The Future of Imaging is NOW. The iPhone 11 Pro Max. A camera with a built in Phone!

The Future of Imaging is NOW. The iPhone 11 Pro Max. A camera with a built in Phone! 

By Steve Huff

This is a first look, first thoughts on the new iPhone 11 Pro Max. Will have a follow up with tons of images after I get to use this for a while ; ) 


I remember buying the very 1st iPhone when it was released. I waited in line for HOURS to be one of the first to get the new phone. Back then it was amazing what that first gen phone did as it was the first of its kind and blew all of our minds right out of the gate. I knew then and there that one day, this device would truly be a wonder that would do more than we could imagine. Even so, I had no idea it would be a device that does everything it does today. Today’s smart phones, whether you are an Android user or Apple user are incredible. The interface, the ease of use, the way we connect with them. They have literally changed the world and the way we live. Not always for the better though IMO.

The 11 pro comes in four colors and the new Green seems to be the hottest seller so far (It’s also what I chose)

But what about using a phone, let’s say the iPhone 11 Pro Max (which I will be talking about in this post) as a main everyday camera? Hahahahah, yea right! But no, seriously… we are getting there slowly but surely and the new 11 Pro Max is a beautiful camera that happens to have a pretty nifty phone built-in ; )

This was shot with the front facing camera, in portrait mode. It was captured instantly and provides a beautiful result. Sure, pros who earn a living with their camera could never switch to a phone but everyone else? I see it happening, and sooner than we may have thought. If the cameras in these phones keep improving at this rate, it will be all the average hobbyist or enthusiast needs to take gorgeous photos. In all honesty, it’s what I will be shooting with day-to-day as I leave the camera at home, only to be taken out when I shoot concerts in low light. But in five years I think the phone cameras will be something we never thought they could be. 

Fake (but actually quite nice sometimes) depth of field effects, easy panoramas, easy slow motion video, easy selfies, easy 4K 60 video…easy everything. That is what todays phones offer us, and being a guy who has owned every single version of the iPhone ever created, I can say with confidence that the 11 Pro is the 1st one that inspired me to start using it for my every day photos, at least for now (maybe the fun factor will wear off, who knows). While I own a Leica SL and a Sony A7III they are not needed for my day-to-day shooting anymore, unless I am making a large print (of which I rarely do). They used to be, but these days this phone is more than good enough, especially for what I use most of my personal images for (online).

A few shots in my backyard. This was when I first arrived home with the phone and was testing out the various lenses and modes. You can click these for larger, and a couple of these have 100% crops. That fake shallow DOF is starting to look better and better. 

Over the years the Apple iPhones have slowly but surely been improving in the camera department. While many raved about the 6, I thought it was average. When everyone told me the last X was “the best phone camera”, I was let down when I bought mine and tried it. Sure, it was good for the average selfie or moment but it could not even begin compete with my real cameras for that rich photo quality I was used to. When I heard the new 11 Pro was considered by some to be the best smart phone camera (for photo and video) ever, I was skeptical. The Google Pixel 3 may be better IMO, but I am an Apple guy, hence the iPhone 11 Pro.

First image is from the iPhone 11 pro Max (portrait mode), second from a Sony A7III and 21 1.4 Lens ($3300 combo). The Sony combo delivers a nicer image but it should, as it’s a full frame 35mm camera priced at $2000. Click them for larger! Notice the phone image with its fake bokeh almost looks etched around the subject. 

Me being me, I upgraded from my 10 to the 11 Pro. I mean, I use the apple trade in program so every year I can swap to the new model, and my payment pretty much remains the same. It’s like a never-ending lease of sorts. This 11 Pro Max is the first one I am conspiring just paying off and keeping for the next three years. I figure by then, cameras will take a huge leap and until then I can use this 11 Pro Max as the camera is so good as is.

A few more with the iPhone 11 Pro Max around my home…my 1st tests. Click these for larger and better!

From the first shot using the new camera I was very impressed, as it’s really good for a phone camera. When I saw how good the front facing camera was, I was even more impressed. With three lenses and three focal length options, the new iPhone finally gives us an ultra wide option, and a fantastic portrait option. The new low light night mode is also impressive though not as impressive as my Leica SL with a Noctilux or Noct Nikkor lens ; )

Taken in the DARK. The only light was the light in the background and the LED’s on the device. In the room it was pretty dark. Right out of camera from the iPhone 11 pro. Yes, that’s some fake Depth of Field and Bokeh!

As a phone, it feels almost exactly like the last model with a little speed boost. This release is all about the camera improvements and of course the new deep green color of the phone, which is beautiful and is the color I chose. This is a camera that is instant, quick, a camera that you always have with you. You will ALWAYS have this in your pocket and therefore you will always have the ability to take an image, and never miss a shot.

Wide Angle Goodness. 

It’s nearing 2020 and the future I talked about years ago on these pages, about phone cameras…well it is sort of here NOW..sort of. Phones have a long way to go to match any kind of big sensor camera but in the right hands it can create works of art. I have seen some mighty impressive shots from this iPhone 11 pro. I just received mine so will have an update in a few weeks with tons of images. For now, this is a first look.

This phone has all the tricks up its sleeve and also allows us to shoot video from 720 to 4k 60 and the image stabilization is also very effective when shooting video. If you have not seen the video samples from Apple, have at it. 

While the camera has improved greatly for a phone, when using the standard camera it still has that small sensor look. So while these phones can no compete with larger sensor real dedicated cameras, they can still capture moments with ease. 

Yes, it delivers a fake shallow depth of field, but that is ok as all that matters is how it looks, and Apple has come a long way since they first launched this mode. While not perfect I expect them to get better in this area in the next few models over the next few years.

The iPhone 11 pro also almost always guarantees a nice looking image due to the way it works and processes the photos you take. This means it is doing some inside work, making your image look as good as it can internally with color, sharpness and detail. The final result is one that doesn’t need much tweaking, if any. But if you want to tweak it, you have all the tools to do so right in the app.

Imagine having a camera you can take swimming with you down to 4M deep. A camera that has an 18 hour battery. A camera that shoots photos, has three lenses built-in covering different focal lengths and a camera that also shoots 4K video at 60FPS. A camera that works in all light and offers great dynamic range, and oh…it fits in your pocket and also has everything built-in to manage your life, and social media, and phone calls. That is the iPhone 11 Pro Max.

This is a camera for the masses. In fact it is a camera that also happens to have a phone built-in ; ) More to come as I explore the features and tech this camera is offering. Stay tuned!

Steve

42 Comments

  1. I’ve been using an 11 Pro Max for less than a week, and as a hobbyist I’m loving it. Sure, there are limitations relative to dedicated larger sensor cameras with good lenses, but there are also quite a few important advantages! The biggest one is that it’s always there with me. Knowing I can generally get a pretty good looking image any time, anywhere, and without any social stigma is freeing.

  2. Hi Steve,

    Nice test as usual. Would you let us know what is the approximate MB size of the jpeg pictures produced by the iPhone 11 Pro ? I have been searching for this information but thus far I could not find it anywhere although it is important to be able to decide upon the memory capacity I would need i.e. 64GB (seems too small), 256 or 512GB ?

    Thanks & Best Regards,
    Patrick

  3. I have the 11 Pro, but my photos don’t appear full size on my Apple TV Photos app. I cant find any way to alter the settings, and the other thing I’ve noticed is that you have to place the camera at the lying down position to get the usual aspect on the TV. Anyone else with views on this? Thanks!

  4. I preach and preach to my second shooters for my wedding business that they MUST deliver better quality than Aunt Sally with her iPhone 11 via composition, lighting, timing and more. Just like in the point and shoot era I see wedding guests taking half assed composed pictures in bad light. However, the younger they are the more they pay attention to lighting. It’s like they have grown up learning photography in a way with their selfies, etc. At weddings I think my job is still safe, however family photographers must be feeling it with the cell phone camera boon. So the market for customers is also shrinking in this “it’s good enough” world which is also bad for the camera companies higher end products. If I have an off year in wedding bookings, no new lenses or body upgrades for me.

  5. yep good review for the times we live in . When Huawei got into alliance with Leica and Nokia with Zeiss, I smelled this is going to happen ..when google came out with pixel and the tweak they did with S/W ..the first nail was drawn and loaded ..when Vivo produced a phone dedicated to Selfie combined with this latest development of apple and Nokia 9 PureView with 5 lenses… writing is on the wall….you are right many are using phones as primary camera for family and vacation. Me too have gone out on days with only phone…but even though I am a SW developer and know the tweaks, my soul still craves for a day when I am not connected to this world and I am lost somewhere were no one can reach me…….so last week I went and got myself a Leica Q-P (not Q2) and went out with phone on aeroplane mode. the joy cannot be expressed–I sleep well that night

  6. Long time ago I carried a7s with Summilux 35 1.4 everyday, until Huawei mate 10 came out to replaced my daily gears.
    Today mine a7rmk3 sitting at home for while and only special holiday I will using it. I still love camera gears.

  7. Nice overview and thoughts thanks
    I’ve an iPhone X – it’s generally nice for snaps but there’s absolutely zero satisfaction on any of the photos – in the making and the viewing.
    I wrote an article for Steve here a good few years back (2013) about whether the smartphone will ever replace the camera https://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2013/12/26/will-the-smartphone-ever-replace-the-camera-lets-get-hipstamatic-by-ibraar-hussain/
    I said nothing now not ever’ – I was using Hipstamatic at the time (and still do) that gives me more satisfaction than using any of the standard features – but it’s all electronic gadgetry – great though it is – it’s held and used very unlike a camera – it cannot replace a camera as it lacks the ergonomics of one – the feel of one – the intimacy of one – it’s a jack of all trades and cannot be the master of the art of making photographs – sure it’ll replace a compact point and shoot and for most it’ll be the case – but for any enthusiastic photographers? I doubt it –

  8. The problem for the camera companies is that they have been selling the “flexibility” of image making rather than just actual image making. The prosumers and pro’s insist on RAW files so they can feel they are creating the best picture possible with their choices in post. This is such a big deal that a lot of camera snobs think jpeg is a dirty word.

    Apple’s RAW image is terrible in comparison to what a DSLR can produce. That’s just physics. However combine that with machine learning and the ability to take several photos in a fraction of a second and now you’ve got something that we’ve never really had. An automatic AI based photo retoucher! That’s what modern phones can do. And when you think about it, that is the opposite of what big camera companies are trying to sell. They are not going to be able to convince people to spend thousands of dollars on machines that basically take out all the fun and flexibility out of making images.

    If the next Sony did exactly what the iPhone did it wouldn’t sell to same crowd of people who enjoy the “processing” part. So I think the camera companies are philosophically stuck here. It’s very possible for the camera companies to do what apple and google are doing, I just think it’s not actually going to increase sales to the market they target.

  9. Nice article and great pictures. Its good to read an honest review from a pro. On some of the photography web sites the camera enthusiasts are having a melt down about this. Pixel peeping gone mad 😉 .

    I just finished selling all my Canon stuff – bodies and lenses (I had both DSLRs and EOS M (both a mistake but thats another story) because of the smart phones. Now i have no cameras except my phone.

    I only have an iPhone 7 (not even a 7 Max) and have to come to realize that it is by far my most used camera. Why? Because its always with me and sometimes produces amazing pictures. And its so easy to manipulate and share them. I have always detested carrying bulky DSLRs and their lenses but this solves that.

    I think that for pro photographers and harder core enthusiasts that have specific needs like sports, low light, macro, etc the dedicated cameras will remain but for everyone else unless you are pixel peeper it doesnt matter. I will be upgrading my 7 to the 11 pro and I should see a nice increase in quality and what it can do

  10. I’m looking forward to getting mine. My main interest in a phone is family photos. Sure, I’d love to take them all with my big camera and fast prime, but how often do I actually have that with me when opportunity strikes? A camera of this quality in a phone isn’t just a big deal for ‘everyone else’ it’s a big deal for photographers too. And Sony, Nikon, Canon et al should be worried about what Apple is doing with computational photography. Looking to the future, it won’t be enough anymore to just rely on the large sensor. How long will photographers be prepared to manually process and blend multiple images for techniques like HDR, panoramas and focus stacking when their camera phones are already doing this hand held on the fly? It’s time we started seeing this kind of tech from the main camera manufacturers, and not just limited to jpgs, we need to see this kind of processing built into raw file formats.

  11. The real revolution isn’t just the phone, it will be in imaging software, as well. You can do things instantly with iPhone apps like Hipstamatic, SnapSeed, VSCO and others that can take hours in Photoshop. As much as the phone is breaking camera companies, iPhone apps are ultimately likely to hurt Adobe. Phone imagery is almost another medium–not art, not photography, but something entirely different.

  12. Wish for the Apple 12 Pro Max – same as before just an inch thick, + viewfinder, dials for shutter, iso, aperture, and shutter release. They can put in a bigger battery too. Oh Yeah!

  13. The phone manufacturers are increasingly cameras manufacturers, but not improving the form factor for intended use. Right, a camera with a phone attached, but with the wrong form-factor. Tools must fit the human hand and body for the intended use, and the phone form factor is just not the optimal one for taking photos. The camera tech is great, just I’d like to see someone put it in the appropriate form factor for camera usage.
    Black magic made a bold move on this when they took the video tech out of stills cameras and put it in the right form factor for video use, the pocket camera 4k. Now someone needs to do this with the phone camera tech. A renaissance of the compact camera form factor, with built in phone? I mean, look at all the devices Apple has got us on, big ipad, small ipad, MBP, imac, iphone – seems like they already understand that different form factors champion different uses.

  14. Totally agree with you that the quality has improved a lot, and that for most, it will totally take over. You only need to travel to any tourist spot and see the lack of cameras and dominance of smart phones.

    That being said, it gives me zero inspiration to use, and I have only taken a handful of images with each phone upgrade I get. And the white snake on your shoulder scares the shit out of me!

  15. All good and valid points but for me and I’m sure other hobbyists is that photography is about the experience of using an instrument and the haptics and tactility of that. Output aside for me a phone doesn’t inspire me to take pictures but for sure is useful to record quick moments of my son, which I do use it for from time to time. But if I were to go somewhere or make time with the intent of shooting nice pictures for the sake of practicing an art form, for sure I would not replace my camera with my phone. Even if a phone became an enjoyable way to shoot the connectivity kills it for me because I would inevitably feel the need to check alerts and email and keeping the phone put away is nice just for the sake of being disconnected.

  16. It’s great that the cell phone cameras are improving impressively. After all, the camera you have on you is the one you will be using for your photography.

    However, it will not replace my M10/A7R3 by a long shot. It’s still not there for serious hobby work. Sensor limitations aside, you still run into other issues such as managing low light settings and other required manual adjustments as you are making your shot.

    • Give it 10 years. I predict the phones will be 10X better than they are today and things like an M will be more niche than ever. But I. gets we will see. I also agree with you, that a phone could never replace a real camera for those who love using a real camera. But that demographic is shrinking rather than growing. To most, the phones today as they are already are good enough for them. Pros? No way. Enthusiasts? Not yet. General public? They are already all in with the phones.

  17. A7riii user here with my new 11 pro max – I am loving what this produces. Part of what inspired my upgrade is a Europe trip next spring packing VERY light. My desire to get by with only a phone is beginning to not feel like a compromise. Question – what are your experiences printing actual photos? Is there a way to increase the resolution for a bigger print? I have 3rd party apps for RAW and post-processing but haven’t discovered how to end up with a larger file. TIA!

  18. Apple is planning to add a new camera mode to the iPhone 11, called “Deep Fusion”. It’s supposed to use Artificial Intelligence to combine 9 frames in different exposures into a single, super high-quality photo,
    Leveraging the power of AI to perfect each pixel and create image with the look and feel of a large sensor camera.
    It should arrive via software update later this year.

  19. Hi Steve, looking at the photos you took I am agreed that this iPhone 11 IQ has lots of improvements. I used to be an iPhone user for the last 10 years and recently changed to Android as wanted to test the latest and higher megapixel camera. However, I notice iPhone have better image tone compared to the images that produce from Android even they are technically far more advanced.

  20. I use the Xs. it is adequate for most GOOD LIGHT picture scenarios where the final output is device-based (up to and including 27″ 5K screens) or small prints (up to and including 13x18cm). Things crumble down dramatically when in low light/artificial light or when you crop/zoom in.

    This is due to the ruthless jpeg engine that does its best to give a great first impression through destructive noise reduction, at the cost of any real detail.

    When you look at the raw output from the Xs before any PP, you see how challenging it is to generate something even remotely as good as the output you can easily get from a 1″ sensor. I spent hours on raw iPhone files, only to realise that the iPhone itself generates the best possible jpeg, which is in fact a pretty terrible jpeg. There is zero flexibility in the raw source.

    The way the Xs treats skin detail in particular is horrible…a pastel smear. Again might be unnoticed for a casual view on another phone/tablet/laptop, but so obvious when you look in.

    Now, you tell us that the 11Pro is much better. I’d love to believe you. However, the pics you share here show weaknesses of skin structure reproduction very similar to the Xs smearing. Seen samples elsewhere as well. It makes it seem that everyone is wearing a thick layer of skin powder make-up. The low light stuff I have seen elsewhere is just as bad as previous generation. I’d love to see a real side by side output comparison test between Xs and 11Pro.

    The iPhone is pretty good at holiday snaps.

    • Balivernes,

      Miniaturization of lens/sensor components comes at a price and it’s up to complex proprietary software to make up for the deficiencies, so in many respects I have to give kudos to Apple and Samsung for overcoming a lot of hurdles.

      However… as far as shooting RAW, don’t expect too much. The underlying debayering processes used by Apple and others are also proprietary, so you can play with the sliders in LR/PS all day long and you still won’t even begin to approach the “snap” of the in-camera JPEG.

      • As for me, I do not care about RAW when using a phone, yet. In five years, yes, and by then it will be implemented nicely. No need for RAW with phones just yet. I can shoot RAW on the iPhone, but wouldn’t want to. Again, I wouldn’t use it (phone) for a pro job, paid job, etc. It’s for daily use as 99.5% of people use their cameras for so in that regard, I do not need nor want RAW in my phone camera. It does just fine with out of camera JPEGs unless you are an avid pixel peeper who views images at 100% for some reason. In that case though, that has nothing to do with photography. That’s a whole other thing. By the time these things are doing just as good or better than current mirrorless cameras, RAW will be welcome.

  21. Very well said. No, you’re not exaggerating, as some might accuse. What you’re saying is testable and verifiable: these new iPhones are good enough for professional use.

    There is one job in particular – that was well over a year ago – where I could have used a high end iPhone… if I had one. You do need the portrait lens (~45 degree AOV), so the XR and 11 will not suffice. But it’s certainly realistic.

    The “small sensor look” – if you mean “harsh tonal transition,” then yes, that’s there at the higher ISOs. But the base ISO does produce very impressive images. Attached to that, the DR isn’t quite there, either. Sometimes, a mere 1/3 of a stop can mean the difference between retained or blown highlights.

  22. I have no problem with an iPhone as a photographic device or tool. In actuality the so-called computational manipulation of an image within the iPhone is not too much different than what one does in Photoshop or any other software.
    My problem with the iPhone is that it is not in any way ergonomic to hold and use for photography. The wife has dropped hers into a massive cactus at the local cactus park. Were it not for a lucky bounce that iPhone would have been toast.
    I’ll stick with my M10 or SL.

  23. Hi!

    I would love to read your take on the iPhone 11 and shooting DNG-files with Lightroom as your camera app. Will there be a diffrerence?

  24. Thanks for this interesting review. Got the 11 Pro myself and am loving the results, now that ProCamera is working again. I also have the Q so I’ll still be using that parallel to the iPhone. Even better, Apple mentioned the camera will get an update this autumn and add Deep Fusion for even better in Camera processing.

  25. Got mine too. And I’m blown away. I also have A7r2 (and the same 21mm lens you’ve used) and Leica M9. But I see less and less reason to use them, even professionally. Tbh, I think your iPhone portrait feels more photographic and less digital than your Sony version. As a moviemaker, I’ve used iPhones as C cams for a while and have worked out some tricks to get really nice moving image. But it’s always been last resort. The 11 pro, uses with Filmic Pro or similar, takes things to a different level.

    • I got an 11 Pro Max last week (in part because of Steve’s article), and am not disappointed. It’s great fun and the images are surprisingly good. Color and dynamic range can be amazing (yes I know it’s computational, but if it’s photos we care about and not technicalities, then what does it matter in the end!).

      • I agree with this “but if it’s photos we care about and not technicalities, then what does it matter in the end!” – So so true. ALL THAT MATTERS is the end result, what you see on screen. This phone is fantastic, for what it is. Best camera phone I have ever used and they are only getting better each year. The deep fusion update looks remarkable as well, so can’t wait for that.

  26. I have to say that the only ff image in this series is better but not nicer. Phones have won the battle for everyday photography because IQ and crispness is just overrated and always has been. Leica lenses have physical personal character, phone lenses have computational personal character so who cares. Phones have won the battle, and I still shoot cameras, but less and less.

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