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Camera comparison: Can the iPhone XR's single camera compete with the iPhone XS and XS Max's two cameras?

Arguably one of the biggest differences in physical design for the 2018 iPhone models, the iPhone XR has only one rear camera while the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max have two. AppleInsider takes a closer look at the situation to see if the iPhone XR's single camera can still stand up to the dual-lens stablemates.

The iPhone XR and the iPhone XS Max

The iPhone XR and the iPhone XS Max


When the iPhone XR came out, I made the switch from the iPhone XS Max, thinking the camera would be just as good for those who want to save some cash, but I was wrong. After spending a month with the XR's camera, I switched back to the XS Max. Here's why.



The iPhone XR, iPhone XS, and iPhone XS Max are all 12 megapixel cameras, with the same wide lens, but the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max also has telephoto lens for portrait mode and zoom photos.

The iPhone XS, iPhone XR, and iPhone XS Max

The iPhone XS, iPhone XR, and iPhone XS Max


The iPhone XR has practically the same internals as the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, including the A12 processor, so photos from the wide lens are going to be basically identical across the board. As you can see here, the quality on the iPhone XR is up to par with the iPhone XS Max, with exceptional detail and dynamic range.

The telephoto lens greatly improves zoom quality



The iPhone XS only really gets ahead when you switch to the telephoto lens and zoom in. At 2x optical zoom, there's a noticeable difference in detail and quality. Since the iPhone XR lacks a telephoto lens, it can only digitally zoom in 5x compared to the combined optical and digital 10x on the iPhone XS Max by using the telephoto lens, while getting similar levels of detail.

This isn't a big deal for a lot of people, but there are many use cases where having some extra zoom can really help, especially for taking photos of wildlife.



While shooting video, the iPhone XR only has 3x zoom compared to 6x on the iPhone XS, for the same reason as stills. Now that's quite a bit more limiting than in photos, so having that telephoto lens is a big deal, especially since you can take great looking telephoto portrait photos.

Portrait photo differences



The iPhone XR is is the only iPhone that can take portrait photos using the wide lens. Even so, it's just not the same as on the iPhone XS, despite having the same depth control and portrait lighting features.

The biggest issue with the iPhone XR's camera is that you can't take portrait photos of objects or non-human subjects like you can on the iPhone XS. Apple quietly mentioned this, but most consumers only found out when they got their hands on their iPhone XR and started taking photos.

Attempted Portrait shots for the HomePod on the iPhone XR and iPhone XS Max

Attempted Portrait shots for the HomePod on the iPhone XR and iPhone XS Max


It makes sense that if you can take a portrait photo of a person, objects should work as well. Other single-lens phones like the Google Pixel 3 XL can take them, so why can't the XR?

iPhone XR vs Google Pixel 3 showing how the XR cannot take Portraits of objects

iPhone XR vs Google Pixel 3 showing how the XR cannot take Portraits of objects


Background compression and depth of field differences



But what if you don't care about taking portrait photos of objects? Well, portrait photos of people suffer as well when you're using a wider lens. In this example, you can see how the subject's face looks more natural and proportioned with each higher zoom lens.

Comparison of focal lengths for portraits (via DPReview)

Comparison of focal lengths for portraits (via DPReview)


Not only that but the background compression and depth of field increases, making for a more pleasing image.

This is exactly what you get with the iPhone XS telephoto lens.



As you can see, the telephoto portrait looks more natural, and the increased compression makes for less distracting objects in the background.

iPhone XR vs iPhone XS Max F1.4 blur comparison

iPhone XR vs iPhone XS Max F1.4 blur comparison


We see the same difference when taking photos of vehicles. The wide lens warps the car's body lines, making it look a bit odd.

iPhone XR Portrait shot

iPhone XR Portrait shot


The differences are clear. The iPhone XR also gets the depth control feature, so you can increase the blur to make portrait photos look better.

iPhone XR gives better low light portrait photos



Although the iPhone XS camera is better in so many ways, there's actually a scenario where the XR is superior. If you've seen any of our recent iPhone camera comparisons, you'll know that the telephoto lens performs worse in low light due to having a slower aperture which lets in less natural light.



Since dual-camera iPhones can only take portrait photos using the telephoto lens, the iPhone XR has an advantage when taking portrait photos in low light, resulting in better-looking images with less noise. So, that's definitely a plus for the iPhone XR, but not as many people take portrait photos when it's dark.

Camera-enthusiasts should buy the iPhone XS or XS Max



Those little drawbacks with the iPhone XR's camera, among other general limitations, caused me to switch back to the iPhone XS Max.

iPhone XR

iPhone XR


Ultimately, the XR still has the best single-lens camera alongside the Google Pixel 3, according to DXOMARK, and for $750, I'd say it's a pretty good deal for what you get.

Nevertheless, the camera on the iPhone XS is undoubtedly better. If camera performance is very important to you, I'd recommend spending the extra cash.

Deals on the iPhone XR, XS and XS Max



If you haven't already ordered Apple's latest iPhones, wireless carriers are incentivizing the purchase.

Carrier deals:

  • AT&T Wireless: Get the iPhone XR, XS or XS Max for $0 down.
  • Verizon Wireless: Get a 32GB 9.7" iPad and iPhone XR for $30 per month combined when you add new lines.
  • Sprint: Get the 64GB iPhone XR for $0 per month with eligible trade-in and Sprint Flex lease.