In use, I’m really impressed with is how quickly Portrait Mode works now. On older iPhone models, there was often a delay while the phone figured out how to separate the foreground from the background. Apple’s new A13 Bionic processor gives the Pro the power to do this so quickly that there doesn’t appear to be a delay at all.

Portrait Mode is now great for pets, so my cat has been the subject of many photos during our tests. Given that she has black and white fur, it’s impressive that the system can figure out where her fur ends and the background begins.

Detail in the dark

Also new is the Night Mode feature. This uses a variety of technologies including 100 percent Focus Pixels and artificially intelligent photo-combining. Essentially, once a low light scene is detected, the mode turns on automatically. You may be required to hold the camera still for a set duration. I’ve experienced 1-3 seconds, and this is indicated around the shutter button.  The camera system takes multiple photos at once and analyses the best bits and combines it all together. The net result is really worth it. It’s absolutely astounding how the phone lights up dark scenes, and Apple has added a bit of creative flair as well to keep blacks looking black where it should, rather than revealing detail in the dark that’s not needed.

Keep in mind that for fast snaps in dark places, such as nightclubs or dinner parties, the phone still requires some time to gather multiple images together and pick the best bits. If you don’t hold it still for long enough, the result will be blurry images. If you rest the phone against something solid, such as on a tabletop, the effect is quicker. All up, however, this is a serious improvement over previous models.

Also, there’s an upcoming Deep Fusion image processing feature (due out in the US fall) that can balance low and medium lighting conditions. This leverages machine learning and takes 8 images before you even press the shutter button. It examines 24 million pixels to optimise your photo. “It’ is computational photography mad science.” Says Apple’s Phil Schiller at the recent keynote in Cupertino. We’re looking forward to see what it can do.

Creating video

The new camera system has the ability to capture in 4K at 60 frames per second from all three of the rear cameras. You can also film in 4K / 60fps with the front facing TrueDepth camera as well.

We shot our entire Sunrise segment on the phone, and the results were seriously impressive. First, the level of detail captured by the 4K sensor is amazing. Second, there’s excellent optical image stabilisation that made our walking shots look like we were using a steady-cam rig. Auto-focus and extended dynamic range (EDR) added to the quality of the footage thanks to the A13 Bionic’s background processing. 

Filming with phone on tripod
Cameraman Luke Thomas at work with the iPhone 11 Pro Max

A quick note that High Dynamic Range (HDR) is supported when playing back Dolby Vision and HDR 10+ movie content, but the phone doesn’t ‘create’ HDR to this format.

While not supported in Apple’s camera software, the iPhone 11 Pro can even record video from all three cameras simultaneously. This is a tremendous pro feature, and was demonstrated using the FiLMiC app. This isn’t available yet, but should be quite soon.

A favourite scene that really showcased the iPhone 11 Pro Max’s capabilities was when we were driving through a forest while holding the phone out the window. The stabilisation smoothed out any jarring movement, and we captured a setting sun through the trees, with a combination of sunlit highlights and cool dark trees. This pushed the dynamic range to its limits, and we were amazed at how well the Pro reproduced the luxurious golden greens of the scene, and all in 4K / 60 fps!

“It’ is computational photography mad science.” Says Apple’s Phil Schiller. 

The only challenge we had during out shoot was the bright sunny conditions sometimes made the screen difficult to see, but otherwise, it was smooth sailing.

Selfies and Slo-fies

The front-facing TruDepth camera is improved to handle 4K recording. For a bit of fun, we also tried out the slo-motion video recording feature. This creates what we call a ‘slo-fie’, which is a bit of dramatic footage that you can take of yourself while the world pans around you. Lots of creative angles to play with for those that like to capture themselves. Slo-fies are captured in 1080p at 120 fps, while the rear facing cameras can do it at 240fps.

Another great mode is the ‘wide-selfie’. When you hold the phone in portrait orientation you can take a normal selfie, however, rotate it to landscape mode and it switches to the wide lens so you can fit more than one face into the frame. Gone are selfies where you cropped half your friend out!

 Display matters

The two iPhone 11 Pro models come with Apple’s latest Super Retina XDR display. These are Apple’s brightest and sharpest phone screens ever and are really lovely to use. As with the iPhone X and XS, they are the OLED type, which means great viewing angles, true blacks and lots of detail visible in darker scenes. Now, they can produce up to 800 nits brightness, which is better for viewing outdoors, and a peak brightness of 1200 nits when watching HDR 10 and Dolby Vision movies and compatible video. 

As with the iPhone XS display, there’s a wide colour gamut, Tru Tone, Tap to Wake and now Haptic Touch. Haptic Touch replaces the 3D Touch technology used previously, which could sense how hard you pressed on the screen. I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between the two, so there’s not a lot to worry about in terms of haptic feedback when pressing on icons.