The ultra-wide lens is a bit of a disappointment

I’ve had the opportunity to take a few photos with the new camera set-up of the iPhone 11 Pro Max, and I’ve mixed feelings. The ultra-wide lens is somewhat of a disappointment. It isn’t optically image stabilised, and the sensor looks to be smaller than that of the other two lenses.

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Ultra-wide angle lens
Standard wide-angle lens
Ultra-wide angle lens
Standard wide-angle lens

If you open the Ultra-wide photos and blow them up to 100%, you can see that the level of detail is quite a bit poorer than the standard wide-angle lens. Even with decent light, this isn’t brilliant. It’s not completely awful, but it’s not terribly good either.

I’d show you the company photo featuring all of our local employees (we’re rebranding today to align with our German partners). I took one photo ultra-wide and one with the standard wide-angle lens – the ultra-wide is absolutely atrocious. Sure, the lighting could be better, but give the lack of OIS, the picture comes out grainy and people’s facial features are .. lacking. And you can’t make out the sign with the name of one of our meeting rooms. I’d show you an example of this, but since the photo isn’t publically available yet – I’d rather keep both versions offline for now. The standard lens photo was much, much better.

Apple has some work to do. Whether through computational photography and/or hardware improvements (well, hardware improvements – definitely – this puppy needs OIS). But I guess it’s a start. I won’t be using the ultra-wide-angle for anything less where there is decent light – but I’d want to take standard/telephoto versions as well.

Next up is a video test. I’ll let you know how that goes.

The first mistake I made was to order the wrong size case for the iPhone 11 Pro Max – I bought the iPhone 11 Pro case. So that’s got to go back to Apple sometime this week. Meanwhile, I’ve got to use the phone without a case until Monday when the replacement (which is the correct size) turns up. Without a case, I feel that I could drop the phone at any moment. The glass on the back is very nice, and it may be made from tougher materials than the previous generation, but even so, these phones cry out for a decent case.

Set-up took about three hours. I tend not to perform any transfers from the old phone and set up iPhones as new. The biggest bugbear is the Google Authenticator – one usually has to disable two-factor authentication, re-enable it and then scan the barcode for the new token again. But with more sites and apps using Google/G Suite for authentication, I don’t need to keep as many two-factor authentication tokens as I once did.

The display is much brighter than the iPhone XS Max. Gone is the 3D Touch system which provided context-sensitive menus when you pushed down hard on the display. Now we have haptic feedback. I found it much more difficult to re-arrange icons on the home screens as a result – it takes a much longer press to re-arrange icons. Or you could just select the option from the context-sensitive menu that pops up. Either way, the extra waiting time between pressing down and moving an icon is annoying.

Battery life is something I’ve yet to measure, as are the rear cameras. But I’ve been playing with the front camera and portrait mode and I’m quite impressed with the studio portrait mode which removes the background and replaces it with a white backdrop. The following portrait photo of a serious-looking me is an example of this. But note that due to the (poor) lightning, the shirt texture on (my) the left shoulder differs than the right.

Front-facing camera Portrait mode with Studio filter

Hopefully sometime this week I’ll get a chance to get out and use the rear cameras in anger. I’ll also perform a comparison of image quality versus the previous iPhones that I’ve used. You can see from the Apple Photos smart albums below, I didn’t have the iPhone 8 Plus for long given the number of photos in that album..

Photos sorted by iPhone model (part one)
Photos sorted by iPhone model (part two)

Apps load much faster than the previous generation, and Wi-Fi (which is now updated for use with Wi-Fi 6) gives me a speed boost of around an extra 20-30Mbs on my home AmpliFi system. It’s definitely a noticeable difference. I can’t speak for improved 4G speeds yet – but this is something I should be able to test later this week.

The few improvements I’ve been able to test so far have been impressive. Plus as this is a new phone, I should be able to claim a free year’s worth of Apple TV+ when it’s released in November – and I’m very much looking forward to that.

Stay tuned for more updates. The whole upgrade has only cost me about £14 (£7 for delivery, plus another £7 to return my old phone back to EE). I get an Amazon Prime Video subscription as a benefit of my renewal, so that’s another bonus. And more data than I can ever know what to do with. And not forgetting roaming in the US and Canada. All this is down to EE’s Smart Plan.

I’ve taken advantage of my EE plan to upgrade to the iPhone 11 Pro Max. I got a bit of a shock, however, in that the EE app and web site said I had to pay £267 and trade my current phone to upgrade. But I decided to give EE a call on 150 and no mention of that fee ever came up. I only had to pay the £7 delivery fee (and also fork out £45 for a new case).

EE’s app and web site confused the hell out of me

While EE now offers unlimited plans, I’m still going to be on a 100Gb/month plan. This is no bad thing because (a) I go nowhere near 100Gb and (b) I transfer data (or “data gift”) to my iPad Pro 11″ tablet which only has a 20Gb allowance. This will increase my monthly cost by about £5 per month, but for this I get an Amazon Prime Video subscription for the duration of my contract which saves me having fork out for that each month.

Does not having 5G bother me? Not at all. It’s all far too early, and I’ve read many reports that devices that support 5G tend to drain the battery faster and generally tend to get hotter rather quickly. Coverage is still patchy too. Plus there is the matter of additional frequencies. Early devices are not likely able to support any additional frequencies as and when they become available – giving your 5G device a big disadvantage in the years to come.

My main reason for upgrading to the iPhone 11 Pro Max is the battery life. With a claimed extra 5 hours of use, that alone would be worth it for me. But additionally, the phone comes with a better display and of course, improved camera lenses and sensors. The ultra-wide lens/sensor is apparently not as good as the other two lenses/sensors, but would still prove useful.

So we’ll see how good an upgrade this is. I will, of course, be posting updates – including raw footage from any photos and videos that I take.