Mobile

DxOMark’s night and wide-angle camera tests push today’s smartphones to their limits

Sure, you could take Apple’s word for it that the new iPhone’s cameras are amazing — or you could let some obsessive pixel-peepers perform some (mostly) objective tests and really get into the nitty-gritty. Pixel peepers in extraordinary DxOMark are here to help, with new tests focused on evaluating the latest gadgets’ night modes and ultra-wide-angle lenses.

The site’s already extensive image quality tests cover the usual aspects of a smartphone camera — color representation, exposure, noise, all that. But the latest devices are making advances in new directions that aren’t adequately covered by those tests; namely, the emergence of “night mode” shooting and multi-lens setups like the iPhone 11 Pro and its hulking rear-camera assembly.

Therefore, the tests must change! And DxOMark has begun including extremely nitpicky breakdowns of camera performance in the particularly difficult circumstances of extreme low light and extreme wide-angle photography.

nightshots

Night shots are graded on detail, noise, color reproduction — the kinds of things that tend to be lost in low light. Wide-angle shots are graded on distortion, detail throughout the frame and chromatic aberration — all difficult to correct for.

Some devices may be great in one area but poor in another, for example trading too much detail for lower noise in a night shot but getting great color. A higher score may indicate a better overall camera, but if you care about your phone photography you should look into what goes into that score as well. I for one never plan to use these ultra-wide cameras, so I can ignore that category altogether!

Now, this is an interesting area to grade such cameras in, and difficult one, because so much of the work is being done in software. As I’ve noted, the future (and of course the present) of photography is code, and without code there would be no night mode or ultra-wide-angle shots.

The image stacking and denoising that allow low-light photography, and the speed of things like perspective correction and other tricks that allow a nearly fisheye lens to look relatively normal, are consequences of massive improvements in image processing efficiency and huge jumps in processing power. And they’ll only get better, even for a given camera-sensor-processor combo.

So DxOMark may find itself revising these scores — which are themselves being mapped retroactively onto reviews already posted: Low-light performance is replacing the flash performance category, and wide angle is a new score.

The first phones to get the new treatment are the Samsung Galaxy S10 and Note 10+, the Huawei P30 Pro, a handful of others and, of course, the new iPhones. No doubt the upcoming Pixel 4 will be a contender as well, especially in the night mode category.

It’s good to know someone is systematically testing these aspects of phones with a critical eye. Watch for the updated tests and listings on DxOMark starting today.


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