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Review: Thinking to get the new iPhone 12? Here’s how it fares when your camera always eats first

The iPhone 12 and 12 pro have officially been unleashed into the wild.

Like a roving pack of hyenas, insufferable instagrammers and Apple fankids alike have been snapping up the latest phones via pre-orders, and, naturally, flexing ever so hard on social media since last Friday.

That’s not to say we’re not part of that league because at the rate the Lifestyle Asia team heads out to wine and dine for the job, a big part of what we do is taking photos as a means for record-keeping.

If those pictures happen to be beautiful, we share them.

And boy do the food pictures look amazing on the iPhone 12. In fact, we took it out for all manner of occasions over the weekend. To a dimly lit bar, to a day out at a cafe, and a quick food styling session for the gram.

To be clear, this is not a review of the iPhone 12’s total performance down to its weight and size (honestly, if it fits your pocket, do you actually care?) or 5G potential. It’s straight up how the phone functions in a way most of us use it: To head out and capture what we see and do.

The Apple iPhone 12 in Pacific Blue.

The first thing you need to know about the iPhone 12 if you’re considering getting one, is that it’s a dual-camera system unlike the iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max which has three.

More doesn’t always mean better it seems, as the camera system is powered by a new A14 bionic chip that promises the horsepower of a gorilla — or 11 trillion operations per second if you want to get technical.

That means the wide camera is now equipped with the fastest aperture on the iPhone family and can capture 27 percent more light. There’s also Night mode, a feature continued from the 11 Pro, which will have you holding still for up to three seconds as the camera absorbs more light for a clearer picture. Now if you’ve ever been in a dimly lit restaurant trying not to take pictures using flash you’d feel the pain.

Below are two photos taken on Night mode, one at Bar Stories and the other of a neighbourhood. (Both photos have been compressed for web compatibility and may appear grainier to no fault of the iPhone.)

The dessert at Bar Stories. The bar was dimly lit yet Night mode allowed the iPhone to capture more light, and hence greater detail and colour.

While shots in bars and restaurants seem to benefit from Night mode more, landscapes appear a little too bright. The photo below was shot around 11pm. It’s worth noting that all the orange streetlights are the same hue in person but those in the foreground appear much brighter.

The image is sharper before being uploaded onto the web. In this example, Night mode might appear a little too bright.

Of all features, the single most popular camera function on the iPhone is portrait mode and here, we find a vast improvement over the older models. We used to joke that the only way to take a decent food photo this way was to get up from the table and walk two metres away from the dish to get the right bokeh effect.

This doesn’t seem to happen with the iPhone 12 as the camera is able to detect the subject without having to twist our bodies into weird angles.

A dish shot with Portrait mode.

While the phone has no issues detecting the subject, getting the right item blurred took a few tries. In fact, one of the biggest challenges in using portrait mode in a restaurant or bar setting was in capturing the edges of glasses or transparent objects. In this respect, the camera still has trouble discerning clear lines. Here’s a picture of a drink taken two ways.

The left picture was taken using portrait mode; the right, using the regular camera.

Of course, one can argue that Portrait mode is meant for taking pictures of people and not food, but its hard to resist the depth of field effect. One hack we’ve discovered to fix this is to simply tap edit on the top right hand of the picture and adjust the aperture slider at the bottom to get the clarity you desire.

How to adjust your depth of field in Portrait mode.

Admittedly, the above examples were mostly taken in low light settings, as that’s what most would consider the most challenging when capturing an evening out. In daylight, the camera is undoubtedly stellar. Here are two examples:

In the above, the phone captures colour and tonal contrasts perfectly, not just between sharp differences between red and green but also the gradations caused by shadows and the hues of grass.

In the above, what would normally be a backlit photo turned out with no issues.

While all the instances we’ve showcased have been while out and about, the iPhone 12 performs remarkably well when shooting in circumstances you can control. So the avid bakers, recipe makers and aspiring food stylists would find an excellent companion in the phone without having to invest in lighting (for as long as you’re shooting in or near daylight).

Our verdict? Get it if you’ve been using a much older model than the iPhone 11. The A14 bionic chipset does make a massive difference in the way the phone and camera processes light and colours. With prices starting at HK$6,799 though (if you don’t get it through your telco with an instalment plan), it’s an investment. But if you’re in the market for a new phone and heavy duty user for photos, the iPhone 12 is well worth the purchase.

Learn more at apple.com

This article was first published on Lifestyle Asia Singapore.