Compared: iPhone XS Max video quality trounces iPhone X

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Of the major additions to this year's iPhone lineup, Apple paid closest attention to the camera, with changes like a larger sensor on the wide angle lenser, a brand new depth control feature and Smart HDR functionality. This all amounts to a tangible upgrade in video quality over iPhone X.

Apple's improvements go beyond the rear-facing dual-camera array. The new XS and XS Max have an updated front camera sensor that can shoot 1080p video at 60 frames per second.

Recording in 1080p at 30fps, the XS Max achieves much better dynamic range compared to the iPhone X thanks to internal component buffs. The increased dynamic range is available as long as users are not shooting at 60fps.

Switching to 1080p at 60fps on the XS Max drops dynamic range a bit, but the result is still better than 1080p at 30fps on iPhone X.

Turning to the rear camera, shooting 4K 30fps on iPhone XS Max's wide lens produced an image with stunning detail. As expected, dynamic range is also much improved from iPhone X, with better color reproduction most apparent in the sky.

iPhone XS Max Video

A shot of a lake's shoreline provides exquisite detail in the trees. The iPhone X is not able to reproduce the same level of fidelity as the XS Max, nor can it compete on color accuracy.

iPhone XS Max vs iPhone X

Switching to the telephoto lens, the additional detail offered by XS Max is immediately apparent.

iPhone XS Max Telephoto

Testing autofocus capabilities, both phones are incredibly quick when transitioning focus between background content and a nearby object. However, there is a very noticeable difference between the two devices when a face enters the scene.

Panning between the background and a face — making sure the phone locks in focus each time — the iPhone XS Max focused at an impressive rate, much faster than its predecessor. While not confirmed, we believe the ultra-fast face detection is thanks to synergy between the iPhone XS and XS Max's new Neural Engine and updated Image Signal Processor.

iPhone XS Max Video Focus

Both the XS and XS Max can now record audio in stereo, which adds another layer of depth to recordings. By contrast, all iPhone models up to 2018, including the iPhone X, recorded sound in mono.

Interestingly, Apple appears to have improved upon the optical image stabilization system included in iPhone X. Still attached to both wide and telephoto lenses, the new version on iPhone XS Max delivers silky smooth video even while walking at a fast pace.

The stabilization on XS Max is evident when reviewing stills from previously captured footage, as seen below in the highly detailed leaves. There's also a huge difference in the color reproduction of the grass. The XS Max is the clear winner here.

iPhone XS Max OIS

Comparing slowed down footage captured at 4K 60fps and 1080p 240fps, the XS Max again displays better dynamic range and a noticeable difference in detail.

iPhone XS Max Slo-mo

Moving into a low-light environment with some bright lamps in the background, the dynamic range improvement is just as noticeable. The iPhone X blows out brightly lit subjects, while the XS Max is able to keep every detail looking balanced and colorful. Noise was also reduced on the XS Max, again thanks to the new ISP.

iPhone XS Max Low Light

On the front-facing camera, we noticed the XS Max had better white balance and detail when indoors. It also seemed to be zoomed in a bit more than the iPhone X.

iPhone XS Max Selfie Indoor

Our final nighttime shot exhibited the largest gap in dynamic range performance between the two handsets. The iPhone X completely blows out a brightly lit Comfort Inn sign positioned against a nearly pitch black background. The XS Max, on the other hand, is able to accurately portray the sign's blue background, red/yellow logo and white text. The blue lights that trim the building are actually blue on the XS Max, whereas they look washed out and white on the X.

Looking at the darkest areas of the scene, the XS Max is able to keep it just as bright as the iPhone X, further showing off Apple's efforts to improve dynamic range.

iPhone XS Max Dark

Based on the observed video quality differences, it's obvious that the XS and XS Max received a pretty serious camera upgrade that not only assists in still photography, but video as well. We were expecting some change in quality, but not to this extent. Apple truly upped the mobile videography ante with iPhone XS and XS Max.

Deals on the iPhone XS Max

If you haven't already ordered Apple's iPhone XS Max, wireless carriers are incentivizing the purchase. Want to get your hands on a new device asap? eBay sellers are also shipping units now.

Carrier deals:

  • AT&T Wireless: Buy one iPhone XS or iPhone XS Max, get a second $700 off when you add a line.
  • Verizon Wireless: Buy one iPhone XS or iPhone XS Max, get a second $700 off when you add a line. Or save $100 with an eligible trade.
  • Sprint: Get the 64GB iPhone XS for $0 per month with eligible trade-in and Sprint Flex lease.
  • T-Mobile: Save up to $300 on the iPhone XS with an eligible iPhone trade.

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