Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

‘How Important Is Night Photography?’

Brian X. Chen, New York Times:

So in summary, the iPhone 13 cameras are slightly better than those of last year’s iPhones. Even compared with iPhones from three years ago, the cameras are much better only if you care about taking nice photos in the dark.

Just how important is night photography? I posed the question to Jim Wilson, a longtime staff photographer for The New York Times, as he was taking pictures of the new iPhones for this review. He said it would be a crucial feature for people like him, but not as important for casual shooters.

“Sometimes I wait until the night to make an ordinary scene look different and exciting,” he said. “But for most people who aren’t professional photographers, this is of no consequence.”

Via Nilay Patel on Twitter:

The NYT does not believe regular people stand to benefit from better iPhone photos in the dark. I live for this review from another planet every year.

The Times called the iPhone 13 “the most incremental upgrade ever”, which is certainly one way to frame noticeable improvements in battery life and camera quality. Chen does not mention the former, and seems unimpressed with the latter. This review includes a picture of a dog shot with an iPhone XS that is basically unusable. While I agree that most people should hold onto their phones for a few years — I plan on hanging onto my iPhone 12 Pro for at least another year’s worth of revisions, if not longer — someone coming from an iPhone XS would find lots of changes to love in the iPhone 13 line.

Also, better low-light capability undoubtably improves the whole camera system. Smartphone sensors are tiny; to them, anything sub-daylight is a lower-light situation. Hardware and software improvements that benefit performance in poor lighting conditions — aside from something specific like Night Mode — will also show benefits in mediocre lighting conditions.

I am not saying that Chen ought to have given a more positive review to these phones. I have not touched them; I have no idea. But his piece seems out of step with every other review I have read. I do not get it.