How the iPhone X cameras work

iPhoneX camera

The front and back cameras on the iPhone X are extraordinary. No wonder more people take pictures with their iPhone than any other camera.

Apple’s latest flagship iPhone, the iPhone X has a lot of new features, but none so spectacular as the TrueDepth front-facing camera, which was built for practically-perfect facial recognition, but whose technology benefits all other aspects of photography. The backside camera ain’t no slouch, either.

Preroder iPhone X

iPhone X preorders begin at 12:01 AM PT on Sept. 15.

TrueDepth is truly deep

iPhone X TrueDepth camera

The front-facing TrueDepth camera is where other model iPhones house the FaceTime camera. On the iPhone X, the front-facing camera gets a major upgrade in order to support the required technology for Apple’s Face ID.

It has an infrared camera, flood illuminator, proximity sensor, ambient light sensor, speaker, microphone, 7MP camera, and Dot projector that hits 30,000 points on your face. The data gathered is processed on Apple’s A11 Bionic chip with Neural Engine (which has tested out to run fast enough to keep pace with the MacBook Pro)

All of these sensors, cameras, and hardware upgrades add up to a seriously amazing front-facing camera. It features wide color capture, auto image stabilization, exposure control, and the best part: Portrait mode for selfies (including the new Portrait Lighting).

What TrueDepth means for selfies

iPhone X TrueDepth camera

Thanks to the upgrade in camera hardware, the front-facing camera has similar megapixel count as the rear-facing camera on the iPhone 5S (which has 8MP). Though 7MP may not sound like much in comparison to the 12MP rear-facing camera, you shouldn’t forget all the bells and whistles of the TrueDepth camera, which makes it pretty darn fancy.

The TrueDepth camera in conjunction with the A11 Bionic chip gives you better lighting and clearer focus, which helps with the depth-of-field effect of Portrait mode, so you’re selfies will look more like professional photos. Your Instagram is going to blow up!

iMore Editor in Chief Rene Ritchie went hands-on with Portrait mode selfies:

I did get a chance to try the new Portrait Mode selfies, which are also enabled by the True Depth Camera. They’re exactly what you’d expect: Your portrait with a computationally rendered blur and Bokeh effect applied to it. And since iOS 11 brings a depth API, it’s non-destructive. So, you can turn Portrait Mode on or off on any photo you took with it, at any time. You can even use the “depthy” data for other effects, including Portrait Lightning.

What TrueDepth means for Snaps

iPhone X TrueDepth camera

That TrueDepth camera uses an infrared camera with 30,000 dot projection to take a depth map of your face. That means it’s collecting data in three dimensions. It also means that masking filters like the ones SnapChat uses get a lot more detailed. When you use a SnapChat filter to take a selfie with one of the mask filters, it sort of sits on top of your face. It moves when you move and changes when you change your facial expression (like raising your eyebrows or opening your mouth), but it lies flat.

Thanks to the TrueDepth camera, the masks seem to wrap around your face, giving it a more realistic look. Panda Snaps all the live-long day!

That backside camera, though

iPhoneX camera

The front-facing camera isn’t the only thing that got an upgrade on the iPhone X. The rear-facing camera has some big deal improvements, too.

The iPhone X has two (count ’em, two) 12MP cameras: One is wide-angle and one is telephoto. Both cameras sport optical image stabilization (OIS), which means clearer, more focused shots, even in low-light when the subject is moving (live music photography, thank you!).

Renespeaking about the rear-facing camera of the iPhone X:

Apple is also applying machine learning to its camera system so, for example, it continuously analyzes video in a million discreet sections to identify things like grass, sky, and motion, and then optimize compression to make sure artifacts don’t destroy textures or edges.

It has an ƒ/2.4 aperture on the telephoto camera for better action shots. It also has advanced pixel processing, wide color gamut, and an image signal processor that works at lightning speed to optimize your photos under almost any lighting condition.

The quad LED True Tone flash evens out flash so your subjects aren’t washed out and backgrounds look more natural in dark conditions.

All this, plus iOS 11!

iOS 11 Live Photos loop

Let’s not forget all of the bonus software that comes along with the iPhone X thanks to iOS 11.

In iOS 11, Apple has smoothed out some of the wrinkles with Portrait mode, like better image stabilization so you can actually take low-light Portrait mode photos, HEIF photo support so you’re taking ultra high-quality pictures, but using up half the space, and tools for editing Live Photos so you can make them bounce, loop, and more.

Here’s what Rene has to say about HEIF files:

With HEIF, however, the depth data for Portrait Mode — or the still and motion elements of a Live Photo — are all bundled together. (HDR data, which is taken from multiple exposures, starts being processed at the ISP-level in the chipset, so that’s burned in before it can be bundled into HEIF.)
The advantage to that is most apparent in photo editing, where filters can now apply different effects based on the depth or motion data.

It all comes down to this

You may have thought the iPhone 7 Plus had the most advanced camera on a smart phone ever, but it doesn’t hold a candle to what the iPhone X is capable of. The benefits of the TrueDepth camera alone make it the new best camera phone ever, and the small but significant upgrades to the rear-facing camera put the iPhone X into a category all its own.

Any more questions?

Do you have any questions about the iPhone X camera and how the TrueDepth or rear-facing cameras work? Put them in the comments and we’ll answer what we can.

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