Note that these are the hardware specs — Apple focused strongly on software enhancements like Smart HDR and the new Portrait mode, which are not covered by the technical specifications.
So What’s New?
A redesigned wide-angle lens
The lens on iPhone XS and XS Max that is used for most shots1 has had an overhaul with a new 26mm equivalent focal length. This is a change of 2mm—shaved off the previous iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X which have 28mm wide-angle lenses.
A new sensor
While we can’t check the size of the sensor with our Technical Readout, all data points to a new sensor in the iPhone XS. John Gruber of Daring Fireball speculates that the new iPhone XS sensor is about 30% larger — and Apple states that the pixels on the iPhone XS wide-angle camera sensor are now 1.4µm, a 0.2µm increase from the previous sensors.
Longer exposure time up to 1 second
The iPhone XS and XS Max are capable of a full second of exposure. Previous iPhones were only able to expose up to 1/3rd of a second2. This could enable a lot of cool long-exposure photography.
Wider ISO range
New sensor means new ISO range, which is a bit wider on the iPhone XS. ISO now goes from 24 ISO to 2304 ISO, which gives it a bit more sensitivity in low light. The ‘best’ iPhone sensor previously only went to 2112 ISO.
The Telephoto camera gained nearly 240 max ISO, its maximum ISO going from 1200 to 1440, indicating minor sensor tweaks there as well.
Presumably this means less noise across the board at the same level of light.
Minimum Exposure Changes
We read much longer minimum exposures on iPhone XS: wide angle and telephoto go from 1/91000th of a second to 1/22000th and 1/45000th, respectively. Unsure what this implies until we put the devices to the test.
Full Technical Readout Comparison
A Note on Other Changes
It bears repeating that our app’s Technical Readout only sees changes in the hardware in the camera modules.
Apple has significantly re-engineered the image processing pipeline, which includes automatic exposure merging for ‘Smart HDR’, likely changed and improved noise reduction based on machine learning with the new A12 Bionic chip, and more things we can’t comment on without rigorous testing of the new iPhone XS cameras.
Suffice it to say, the iPhone XS camera is likely to be a lot better than the iPhone X given the powerful system hardware enabling new software corrections and optimizations. A lot of image quality is in the software stack nowadays.
1. You will find that the stock camera app cleverly switches the camera even when at 2x zoom, as the telephoto lens and sensor are inflexible in many use cases. It’s a slower lens (it lets in less light), has a long minimum focus distance and the sensor isn’t as good as its wide-angle counterpart. See how Apple cleverly lies to you in day-to-day use here.
2. Apps that do exposures of more than 1/3rd of a second on non-XS iPhones are using composite images to simulate long exposures, which are not true long exposures.