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2011 pocket camera vs. 2017 iPhone 8 Plus

While working on some photos this weekend, I noticed that I’d taken two nearly-identical photos of the Enola Gay at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center—nearly identical, but separated by four years:

Click once for larger, then click the icon in the upper right of the pop-up for largest vesrion.

The left image was taken in 2014 with a 2011 Pansonic Lumix DMC-ZS10 pocket camera (specifications); the right image was taken in 2018 with my 2017 iPhone 8 Plus. (Interesting to note that I didn’t bring my DSLR on either trip…the best camera is the one you have with you, right?)

Neither of the above images has been edited, beyond whatever algorithms the cameras use when saving the photo. Frankly, I was amazed at just how much better the iPhone 8 Plus photo is compared to the one from the Lumix: The Lumix photo is skewed heavily blue, edges aren’t well defined, and detail in shadow areas is obscured. The iPhone’s image is perhaps just a bit towards the yellow end of the spectrum, but it’s miles better than that of the Lumix.

The differences are even more apparent if you zoom in a bit—here’s a 300% zoom on the fuselage stenciling in both photos:

Click once for larger, then click the icon in the upper right of the pop-up for largest vesrion.

So why is the iPhone’s photo so much better? “Because technology advances”, yes, but just what’s happened in those seven years?

A quick look at the EXIF information for both photos reveals just how much things have changed…

Camera Resolution File Size ISO f-stop Speed
Lumix ZS10 4320×3240 5.8MB 800 4.1 1/25
iPhone 8 Plus 4032×3024 1.3MB 640 2.8 1/60

In near-identical conditions (check the light in the windows behind the plane), the iPhone was able to shoot at a lower f-stop, with a lower ISO, and at a faster shutter speed. That’s pretty amazing. Also note the efficiency of the HEIC file format: The iPhone photo is 22% of the size of the Lumix photo!

It’s impressive to see how much camera technology has advanced in just six years—my iPhone is taking shots that are notably better than those of a six-year-old dedicated camera (which included a Leica lens and optical image stabilization). I assume today’s pocket cameras have seen similar improvements, but I don’t have one here to compare.

9 Comments

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  1. 1/25 sec. could easily be blurred. That doesn’t negate your conclusion since that was the best it could do. But at higher speed might be better.

  2. Almost all of the difference is down to the Panasonic having a super-zoom lens versus the prime lens in the iPhone, the higher F-stop on the Panasonic is what drove the ISO rating and shutter speed. I’ll bet you could replicate the effect in your SLR by comparting a good prime versus the standard zoom; even at the same focal length.

    These are the trade-off you get for having a 20X zoom lens. The iPhone also chooses it’s white balance automatically, whereas I’ll bet there’s a default on the Panasonic geared for outdoor sunlight when you’re indoor under artificial light.

    Next experiment: Zoom in on a distant object outdoors with the Panasonic and the iPhone. I’ll wager the differences are reversed.

    Finally, Good Lord man! Who goes to The Air and Space museum without the best camera he’s got??? :-0

    I’d be like this guy! https://a4.pbase.com/o6/36/508836/1/86447565.uIiuVcxA.NikonGolfCamera.jpg

    1. Thanks for the comments! Hopefully I can find some time to try the zoom experiment. As for why no DSLR? It boils down to the museum being 2,300 air miles from home, and not wanting to pack the thing and pay $25 each way for it to make the trip.

      That’s an insanely funny photograph! :)

      -rob.

  3. It’s amazing how far things have come – particularly the past decade. I’ve always said that ISO will eventually be a long forgotten concept as the camera will just be so good at any ISO that it doesn’t need to be thought about.

    While I agree 100% about how great the iPhone shot is there’s probably a few caveats that needed to be added here:

    The Lumix has a zoom lens which are bad enough optical quality to begin with but particularly bad at their maximum aperture, which it looks like this was taken at or very close to. Max aperture of the Lumix seem to be f3.3 at its widest focal length by the looks.
    The iPhone has in-built stabilisation which gives it a huge advantage indoors not that it was particularly needed here.
    Lumix was at 1/25 which is very hard to handhold without some blur
    The iPhone has a wider max. aperture than the Lumix so it was able to open up to f2.8 which gave it one more stop of light which in turn reduced the ISO and gave it more speed. Any camera with a wider aperture than the Lumix will do the same.

    Interesting to note that the iPhone has a full one stop of extra light but kept the ISO at 640 (rather than 400) to keep the shutter speed at 1/60th.

  4. Be careful with that 22% file size comparison. The iPhone image is also less than half the area (4320×3240 vs. 2032×3024 or ~14M vs ~6M pixels). Still, it works out to about half the bits per pixel with 3.5 bits per pixel in the Lumix compared to 1.8 in the iPhone.

    1. Egads, I have a typo in my chart! The iPhone 8 Plus is 4032×3024, or 12,192,768 pixels—about 87% of the Lumix, and way less than 87% of the file size.

      Thanks for spotting that! :)

      -rob.

      1. Hah, I considered that, but figured it was just a crop from a larger image! That puts the iPhone image at about .9 bits per pixel.

  5. Great stuff! The current iPhones sure are some great cameras in a small package – on my last vacation I even just brought my iPhone with me, not as great as a DSLR on say a 4K screen/monitor, but works well enough for most cases.

    As the Lumix vs. iPhone here, iPhone sure has the benefit of some might horsepower and software to automatically enhance and adjust the conditions in the photos too.

  6. I don’t think that there is any blur in the photo taken with Lumix. If you look at the number “88” on both photos you can see that both photos are sharp. If you compare the fuselage, you can see that Lumix has a lot less detail. ISO 800 for this Lumix was a pretty high ISO. Look at CNET’s sample photos (https://www.cnet.com/reviews/panasonic-lumix-zs10-review/) and you see that there is a big difference in detail between ISO 100 in ISO 800. And remember that Lumix has a bigger sensor than iPhone 8 (1/2.3″ vs. 1/3″) but it is also true that iPhone 8 plus has a newer sensor.

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