Ever since we started getting two iPhones out of Apple every year instead of one there’s been a disparity between each handset. Nowhere has this been more prominent than with their cameras, and in 2017 Apple fractured its iPhone lineup even further with a third tier of device in the all-mighty iPhone X.
So how good are the pictures (and video) produced by Apple’s most capable cameraphone ever, and how do the results compare to two of the most promising rivals from team Android; the Google Pixel 2 and Samsung Galaxy Note 8?
Read next: Samsung Galaxy Note 8 camera review
Apple iPhone X Camera Review: Hardware
The iPhone X trumps the similarly-specced iPhone 8 and 8 Plus (both of which launched alongside it) in a number of ways when it comes to imaging. Compared to the standard 12-megapixel main snapper and 7-megapixel front-facer found on the 8, the X boasts a dual 12-megapixel primary sensor and a beefed-up front-facer whose capabilities are augmented by the phone’s unique TrueDepth sensor array.
The 8 Plus, meanwhile, shares in the 8 and X’s OIS-laden f/1.8 aperture-toting, 12-megapixel main camera and the X’s f/2.4 aperture secondary telephoto sensor, albeit without the secondary OIS system, which remains unique to the X.
As such, the 8 Plus and X share in their ability to offer lossless 2x optical zoom and up to 10x digital zoom, however, the X’s camera’s additional stabilisation means it’s likely to fair better when using that secondary telephoto lens, and by extension portrait mode, when shooting in low light.
Apple iPhone X Camera Review: UI
Apple’s characteristically spartan camera interface persists on the iPhone X and although it’s served as the framework for many an Android copycat, the X’s burgeoning feature set has slightly outgrown the camera UI’s simplicity, to the detriment of its ease of use.
Swiping across on the viewfinder lets you switch between one of the phone’s seven modes and should you switch to a mode not supported by the front camera whilst trying to use it, you’ll be pushed back to the iPhone’s main snapper.
Save for Portrait mode, there’s an ever-present zoom control that lets you toggle twice the optical magnification with a single tap or long-press-and-drag to push past the optical limit and achieve a maximum ten times digital magnification.
Whilst taking stills you can toggle Live Photos, the flash, the timer or apply real-time filters to your shots, but the same simple interaction isn’t available should you wish to change resolution or frame-rate when shooting video or slow motion video.
It’s become a long-standing gripe of iPhone videographers and Apple’s insistence on forcing users to exit the camera and dive into the phone’s general settings menu to make changes to these aspects before jumping back to the camera and selecting the right mode again is both cumbersome and frustrating.
Read next: Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL camera review
Apple iPhone X Camera Review: Still photos
In natural lighting, the iPhone produces the brightest imagery, demonstrates a wide dynamic range and, as a result, the most pleasing colours.
As is customary for a Samsung phone, the Note 8 packs in the widest field of view, meaning more of your scene in-shot but the risk of distortion at the edges of frame; particularly if your subject is closer to the camera. There’s also more obvious evidence of sharpening and other heavy post-processing that isn’t necessarily bad but unquestionably creates more artificial looking shots when side by side with both the iPhone’s and Pixel’s results.
Whilst the iPhone X, Note 8 and Pixel 2 all leverage 12-megapixel primary sensors, Google’s smartphone doesn’t sport a dual-sensor array like its competitors, meaning shots taken at 2x magnification are wholly digital and present a clear loss in quality.
Where the Pixel 2 shines is macro photography, where it pips both the iPhone and Note to the post concerning fine detail, lighting and colour reproduction.
The same is also true in artificial lighting, where the iPhone X has a harder time with its automated white balance and the Note doesn’t render detail quite as perfectly as the Pixel.
iPhones have always struggled with low light when placed alongside the Android contingent and despite improvements in some areas, like superior detail over the likes of the Note 8, in our tests, the X also produces the most grain when the lights go down.
The iPhone X’s Portrait mode and Portrait Lighting are two of its camera’s biggest talking points, not least because it can pull off these slick effects with both its rear and front cameras, unlike the iPhone 8 Plus.
Samsung’s Note 8 has a similarly effective tool called Live Focus for background bokeh (blur) around a subject when using its main camera and real-time lighting effects similarly to Portrait Lighting when using the front camera but each of these abilities isn’t available across both sets of snappers, a limitation that doesn’t hinder the iPhone. The Pixel, meanwhile, may only have a single sensor on both the front and back but both do enjoy a portrait mode of their own.
Apple’s Portrait Lighting takes things a step further, however, with a variety of distinct lighting states that can be applied in real-time or after the fact to alter the look and feel of your portraits. Some are more effective than others though, and whilst there’s no mention of the feature residing in beta (as Portrait mode on the iPhone 7 Plus originally did), its ability to distinguish subject from background would have benefitted from a little more tuning before full release.
Apple iPhone X Camera Review: Video
Aside from the awkward resolution and frame-rate controls, the iPhone X’s video talents are exceptional. Google’s still working hard to fix the Pixel 2’s shoddy audio recording and the colours and contrast in our test footage were clearly out of kilter when compared to both the iPhone and Note.
Samsung’s 4K/30fps video comes in a commendable second place with far better colour, contrast and audio but overzealous hybrid image stabilisation (OIS and EIS) that gave footage a jerky appearance.
Mono audio recording aside (in this comparison only the Note offers stereo recording), Apple’s 4K/30fps test video produced the nicest colours, contrast and lighting management, most natural stabilisation and great audio recording, and that’s not all.
Apple’s latest A11 Bionic chip is a force to be reckoned with for a number of reasons, but one of which is that it allows all three of Apple’s 2017 iPhones to shoot up to 4K video at a whopping 60 frames per second and capture 240fps slow motion video at an impressive Full HD resolution, something no other smartphone manufacturer can boast right now.
Apple iPhone X Camera Review: Verdict
There’s no question that within the Apple vacuum the X sports the most capable cameras of any iPhone to date but things aren’t quite so perfect when you place it alongside its hottest competition.
It’s a phenomenal option when shooting in natural light, capturing people and has vastly improved Apple’s low light photography credentials. It’s also unquestionably the best smartphone for shooting video right now, based on the sheer beauty of the footage it captures.
That said, there are obvious chinks in its armour which the likes of the Pixel 2 and Note 8 exploit to better effect. There’s also the matter of the iPhone X’s considerable price tag, which can be somewhat alleviated by those willing to settle for an iPhone 8 Plus. In imaging terms, it might not have all the bells and whistles of the X but it’ll get you 90 percent of the way there for less.
You can grab the iPhone X from O2 right now, from £77 per month on contract.