I do in the following sets of photos, but I still think the results show the 8 Plus’s superior clarity, even fully zoomed out.
For all its superior performance, I did come across one interesting quirk on the 8 Plus: In some situations it tends to expose brighter than the 7 Plus. And it only seemed to happen while shooting in Portrait Mode. Right out of the pocket, it’s a punchier photo, and technically Valeria’s face is exposed properly. But in some ways I’d rather have the darker photo in order to have more dynamic range to play with in post. So It’s really up to you if you think the 8 Plus holds an advantage.
When it comes to Portrait Mode, the iPhone 8 does have a feature that Apple didn’t bring to the 7 Plus—it’s called Portrait Lighting. It’s still in beta, but the idea is simple: Apple uses the depth and facial recognition data in the photo to selectively alter the image to recreate a studio lighting effect.
It sounds exciting on paper, but Portrait Lighting delivers half-baked results in practice. In fact, of all the Portrait Lighting modes I tested, I only found one that made sense, and only in certain situations like heavy backlighting. I like the idea of where Apple is going, but as of right now, Portrait Lighting is mostly worthless.
But don’t get too worked up about Portrait Lighting, because the basic Portrait Mode (now called “Natural Light”) is still super fun to play with. I mean just look at the photos below. Even though the 8 Plus struggles with definition around hair—just like the 7 Plus—I’m still surprised every time it takes an awesome shot. Is the bokeh any better on the 8 Plus? I couldn’t really see too many major differences. But you get all the same benefits of the improved sensor, so I’d call the new Portrait Mode a step up from the 7 Plus.
Overall, the iPhone 8 Plus is a huge step up from the 7 Plus. Indeed, after looking a bit stagnate for the past few years, Apple has really swung for the fences with its new photography package. I’d never switch over to iOS from Android, but I am definitely envious of this camera.