IPhone XR photoshoot. iPhone 13 vs. iPhone XR camera face-off: How much better is the new iPhone

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Want the best low-light portraits? Save some cash and buy the iPhone XR

Portrait Mode has become a staple feature in almost every single smartphone camera — from budget to expensive flagship devices. It’s when a blur (or bokeh) effect is added behind a subject to deliver a portrait that looks as though it was captured by a DSLR camera. It’s one of the main purposes for having a dual-lens camera system, though other benefits include 2x optical zoom (depending on the phone).

But not all phones use two lenses to create a Portrait Mode effect. Google’s Pixel phones are the best example of what a single-lens camera can do with computing power. Instead of relying on a secondary lens for depth information, Google relies on a neural network algorithm to identify the subject from the background. In a similar manner, Apple is taking a page out of Google’s book with the iPhone XR. It’s the cheapest iPhone available from the 2018 trio, and it’s the only one without a dual-lens camera. Instead of removing Portrait Mode entirely — like Apple has done with the iPhone 8 or iPhone 7 — there’s now a Portrait Mode powered completely through artificial intelligence and neural nets.

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How good is it, especially compared to the iPhone XS? We put the Pixel 3, iPhone XR, and iPhone XS to the test in a Portrait Mode shootout. A note before we start comparing photos: We tried to stay at the same distance from the subject for most of the photographs here, to highlight the differences in how each phone handles Portrait Mode. For example, the iPhone XS uses a secondary telephoto lens, so it zooms in a lot more than the Pixel 3 or the iPhone XR. The XR goes much wider than we expected. We did adjust distance for a few photos, so keep that in mind. Also, you may prefer a different photo over our favorite. There are some technical reasons why a photograph may be better than another, but a lot depends on personal preference, and it’s okay to come to a different conclusion.


There’s a lot that can go wrong with Portrait Mode on smartphones, but most don’t have much of a problem in broad daylight. In the first set of photos, all three phones do a good job of accurately identifying the subject. There aren’t any errors, but you can see the Pixel 3 tends to keep the subjects body in FOCUS, whereas the iPhone XS and XR opt for a radial blur that keeps the face in FOCUS more than anything else (the iPhone XR’s radial blur isn’t as strong).

Either the iPhone XR or XS could win here, but we’re giving it to the XR because the subject’s face isn’t as bright as the XS photo. The Pixel 3 photo is good, but it lands last because it’s far too dark, despite being sharp with an accurate cutout.

Winner: iPhone XR

Here’s one that’s a bit tricky, because the light is shining straight into the camera. All three of these aren’t perfect, but the iPhone XS comes out on top. It retains the best colors (though the subject is still a bit too yellow), whereas the iPhone XR and Pixel 3 photos look more muted. The XS does lose points for messing up the left earring, and it does quite a poor job with the sky in the background, overexposing it too much. The iPhone XR is a close second this time. The subject’s face is grainier than the iPhone XS photo, and the colors are dull. The right shoulder is also a little blurred. It has the best HDR, though.

While the Pixel 3 overall does the best job of identifying the edges of the subject, you’ll find the subject’s face is extremely grainy. The colors are also off throughout the photo. It does a solid job of not overexposing the sky too much, unlike the iPhone XS, but that’s not enough to scrape a win here.

Winner: iPhone XS


These photos highlight how close the iPhone XS zooms into the subject for Portrait Mode, and how much wider a shot the iPhone XR takes. They were all captured standing in the same spot. All three phones do an excellent job identifying the edges of the subject, and detail is impeccable. We’d say the iPhone XS has the best blur, capturing the highly-sought bokeh effect with the lights in the background. The Pixel 3 photo wins for the best skin tone, which looks the most natural. It loses points for the background color tone, which is a little too red.

It’s a close call, but the iPhone XS wins again.

Winner: iPhone XS

This one’s easier to judge. The Pixel 3 comes last again for messing up the blur. The subject is fine, but look to the right side! It keeps some of the Windows in FOCUS, though they were further away from the subject. A branch of the tree also doesn’t look as blurred as it should be, and the photo’s background has a reddish hue.

We like both the iPhone XS and XR photos, with the former having a stronger blur effect. But zoom into the subject’s face again, and the iPhone XR photo has less grain. For that, we’re giving the XR the win.

Winner: iPhone XR

The iPhone XR’s shot clearly has the least amount of grain. It also has a nice blur on the left wall before the subject’s face, unlike the Pixel 3 photo, which doesn’t blur that area at all. Color tones are great all around, but the XR loses points for messing up the edges of the glasses. The Pixel 3 comes second. It does the best job identifying the edges of the subject, but the background hue is a little too yellow, and the subject is a tad grainy. The iPhone XS photo comes last. It’s not bad, but it’s too grainy and dark, despite good use of blur around the subject.

Winner: iPhone XR

Night and indoors

Like the last photos, there are two standouts here. The Pixel 3 and the iPhone XR. Both are sharp, detailed photos with accurate blur around the edges of the subject. The Pixel 3 goes a step further to catch all the hairs well, and it has a stronger blur than the iPhone XR photo. It does mess up, however, as the lights at the top right of the photo aren’t as blurry as they should be, and the iPhone XR takes the win for that reason alone.

The iPhone XS is decent thanks to the great blur, but it’s grainy, and some edges show inaccurate blur.

Winner: iPhone XR

We were surprised by the difficulty the iPhone XR and the iPhone XS had in dealing with the blue light hitting the subject’s face in this photo. It looks quite natural, and in reality it was closer to the Pixel 3 photo, which we love. You can guess who’s taking the win here, but it’s worth mentioning that the iPhone XR photo maintains the best blur accuracy. The Pixel 3 messes up the hair a little, and so does the XS. All three have great background blur, but the Pixel 3 photo is the one we’d share.

Winner: Pixel 3

It’s a close call between the Pixel 3 and the iPhone XR. Both have good detail and accurate edges. The iPhone XR doesn’t have as strong of a blur, but it has better noise reduction, so we’re giving it the edge. The iPhone XS messes up the blur around the hair, but it’s far darker than the other two, putting it last.

Winner: iPhone XR


Portrait Mode works on the front-facing selfie camera on all these phones, and in this test, we think the Pixel 3 easily wins. It’s the brightest, has the most detail, and it’s the one we’d share. The iPhone XS photo is too fuzzy and dark, but the iPhone XR does an admirable job with great background color. It’s not as detailed as the Pixel 3 photo, though. Technically, the iPhone XR and XS photos should look exactly the same because they have the same TrueDepth camera system on the front. We think there might have been some subtle traffic light changes here that altered the end result.

Winner: Pixel 3

The Pixel 3 is the most detailed here, but that’s sometimes not what we want from a selfie. The skin tone is a little too cold, which doesn’t make this a selfie we’d want to share. The iPhone XS and XR photos are nearly identical, which makes sense, because they have the same camera. The iPhones make the subject’s skin a bit more vibrant, and the background has better color. They win out over the Pixel.

Winner: iPhone XS and iPhone XR

Other subjects

The biggest weakness the iPhone XR’s Portrait Mode is that it only works with humans. Apple has trained the camera to identify faces, so when it doesn’t find a face, it will say “no person detected.” That means you can’t experiment with using the mode on other objects, but you can on the iPhone XS and the Pixel 3. Sure, “Portrait Mode” should ideally be used for portraits of people, but it adds more versatility to the mode when you can use it on almost anything.

The iPhone XR photo is great but, of course, there’s no bokeh. This is basically a normal photo taken without Portrait Mode. The iPhone XS does detect the object, but it’s far too dark and the blur on the tip of the glass is a little off. The Pixel 3 photo is the one we’d share, because it’s bright enough and there’s a lot of good color and detail, even if it messes up part of the glass.

Winner: Pixel 3

The Pixel 3 quite easily wins out here again. It has the best color, the most accurate cutout around the edges of the subject, and the sharpest detail. The iPhone XS asked us repeatedly to keep moving further away from the figurine, so it’s a little more limited if you wanted to get a close up shot. But at least it works. The iPhone XR again didn’t apply a blur at all.

Winner: Pixel 3

The iPhone XR takes a surprise win

It looks like Apple may have caught up — and perhaps even surpassed — Google’s computational photography prowess for Portrait Mode. The Pixel 3’s Portrait Mode is more versatile, and it’s very close with five wins, but the iPhone XR edges out with six wins.

The iPhone XR is much better at low-light Portrait Mode photos compared to the iPhone XS, which uses the secondary lens that doesn’t have as wide an aperture to let more light in. That’s a surprise given the higher price of the iPhone XS, and shows how fancy software can sometimes beat superior hardware.

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iPhone 13 vs. iPhone XR camera face-off: How much better is the new iPhone?

An iPhone 13 vs. iPhone XR camera comparison is more pertinent than you might think, especially in an era when people are holding on to their phones longer. Yes, the iPhone XR debuted back in 2018, but given the cost of phones and the fact that Apple’s extensive software support makes it more attractive to keep using your current device, there’s a lot more iPhone XR models out there than you might think.

I know this because my wife is toting around her iPhone XR that she bought in the spring of 2019. And with two years of monthly installment payments now in our rear view mirror, only now would she really be open to an upgrade to one of Apple’s new iPhone 13 models.

Most of the benefits of upgrading from an iPhone XR to an iPhone 13 should be apparent, even if you’ve yet to lay hands on Apple’s newest phones. Jumping from the iPhone XR’s A12 Bionic chip to an A15 Bionic gets you three generations of performance and power management improvements. The iPhone 13 is more durable than the iPhone XR, and its IP68 water resistance rating means the phone can survive a plunge in up to 6 meters of water for half-an-hour — the iPhone XR can only deal with 1 meter. The screen is brighter and the battery’s bigger on the newer iPhone as well.

But it’s the cameras of the two phones we’re most interested in comparing — and not just a spec face-off. Since the iPhone XR first debuted, Apple’s had three versions of the iPhone to make camera hardware and software improvements. We’re interested in seeing how those translate to finished photos.

With that in mind, this iPhone 13 vs. iPhone XR camera face-off will attempt to show just how much better your photos can be when taken with a more recent iPhone.

iPhone 13 vs. iPhone XR cameras: What’s changed

Before we dive into the actual iPhone 13 vs. iPhone XR camera face-off, let’s consider the camera hardware iPhone XR users have at their disposal and how that’s evolved over the years to what Apple now offers for the iPhone 13. For this comparison, we’re looking at the standard iPhone 13, which has the same sized 6.1-inch display as the iPhone XR and costs only a little more than the older iPhone did when it debuted (799 vs. 749). You could make the same camera comparison with the 699 iPhone 13 mini since it has the same setup as the larger iPhone 13.

The iPhone XR was Apple’s final single camera flagship phone. You’ve got just one lens on the back of the phone — a 12MP camera with an f/1.8 aperture. The camera offers a Portrait mode feature and Smart HDR functionality for delivering highlights even when shadows creep into a shot. But you won’t find a Night mode — that didn’t appear until the iPhone 11 — and forget about switching to an ultrawide angle view.

What’s more, since the iPhone XR’s release, Apple has steadily worked to improve how much light the lenses on its cameras take in. First, there was the computational photography enabled in Night mode, but starting with the iPhone 12, Apple switched to a 7-element design and an f/1.6 aperture to improve low-light photography. The iPhone 13 takes things even further: A bigger sensor on the newest iPhone allows the main camera to take in 47% more light than the iPhone 12 did. You can only imagine how that compares to a three-year-old iPhone XR. The ultrawide lens on the iPhone 13 also takes in four times more of the scene than its predecessor — not that any of that would be a concern to the iPhone XR and its lone wide angle camera.

It’s also worth noting that the iPhone 13 supports Photographic Styles, which give you more manual control over whether your image appears more vibrant, richer, cooler or warmer. Since that’s an option with the iPhone XR, we kept things in standard mode for our iPhone 13 vs. iPhone XR camera comparison.

So even before a single shot was taken, we’d expect the iPhone 13 to produce better indoor shots as well as low-light photos, given the changes in aperture and sensor size over the years. Outdoor images should be fairly comparable between the two phones, but we would assume three extra years of photographic smarts might turn out better portrait shots on the iPhone 13.

Let’s see how the images compare.

iPhone 13 vs. iPhone XR camera comparison: Indoor shot, well-lit

The lobby of San Francisco’s California Academy of Scienes has a lot of light streaming in from nearby Windows. On a sunny day like my visit, I wasn’t expecting a lot of variance in the iPhone 13 and iPhone XR photos of this T-Rex (who may have a brain the size of a walnut, but is Smart enough to mask up indoors).

Indeed, the iPhone 13 and iPhone XR photos match up fairly well, with no appreciable differences in color or composition. The iPhone 13 teases out more background details. The stone panels underneath this History Museum sign have slightly more texture in the iPhone 13’s shot, and the view outside the window in the upper left of the shot looks slightly sharper. But you’d be hard-pressed to really spot the differences in a shot like this where the ambient lighting was in your favor.

iPhone 13 vs. iPhone XR camera comparison: Indoor shot, partially lit

Moving indoors to one of the exhibits, this recreation of the jaws of a megalodon offer more challenging lighting, with a decently-lit exhibit in the midst of an otherwise darkened room. The iPhone XR photo looks decent enough, as the jaws are kept in FOCUS. But you start to see the benefits of all those low-light improvements Apple has made over the years in the iPhone 13 image.

You can make out more of the blue in the curtain behind the jaws, and the detailed ridges on the jawbone itself are more visible, particularly on the lefthand side. The text on the museum signage to the right isn’t fully legible in either shot, but if you zoom in on the iPhone 13 version, it’s not as blurred as what the iPhone XR captures.

iPhone 13 vs. iPhone XR camera comparison: Indoor shot, low light

Because there’s no Night mode on the iPhone XR, it doesn’t make sense to capture a photo at night — the iPhone 13 would win hands-down. Instead, I went into my shed where the lighting is still enough for the iPhone XR to be able to capture a shot, but dark enough to where Night mode kicks in automatically on the iPhone 13 to call out more details in the dark.

In this shot of some old magazines and holiday decorations, the iPhone XR’s effort is just too dark to be of any value. You make out some of the magazine covers, but a lot of the details are too shadowy. The string of colored lights and the garland of multicolored lights is pretty muted and blurry, with no computation photography help from Night mode available.

The iPhone 13 photo is much brighter. You can actually read each of the magazine covers and you can pick out colors in those dangling decorations, particularly the Christmas lights. The overall scene is still a little too shadowy, but enough color and detail pops out to show how superior more recent iPhones have become in low-light settings.

iPhone 13 vs. iPhone XR camera comparison: Outdoors

It was a bright, sunny day when I took this shot on the roof garden of the California Academy of Sciences, so you’d imagine that the iPhone XR would find itself on even footing with the iPhone 13. Indeed, both shots are of a similar quality. The ferris wheel pops out against the blue sky in either photo, and the different shades of green from the grass in the foreground and the trees in the background look the same whether viewed through an iPhone XR and iPhone 13.

Yet, you get a sense of the better optics on the iPhone 13 by staring at the sky. It’s a fairly consistent shade of blue in the iPhone XR’s shot, but the iPhone 13 manages to capture a transition from dark to light as you descend closer to the horizon. It’s a subtle difference, to be sure, but it does hint at the improvements to Apple’s camera phones over the years.

The iPhone 13 can do something the iPhone XR can’t, and that’s switch to an ultrawide angle view. Using that lens, I could show off more of the rooftop garden while also expanding the background so that the nearby DeYoung Museum shows up in my photo. (That’s the brown building off to the left with the tower that looks like its been warped.) You simply can’t pull back like that with the iPhone XR’s single camera.

iPhone 13 vs. iPhone XR camera comparison: Portrait shot

I’m actually surprised by how closely the two portrait shots compare in this iPhone 13 vs. iPhone XR face-off. I suppose that’s a testament to the power of the software Apple uses to add background blurs, and the fact that regular software updates can help older phones keep pace somewhat with newer models. For the record, the iPhone XR used here is still running iOS 14, while the iPhone 13 is running the iOS 15 public beta.

There’s very little difference in the quality of the background blur no matter what shot you’re looking at, and the iPhone XR does just as well as the iPhone 13 at separating my daughter from the background — not easy, given how wispy her hair is around the edges. If there’s one distinction, I’d say that the iPhone 13 lights up her face slightly more, but otherwise, either shot would be worth sharing.

iPhone 13 vs. iPhone XR camera comparison: Verdict

We knew heading into this battle that the iPhone 13 was going to finish on top — it’s got the better hardware, and the two phones are evenly matched on the software front. What’s illustrative is how much of a difference three years of hardware improvements make, especially in low-light situations.

If you’re still an iPhone XR user, you likely know that upgrading to the iPhone 13 will give your photos a boost. But hopefully this comparison shows just how much of a boost. The improvement in low-light photography would be reason enough to jump to a newer phone, and the addition of a second rear reason for greater flexibility only clinches that decision.

iPhone XR vs XS vs XS Max: Which iPhone to buy for photo and video?

When it comes to upgrading your iPhone, you have plenty of options. And while the current lineup of iPhones is widely available, a lot of the older models still hold up. But what about the camera? Do the cameras on older iPhones still pass muster?

Yes! While Apple has always pushed the iPhone camera with each new model and the current ones are top-of-the-line, iPhone XR and iPhone XS still have decent cameras. In this article, you’ll read specifically about iPhone XR, iPhone XS, and iPhone XS Max. We’ll compare these iPhone models and show you just how well each stacks up.

iPhone XR vs iPhone XS vs XS Max: The camera comparison

A comparison between any of these models and the current lineup will reveal many similarities in camera capabilities. All three of these iPhones have familiar features like Portrait mode, Portrait Lighting, True Tone flash, and Smart HDR (introduced in this line of iPhones). And although iPhone XR only has a wide lens, iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max have dual-rear cameras with wide and telephoto lenses.

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Here’s a quick overlook of the camera specs in each model:

  • Single 12MP Wide camera: ƒ/1.8 aperture
  • Digital zoom up to 5x
  • True Tone flash
  • Portrait mode
  • Portrait Lighting (3 effects)
  • Smart HDR for photos

iPhone XS/iPhone XS Max

Does iPhone XR have dual camera and Portrait mode?

Despite not having a dual camera, iPhone XR is capable of Portrait mode, but it’s somewhat different. Because it only has a single rear camera, iPhone XR relies on software and facial detection to achieve the effect, meaning the effect only works when taking a photo of someone’s face. This may not sound like a huge deal; after all, the feature is called Portrait mode. But on iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, you can use Portrait mode on photos of objects like a coffee mug, flowers, or, most notably, your pets.

The size and storage differences between iPhone XR, iPhone XS, and iPhone XS Max

Of course, when choosing your next iPhone, you should consider a couple of other factors that could impact your mobile photography: physical size and storage. The latter is a bit more obvious because you want to make sure you have enough space to store your pictures and videos. But when it comes to physical size, you’re going to want a phone you can comfortably travel with.

The iPhone size comparison

When making an iPhone size comparison, the most notable difference is screen size. Here is a breakdown of each model’s physical and screen dimensions:

  • Height: 5.94 in.
  • Width: 2.98 in.
  • Depth: 0.33 in.
  • Weight: 6.84 oz.
  • Screen size: 6.1 in.
  • Height: 5.65 in.
  • Width: 2.79 in.
  • Depth: 0.30 in.
  • Weight: 6.24 oz.
  • Screen size: 5.8 in.

iPhone XS Max

  • Height: 6.20 in.
  • Width: 3.05 in.
  • Depth: 0.30 in.
  • Weight: 7.34 oz.
  • Screen size: 6.5 in.

Comparison of 2018 iPhone models by storage options

Storage space is always an important consideration when you buy a new iPhone, especially if you plan on using it to capture pictures and videos. The iPhone XR has smaller options (at 64 GB and 128 GB), while iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max have 64 GB, 256 GB, and 512 GB options.

iPhone XS vs XR vs XS Max: Which is the best choice?

Between these three models, we believe it’s a tie between iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max. Both have identical camera specs. That being said, iPhone XS Max has a bit of an advantage because it features a larger screen, which is nice to have when you’re taking pictures. But if it makes the phone too big and unwieldy in your hands, then the trade-off for a bigger display isn’t worth it.

There’s a lot to love about the 2018 iPhone lineup and their cameras. Of course, if you conduct a thorough comparison of newer iPhones, you’ll see some all-new features and improved specs. Still, that doesn’t mean iPhone XR, iPhone XS, and iPhone XS Max can’t hold their own. And if you’re curious how iPhone XS compares to iPhone X, we’ve covered that as well.

Tech writer, iPhone photographer, and aspiring foodie.

Why iPhone XR captures way better low-light portraits than iPhone XS

Portrait photography on iPhone XR yields surprisingly good results in some low light situations where it’s unusable on the costlier iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max devices.

A surprising finding

Some reviewers have noted the surprising discrepancy between the portraits shot on the XR and XS, including Daring Fireball’s John Gruber. Even though the XR has a single-lens camera, it uses Focus Pixels and machine learning running on the A12 Bionic chip to compute depth.

This is the same technique employed on Google’s single-lens Pixel phones.

It lets the XR support advanced photography features found on the pricier XS series without a second lens, including Portrait and Portrait Lightning shooting modes as well as Depth Control and Smart HDR. Dual-lens iPhones still benefit from the more natural-looking portraits captured in daytime, but the single-lens XR definitely rules low-light portraits.

To illustrate the point, John used his iPhone XR and iPhone XS to snap up some great comparison photographs of his son in a dark room at night, lit only by a nearby TV.

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Low-light Portrait mode shootout: iPhone XS, at left, and iPhone XR, at right

As you can see for yourself, the difference is pretty striking and definitely not what you’d expect from an Apple smartphone that’s at least 250 cheaper than the flagship XS models.

I have done no post-processing on these images other than to scale them to a smaller size, and I shot both with the Camera app. The original images, untouched other than converting from HEIF to JPEG when exporting from Photos, are about 2.2 MB in size.

“Portrait Mode is usable on the XR in some low light situations where it’s unusable on the XS,” John summed it up nicely. For an even better comparison, he kindly provided the full-resolution original files captured using his iPhone XR and iPhone XS.

iPhone XR vs. XS cameras

First, let’s assess the XR cameras.

The front-facing camera on iPhone XR is exactly the same seven-megapixel shooter like on the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max models, and that of course goes for the infrared TrueDepth camera in the notch as well. The rear shooter is the same 12-megapixel wide-angle part part as found on the XS with the same f/1.8 wide-angle lens and sensor.

When shooting portraits on an XS, the phone consults its wide-angle lens but only for computational help. The actual image is shot by the f/2.4 telephoto camera. While the telephoto camera sports a much more appropriate focal length for portraiture photography, it has a smaller sensor that can gather only half as much light as the wide-angle shooter.

The problem is, iOS forces all dual-lens iPhones to shoot portraits with their telephoto camera (you can’t pick the lens to shoot a portrait with). On the XR, there’s no telephoto camera so Portrait mode images have to be taken with the faster, more sensitive wide-angle camera.

How iPhone XR shoots portraits

You can see the discrepancy in image quality between the wide-angle camera and the telephoto camera by shooting some low-light stills, then compare the result. “By using the camera with the faster lens and bigger sensor, Portrait Mode on iPhone XR works significantly better than on the XS in very low light scenarios,” he noted.

Needless to say, the XR only shoots better-than-XS portraits in poorly-lit situations. If there’s plenty of light, the XS will take much better portrait photographs than iPhone XR.

I don’t want to make too much hay over the XR’s ability to shoot portraits in low light, because the XS models can just shoot regular still photos in low light and in a lot of cases that’s probably the way to go.

Are you surprised that the XR beats the pricier XS in terms of low-light portraits?

Do leave your comment below.