Comparing the iPhone cameras. Despite the overall approval of Apple’s $399 price tag for its new iPhone SE, there was a lot of speculation about the camera hardware and how it compares to the iPhone 11. Its rear camera has the same specs as those of the iPhone 8 from 2017. But some theorized that it might have the sensor from 2018’s iPhone XR.
It took an iFixit teardown of the new iPhone to show that the SE was packing the same lens and sensor as the iPhone 8. That means all the improvements to image quality as well as the addition of features like Portrait Mode, came purely from the A13 Bionic chip. This processor is the same one found in the $699 iPhone 11.
The iPhone SE has a lot to live up to, but as you will see, it can go toe-to-toe with its pricier Apple siblings. This comparison shows that when it comes to photography and recording videos, the real consideration isn’t the number of megapixels or number of cameras. Instead, it’s all about the processor.
iPhone SE vs. 11: SmartHDR makes photos look fantastic
The combination of the A13 Bionic chip and iOS 13 raises the iPhone 8’s camera hardware to the next level on the SE. The iPhone SE’s rear camera has a 28mm f/1.8 lens, while the iPhone 11 has two rear cameras: the main one with a 26mm f/1.8 lens and an ultrawide-angle camera with a 13mm f/2.4 lens.
The reason photos in good light look so similar is that whether you’re on an iPhone 11, 11 Pro or the new SE, the latest version of SmartHDR is used to process and optimize details and textures. It also pushes the dynamic range as much as possible without the image falling apart.
Both phones have a portrait mode and produce excellent results. The 11 can take portrait mode photos of people and pets while the iPhone SE can only do people, which is a big drawback if you are an animal lover. With the portrait mode photos below, you’ll see that they look very similar. The iPhone 11’s portrait captures more details.
Deep fusion processing for medium to low-light
When we get into medium- and low-light environments, the differences between the two phones are even starker. That’s because the iPhone 11 has Deep Fusion processing which improves image quality, details and minimizes image noise. The iPhone SE lacks Deep Fusion.
Night mode vs. no night mode
Night mode, which is on the iPhone 11 but not the SE, is another sizable difference between the two phones. Night mode uses adaptive bracketing, taking a series of images with various shutter speeds. It combines them into a single photo that is brighter, has less image noise and improved details. Like the iPhone 11’s ultrawide-angle camera, your preferences will dictate whether having night mode is a deal-breaker. But let’s see what it can do.
Rear camera video is nearly identical
Like photos in good light, it’s also difficult to discern video recording between the main rear cameras on both phones. Both phones can shoot up to 4K, 60 fps and have extended dynamic range (aka: “HDR” but for video). However, the 11 offers an extended dynamic range up to 4K 60fps. Whereas the iPhone SE can only support it up to 4K 30fps.
More detailed selfies and ‘slowfie’ video
Videos captured with the front-facing cameras, however, show a larger difference in quality. The iPhone 11 has a wider front-facing camera, and it’s capable of 4K and slow-mo videos. The iPhone SE can only shoot 1,080p video and can’t shoot “slowfies.” Both can take portrait photos. But the iPhone 11 captures much more detail (in my hair and skin, for example). Some people might not miss seeing all those details in their skin.
After doing this camera comparison, it’s obvious that the iPhone 11 has a better and more versatile camera system. But in many situations, the iPhone SE was able to capture images that are as comparable and brilliant, despite being hundreds of dollars cheaper than the iPhone 11.