We saw radical improvements to the sensor size of the primary camera on the iPhone 14 Pro. If a company wants to improve the quality of phone photos, it must work on optics and software tuning.
You can’t make a great camera system with subpar sensors. Ever since the iPhone 11 Pro, Apple’s sensor sizes have been growing. The IMX703 on the 13 Pro models is a ~1/1.66″ sensor, bigger than the 1/1.9″ IMX603 sensor on the 12 Pro Max.
Until the 14 Pro models, the sensor sizes kept growing, but there weren’t any changes to the megapixel count. The iPhone 14 Pro finally got a new 48MP 1/1.3″ IMX803 sensor. There was some confusion about the size, which could’ve been 1/1.28″, but the IMX803 isn’t a cropped IMX707, so 1/1.3″ is the correct sensor size.
It makes sense to expect larger sensors and lenses yearly since they are partly responsible for image quality. Apple’s closest competitor in terms of global sales is Samsung, and they follow a different strategy to this.
We first saw the 108MP 1/1.33″ HM3 sensor on the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra in 2020. Also, the S21 Ultra in 2021 and the S22 Ultra in 2022 used the same sensor. One sensor for three years until they finally got the optimization and tuning correctly last year.
Samsung only moved to the 200MP 1/1.3″ HP2 sensor in 2023. Since Apple is using larger and larger sensors every year, there’s a chance that the image quality is not seeing the improvements it should.
Apple’s photos were always made better with excellent processing. Unfortunately, it looks like there are too many ML algorithms going on with the latest models. The hardware is good enough, but the software is making unnecessary enhancements.
A combination of Deep Fusion, Photographic Styles, Smart HDR, and recently the Photonic Engine has led to visible over-sharpening and white balance issues with the latest models, with a lot of aggressive noise reduction, especially in low light.
Another problem with the latest models is high dynamic range performance. More specifically, highlight control. While shaded regions lose a lot of details, the highlights are blown out in many cases.
This is due to poor lens quality and mostly unrefined software. Since there are so many problems with the IMX803 on the 14 Pro/ Max, reliable leaker Revegnus on Twitter claims that the iPhone 15 Pro models will not have the new IMX903 sensor.
According to the leaks, the IMX903 is supposedly a 1/1.4″ sensor, approximately 1″. Earlier leaks say it could make it to the 15 Pro/ Max models, but this new report directly contradicts the older one.
We can’t tell for sure which one’s accurate. However, it makes more sense to wait for one year. The IMX803 is a good enough sensor, and Apple needs to work on processing.
It also gives them another year to work on processing the IMX903. When that sensor debuts on the 16 Pro models, it won’t have any glaring flaws if they spend enough time optimizing it.
We can still expect Double Saturation technology if the sensor stays the same on the 15 Pro models. This improves colour accuracy and better controls the highlights, acting as a hardware solution to dynamic range woes.
There were rumours of a technology similar to Digital Overlap HDR with Smart HDR 5. However, we’re unsure if the 15 Pro models will have that. If the leak is accurate, then only the 15 Pro Max model will get a significant upgrade with a new periscope zoom camera.