Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max front camera review

Reading Time: 20 min read
91
selfie

The iPhone 11 Pro Max is Apple’s latest top-of-the-line smartphone, featuring a large 6.5-inch “Super Retina” XDR OLED display, Apple’s most powerful A13 Bionic 7Mn+ chip for processing, 4GB of RAM, IP68-rated sealing for dust/water protection, and Qi wireless charging.

The front-facing camera benefits from a hardware upgrade over previous models, with a higher-resolution 12MP sensor for sharper shots and wider-angle 23mm-equivalent lens. The lens is still fixed-focus, with the same f/2.2 aperture, as the lens on the XS Max, but the wider field of view will certainly help fit more into the frame. Other features include smart HDR, and bokeh shots with Apple’s SL (Structured Light) 3D camera doing the depth sensing.

Front-camera video has been upgraded, too, with the iPhone 11 Pro Max now capable of 4K (2160p) capture at either 24/30/60fps frame rates, as well HD (1080p) capture at 30/60/120fps. The video module also benefits from gyroscope-based electronic image stabilization (gyro-EIS) for theoretically smoother video capture using the front camera.

With iPhones facing tough competition in our rigorous tests of smartphone image quality, it will be interesting to see if the hardware upgrade on the iPhone 11 Pro Max helps propel Apple’s latest device upwards in the rankings. Read on for in-depth analysis of its strengths and weaknesses in our comprehensive review.

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

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

92
selfie
93
photo
90
video

Achieving a DXOMARK Selfie Score of 91, the front camera on the iPhone 11 Pro Max offers a nice improvement in image quality over the XS Max, and ranks just inside the top ten in our database. The addition of a wider lens on the new device is a big plus, helping you fit more into the frame and get better compositions in a range of situations. There are other strengths, too, including a higher score for focus, with both faces and backgrounds boasting good detail at a range of distances, and effective bokeh shots when you want to blur the background.  Selfies pack plenty of punch outdoors, too, with accurate exposure on faces, and fairly wide dynamic range ensuring well-controlled highlights and skin tones even in very bright conditions.

Exposure on the Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max is good, with wide dynamic range that produces nice, colorful skies in outdoor selfies.

Color rendering has been improved on the iPhone 11 Pro Max, too. White balance is typically a little yellow, but the warmer skin tones can be attractive, and good saturation ensures that colors are pleasant and often vivid in outdoor shots. Details are also well preserved, with well-defined facial features in both single and group selfies at close and medium range; and skin tone rendering usually looks natural.

Bold and striking color rendering, especially in outdoor shots.
The fixed-focus lens with a wide depth of field delivers sharp and in-focus faces at close distances.

Bokeh shots are also a key strength for the iPhone 11 Pro Max’s selfie shooter, and the strong background blur looks really striking. Apple’s SL 3D camera generally does a good job with depth estimation and subject isolation. A notable area for further development, however, is noise, which is often very prevalent in both indoor and low-light images. Noise has improved slightly since the XS Max, but front-facing cameras from key competitors continue to offer smoother results in low-light conditions.

Indoor exposures are good, but detail is low and noise high.
Depth estimation in portrait mode is good but not perfect.

Video shows some of the same strengths and weaknesses as stills. The lens’s wider field of view, good focus at most distances, and extended depth of field make the iPhone 11 Pro Max’s front camera a much more suitable solution for vlogging compared to previous iterations. Video exposure is also very good, with the inclusion of HDR processing offering a fairly wide dynamic range in bright outdoor lighting conditions, which is still a little rare for video on front cameras. Color is pleasant when white balance is accurate, and although slight white balance instabilities are evident, the device generally avoids any offensive color casts. 4K capture also ensures good detail in videos; fine detail is well preserved, especially in outdoor conditions, and the texture-versus-noise compromise is good. Detail and noise in indoor videos is the main opportunity for improvement, however, with a significant loss of detail and strong noise visible in lower light conditions.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max front camera, outdoor video walking

Photo scores explained

The Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max front camera achieves an overall DXOMARK Selfie Photo score of 93, which is calculated from its scores in tests that examine different aspects of its performance under different lighting conditions. In this section, we’ll take a closer look at these image quality sub-scores, analyzing key aspects of the 11 Pro Max’s performance versus some of the key competition.

Exposure and Contrast

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max

72

85

Huawei Mate 30 Pro

Broadly similar to the XS Max, exposure on the iPhone 11 Pro Max isn’t quite as good as with top devices overall, but it has some nice strengths. Tested in the lab, target exposures are fairly good in lighting conditions between 20 and 1000 lux, but shots are noticeably underexposed in very low light.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, target exposure analysis by lighting condition

Apple’s “Smart HDR” processing also ensures very good control of the highlights in bright light conditions. In this example, the iPhone’s target exposure is accurate, highlights are well maintained, and good contrast produces a punchy overall result.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, good target exposure
Asus ZenFone 6, good target exposure
Samsung Galaxy S10+, good target exposure

We did experience some HDR failures in a few of our most challenging test scenes, but overall, the iPhone 11 Pro Max handled bright light conditions well. Good highlight detail on faces with strong side lighting is again visible in this shot, together with accurate exposure of the clouds and a nice blue sky.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, wide dynamic range
Asus ZenFone 6, wide dynamic range
Samsung Galaxy S10+, slightly limited dynamic range

Where the iPhone 11 Pro Max dropped the most points was in low light-testing, however, where it’s behind many of the top performers. At 10 lux, faces are noticeably underexposed.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, underexposure in low light (10 lux)
Asus ZenFone 6, slight underexposure in low light (10 lux)
Samsung Galaxy S10+, decent exposure in low light (10 lux)

Color

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max

82

93

Asus ZenFone 6

There’s a nice improvement in color over the XS Max, which was one of the weaker aspects of the previous device due to white balance failures and inaccurate skin tones. On the 11 Pro Max, however, color rendering is pleasant in most conditions, and colors are vivid and well-saturated, especially outdoors, while maintaining fairly accurate skin tones.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, pleasant and vivid color outdoors
Asus ZenFone 6, less saturated color outdoors
Samsung Galaxy S10+, noticeable desaturation in this example

White balance definitely veers towards yellowish, but it’s not unpleasant if you like a warm feel to your selfies. That said, outdoor white balance is more neutral on the iPhone 11 Pro Max compared to the XS Max, and its white balance is repeatable, so you get the same color in consecutive shots. Under artificial lighting, the yellow color cast is noticeably stronger, though, and the impact on skin tones is more obvious. The iPhone 11 Pro Max improves color shading compared to previous devices, too, and although it remains slightly visible in indoor and low-light shots, it’s better controlled.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, warm white balance outdoors
Asus ZenFone 6, blue/pink white balance outdoors
Samsung Galaxy S10+, more neutral white balance outdoors

Focus

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max

82

92

Sony Xperia 5

Focus is now a key strength for the iPhone 11 Pro Max, with its fixed-focus lens ensuring reliable performance and good sharpness at close (30cm) and medium (55cm) range. The main improvement is a more extended depth of field, which has significantly improved detail at longer 90cm and 120cm distances on the 11 Pro Max compared to previous models.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, acutance by subject distance

So at close range, single-person selfies display good detail on the face and in the background, making the iPhone a good option for tourist or environmental selfies. In this example, the autofocus-enabled Asus ZenFone 6 is the sharpest on the face, but with its much shallower depth of field, details in the background are lost.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, in-focus faces at close range
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, crop
Asus ZenFone 6, in-focus faces at close range
Asus ZenFone 6, crop
Samsung S10+, in-focus faces at close range
Samsung S10+, crop

With subjects at 120cm from the camera, faces are noticeably softer on the iPhone compared to the equivalent ZenFone 6 and Samsung S10+ shots, however, which is important to consider if you’re a fan of long-range selfie-stick shots.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, out-of-focus face at long range
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, crop
Asus ZenFone 6, in-focus face at long distances
Asus ZenFone 6, crop
Samsung Galaxy S10+, in-focus face at long range
Samsung Galaxy S10+, crop

On the flip side, if you’re more of a close-range group selfie shooter, the extended depth of field on the iPhone ensures good detail on all faces.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, wide depth of field
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, crop
Asus ZenFone 6, very shallow depth of field
Asus ZenFone 6, crop
Samsung Galaxy S10+, wide depth of field
Samsung Galaxy S10+, crop

Texture

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max

66

77

Google Pixel 3

Noise

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max

63

86

Asus ZenFone 6

Apple has managed a nice improvement in texture on the 11 Pro Max, which was one of the weaker areas for its predecessor. Now close to a top performer, the 11 Pro Max’s detail has improved a little in very bright light, but significantly under indoor and low light, with good acutance of around 60% measured on static scenes in our lab analysis.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, acutance by lighting condition

In indoor natural scenes it’s not quite as impressive as the Asus ZenFone 6 with its larger sensor, but the iPhone is now more on par with other traditional front camera setups like that on the S10+. We did occasionally notice some unusual face rendering with unnatural-looking details or varying levels of noise on faces, but it doesn’t always happen.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, acceptable detail and noise indoors
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, crop
Asus ZenFone 6, good detail and low noise levels indoors
Asus ZenFone 6, crop
Samsung S10+, low detail but acceptable noise indoors
Samsung S10+, crop

Noise is a main weakness, however, and although there’s been some slight improvement since the XS Max, Apple applies very little noise reduction compared to the top performers. Although noise is sometimes visible in outdoor shots, it’s not too problematic, but in lower light conditions, noise starts to become more obvious, with colored or chromatic noise often evident.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, visual and chromatic noise by lighting condition

You can see in these low-light indoor examples that more noise is evident on the face of the subject in the iPhone example than in the others, with a buildup of coarse noise sometimes visible in shadow areas.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, acceptable noise in low light
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, crop
Asus ZenFone 6, good noise in low light
Asus ZenFone 6, crop
Samsung Galaxy S10+, acceptable noise in low light
Samsung Galaxy S10+, crop

Artifacts

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max

74

85

Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ 5G

We deduct points for noticeable artifacts and obvious image quality flaws. The main penalties we applied to the iPhone 11 Pro Max were for loss of acutance (sharpness) in the field and anamorphosis, or distortion of faces near the edges of the frame. Some lens flare, color fringing, and ringing are also occasionally visible when shooting towards a bright light source, but less problematic generally.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, distortion of faces near the edge of the frame is evident in group selfies.

Flash

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max

74

91

Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ 5G

Apple continues to make modest improvements in flash performance, but results from the “Retina” (screen) flash on the 11 Pro Max doesn’t challenge the top performers in this category. Scores are similar across flash-only and mixed-lighting shots, with the latest iPhone capturing accurate exposures on faces when using flash in both conditions. Color rendering is acceptable, too, and although the warmish white balance is still evident, it’s not offensive and skin tones remain fairly pleasant. The main drawback is low detail and high noise, however, which is evident in all flash shots and particularly towards the corners in flash-only shots. Vignetting is noticeable in flash-only shots, and our testers observed some exposure instabilities over consecutive shots when using flash in mixed lighting conditions.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, flash at 0 lux
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, crop
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, flash at 5 lux
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, crop

Bokeh

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max

70

Highest Score

Bokeh is one of the strongest aspects of the iPhone 11 Pro Max’s performance, with Apple making slight improvements to the already well-implemented system on the XS Max. Its SL (Structured Light) 3D camera technology uses rays of infrared light for depth-sensing and for mapping the position of the portrait and the background. It works pretty well, masking complex areas like a spanned hand or wispy hair fairly successfully, without any obvious or jarring artifacts around the subject. The amount of blur applied to the background is strong, which looks striking if you like that kind of effect, but may look a little overdone to some. Noise uniformity is good, so noise levels are consistent across sharp and artificially-blurred areas, and the effect is repeatable, so the same results are achieved over consecutive shots.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, good depth estimation
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, crop
Asus ZenFone 6, excellent depth estimation
Asus ZenFone 6, crop
Samsung Galaxy S10+, good depth estimation
Samsung Galaxy S10+, crop

Video scores explained

The iPhone 11 Pro Max achieves a DXOMARK Selfie Video score of 90 points, placing Apple’s flagship smartphone in the top 5 devices we’ve tested for front camera video. We calculate the overall video score using the following video sub-scores: Exposure (73), Color (76), Focus (87), Texture (73), Noise (63), Artifacts (87), and Stabilization (75).

The iPhone 11 Pro Max continues to be a top performer for video exposure, thanks to the implementation of HDR video on the front camera, which ensures fairly wide dynamic range in most outdoor conditions. It’s not perfect, and our testers did observe some exposure irregularities while shooting natural test scenes, but generally you can expect good exposure on faces and well-controlled highlight detail. Tested in the lab under controlled conditions, video target exposures are also excellent under indoor and outdoor conditions, and acceptable in low light down to 20 lux. Measurements in extreme low light of 5 and 1 lux are low, but these are extremely dark conditions for shooting video, and so affected the video score only a little.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, video target exposures by lighting condition

Video texture has improved over the XS Max, and although Apple front cameras aren’t top performers in this category, the addition of 4K capture on the iPhone 11 Pro Max ensures excellent detail on outdoor videos. There’s a noticeable loss of detail in indoor and low-light videos, which has impacted the texture score a little, but even so, it remains good for these conditions.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, outdoor detail and noise video capture
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, crop, fine detail preserved
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, indoor detail and noise video capture
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, crop, low detail and visible noise

The texture-versus-noise trade-off is also very good in outdoor videos, but the device suffers badly from heavy noise in indoor and low-light videos, which is a key area of development for future iterations.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, visual noise and chromaticity by lighting condition

Front camera video focus is a key strength for the iPhone 11 Pro Max, which ranks second in this category behind the Google Pixel 2. This is primarily thanks to the same extended depth of field we saw with stills, so whether you’re filming yourself at close range, or a group selfie from a little further back, faces are in good focus and details in the background are well defined.

Color in the iPhone 11 Pro Max front camera videos has improved significantly over the XS Max, too, and color rendering is pleasant when white balance is accurate, but slight white balance instabilities are occasionally evident. Effective stabilization is another strength, thanks to well-controlled motion in static handheld videos and with moderate walking movement; and although a slight judder is visible with panning actions, it’s far from the worst we’ve seen.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max front camera, outdoor video walking
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max front camera, indoor video panning

Conclusion

The switch to a wider-angle lens and the addition of 4K video capture make the iPhone 11 Pro Max front camera a worthwhile upgrade over the XS Max. Image quality continues to improve and Apple’s latest flagship front camera is a solid performer, capable of excellent results for both stills and video, with nice exposures, wide dynamic range, and generally pleasant color rendering.

The new lens delivers excellent focus at most distances, too, with extended depth of field ensuring good focus for group portraits and backgrounds; and Apple’s 3D SL camera technology provides a nice bokeh effect.

There are some opportunities for future improvement, however, as high levels of noise continue to be an issue both outdoors, but particularly in lower light conditions. Ranking beneath the top 5 in our database, it’s not a top performer, but the iPhone 11 Pro Max remains a solid choice for those upgrading from an earlier iPhone, or switching over to Apple for the first time.

Photo

Pros

  • Pleasant and vivid color, especially outdoors
  • Accurate exposure with wide dynamic range
  • Good detail on faces at short distances
  • Long depth of field

Cons

  • Warm white balance casts
  • Visible noise in all conditions
  • Out-of-focus faces at long distances
  • Distortion of faces towards the edges of the frame

Video

Pros

  • In-focus faces and good depth of field
  • Accurate exposure with wide dynamic range
  • Effective stabilization
  • Pleasant color when white balance is accurate
  • Nice texture-versus-noise trade-off

Cons

  • Heavy noise and low detail indoors and in low light
  • Color quantization indoors and in low light
  • Slight white balance instabilities

 

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