While I was working on building a full review of the Canon G5X Mk II (coming very soon!), I couldn’t help but wonder if smartphone cameras had gotten so good that there isn’t much of a point for advanced pocket cameras to exist. There was only one way to find out: a mini-shootout!
Below is a quick test between an iPhone XS and a Canon G5X Mk II. Yes, I know the iPhone 11 Pro is fresh on the scene, but alas, I do not have one of those on hand. However, keep in mind that the iPhone 11 Pro is much more similar to the XS than the hype would like you to think. Beyond the addition of the ultra-wide (which doesn’t shoot raw), and a slight bump in the amount of light the telephoto can let in, the iPhone 11 Pro’s improvements are mostly software-based and very incremental. Don’t expect wildly different results from what I got below, especially when shooting raw.
Below I compare the G5X Mk II raw, iPhone XS raw (shot in Adobe Lightroom), and iPhone XS (shot using default Apple iOS 13 software). If you’re interested in a more detailed analysis between iPhone raw and standard camera capabilities, you can check up my write-up on Lightroom raw on the iPhone XS.
Long story short, when viewed on small screens, the iPhone default photos has HDR processing that can make (sometimes) very pleasing pictures. However, when you look at the details (or on a screen larger than a phone), the noise reduction causes a major loss in detail and looks unpleasantly smudgy. The noise in the iPhone raw pictures is more pleasant to my eye, but there’s still way too much of it.
It’s important to remember that each of the iPhone cameras has a different sensor. The telephoto sensor is smaller, noisier, and generally far less capable than the main sensor. On the iPhone 11, there is a third lens: an ultrawide that has a fixed-focus lens attached to a sensor that doesn’t even allow raw capture. That’s where the zoom lens of a pocket camera can outperform smartphones that have technically similar zoom ranges: on the pocket camera, the same high-quality sensor is used for everything. (Side note: Samsung, Oppo, and others have been working on wild prism-based smartphone cameras that might change the game completely. I’m very curious to see how the develop over the next few years.)
One thing to keep in mind is that because these images are being served through this website, you’re not getting the full-resolution, straight-out-of-the-camera results. I’ve tried to optimize everything to preserve detail, and I have crops below for a closer look, but it’s still imperfect until I can afford a much higher-bandwidth website.
PORTRAIT – STANDARD WIDE ANGLE
Honestly, I thought that portraits were going to be a major win for the iPhone’s default camera app, since I primarily use it for pictures of friends and family. However, I was disappointed with the results. The G5X Mk II accurately captures the moody light of the scene, while the default iOS app adds all kinds of weird color trying to evenly expose the face via computational photography. The result makes the subject look oddly sickly.
Comparing the G5X Mk II detail shot to the iPhone XS Lightroom raw photo, you can get a good sense of the difference in grain if you look at the yellow wall behind the subject. There is some light graininess in the G5X Mk II shot, and far more in the iPhone raw. However, as we see below, the wide sensor on the iPhone still is way less noisy than the smaller, lower quality telephoto sensor. The default iOS app reduces the grain significantly at the expense of detail.
PORTRAIT – TELEPHOTO
Once again, the default iOS app makes a mess of the colors in this scene. I turned on the ‘portrait mode’ option to see if it would fare any better, and the results (in my opinion) are pretty hideous. The subject’s hair is particularly challenging for computationally-derived shallow depth of field effects, and there are several strands that are blurred out incorrectly. Also, it might be hard to see in these pictures, but portrait mode is doing something super weird to the detail in the subject’s shirt.
OBJECT – STANDARD WIDE ANGLE
Finally, some good news for the iPhone! The iPhone XS Lightroom raw image pretty much ties the G5X Mk II. The only difference I can tell is that the larger sensor of the G5X affords a larger dynamic range, which can be seen in the blown out areas of the window.
Speaking of dynamic range, the iPhone XS default camera embrightens everything to an unpleasant degree. It doesn’t look awful, and if I didn’t have anything to compare it to it’d probably look just fine. However, the brick just seems flat compared to the other images.
However, this scene definitely shows the iPhone can hang with the G5X Mk II in some scenarios. The difference is quite subtle.
COUCH SCENE – STANDARD WIDE ANGLE
Here is a scenario where the iPhone XS’s default camera’s desire to flatten everything out using HDR tricks works pretty well. The crap in the back of my studio is easily visible, and there’s even some semblance of trees peeking in through the window.
When viewed at 100%, there is a ton more detail in the G5X Mk II photo, but I intentionally didn’t include a detailed crop of this test. Why? Because once the results are processed for the internet, it’s pretty hard to see that extra detail. Once again, the iPhone does ‘enough’ if you’re shooting primarily for social media. There’s a reason the average person isn’t carrying around a pocket digital camera these days.
COUCH SCENE – TELEPHOTO
The iPhone really shows its weakness when it has to leave the main sensor for the telephoto sensor. Not only is it much grainer, the default iOS app completely changed the color of the couch for some reason. The noise reduction in the default iOS app erases the texture in the couch, but the raw version is able to recover some detail. The G5X Mk II is able to zoom in much farther than the iPhone is capable, blowing it out of the water in every way.
Honestly, I thought the iPhone was going to do a lot better than it did. Most of the time I’m pretty happy with the default iOS camera’s color choices, but some of the decisions it made during this test look unpleasantly overprocessed. More often than not, I preferred the Lightroom raw iPhone pictures over the iOS camera’s.
There’s no doubt about it though, in many conditions the iPhone is nearly the equal of the G5X Mk II, and that’s impressive. It certainly is on par with the old pocket digital champions like the S110. However, the G5X Mk II, and really, any one-inch sensor camera out there like the RX100 or G7X series, is going to be far more flexible than any phone, turning in way better results in more situations. For photographers, a larger sensor and proper zoom lens is going to mean more control, more detail, less noise, and better pictures. Smartphones can’t replace one-inch sensor compacts yet, much less DSLRs and mirrorless cameras.
But’s probably is only a matter of time before computational photography catches up. In the meantime, I’m going to have a blast shooting both my G5X Mk II and my iPhone.
If you’re interested in picking up a one inch sensor camera of your own, you can find the excellent Canon G5X Mk II at Amazon! Using these affiliate links helps me keep this site online without annoying banner ads and costs you nothing.
Special thanks to Aleks Vasic for posing for this test!
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