Apple iPhone 11 front camera review

Reading Time: 10 min read
91
selfie

The iPhone 11 is the junior partner to the more expensive iPhone 11 Pro models and features a dual rear camera, a 6.1-inch display, Apple’s latest A13 Bionic chipset, and IP68 dust/water resistance.

On paper, the front camera uses the same setup as the top-end iPhone 11 Pro Max, and features a 12MP image sensor that is coupled to a fixed-focus lens with a 23mm-equivalent focal length and f/2.2 aperture. The camera comes with Apple’s Smart HDR and a background-blurring portrait mode. You can shoot 4K footage at up to 60 frames per second in video mode.

Let’s have a closer look at how the Apple iPhone 11 performed in our DXOMARK Selfie tests.

Key front camera specifications:

  • 12MP-resolution sensor
  • Fixed-focus, 23mm-equivalent f/2.2-aperture lens
  • SL 3D camera
  • Smart HDR
  • Portrait mode with bokeh and depth control
  • 4K 2160p/60fps video (4K/30fps tested)

About DXOMARK Selfie tests: For scoring and analysis in our smartphone front camera reviews, DXOMARK engineers capture and evaluate over 1500 test images and more than 2 hours of video both in controlled lab environments and in natural indoor and outdoor scenes, using the camera’s default settings. This article is designed to highlight the most important results of our testing. For more information about the DXOMARK Selfie test protocol, click here. 

Test summary

91
selfie
92
photo
90
video

With an overall DXOMARK Selfie score of 91, the Apple iPhone 11 front camera delivers a decent performance but does not quite make it onto our current top ten list of smartphone front cameras. Given that the iPhone 11’s front camera specifications (provided by Apple) are identical to those of the top-end iPhone 11 Pro Max, it should not come as a surprise that the overall results are very similar between the two models. This said, there are a few differences—the main one being focus distance. The fixed-focus lens of our iPhone 11 test device focuses slightly closer than the lens on the Pro Max, which results in subjects at longer shooting distances (for example, when shooting with a selfie stick) being out of focus. Let’s have a closer look at the results.

Apple iPhone 11 front camera images generally show good exposure on the face and pleasant colors.

The iPhone 11 does well for Exposure. Target exposure on the face is very good in bright light and under typical indoor conditions. It can be slightly low in low light, but images are still perfectly usable as long as you don’t shoot in extremely dim light. There is some room for improvement in terms of dynamic range, though. When shooting challenging high-contrast scenes, highlight clipping can be pretty intrusive, as you can see in the samples below. The results look pretty much identical on the 11 Pro Max, but the Samsung S10+ is capable of preserving a little more detail in the bright areas of the frame.

Apple iPhone 11, good exposure on face, some highlight clipping
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, good exposure on face, some highlight clipping
Samsung Galaxy S10+, good exposure on face, wider dynamic range

In typical iPhone-fashion, the iPhone 11 produces generally vivid colors with an often slightly warm white balance for a pleasant overall effect.

Apple iPhone 11, good color rendering, slightly warm
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, good color rendering, slightly warm
Samsung Galaxy S10+, good color rendering, neutral white balance

Skin tones can look slightly unnatural in some scenes, however. The subject’s face is too yellow in both iPhone images below, while the Samsung captures more natural-looking skin tones.

Apple iPhone 11, yellow skin tones
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, yellow skin tones
Samsung Galaxy S10+, natural skin tones

Focus is a bit of a weak point for the iPhone 11 and a category in which it performs worse than its cousin 11 Pro Max. The subject is in focus when capturing selfies at close distances, but at longer distances—for example, when shooting with an extended selfie-stick—the face is noticeably more out of focus than on the iPhone 11 Pro or the Galaxy S10+. Subjects at the back of group selfies are also noticeably out of focus.

Apple iPhone 11, long-distance selfie (120 cm)
Apple iPhone 11, crop: out of focus
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, long-distance selfie (120 cm)
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, crop: slight softness
Samsung Galaxy S10+, long-distance selfie (120 cm)
Samsung Galaxy S10+, crop: good focus

Our lab tests confirm the real-life results above. Both iPhones come with a fixed-focus lens, but the 11 Pro Max is capable of maintaining better sharpness than the iPhone 11 as the subject moves away from the camera. Thanks to its front camera autofocus system, the Samsung can deliver good focus across all selfie shooting distances.

Focus comparison

The iPhone 11’s test results for Detail and Noise are again very similar to those for the 11 Pro Max. The camera renders good levels of detail in bright light and a slight drop is only noticeable under indoor lighting. The loss of detail becomes more obvious in low light, though.

Apple iPhone 11, outdoor detail
Apple iPhone 11, crop: good detail
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, outdoor detail
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, crop: good detail
Samsung Galaxy S10+, outdoor detail
Samsung Galaxy S10+, crop: good detail

There is room for improvement in terms of noise management, however. Noise is pretty much visible in all conditions in iPhone 11 front camera images. You’ll find noise in all areas in the indoor shots below, while in outdoor images it’s mostly limited to the shadow areas of the frame. As one would expect, noise becomes more intrusive in low light.

Apple iPhone 11, indoor noise
Apple iPhone 11, crop: strong noise
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, indoor noise
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, crop: strong noise
Samsung Galaxy S10+, indoor noise
Samsung Galaxy S10+, crop: cleaner image

As for flash, the iPhone 11 briefly cranks up the brightness of its display to illuminate the subject. This works reasonably well and images shot both in total darkness and under low tungsten light show well-exposed faces and good white balance. Fairly strong noise and a loss detail are visible, though, in addition to very noticeable vignetting effect.

Apple iPhone 11, flash at 0 lux, strong noise, lack of detail
Apple iPhone 11, flash at 5 lux, strong noise, lack of detail

Generally speaking, image artifacts are fairly well controlled on the iPhone 11 front camera. The device incurs some penalty points for corner softness and ringing, but anamorphosis (perspective distortion close to the edges of the frame) is the worst offender. The effect is not too bad, however.

Group selfie showing anamorphosis on faces close to the edge of the frame

The iPhone 11 is capable of producing a good-looking bokeh simulation shot, with reasonably strong blur and repeatable results. However, some fairly strong depth estimation artifacts can usually be seen around the edges of the subject, and the blur gradient has an unnatural look to it—all elements of the scene are blurred, even those that are in the same focus plane as the subject. The iPhone 11’s results are pretty much identical to the 11 Pro Max’s.

Apple iPhone 11, bokeh mode
Apple iPhone 11, crop: some depth artifacts
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, bokeh mode
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, crop: some depth artifacts
Samsung Galaxy S10+, bokeh mode
Samsung Galaxy S10+, crop: decent subject isolation

We tested the iPhone 11’s video set at 4K resolution and 30 frames per second, which delivers the best results overall. With a Video score of 90, the Apple device is good option for selfie video capture, but not among the best we have seen. The overall result is the same as for the iPhone 11 Pro Max and footage looks very similar, but like for stills, we found some differences. We see the same focus issues as for Photo, with subjects at a longer distance from the camera out of focus (as with people at the back of a group shot, or when recording video with an extended selfie-stick).

On the upside, the iPhone 11 does slightly better in the color category and manages noise a little better than the Apple flagship phone. Exposure is accurate in bright light and under typical indoor conditions, and drops off only in low light. Video footage also shows pleasant color, with good white balance and smooth transitions in changing light conditions.

Video texture comparison
Video noise comparison

Detail is good in bright outdoor conditions but noticeably drops off once you start moving indoors or shooting in low light. As with still images, noise is visible in all shooting conditions, but the iPhone 11 manages noise reduction slightly better than its flagship cousin 11 Pro Max.

Unfortunately, this advantage is more than eradicated by the focus, which comes with the same issues we already talked about in the Photo part of this review. Focus is good on subjects that are fairly close to the lens, but once you move further away, your face will be out of focus. This makes shooting with a long selfie stick problematic, and also means that anyone at the back of group shots will be rendered noticeably less sharp than the people at the front.

Video stabilization is pretty effective, though, and puts more focus on stabilizing the subject rather than the background. Artifacts are generally well controlled, but we did notice a drop in frame rates when recording video in low light.

Apple iPhone 11, outdoor video
Apple iPhone 11 Pro max, outdoor video
Samsung Galaxy S10+, outdoor video

Conclusion

Overall, the Apple iPhone 11 is a capable option for selfie shooters, with its front camera delivering nice colors and good exposure in most situations. On the downside, image output can be quite noisy and the fixed-focus lens, which is geared towards closer focusing distances, means the camera is not ideal for users who work with longer selfie sticks or who shoot a lot of group selfies. But the focus issue is the only real disadvantage when compared to the iPhone 11 Pro Max, so if you mainly care about the front camera and tend to capture most of your selfies at close distance, the less-expensive iPhone 11 is a real alternative to its pricey top-end sister model.

Photo

Pros

  • Nice color, especially in bright light
  • Good detail when shooting at close distances
  • Good exposure when shooting with flash

Cons

  • Noticeable image noise in all conditions
  • Subjects out of focus at longer shooting distances
  • Anamorphosis is sometimes noticeable
  • Unnatural blur gradient in bokeh mode

Video

Pros

  • Accurate exposure in outdoor and indoor conditions
  • Pleasant color rendering, especially in outdoor conditions
  • Fairly effective stabilization
  • Good detail, especially in outdoor conditions

Cons

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