iPhone SE vs iPhone 11: comparison of the cameras of the two phones

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The iPhone SE and iPhone 11 have different camera hardware, but both are powered by the A13 Bionic processor, which makes photos and videos sometimes quite similar.

Angela Lang / CNET

Despite the general approval of Apple’s $ 399 price for its new iPhone SE, There were a lot of speculation on camera hardware. Its rear camera has the same specifications as the iPhone 8 in 2017, but some have speculated that it may have the sensor of the iPhone XR in 2018.

It took a IFixIt disassembly of the new iPhone to show that the SE actually had the same lens and sensor as the iPhone 8. This means that all the improvements in image quality as well as the addition of features such as portrait mode, come only from the A13 Bionic chip. This processor is the same as that of the iPhone 11 at $ 699.

Since both phones have the same processor, I naturally wanted to compare photos and videos. To date, iPhone 11 phones not only have the best cameras on any iPhone, but one of the best versatile camera systems on any phone.

The iPhone SE has a lot to do, but as you’ll see, it can go hand in hand with its more expensive Apple siblings. This comparison shows that when it comes to photography and video recording, the real consideration isn’t the number of megapixels or the number of cameras. Instead, everything revolves around the processor.

iPhone SE vs 11: SmartHDR makes photos fantastic

The combination of the A13 Bionic chip and iOS 13 absolutely elevates the iPhone 8 camera hardware to the next level on the SE. The rear camera of the iPhone SE has a 28mm f / 1.8 lens, while the iPhone 11 has two rear cameras: a main one with a 26mm f / 1.8 lens and an ultra wide angle camera with a 13mm f / 2.4 lens.

Since the 11 has an ultra wide angle camera and the SE does not, there is not much to compare. But here are some of my favorite photos that I took with the ultra large camera anyway

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Here is an ultra wide angle photo I took of my scallops and friends before social distancing was the norm.

Patrick Holland / CNET

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The iPhone 11’s ultrawude angle lens tilts the heights of skyscrapers toward me.

Patrick Holland / CNET

When I focused on everyone’s main cameras, I noticed that in good lighting the photos were almost indistinguishable. Look at the photos of a tree I took in my garden below and you won’t be able to make much difference. The photo of the iPhone SE is still just as slightly tighter than the iPhone 11. But in all other cases (even when I zoomed each 100% on a large screen), I could not see other differences.

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Apart from the framing, the photos are identical. The one on the left comes from the iPhone SE and the one on the right from the iPhone 11.

Patrick Holland / CNET

Take a look at the photos I took of some wooden slats. Again, apart from the framing, it’s hard to see a difference. When I zoomed in, the details of each photo were good. Both had small amounts of image noise in the shade of the slats.

The reason why photos in good lighting are so similar is that if 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.

Here’s where we start to see some differences between the two phones. The photo below of a tree shows the strength of SmartHDR processing. This scene has extremes of lighting with dark shadows under the tree and bright reflections in the clouds.

Look closely at the iPhone 11 photo and you can see that the shadows have more detail and are not as dark as the iPhone SE. In the sky through the branches, you see that the two photos have brought out the reflections, but the iPhone 11 has less. Although this is a minor detail, it proves that the main camera of the iPhone 11 better handles a wider dynamic range than the iPhone SE.

Portrait mode: 1 camera versus 2

Both phones have portrait mode and produce excellent results. The 11 can take portrait photos of people and animals while the iPhone SE can only take people, which is a big drawback if you’re an animal lover. With the portrait photos below, you’ll see that they look very similar. The portrait of the iPhone 11 captures more details. For example, look at the hair on John’s forehead. In addition, the attenuation on the shoulders from blurry to blurry areas seems more natural to the iPhone 11 and this could be due to the fact that it uses the two rear lenses to create the effect.

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Portrait photos of iPhone SE (left) and iPhone 11 (right).

Patrick Holland / CNET

Deep fusion treatment for medium to low light

When we enter medium and low light environments, the differences between the two phones are even more pronounced. Indeed, the iPhone 11 has a Deep Fusion processing which improves the image quality, the details and minimizes the noise of the image. The iPhone SE lacks Deep Fusion.

The photos below are of my trainer taken indoors in medium lighting. Besides the tighter framing of the iPhone SE photo, there is a noticeable difference in terms of image quality. The photo of 11 has a pinch more detail, like around the wall outlet.

In addition, the lower right corner of the iPhone SE photo suffers from image noise in the shadows. I would say that for interior and medium light photos, the 11 has the advantage because its use of Deep Fusion treatment.

Night mode vs no night mode

Another notable difference between the two phones is the night mode, which is found on the iPhone 11 but not on the SE. Night mode uses adaptive bracketing, taking a series of images with different shutter speeds. It combines them into a single photo that is brighter, has less image noise and improves detail. Like the iPhone 11’s ultra-wide angle camera, your own preferences will determine whether night mode is a snap. But let’s see what it can do.

Below, photos of a tree in my garden taken when it was extremely dark. The night mode of the iPhone 11 is better in every way.

But it was a pretty extreme way to test the phones. Below is a slightly brighter, low-light scene from a book, a dropper, and my computer. It was low enough to trigger night mode on the iPhone 11.

As you can see if you look closely at the eye drop bottle, the photo on iPhone 11 is sharper, provides better detail and better color accuracy. Finally, compare the names of the authors on the spine of the book. The text looks softer on the SE photo and the spine of the book is slightly different in color.

The video from the rear camera is almost identical

Like photos in good lighting, it is also difficult to discern video recording between the main rear cameras of the two phones. Both phones can film up to 4K, 60 fps and have a wide dynamic range (aka “HDR” but for video). However, the 11 offers a wide dynamic range up to 4K 60fps, while the iPhone SE can only support it up to 4K 30fps.

Take a look at the video below which contains footage filmed from both the iPhone 11 and SE.


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As you can see on 4K, 60 frames per second, the two videos are similar. But if you look more closely, the speaker on the shelf behind me looks more contrasted in the video for the iPhone 11. The lamp on my shoulder in the video for the iPhone 11 is not turned off either , while in the iPhone SE video, it is. This is due to the wide dynamic range of the iPhone 11 at 4K 60fps.

To see more videos filmed with the iPhone SE, watch the video below.

Front camera: more detailed selfies and “slowfie” video

However, the videos taken with the front cameras show a greater difference in quality. The iPhone 11 has a wider front camera and is capable of 4K and slow motion videos. IPhone SE can only shoot 1080p videos and cannot shoot “slofies”. Both can take portrait photos, but the iPhone 11 captures a lot more detail (in my hair and skin, for example). Some people are sure to see all of these details in their skin.

In terms of video from the front cameras, you can really see the difference in resolution and hear it in audio. The video on the iPhone 11 sounds better and is clearer than the video on the iPhone SE. Again, watch the video that accompanies this article to watch a video shot with the front cameras.

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 has been able to capture such comparable and brilliant images, although it is hundreds of dollars cheaper than the iPhone 11.

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