You’ll have to bear with me! Here’s the backstory, so we are on the same page:
I’m using a Huawei P30 Pro as my main device and an iPhone as a secondary one (since I use a Mac to do work). I bought the Huawei P30 Pro about two years ago because of (shock!) the camera system and the overall killer package. This phone was well ahead of its time, as even over two years after it came out, all its extra features and camera capabilities are just as relevant as ever. The 5x periscope zoom (which debuted on the P30 Pro); the in-display fingerprint reader; the fast charging speeds, the reverse wireless charging, etc.So, it’s surefire – it would take a lot for a new phone to sway me towards abandoning my last-of-a-kind Google-ready P30 Pro, especially when it comes to the camera system. However, I just stumbled upon a great iPhone 12 Pro Max deal – likely because the 13 Pro Max is nearing launch. Now, it’s important to say I’ve already had the iPhone 12. I bought it, used it alongside the P30 Pro, and decided to sell it after about two months.But! The Phone 12 Pro Max comes with two brand new cameras compared to the iPhone 12 – the main and the telephoto ones. Since the iPhone 12 isn’t relevant to this story, let’s see how the 12 Pro Max stacks up against the P30 Pro:
Surprise! After having done some research before my iPhone 12 Pro Max purchase, and comparisons, it’s safe to say that all iPhone 12 models seem to have a few recurring camera issues, including the Max. Of course, one of them is Flaregate, but the other is much less obvious because it involves a special mode on the iPhone 12 – Smart HDR.
Bluegate: iPhone 12’s Smart HDR is often too “smart”, and too… blue?
The iPhone XS brought the game-changing Smart HDR, which Apple has been working on for years.
HDR as a feature is used to preserve detail and colors, but most importantly – exposure. It’s the feature that’s meant to prevent blown-out skies, windows, and any other light sources in your photos. Also, it’s the feature that keeps your face visible if you are taking a picture against the sun.
The thing with Apple’s current iteration of Smart HDR is that it seems like the guys from Cupertino have got a little bit carried away. I’ll be honest – I had noticed this before, but it didn’t leave such a strong impression on me until I considered buying an iPhone 12 Pro Max.
Unrealistic colors: iPhones used to be known for having natural colors
iPhone 12 Pro Max (left) goes bananas on colors – just look at the grass and the sky compared to the iPhone 11 Pro Max (right).
Here we have the iPhone 12 Pro Max (left) and the Huawei P40 Pro (right), which has more natural color rendition, although the faces look better on the iPhone (perhaps slightly more orange than they are supposed to be).
Too much HDR, or too little HDR: iPhone 12 struggles to find a balance
Overall, it’s trying harder than it’s supposed to. Slightly blow-out highlights or dark shadows are often considered traits of “real cameras”, so limiting them might make photos look “fake” or over-processed. For the record, that’s an issue we see in many other flagship phones. Ironically, despite the strong HDR effect, the iPhone 12 often loses to the competition with visibly blown out highlights.
Clearly, the iPhone 12 (left) blows out the highlights in the background and preserves less detail than the Huawei P40 Pro (right).
Same for this photo, where the iPhone loses to the competition despite Smart HDR.
Bluegate: iPhone 12 makes everything blue
It tends to Avatar, Smurf (or whatever you want to call it) people when there’s a blue sky in the frame. This one can totally ruin the picture, and there’s no real way of preventing it unless you move to another spot. If not, you might end up with not just a cartoonishly blue sky but also blue everything – grass, buildings, and faces!
That’s where Bluegate comes from. As you can see – it’s not pretty. The iPhone 12 Pro Max gets so carried away, that while trying to preserve the color and detail in the sky, it makes the bushes and the subject look… blue.
Same for this photo, where the building is clearly made to look more blue than it’s supposed to.
iPhone 12: Smart HDR and Bluegate – is there a solution?
Taken with iPhone 12 Pro Max (courtesy of DXOMark.)
I believe Apple can (at least try to) push a software update that might take care of Bluegate. The thing with Apple is that… it doesn’t like pushing such updates unless they are meant to fix a bug. See, iPhones get 5-6 years of software updates, and that’s incredible. However, these updates often exclude important areas of the smartphone experience. Here are a few major camera features present on newer iPhones that could be enabled with a software update for older models:
- Portrait Mode for people, pets, and objects
In the end…
Why doesn’t Apple bother? Well, so you can buy the new iPhone. It’s really no rocket science. At the same time, I understand why they do it – Apple launches new phones only once a year (unless there’s an SE). It’s trickier for them to balance the feature to price ratio and differentiate models without leaving out important features that will actually make you get the new iPhone.
However, the Smart HDR issues on the iPhone 12 series are different. What worries me is that with the iPhone 13 launch, which should be happening in less than two weeks now, all hopes for an improved Smart HDR on the iPhone 12 might go out the window, and I don’t like that. It’s a real problem that needs a real fix.
What’s left? Well, let’s at least hope the iPhone 13 series will take care of both Flaregate and Bluegate. I wouldn’t call either of the two dealbreakers – especially for the average consumer. However, for me, it’s enough of a reason to stick with my Huawei P30 Pro until Apple can offer something 100% better in the camera department. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be much of an “upgrade”, would it…