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These are the iPhone 11 camera features we care about most

Night mode is one of many new iPhone 11, 11 Pro and Pro Max tools to dig into.

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Apple's new iPhones focus on the camera.

James Martin/CNET

The iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max are now available to preorder, bringing faster processorsa wider range of color options, including the controversial Midnight Green, and a whole slew of internal upgrades to Apple's iPhone ($900 at Amazon) range. What really sets the 2019 iPhones apart from their predecessors, however, are the camera improvements, including a three-lens design on the Pro models that some say resembles a fidget spinner.

Twitter memes aside, this year's upgrades to the camera hardware and software are no joke. The two lenses on the back of the iPhone 11 ($699 at Apple) and the three on the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone Pro Max combine with a bevy of software tweaks to bring you what is, at least on paper, the most impressive camera performance in an iPhone to date.

So whether you're waiting for yours to arrive starting Sept. 20, or still on the fence between an iPhone and a comparable Android, here are the five new iPhone 11 camera features that make this year's upgrade worth pining for.

Now playing: Watch this: iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max are packed with camera features
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A new ultrawide-angle lens to up-level your landscape shots

As an addition to the standard wide-angle lens, Apple's new ultrawide lens provides a 120-degree field of view, capturing four times more area than previous models. That means those sweeping, dramatic landscape photos should no longer require the many third-party clip-on gadgets that achieve the same thing. 

High-end smartphones from Samsung, Huawei and LG have used an ultrawide-angle lens for years. Still, this marks the first generation of iPhone to pair such hardware with iOS, and that's something that iPhone fans can get excited about. 

Night Mode plays catch-up

The iPhone was originally the champ of taking great low-light photos in dim conditions, but over the years, Android phones have dashed past, with a standalone night mode to bring out details and brightness. Now, all three new iPhone 11 models bring night mode on board. 

In theory, night mode brightens photos and, more importantly, reduces noise, resulting in crisp, colorful photos in low-light conditions. Apple hasn't said exactly how its version works, but we're hoping it'll be much the same way that standalone night mode operates on the Google Pixel 3 ($338 at Amazon), Huawei P30 ($521 at Amazon) and Samsung Galaxy Note 10 ($950 at Amazon) -- by compiling multiple photos taken with different exposures into one.

We're hoping Apple's night mode will be a welcome improvement for those dark, grainy photos that the Photo app's magic editing wand just can't fix. 

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Apple's new Night Mode camera feature is designed to make dark scenes brighter.

Apple

QuickTake launches video when you need it most

Sometimes it's the simple things that really get us, and that's why we're excited about Apple's new QuickTake feature. Many other camera apps, including the iPhone's native app, take still photos while shooting video, but QuickTake works the other way around, letting you start a video while taking stills. 

That means no more fumbling through the dial in the camera app while your subject gets away from you. Just point and click to take a still, and hold to shoot video. It'll work with all of the new iPhone 11 models.

When taking still photos, all you have to do now to switch to video is to hold down the shutter button.

Apple

Deep Fusion is promising, but you'll have to wait

It won't be available when the new iPhones hit stores on September 20, but later this fall, Apple plans to introduce Deep Fusion, its photo-processing software designed to pluck as much detail out of every picture you take. Google has used AI-based photo processing in its line of Pixel ($1,030 at Amazon) phones for years, but Deep Fusion marks Apple's first major play in such a field.

The software will activate as soon as you open the camera app. While you're framing your subject, your iPhone will take a series of long and short exposure shots. When you finally press the shutter button, the Deep Fusion algorithm will combine a total of nine images to produce a master image with as little noise and as sharp detail as possible. 

It sounds a lot like the standalone night mode on Android phones, only for daylight shots as well as dim conditions.

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Apple's Deep Fusion on the iPhone 11 Pro takes advantage of machine learning to improve photos. 

Screenshot/CNET

Finally, some love for the selfie

Historically, the iPhone front-facing camera has always lagged considerably behind in specs compared to the rear camera array, but this year Apple has bumped it up to nearly match the iPhone's primary lens. 

For still photos, the selfie camera jumped up in resolution from 7- to 12-megapixels. You can now also record video in 4K, at the same 60FPS maximum as the rear camera. Rotating the phone into portrait mode unlocks the selfie camera's wide-angle mode, allowing you to fit more people into your snapshots, selfie videos and FaceTime calls.

Finally, the selfie camera can now take slow-motion selfies, or, as Apple dubbed them, "slofies," by capturing 1,080p at up to 240 frames per second (fps). 

Now playing: Watch this: Hands-on with the iPhone 11's ultra-wide-angle camera
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Other new iPhone 11, Pro and Pro Max camera tools

  • Monochrome portrait lighting mode
  • Portrait mode can now detect pet faces
  • Faster Face ID unlocking
  • Brighter true-tone flash
  • Higher contrast ratio HDR

Check out our hands-on review of the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max to learn more about Apple's latest handsets. If you're ready to buy, here's how to preorder the new iPhones beginning Friday. If you're on the fence between an iPhone or an Android, we compare the specs among high-end smartphones here to help you decide.