Many aspects of the iPhone 7 Plus were criticized upon release for being a bit too similar to the year-old iPhone 6S Plus, but the rear-facing camera system was not one of them. In fact, the iPhone 7 Plus’ new, dual-camera design has received almost universal praise from iPhone users, photography enthusiasts, and leading publications that review digital cameras being used by consumers and professionals.
The camera system found on the iPhone 7 Plus does things quite a bit differently than almost every other smartphone camera currently on the market, so it’s worth reviewing exactly what these differences are, and how they work, before upgrading to the iPhone 7 Plus or switching from a competing Android or Windows phone model with a lesser camera.
Dual-Camera Design: Not an Apple First, But an Apple “Best”
One of the most common misconceptions among iPhone users is that Apple was the first to market with a dual-camera setup on the rear of its flagship iPhone 7 Plus model. This just isn’t true. Several brands, including LG and Xiaomi, have released smartphones with a dual-camera design in just the past year. Neither of those brands, however, has managed to leverage the cameras in a way that truly increases photo quality and gives professional-grade tools to end users. Apple has, and that’s why the company’s two-camera design is easily the best on the market for both casual users and digital photography enthusiasts.
Key to Apple’s new camera system is the size and design of each lens housed in the iPhone 7 Plus shell. The primary camera is virtually identical to the lens found on the smaller iPhone 7 and the previous-generation iPhone 6S Plus. It comes with a 28mm equivalent lens that supports digital zoom and an F1.8 aperture. On its own, this is an impressive camera that can easily compete with the best Android shooters on the market. The addition of a second lens, however, changes everything.
The second camera is a larger, 56mm equivalent lens with a faster aperture than the primary camera lens mentioned earlier. The role of this camera, which uses a wide-angle lens, is to supplement the first lens with features like digital zoom. To date, smartphone cameras have simply been unable to leverage the power of digital zoom when shooting portraits or natural shots. Instead, they’ve used digital zoom to crop the photo and then zoom into a specific area of that picture. The loss of quality is noticeable and regrettable.
Portrait Mode: Enhancing Nature Shots and Close-Ups in a Big Way
One of the biggest features to hit smartphone cameras in recent years has been face detection, which works both while taking the photo and in post-processing apps like Apple’s Photos application in iOS. Face detection has been taken to an entirely new level with the iPhone 7 Plus camera system, however. The new camera setup can actually judge its proximity to an object, such as a face or a flower, and then digitally blur the background like a standard portrait shot.
Essentially, the new Portrait Mode feature of the iPhone 7 Plus camera system post-processes a shot in advance, adding an effect that was previously only available in apps like Adobe Photoshop Mobile or Snapseed. The Portrait Mode feature, though not enabled at launch, was enabled by Apple with a software update a few weeks after the iPhone 7 Plus hit store shelves.
Low Light Conditions: A Game Changer for Phone Photography
It’s incredible to think how far “camera phones” have come since their introduction in the early 2000s. Early camera phones could hardly to a VGA-resolution mobile photo, had no flash, and were too low-quality to be edited in post-processing apps or shared online. The iPhone 7 Plus shows just how far smartphone photography has come in the past decade in a key way: Making low-light photos good enough to share with friends, family, and the Internet at large.
In low light, the dual-camera system switches from being a Portrait Mode tool to an innovative shooter. The two lenses work together to offset the problems that most smartphones experience in low light. First, the two cameras are alternated when taking a picture, with each lens taking in as much light as possible without blurring the final product. The inclusion of optical zoom also helps to stabilize the image and provide for a longer exposure, which lets in more light and allows for deeper blacks, more saturated colors, and far less grain. Apple has also increased the sensitivity of the main camera’s sensor, which makes for softer and brighter photos in low-light scenarios.
A Vastly Improved Camera for the iPhone 7 Plus
Apple has long been a proponent of ditching the point-and-shoot camera in favor of its iPhones, and this year might just be the year that point-and-shoot cameras fall by the wayside. The iPhone 7 Plus camera features top-notch performance in low light, optical zoom for better photo quality from a distance, and a portrait mode that rivals DSLR cameras. The dual-camera setup employed by Apple far exceeds the way such systems have been used by competitors, making this phone a truly great fit for shutterbugs everywhere.