Compare iPhone XS, XS Max & XR camera features
Photo: Apple Newsroom

Each September, we get excited with a new line up of iPhone releases. This year was no exception after the iPhone X release last Nov in 2017.

My favourite was the iPhone Xs Max. Funny name - I do like the Plus name...

Should you upgrade?

This depends on your existing iPhone.


If you currently use the iPhone 7 and iPhone 6s model, your mind will be blown with significant upgrades, capturing almost DSLR quality images on any of these models.


If you have the iPhone 7 Plus, 8 Plus or iPhone X, you will benefit from the faster processor, Smart HDR (no movement in your HDR shots), and the ability to control the amount of blur in your portrait mode photos before and after you capture the photo.

Differences between the iPhone Xs and iPhone Xs Max.

Size! That’s it. The iPhone XS display is 5.8 inch and the iPhone Xs Max is 6.5 inch.


The Xs Max is basically the iPhone Plus size with edge to edge display!

Compare the features of the iPhone XS and XS Max
Photo: Apple Newsroom

Why don’t I recommend the iPhone XR?

It is missing the second telephoto lens. The lower price point iPhone Xr incredibly still offers the portrait mode. It is worth the upgrade from the iPhone 6s or 7, if you do not desire the benefits of the second telephoto lens.


My personal opinion is the dual lens system introduced in the iPhone 7 Plus was a real game changer. Not only did it offer the blurred background, it also provides lossless, optical two times zoom.

iPhone XS Max single lens
Photo: Apple Newsroom

If you take portrait and family photos, the telephoto lens also produces less lens distortion. The wide angle lens produces less flattering larger noses and smaller ears that wrap around behind the face!

Improved portrait mode

You can now adjust the amount of blur behind your main subject before and after the image has been captured. This is referred to as depth of field, the distance from the camera that is in focus and the distance behind that is out of focus.


The artificial depth of field is the result of the powerful processor to manipulate and enhance data coming from the phones image sensor .


Depth of field in a mirrorless or DSLR camera is mostly controlled by a physical component in the lens called aperture (f numbers). This also creates blur in front of the subject. To achieve this artificially on an a dual lens iPhone you must check out the camera replacement app Focos.

Watch the video

After you capture a photo in Portrait mode, tap edit to access the depth slider to adjust the depth of field. This incredible feature can also be used on the 7MP front camera on each model.


The powerful Portrait lighting features introduced in the iPhone 8 Plus and X remain, offering natural, contour, studio and stage light.


Don't have the budget at this time for the iPhone Xs, Xs Max or Xr? You can control the background blur on your existing iPhone using the editing apps.

See article: Blur the background on your Android and iPhone photos.

iPhone XS Max portrait mode Depth control to adjust the amount of background blue and bokeh
Photo: Apple Newsroom

Smart HDR

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, not High Definition Resolution! The iPhone captures more range of light in multiple photos and automatically blends them together onto one image. This provides a photo that captures detail in the bright and dark areas of the photo.


If you upgraded to the iPhone 8, 8 Plus or iPhone X then you may have noticed by default, the HDR option does not display. This is because the A11 image signal processor (ISP) is so fast, you no longer experience subject movement between each capture.


The faster A12 ISP and algorithms provide a whole new level of HDR performance. No more blurred subjects that look likes ghosts when captured in different positions between each blended image. You now have zero shutter lag.


See also: 25 new and hidden features in iOS 11 for iPhoneographers

Lens specifications

All three models feature the same six-element wide perspective 1.8 aperture 12MP rear camera as found on the iPhone X. The second telephoto lens on the iPhone Xs and Xs Max is also a 12 MP at 2.4 aperture.


The main lens has 1.4µm pixels, up from 1.22µm in the iPhone X. The larger the pixels, the more light that hits the sensor resulting in improved low light image data. This is the first time Apple has increased pixel size since the iPhone 5S!

Dual lens portrait mode iPhone 12MP camera lens system exploded view
Photo: Apple Newsroom


Stereo recording is now available on the iPhone Xs and Xs Max via the four microphones. A higher dynamic range of light is also an improvement in the video recording up to 30 frames per second.

Hands on using the iPhone XS for video photos live photos panoramic and depth control portrait mode
Photo: Apple Newsroom

Dual optical image stabilisation (OIS)

This technology is critical to steady the hands to take stunning low light photography on your iPhone. If you have the iPhone 8 or iPhone 8 Plus, you have OIS feature enabled on your wide angle lens.


The iPhone X, Xs and Xs Max provides additional stabilisation when you activate the telephoto lens. No need to digitally zoom and have a rock steady hand!

Storage and colour

The iPhone Xs and Xs Max are available in 64GB, 256GB and 512GB and is available in silver, gold and space grey.


The iPhone Xr is available in 64GB, 128GB and 256GB and is available in black, white, blue, coral, yellow and red.

Photo: Apple Newsroom
Photo: Apple Newsroom

Edge to edge display

This extra screen space is such a pleasure to experience all your photos, video and internet browsing. If you are hesitant about losing the home button, don’t be. After a couple of days transitioning, you will love that it is gone!


A couple of the new features have been around on Android phones for a while now. Live Focus on the Samsung S9 and HDR+ on Google Pixel. The adjustable background focus could also already be achieved using Focos app. It is great to see these now available in the iPhone native camera app.


The biggest news directly related to iPhone photography is the upgraded sensor and larger pixels. The Super Retina OLED display on the iPhone Xs and Xs Max also feature a million-to-one contrast ratio to make your HDR look even more amazing.


To compare the iPhone Xs, Xs Max and Xr models, check out the Apple website.


What features were you hoping to see in the new model?