iPhone X tele lens part 2 the Raw truth

Most people reading this will be familiar with the specs for the iPhone X tele lens, but just in case you missed them, here they are.

  • 6 Elements
  • 56mm equivalent
  • 12 megapixels
  • Fixed Aperture f2.4
  • Image stabilised
  • Autofocus via focus pixels
  • Body and face detection

Note 1:  It has not been possible to find a final spec on the sensor dimensions or pixel size. However, all information from Apple and my own tests indicate it is superior in all ways to the sensor in the iPhone 7 models.

Note 2: The sensor in the 8 and X models may be the same with only the lens and image stabilisation being different, though Apple has indeed hinted that the X version is superior. Hopefully, I can provide a definitive answer to this in the third part of the series when I compare the two with real-world images.

Note 3: No portraits in this article, yes I know lots of people will use this lens for portraits, but they tell you next to nothing about chromatic aberration, edge performance, cross-field resolution etc.  Check out the previous article if portraits are your game.  Anyhow lots of people will use the tele lens for all sorts of regular images, so this is for you folk.

A Request: If anyone really does know the exact sensor size I’d be keen to know also as it will help me to calculate exactly how the depth of field pans out, please drop me a line. I can make some estimations based on the focal length, but I don’t know for sure that the reported 6mm of the X tele lens is precise either.

This review of the iPhone X tele lens only uses RAW/DNG files, no jpegs, basically I want you to see what the lens/sensor module is really capable of.  JPEG shooters will not obtain the same results, but I assume you already knew that.

The files were captured via ProCamera, but the results should be pretty typical of what’s possible via any decent app capable of DNG capture. Test files were processed in Iridient Developer on my Mac or Lightroom CC on my iPhone X

Remember that RAW/DNG files can be adjusted to provide pretty much any colour rendering or white balance setting you desire, so stating that the RAW files produce a more mellow colour is meaningless, it all depends on how you choose to cook the files’ ingredients.

Ok, let’s dive into the good stuff.

Track repair machine at Coolamon railway station NSW, taken iPhone X using telephoto lens, wide tonal range with rendered highlights and shadows.
TLC image (see note at the end of document), Track Repair Machine in Coolamon NSW. This is an extreme contrast situation, yet the file holds information from deep shadows through to bright sun-bleached whites, it is also very highly resolved.

 

Resolution

Many photographers get hung up on resolution and judge a lens purely by how much detail it can record, I find that approach a little simplistic but for all you pixel peepers, the answer is yes.

Yes, what?

Yes, this iPhone telephoto lens resolves very nicely indeed.

To judge resolution, I take several photos of real-world 3D subjects; I certainly don’t go shooting flat charts, brick walls and printed artwork.  Testing lenses in this way doesn’t tell you much at all unless you’re working with macro lenses. It quite surprises me that people would think that close up flat field subject rendering is a credible way to test a lens at all, anyhow, we have lots of photos at varying distances of real-world stuff here.

Next, all the tests have to be done in DNG (RAW); otherwise, I’d be just testing the JPEG processing of the device rather than the optics and sensor.

I shoot at the lowest ISO to ensure that if the device is adding noise reduction to the file, it’s minimal and also so I can get the best result in the RAW converter.

I check the files out using Iridient Developer with all noise reduction turned off, I also post-edit the extracted files in Photoshop to determine their malleability.

I try to find the interpolation algorithm that works best for the file at hand, Iridient Developer offers several options, they give slightly different results and looks. In the case of the iPhone X files, V3 Ultimate and V3 Detail+ seem the give the best results.

Finally, I view the image at different percentages, 200, 100 and 50%

So moving on, what have I found?

 

Goulburn railways station, standard test shot by Brad Nichol, iPhone x tele lens, wide tonal range, shows high performance result.
UniWB captured shot at my standard lens test location. Even in this web-sized image the even edge to edge-definition, wide tonal range capability and solid resolution are obvious enough. This location really tests the mettle of a lens and camera with the combination of high scene contrast, fine details and straight lines. In short, the iPhone X Tele passes muster with flying colours with no excuses.

 

The central resolution is about as high as you could reasonably expect for a small 12-megapixel sensor, it has no problem resolving fine textural information or low contrast detail.

I reckon if you were to look at the resolved detail and compared it with any decent 12 or 16-megapixel camera/lens combo offering the same angle of view you’d be unlikely to find anything to mark the iPhone X down on. (more on that later)

Furthermore, there is sufficient resolution to uprez to larger than native print sizes and files offer a reasonable degree of crop-ability for most purposes.

 

Edge Definition

The results here are pleasantly surprising; there’s little drop off in detail as you move towards the edges and corners, I’m confident that no one is going to have an issue with soft corners for any application.

In particular, the very even cross frame resolution would make for high-quality image stitching results.

I’ve examined a wide array of images, even landscapes with very fine grass out in the corners show high resolution, the only trade-off I can see is a slight loss in corner contrast, but most of that would be due to vignetting and the resulting correction.

 

Green finish box on country race track, Coolamon NSW, iPhone X telephoto lens.
Another TLC frame of Coolamon Race Track in country NSW. The image was captured at 16 ISO and shows excellent detail rendering. Also evident is the high level of corner definition, there’s almost no fall-off in detail even at the extreme corners. There is some residual vignetting, but it’s not colour shifted as was the case with earlier iPhones.

 

Cropped image of test frame, "Coolamon race Track" showing fine detail and dynamic range under very bright sunlight, iPhone X telephoto lens module, TLC, edited image.
This crop represents a 100% of the above image (assuming you open it full size for viewing). A couple of small things can be gleaned from this, the lens and sensor has no problem resolving high levels of micro detail, the edges are pretty much as good as the centre of the frame, and you can get blooming/flare on very bright elements such as the white fence but it’s well controlled and easily kept in check by holding the exposure back just a little.

 

Contrast

In the dim past, many smartphone lenses showed rubbish native contrast, especially if you pointed them towards bright light sources.  This behaviour was due to a combination of poor lens coatings and the effects of the front cover glass.

Some early iPhone lenses scratched up badly after mild use. These days the front cover lens is very tough and highly scratch resistant. Additionally, the coatings seem to be vastly better.  Even when the iPhone is pointed towards light sources contrast remains commendably high, this is especially the case with the telephoto lenses on both of the new iPhone X and 8 models.

The advantage of the higher contrast is seen in the shadows, which respond nicely to editing, provided you have good exposure files can be coaxed into displaying excellent tonal gradation in the shadows.

Note, as always the lens needs to be scrupulously clean for best results, something often overlooked.  I’ve had many students who ended up with hand cream and fingerprints all over their smartphone, obliterating any semblance of resolution.  That said, the telephoto lens is a little more forgiving of dust and small levels of lens born pollution.

One nice side benefit of the newer iPhones is the better sealing of the phone and its internal workings. Older models sometimes built up dust under the front lens cover requiring a pull down to fix; I’ve not seen this on an iPhone 6 or later model, still, it’s something to look out for if you are buying a second-hand phone as it plays havoc with contrast rendering.

 

Goulburn Railway Station, section of test file, iPhone X telephoto les module 16 ISO UNiWb capture, fully processed.
Here is another 100% crop, this time taken from the Goulburn Railway Station short earlier in the article, there is some very fine filmic noise even at 16 ISO but it actually makes the prints and on-screen images look a little more organic, and you really need to look very hard to see it at all. Even very fine details are well resolved, and there is a world of difference between the RAWs and JPEGs in what can be extracted from the files. The light sources on the platform do not show significant flare, nor is there any substantial micro flare around white items in the scene.

Flare

Flare is closely related to contrast; any lens can be made to flare if you try hard enough, usually when shooting into the sun or towards some specular light source. Most older smartphones show horrible flare in particular when shooting against bright white cloudy skies.

It is easy to confuse flare with localised over-exposure, this often occurs with light sources.  Here the immediate area around the light source loses gradation and bleaches out, this is usually a result of the sensor design and technical limits, but it may be made worse by poor lens coatings and designs which cause internal reflections.

I really pushed the tele lens to see if I could induce flare, and frankly unless I did something idiotic the flare was a non-issue, basically specular highlights remained specular, no flare-fests were evident.

The good news is that you will get excellent flare-free results without having to shield the lens, which has not always been the case. Certainly, my previous iPhone 6S often needed a little hand shielding many situations.

 

Corner crop iPhone X telephoto lens, test image Goulburn railway Station
This frame is an extreme blow-up of the corner of the main Railway test image; it’s from the bottom right side. We can see the fine textural noise which really is of no consequence, but more importantly, the resolution is excellent. You’d be very picky to find any issue, and most kit lenses on regular cameras would be far less well resolved in the outer most corners.

Vignetting

It can be a little tricky to test the vignetting with iPhone Raw/DNG files, you see all of the converters will apply an auto-correction under the hood before you do any editing to the image.

Does this matter?  Yep, it does, vignetting causes flow-on effects further down the editing chain, less real vignetting makes for a more pushable file.

To see what the native vignetting is you have to remove the effect of the base profile from the image, I can do this in Iridient Developer.

I can tell you that the native vignetting level is minimal in smartphone terms and the fall off is quite even showing no sudden banding.  The extreme corners certainly show a bit extra darkening, but it’s easily corrected and unlikely to show up as an issue in real-world images.  In short, the native vignetting performance is the best I have seen from any smartphone lens I’ve tested so far.

 

Colour Shift

Most older Apple smartphones in RAW show a significant red colour shift as your move towards the outer edges of the frame and this is made worse with underexposure or raising the ISO setting.

It’s not so much a product of the lens but rather a sensor issue which is exacerbated by vignetting, which of course means the exposure in the corners is always less.

You will almost never see this effect in JPEGs or indeed most RAW conversions because it’s dialled out early in the processing chain as part of the profile, but it has a flow-on effect for colour reproduction, colour noise and to a smaller degree, sharpness of the edges and corners. It can also make high-quality panorama stitching very difficult.

Naturally then, less native red-shift would mean a better-edited result.  Again the news is excellent, the Tele lens module shows minimal colour shift, you can just see it in cyan blue skies or if you have neutral greys out towards the corners. Finally, I can say the redshift is a non-issue and a big hooray for that.

Goulburn Railway Toilet Block test frame, iPhone X telephoto lens module.
This pic of the Toilet Block on Goulburn Railway Station has not had the profile that fixes the corner red-shift applied, nor has the colour been fine-tuned. The pic looks a little pink, but I don’t think many people would be too perturbed.  One side aspect of note is that the fine mesh on the walkway above the railway rendered nice and clear, the highlights of the sky have not etched into the details, this which indicate good flare control.

 

Chromatic Aberration

Honestly, I couldn’t find any; I tried all sorts of photos and subjects, I looked at the image at magnifications up to 500% with the input profile disabled, nada, nothing.  What can I tell you, well only that this is an impressive performance?

You may see a tiny bit of bluish fringing on white highlights if the exposure is set high enough, but this isn’t CA, instead, it’s the effect of very localised blooming, and even then I had to enlarge the image to 300% to notice anything.

Chromatic Aberration test, Gouburn Rail Platform overpass bridge, iPhone X, Telephoto lens module.
This pic is a side crop from the above image; If you are going to see Chromatic Aberration, this is where it will show up. Basically, there isn’t any, the only thing you may notice that might confuse you is some moire‘ on the wire mesh, but even that is pretty minimal.

Distortion

This is a little tricky; the distortion level is minimal, low enough that I doubt anyone would ever notice it unless you were into the masonry arts and shooting brick walls to get your jollies.

On a couple of occasions I thought I could notice a tiny bit of pincushion distortion and then on another occasion I felt it was barrel distortion.  It may change a little as the focus distance changes, but really there’s no distortion worth thinking about.

The great news is that if you wanted to create stitched panoramas, the telephoto lens should make the job very easy. Oh and just in case you were wondering, yes you can use the 2X lens to take panoramas using the standard Apple camera app.

 

Coolamon Main Street NSW, iPhone X Telephoto lens test. TLC, film like colour and tone rendering.
I was running a quick and dirty test to see if I could find any distortion in regular pics using the iPhone X telephoto lens, none of the test shots showed up anything of bother. This test frame is a TLC image, one thing it does demonstrate is the extreme tonal range rendering of TLC files on the iPhone X. The shot is in direct and very intense afternoon summer sun with deep shadows in under the awnings and windows, other than a little bit of clipping on some near white painted areas the image holds detail throughout the entire tonal range. Usually, I’d need an HDR approach to get this result, which in this case is really quite like you’d expect from colour neg film.

Noise

To test the noise level, you need to be able to see how the RAW/DNG files look without any noise reduction applied.  Different applications handle the noise reduction in various ways and some like Iridient Developer, provide several options to deal with noise.

It might surprise you to learn that some noise reduction methods can actually make the iPhone images look noisier because they alias the noise, it also depends on whether you’re after a “clean down-scaled web image”, a screen image for the iPhone itself or something optimal for large or small prints.

Ultimately the only way to get a handle on things is to judge the inherent noise in the unprocessed raw file and then extrapolate how that might translate for different output needs.

In the case of the dual lens iPhones we need to do this for each lens because obviously, the sensors are an integral part and different in design (I suspect anyway).

Ideally, you’d want to use the iPhone at the lowest ISO setting to obtain the lowest noise levels, which is what I have done for this section, the next part deals with what happens when you ramp the ISO to higher levels.

 

Abandoned Fire Truck at Coolamon Track, iPhone x Telephoto lens test, TLC, texture.
Abandoned Fire Truck at Coolamon Track. I held back the exposure to ensure the highlights were fully recorded and used the TLC method for capture. The lens is excellent at capturing fine textural information which is just perfect for this type of image and makes it an ideal tool when you want to convert the images from colour to monochrome. Again there are no apparent issues for cross frame clarity, vignetting, CA or anything else. At first, I thought the picture showed some Barrel distortion, but I now feel it was an issue with the subject and the lining up of the shot.

 

Crop of Firetruck shot above. Great texture recording and clarity leaving plenty of room for contrast boosting and other editing tweaks. Basically, we have a nicely pushable file.
A section crop of Fire Truck above. The crop shows excellent texture recording and clarity leaving plenty of room for contrast boosting and other editing tweaks. Basically, we have a nicely pushable file.

For this test I use ProCamera, I also took shots using both UniWB and TLC methods for comparison and examined the images initially with all profile settings off, in other words with no sharpening or noise reduction applied, either early or later stage.

The lowest ISO option using ProCamera is just 16, though the app does not actually list this.  It’s not uncommon to be able to shoot within the range of ISO 16 through to 32 under bright sunlight.

TLC shots in Bright sunlight at ISO 16 will give a shutter speed in the range of 1/100 to 1/250 sec, which is hardly a challenge on the stabilised iPhone X.  To see any significant noise you’ll need to zoom into a 300% view or greater, most of the noise will be fine luminance noise, but the deepest shadows will show some chrominance noise that is slightly blue shifted.

Essentially the TLC files are noise free, and all noise reduction could be disabled, meaning you can then apply whatever sharpening you need to extract the detail level you want.

UniWb files typically end up with a better level of RAW exposure because the histogram is no longer acting like a filthy lying mongrel, you may get as much as two EV extra exposure this way.  The idea is to set the exposure so the brightest required details just about to clip.  Unlike the TLC versions, you’ll get some minor chrominance noise which will tend to cut in from the middle grey tones and increase as you go darker on the tonal scale.

My take is the optimally exposed UniWb files show very little noise to worry about at the lowest or moderate ISO settings; you could just dial in a minimal amount of noise reduction and then sharpen as needed, provided you don’t do something completely stupid the image will look great.

Just so you know, “completely stupid” might mean turning the saturation up to eleven, applying crazy amounts of medium radius sharpening, trying to recover deep shadows that we expect to be left well and truly in the dark.

Now, most people won’t shoot neither TLC or UniWB, they’ll just let the app do whatever it likes, so what exactly might they or you expect.

For regular exposure they will find 100 ISO is the point where noise becomes a bit annoying and needs cleaning up, 50/64 ISO will show fine filmic noise that for prints and downsized images could be left alone and might actually be helpful, anything over 400 ISO will undoubtedly be a bridge too far.

low contrast edited 16 ISO test frame iphone X telephoto module, garden scene, mainly blue and green.
Here is an edited version of the 16 ISO test frame, the DNG extraction, like most I do, was done with post editing in mind and therefore set low in contrast. It really demonstrates that the iPhone X Tele module can deliver the goods providing a pathway to full tonal rendering and a look that belies its smartphone origins.

 

Extreme crop 24 mp version iPhone X telephoto module/lens, garden scene, blue sky and tree with roof and bricks.
Now here is something extreme, this is a small section crop of the above image, but it is a 24-megapixel version of it. Yes, you get a little bit of luminance noise, but overall the resolution is pretty terrific when you consider that it is upsized to twice the native resolution!

Underexposure vrs ISO Gain

With many regular DSLR and Mirrorless cameras shooting in RAW, it’s possible to shoot using the lowest ISO and merely brighten the image in the RAW converter. You will often get a result little different than what you would have achieved by ramping the ISO in the camera.  The main benefit is that such images often retain a better level of highlight detail.

I thought it would be a neat experiment to try this with the Tele lens on the iPhone X and then see what could be drawn out using a desktop RAW file converter.

The fundamental noise levels were pretty much the same either way, but I did notice a couple of anomalies, in bright conditions the underexposed images seem to be sharper and more detailed than the higher ISO versions for the same shutter speeds.

I suspect the iPhone may be applying noise reduction to the DNG files as the ISO is ramped up, but I cannot prove this an Apple don’t of course document this anywhere.

The loss of clarity really turns nasty at around 320 ISO and beyond 400 looks horrible in almost every respect to my easily offended eyes.

On the other hand under low light conditions where slow shutter speeds are needed to grab those fleeting photons, the higher ISO DNG files seem to render better results than severely underexposed low ISO frames.  I took many images in the 1/30 sec and lower range and in most cases with custom processing, I could get slightly lower noise, more shadow detail and better clarity from the higher ISO captures when compared to the underexposed low ISO versions.  Just note, the shutter speeds for each of the test pairs were identical meaning the real exposure at the sensor level was the same in each case.

The extreme highlight detail was usually better with the low ISO frames once you applied the optimal processing settings, but not to the same degree it is in when taking shots in bright daylight conditions.

It became apparent in this process was that the optimal sharpening and noise control settings for each of the changes in ISO are considerable. It takes quite some effort to find the best settings….but in all cases, the final result was wildly better than equivalent JPEGs from the camera, which were all pretty mushy and “watercolour like”.

Under regular daylight (at higher shutter speeds) it seems the higher ISO ramps up the noise reduction enough to require considerably more sharpening in comparison to the lower ISO frames. While it’s entirely possible to obtain reasonable levels of resolution from the images shot at 200 ISO plus, the final results tend to look more forced and digital than the optimally processed but under-exposed low ISO frames.

For lower light levels I found I could get an excellent compromise by choosing an ISO of 160, in this case, highlight detail was still very recoverable, the shadows were fine and the noise looks comfortably filmic.

One final note on this, many folks would think the native colour noise (chrominance noise) from the higher ISO frames would be horrible. I found that not to be the case; sure there’s colour noise but its nowhere near as objectionable as it often looks in many of the processed DNGs and JPEGs I’ve seen on the web.  The real issue is the processing methods, many of which exaggerate the noise, turning the fine colour noise into ugly clumpy blobs of colour with underlying rainbow clouds.

16 ISO no noise reduction, unedited
16 ISO Garden Test image, no noise reduction, no post-RAW extraction edit. It shows a little more colour saturation natively than the higher ISO versions.

 

32 ISO iPhone X Telephoto Garden scen test
32 ISO, no noise reduction, in this case, the tonality is a little more natural out of the box, you can only see noise in the sky, but it’s fine unless you want to blow the image up.

 

50 ISO Garden Test shot, iPhone X, Telephoto lens.
50 ISO, with the noise reduction zeroed, we start to see a bit more noise in the sky, the file is still perfectly editable and shows plenty of fine textural detail.

 

100 ISO test frame Garden, iPhone X
At 100 ISO we start to trade off the fine detail if we want to turn the noise reduction on. Interestingly the shadows are more easily worked, but the highlights in the sky are tending towards clipping, though they are still OK and don’t show any colour distortion. Once you proceed beyond this point to 160 ISO, you need to compromise far more with shadow, and highlight rendering, small highlight colour shifts and you’ll need to add detail sapping noise reduction processes.

ISO Range performance

I find it hard to draw conclusions here as there are so many variables at play, the shutter speed used, the amount of light, whether you are targetting highlights or shadows and ultimately how you process the files.  In other words, it’s nowhere near as simple as with JPEGs where you can do a straight ISO ramp up and then point your finger at the results and give the definitive nod of approval.

But you want answers so I will make some generalisations that hopefully help you get optimal results.

  • Perfect focus matters more than with the standard lens, and under low light, the iPhone sometimes hunts a bit and settles on the wrong focus distance, if the focus is out a little you’ll probably try to ramp up the sharpening and that makes the noise look way worse.
  • The tele lens needs to be much steadier than the wide angle one; it’s far more likely you’ll get motion blur unless you pay a bit more attention.  I found that 1/30 sec was the point where problems start to crop up occasionally but everyone is different, your experience may be better or worse.
  • Anything over 400 ISO is going to look rubbish regardless of what you do in the processing.
  • 100 to 160 ISO is good for low light, even if you underexposure to keep the shutter speed practical.
  • Under bright light the lowest ISOs (16-32) can be radically under-exposed (like three stops or more) and still give terrific results, the main advantage is this will allow for extended highlight rendering without the hassles or deficits of HDR. A “2 stops underexposed” image shot at 16-32 ISO can do a very nice impression of colour neg film with sympathetic editing.
  • Under bright/moderate light there is a general drop in potential sharpness at ISO 125 and above, but it will be fine for many needs.

 

TLC Tractor
A tractor shot deep inside a shed at 100ISO using TLC at the Coolamon showground, minimal noise reduction was applied, this adds a bit of filmic grain but importantly kept the micro details perfectly recorded on the grille etc. Overall the pic looks a lot like it was shot on colour neg film and the file remains easily tweakable.

 

Postscript

Finally, I was fascinated by the excellent results delivered by the telephoto lens on the iPhone X and decided to do a little further exploration and see how it compared to a regular high-quality camera.

I chose to compare it to my Olympus EM5Mk 2 paired with the Olympus Pro Grade 12-40mm f2.8 lens.

In the end, the comparison grew more significant than I planned and I made test shots with the standard iPhone X lens and also tried cropped and panorama shots for the iPhone to compare with using a regular zoom on your Mirrorless camera.  All images on both devices were shot in RAW.

I guess, at this point, you are assuming the M4/3 reigned supreme, you might want to just hold off on that assumption, anyhow the article will be posted soon, then all will be revealed.

 

  • TLC files are captured using pre light filtering, this is entirely explained in my book “Ultimate iPhone DNG” available on the iBooks store.
  • UniWb capture increases the overall level of exposure to the maximum, again this is covered in “Ultimate iPhone DNG”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ideal DNG Capture App?

A quick trawl through the catalog of Camera Replacement apps on the Apps store will soon reveal a plethora of apps laying claim to being the greatest thing since sliced bread. It can be a little confusing to sort out what you need and what really works.

My eBook “Ultimate iPhone DNG” has information regarding App choices but you might also like to check out this little video where I discuss the items/features that you would ideally be looking for…fact is some of the apps have deficits that rule them completely out of contention.

Buy Ultimate iPhone DNG on the iBooks store:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/ultimate-iphone-dng/id1274334884?ls=1&mt=11

Check out the video here:

Are DNG Files Noisier?

A common comment made by some photography reviewers and even quite a few iPhone shooters is that they think the DNG files are more noisy that the JPEGs, is it true?

Again, like lots of things digital……it depends.

Yep the files will look noiser before you apply the appropriate noise reduction but in truth you have enormous control over this and the jpegs only look as smooth as a babies rear end because the in-camera processing just obliterates all noise….and fine detail and color subtlety along with it.

With DNG we have choices and that has to be a good thing!  Anyhow check out the video to get a better insight and of course there is plenty more you can learn about noise control by reading “Ultimate iPhone DNG” which is now available on the iBooks store.

Buy Ultimate iPhone DNG for the iBooks store:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/ultimate-iphone-dng/id1274334884?ls=1&mt=11

 

Check out the video here

 

Why Are My iPhone DNGs so Poor

I’ve seen few items on the inter-web claiming there’s little difference between the JPEGs and the DNG photos, I’ve also been often asked about this in classes.  I reckon it’s high time to put the situation straight.

There’s an enormous difference between the two, it’s like comparing a takeaway hamburger n chips to a fine Italian sit down meal, not even in the same league.  If photographers are not seeing this difference it likely boils down to one of three issues.

  • Maybe they’re not editing the DNG files correctly or possibly not editing them at all, instead they are just looking at the initial “JPEG setting rendering”.
  • Could be that the images are only being viewed as small on-screen versions, in other words they are not being viewed on a large hi-res computer screen or as prints.
  • And…. the most likely the issue is poor DNG exposure.

It could of course be a combo of all three but regardless of the cause I have a little video where I discuss this issue, might be worth checking it out.  Of course all the intricate details and issues are covered in my “Ultimate iPhone DNG” e book which has just been released on the iBooks store.

Buy “Ultimate iPhone DNG” on the iBooks Store:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/ultimate-iphone-dng/id1274334884?ls=1&mt=11

Check out the video here.

 

 

Video – Why Shoot iPhone DNG

It’s a common question and there are several reasons.  In the end, DNG is not really an impediment to your mobile photography but rather a powerful option that will almost always improve the results you get from your iPhone……provided of course you have an understanding of the core concepts and don’t mind doing some post-shot editing.

 

Buy Ultimate iPhone DNG from the iBooks Store:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/ultimate-iphone-dng/id1274334884?ls=1&mt=11

Check out the video below for some inside info in DNG.

 

 

 

DNG on the iPad Pro?

Can the iPad shoot DNG? One of my students asked me very a sensible question in an iPhoneography class a couple of weeks back, one I’d not really given much thought to before.

The short Answer is that only the iPad Pro models running the 12 mp iSight camera module are able to do this, so you have a choice between the 9.7 inch and the latest iPad Pro Models.  I have the 10.5-inch model so my comments apply to that only but I assume the larger 12.9-inch model exhibits the same attributes.

Yep, Ok Brad so the Pro model can do the DNG shuffle but is it any good?

The camera module is the same iSight unit fitted to the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, which is to say it’s the latest and best incarnation of the module having the f1.8 lens and the most sophisticated sensor.  The main difference is the lack of optical image stabilization.

So the short answer was there’s no reason the iPad pro should not produce excellent DNG image quality provided you have an app that allows it to shoot in DNG, but I thought being a dedicated teacher I’d better delve a little deeper for you.

I decided this past weekend to give that a try, now please note I’ve not had the chance to do any comprehensive testing,  there could be some hidden issues I have yet to uncover.

 

Kiama Blow Hole, testing the DNG photo quality iPad Pro
Kiama Blowhole, taken with my iPad Pro 10.5 using DNG (UniWb).
Crop of Kiama Blowhole taken with iPad Pro using DNG (uniWb)
Crop from iPad Pro DNG looks great, fine detail on the water is excellent and the highlight tonality is vastly better than what you would expect to get from the standard JPEG capture.

You have a few shooting choices because you can load any of the latest iPhone DNG shooting apps, they’ll only fill the middle of the screen but you can expand them to a 2X view and they’ll then fill most of the screen real estate.

You could also choose to shoot using Lightroom Mobile, the iPad version shoots DNG natively.

As far as I know all of the dedicated iPad apps, Like ProCamera HD only shoot JPEG or sometimes TIFF. (Let me know if you have any alternative knowledge and I can update the blog.)

I have to say that in past I’ve had a good chuckle at people wandering around shooting with their iPads, it just looks so…. odd.  Frankly the 10.5 inch iPad Pro is a pretty cumbersome camera and no doubt the 12.9 inch is getting more than a tad ridiculous for the mobile photographer.

There are a couple of issues that show up in a practical sense, first, it’s difficult to control and hold the iPad at the same time, for example, setting focus points and exposure and holding it steady etc really seems to need about 3 hands! The iPad is large enough to catch the wind and unless you shoot in landscape mode it just feels uncomfortable, I imagine the 12.9 in version would feel even more precarious.  I’m sure you could get used to it but honestly, I just couldn’t relax when doing the “iPad out in the big wide world” test.

And then there’s the issue of actually carrying it around, sure it’s not heavy by any means but try as I might it wasn’t going to fit into any pockets I had.

But by far the biggest issue is that, well I just felt ridiculous, nobody else seemed fussed about it but I really couldn’t wait to get back to the car.

Testing DNG photo quality iPad pro 10.5in using TLC method
iPad Pro raw dynamic range is better than expected. In this case the image is a TLC – DNG and even in this downsized image it’s obvious that the photo possesses excellent textural information, the contrast range is very high as the inherently dark rock face is in deep shade, still it holds some solid detail and the breaking surf on the distant rocks still has full tonality.

So it was all bad then….no not at all, there’s lots of good stuff as well.

The screen is just amazing, even in the bright sunlight I could see pretty clearly what was going on and it was really obvious if the shot wasn’t in critical focus. For me however the really neat thing is the color and tonal rendering of the new iPad Pro screen, it’s far better than my iPhone 6S plus and shows no banding that I could see, looks like all that Apple bragging regarding the new screens was justified.

In the end, I couldn’t happily shoot outside with the iPad Pro, DNG or not, and I certainly wouldn’t entertain the idea of shooting with any of the JPEG only iPad versions in the great outdoors or probably anywhere else for that matter.

But it got me thinking, what if you needed to shoot indoors studio style stuff and you could mount the iPad to a tripod, ah well, then I think the iPad Pro might actually be a very useful tool.

As said, the screen is just brilliant and the size makes critical focus and exposure accuracy a cinch, you could work at a greater distance from the screen, and seeing such a large image definitely improves your ability to judge composition.  So yep this could be a killer indoor studio camera for people who need to shoot products etc but don’t want the complications of a regular camera set-up.

The real clincher, however, could be the easy interfacing with the amazing editing tools you can use on the iPad Pro.  Lightroom mobile just rocks on the iPad Pro but even better the new “Affinity Photo” for iPad Pro is utterly incredible, so in short, you have the possibility of a rather compelling workflow.

Ok enough of the basic iPad Pro stuff, what about the photo quality?

Well, the news is great, the DNG photo quality is excellent.

Kiama Blowhole park taken with iPad Pro using DNG, Test image.
iPad Pro DNG records excellent fine detail, this image is particularly telling. First, we have a square crop of the original 4:3 aspect ratio frame taken using TLC-DNG, you can take it from me the cropped off sections are just as detailed and clear.  The sky is nicely done and shows no banding, this image has not been corrected for vignetting so the corners are a little darker than the middle but that’s easily fixed if desired.
Kiama Blowhole Park 100% crop iPad pro DNG image quality test
Look at this 100% plus iPad DNG crop,  (note this is TLC -DNG so represents the ultimate possible image quality you could get from a single frame capture), have a look at that sign,  you can’t read it of course but it’s pretty obvious it has writing and icons on it, what’s even more impressive is that tonally the sign is very high up on the scale yet it holds full detail, it’s not even close to clipped….impressive indeed!

I must point out however that when I test, I always aim to see just how high the quality bar can be for a particular device, which means the DNG test frames are extracted in Iridient Developer using custom settings and in this case some of the frames were shot using TLC (buy my “Ultimate iPhone DNG” book if you want to know about TLC).

Long and short of it, my results should show the absolute potential of the camera with optimal technique.

Back to the test then, basically the 12 mp iSight module in the iPad Pro is a step up from the ones used in all of the iPhones prior to the 7 series models.

Specifically, tests indicate it produces DNG files that are sharper, have less noise, better color accuracy, less vignetting (when uncorrected) and virtually zero chromatic aberration.  In other words, it’s pretty much better in every measurable respect.

The custom processed DNG files show truly excellent levels of sharpness and impressively better highlight retention that the iPhone 6 series sensors offer, additionally I think the edge definition is improved but I would need to carry out more exhaustive tests to confirm this.

Kiama Blowhole Lighthouse iPad pro dng test procamera
iPad Pro DNG and near white tones? This TLC -DNG image has impressive near white tonality and I expect that a monochrome image captured this way with the iPad Pro would be excellent.

On the other side of the coin, I don’t feel I can see any significant improvement in shadow detail, but again I’d need to run some additional tests to confirm this.

Most people probably want to know about the noise, well I can say that when optimally exposed the native level of chrominance noise is much less obvious, in fact, I’d rate it a non-issue at the lowest ISO and the luminance noise is actually very fine-grained and film-like, so not at all unpleasant.

So to sum up, ultimately I feel confident after this quick test in saying the potential of the iPad Pro camera easily bests that of all the pre-iPhone 7 models and is by all fair measures rather excellent, provided you can keep the whole thing rock steady as there is no optical stabilization.

The JPEGs? Basically, I don’t really care but I expect they would be fine for non-critical purposes etc, if I get a rush of blood to head on a day of rare boredom I might run some tests on those, but please don’t hold your breath.

What I do promise, however, is that soon I will do an exhaustive ISO ramp up at my regular test site to see how this sensor compares to the previous gen iSight sensor, I expect it will do quite well.

 

Buy Ultimate iPhone DNG from the iBooks Store:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/ultimate-iphone-dng/id1274334884?ls=1&mt=11


Shooting iPhone DNG for Family Photos

Like lots of photographers I use an iPhone as a regular camera, I love the “in your pocket, unobtrusive, instant feedback” aspect of shooting with the Phone. Being able to easily share snaps with family and friends instantly adds enormously to the appeal…take a shot, tweak a little and airdrop it to my kids or friends over a cuppa, what’s not to love about that.

And of course I get a regular stream of pics and videos of my new Grandson and the Families exploits in return. As a family we carry our visual lives in our collective pockets and handbags, a well-shot snap can convey a wealth of information that words often struggle to say.

I don’t get hung on the idea that a photo should be purely the result of the camera and lens, I’ve always believed that editing and presentation are just as important. I’m convinced good edits can make the idea and message more direct and maybe even more meaningful.  Let’s face it, in the end we’re trying to tell personal stories, express emotions and convey feelings…….with pictures.

Aaron On His Birthday
Yep hard to believe my son is 30 years old, taking a bit of chill time in the coffee shop, the pic has been treated to some selective blur and subtle edits.  I really do love the way that the DNG files work as monochromes.
Aaron and Jain 2
My son Aaron and his partner Jain on his 30th Birthday, this is a TLC-DNG image (you’ll need to buy the book if you want to know about TLC), its taken in full harsh sunlight but the file has edited beautifully and really it looks rather film like. The simulated depth of field certainly adds an extra dimension to the image.

For me the addition of the DNG option for shooting on the iPhone was a huge deal, it opened up an array of options that just weren’t possible with the JPEGs but more importantly, it provides me with files which are nowhere near as brittle and “vastly more editable”.

Now I don’t expect my iPhone or any smartphone to be a paragon of technical excellence but that doesn’t mean it has to be technically hopeless either. The DNG option has expanded the iPhone’s capabilities and turned it into a potentially far more serious photographic tool and one that’s definitely far from a technical disaster.

Longtime iPhone shooters will know exactly what I am talking about with respect to the JPEGs…poor highlight retention, no fine textural detail, watercolor rendering at anything above minimum ISO, rampant banding of blue skies, weird hue shifts on skin tone highlights, we’ve all seen these problems.  iPhone images don’t have to be like that, with DNG everything can be soooooo much better!

I like to edit my iPhone pics, and even edit them to quite serious levels.  I want to make blow-ups if the image is nice enough, I want to crop, I want it all, regardless of what camera I take the photos with.

Yes, of course I could use one of my other cameras, but then I don’t normally take a camera kit to the coffee shop or out to a family dinner, or most places in fact, but I always have my phone.

milton copy
My wonderful Grandson Milton, apple of his Poppies eye, isn’t he just beautiful.  Taken with window light using UniWb DNG and then DOFsimm’d to taste.  The image prints superbly well.

I realize some people might say, look, Brad, you could get that shallow DOF and big blow-ups with the pics with your Sony Nex, your Olympus OM.  Well, sure I could if I had those cameras with me at the time.

I don’t shoot zillions of pics, I’d rather shoot just a few select images, editing them into what I want is pretty quick and relatively painless and just because photos are shot on an iPhone doesn’t mean they need to look half-baked.

Back to that DNG stuff, there’s much to love about it, but for me, the two most important aspects are the increased highlight tonality and the ability to have the fine textural information in the photos preserved.  I know Apple likes to kill noise stone dead so it looks all peachy when the average punter zooms in for some pixel peeping fun but seriously that “wrapped in plastic” look just doesn’t cut it for me.  I have a healthy relationship with noise anyway, we can both get along quite nicely, I’d much rather be given the choice between going plastic or analogue thanks very much.

Basically, the DNGs allow for a more 3D like rendering, being able to hold those near white tones makes the images look far more organic and the increased textural detail adds more shape and form to surfaces and this is evident even without any serious editing.

Back to the editing front, I just love that I can push the tones around in DNG without getting that horrible tonal breakup that seems to afflict most iPhone JPEGs, want to vignette a bit, lighten a shadow, dodge some skin tones, burn some highlights, no problem it all just works much better.

Wendy 57 Today
Wendy, the love of my life, we’ve been together for 40 years, this little snap was taken in one of our favourite coffee shops, it was inside and under dim light but the DNG option made the most of it.  I love that smile even after all these years.

What really gets me excited is when I want to create depth of field effects. I realize a lot of photographers will get more than a bit uppity about this, thinking it’s sort of cheating by denying Olympus of the opportunity to sell me a very nice 25mm f1.2 for my OM camera to do this all automatically for me. (Olympus are about to tempt me with three more very fast f1.2 lenses I believe, I feel movement in of the wallet in my pocket)

Honestly, though I actually have some solid creative reasons for sometimes taking this simulated DOF approach and anyway isn’t this approach much the same as what Apple is already doing with the iPhone 7S Plus and other makers on the cutting edge of experimental camera technology are trying to achieve.

Consider this, with a bit of work I can pretty much get any sort of effect I want, bokeh effects are adjustable, depth of focus controllable, field curvature can be simulated and lot’s more. Fact is I often DOF sim with shots taken at say f3.5 on my regular cameras instead of going down the ultra shallow DOF shooting route, we have choices as they say.

The big advantage with the DNGs for the all this Doffy Sim stuff is that the “in focus areas” are just, well… more in focus. Details are more resolved and they respond far better to a wide array of post-shot sharpening processes, like ultra fine radius sharpening, high-pass filters, noise texturing and more. I look at it this way, it’s always possible to blur sharp bits but it’s not possible to get sharpness out of blur. So starting with a sharp image with a more extensive depth of field and selectively blurring can often be more successful that staring with one with marginal overall sharpness and then trying to add detail back that was lost due to technical depth of field limitations. You’ve probably gathered I’m not a big fan of the “6 eyelashes and half an eyeball in focus” look, but I know lots of folks are…which is fine.

I must point out that I would not attempt any of this Doffy Sim stuff on the iPhone itself, any of the apps I’ve tried to use for these effects are just plain horrible, basically, they lack the fine control you need and it’s just really hard to do on such a small screen. All that said my new iPad Pro is a different beast altogether.

Note: If you do know of an iPhone app that really does this DOF sim stuff well I’d also love to know about!

Lightroom mobile has proven to be a brilliant editing app for dealing initially with the DNGs, I remain seriously impressed be just how good it is.  Using Lightroom in conjunction with Snapseed for fine tunings and effects provides a killer family pic combo. Honestly, the two are just a superb for most needs and it’s utterly amazing that neither will even ask you to remove your wallet from your pocket!

Note that I wouldn’t use either for simulating Depth of Field effects, that’s always down in Photoshop but Snapseed can do some passable simulations if you use the layers functions.

Holly 1
Our little girl, Holly the Collie, frankly she is far too smart for her own good, but she looks a treat in the Autumn leaves and the DNG is quite excellent at fully recording the subtle whites in her coat.

Ultimately I take a sort of hybrid approach with the family and friends iPhone snaps, I shoot in DNG, do an extraction in Lightroom mobile, follow it up with some tweaking in Snapseed and then hand it on to my family and friends via airdrop or email if they don’t have the airdrop option. It normally takes about 4 mins, not instant, but quick enough. Later on, if I decide I like the pic enough I’ll airdrop the pre-edited JPEG to my trusty Mac and give it some Photoshop time. I then re-send the newly cooked result via email to my family and friends.

I don’t normally process family and friends DNGs on the desktop but for some more serious holiday or commercial shots where I want ultimate quality, I’ll cook them in one of my RAW editing programs, usually Iridient Developer, which provides for some serious image quality that will utterly belie the iPhone origins.  (yep, that’s all covered in one of the upcoming books)

In the end, the only thing that I find a bit limiting with the iPhone for family and friends snaps is shooting under really low light (though DNG helps a lot) and the lack of a more telephoto lens.  The standard wide lens does kind of apply its own perspective look to shots, but I’ll upgrade to the new dual-lens iPhone 8 later in the year so that aspect will probably cease to an issue for me.

Wendy at the Food Van
By rights this should be just about an impossible shot, taken under very low light handheld at 1/40 sec, Wendy was actually very strongly backlit with the exposure set to record the highlights, yep it’s a bit grainy but it’s nice grain and I truly treasure this shot,  a great reminder of a lovely but very cold evening we spent with some friends out on the town.  Of course its DNG, a UniWb version in fact.

 

Get Ultimate iPhone DNG on the iBooks Store:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/ultimate-iphone-dng/id1274334884?ls=1&mt=11