The iPhone 11 Is All About the New Camera. We Put Its Features to the Test.

Here's everything you (really) need to know before upgrading to the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, or iPhone 11 Pro Max.

Apple set a trio of new iPhones upon the world last week: the iPhone 11, the iPhone 11 Pro, and the iPhone 11 Pro Max. Think of the iPhone 11 as the successor to the iPhone XR. It's cheap(ish), it comes in flashy colors, and it has the longest battery life of any iPhone. It also has a good camera with wide and ultra-wide zooms. But it doesn't have a triple camera.

Apple reserved its so-called Pro Camera, with telephoto, wide, and ultra-wide depths, for the iPhone 11 Pro and the iPhone 11 Pro Max. The only significant differences between the Pro and the Pro Max are size (the Pro Max is bigger) and battery life (the Pro Max is better, although both are long-lasting).

So obviously, you're wondering if you should trade in your current iPhone and shell out hundreds on one of these new iPhones. We can't make that decision for you, but we were able to test out the phones over the past week, giving us a little more insight into how they function.


For all of its buzz over the three cameras, the 2019 iPhones are definitely more of an evolution than a revolution. All three are equipped with the new A13 Bionic chip, which Apple says is its fastest, most efficient smartphone processor to date. Plus, those triple cameras finally bring Apple up to the level of other smartphone photography from Google and Samsung. But if you don't care much about photography, there's nothing else as impressive.

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With all this in mind, these are the buzziest, most best-est features about the new iPhone 11s—at least, according to Apple—and how they might actually impact your life. Or not. Consider the following before deciding to upgrade or to sit this year out. The phones are available for pre-order now and will be released September 20.

These three images of the Brooklyn Bridge were taken from the same spot with the iPhone 11 Pro.

The Triple Camera

You can't miss the triple camera. It's massive on the back of the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max; people suffering from trypophobia have registered their complaints. Going all the way from telephoto to ultra-wide gives you 4x optical zoom range for one shot, which is another way of saying you can stand in one place and take the same photo with the three different zoom options, and all three photos will look like they were taken at drastically different distances—and all will be high quality, with much improved contrast and color. In fact, significantly higher quality than the iPhone X, thanks to upgrades like Smart HDR. Your photos will look beautiful without you having to actually be good at taking photos.


This photo, taken at a Dr. Dog concert in New York on the iPhone 11 Pro, didn’t require any editing to look pretty damn good.

The photo app interface is very simple to use, letting you toggle between the three cameras in the frame, or use a dial to get a zoom that's in between the telephoto and wide zooms, for instance. And even if you take a photo with the telephoto camera, the camera still captures the scene outside the frame, should you need a more zoomed-out option (if you activate this feature in the settings menu, that is). This likely won't come up often in your own photography, though.

In short, the triple camera is a huge boon to Apple fans who've envied the camera capabilities on the Google Pixel 3 or Samsung Galaxy 10+. Although the iPhone 11 only has a dual camera, it also takes gorgeous photographs. Your depth of range will just be more limited.


Night Mode illuminates dark settings, like this candle-lit dinner.

Night Mode

Night Mode, available on all three iPhones, is perhaps the most exciting new feature for amateur photogs. In low-light situations, it automatically turns on, prompting you to hold a shot for one, two, or three seconds. Essentially, it takes a longer exposure, letting more light into the image. If your subject is moving within those one-to-three seconds, the photo won't turn out well. But if your subject stays still for those one-to-three seconds, the image will look remarkably light and clear. And because everyone takes photos in darkly lit rooms or outside at night, Night Mode is definitely useful for any iPhone user.

4K Video

For the video-takers of the world, all three iPhones will let you record 4K video at 60 frames per second. That's some crisp, high-res stuff with impressively smooth motion. And the editing tools Apple gives you let you alter, chop, and correct video just like you would a photo. Another cool feature lets you transition cleanly from a photo-taking scenario to a video-taking scenario. As in, if the dog you're taking a picture of starts doing something really freaking cute, you just hold down the camera button and the iPhone will start recording. Then, you can lock it into video recording mode.


Other Random Camera Features

Speaking of features that will not likely impact your life: the new front camera on the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pros now gives you the ability to take slow-motion selfies, or Slofies, as Apple dubbed them. Who will use this newfound ability? Likely the same people who used those Animojis Apple introduced with the iPhone—a.k.a. children (who then tired of it) and the influencer/vlogger crowd.

Apple also added a new Portrait Mode setting called High-Key Light Mono that it's excited about, but it is decidedly not a good enough reason to invest in a new iPhone, unless you really like taking Portrait Mode photos. Basically, it takes the Stage Light Mono mode and swaps in a white background. It looks cool, but c'mon, how often are you going to utilize this? In general, however, Portrait Mode is better all around, including on the front-facing camera.

The Rest of the Phone Features

And then there's everything else the new iPhones have to offer. All three look nice, with stainless steel and glass finishes that you'll be loathe to cover with a protective case. The iPhone 11 comes in six colors, and the iPhone 11 Pro comes in four colors, one of which is a deeply gorgeous midnight green. The iPhone 11 Pro also has an OLED screen. It looks damn good, but so did the iPhone X models, meaning the little improvements Apple made will only matter to screen snobs who know what Nits are.

Apple also gave all the iPhone 11s improved spatial audio, so you almost forget you're watching John Wick 3 on a screen so small. For all of us who spend a not-insignificant amount of time watching television or movies on our phones while lying prone in bed, the new theater-mimicking surround sound is a big winner. Finally, iOS 13 allows you to AirDrop content to someone by pointing at them, thanks to new U1 chip that is a big deal to tech heads. It's not exactly a groundbreaking feature, but it is handy.


This story originally appeared on Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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Sarah Rense
Sarah Rense is the Lifestyle Editor at Esquire, where she covers tech, food, drinks, home, and more.
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