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iPhone 11 Pro's camera replaces my DSLR on supercar tour of the Scottish Highlands

Can photos from the new iPhone actually challenge a professional DSLR? We took the iPhone 11 Pro on a road trip through the Scottish Highlands to find out.

The iPhone 11 is "the best $700 iPhone Apple has ever made," according to our full review. It's largely the phone's camera upgrades that drive that excitement and the iPhone 11 Pro's triple-camera array takes that further with the addition of the 2x telephoto lens. It's why I was so excited to jump in a McLaren supercar, head for the wilds of Scotland and see what the iPhone 11 Pro camera can really do. Phone cameras across the board have made exponential strides in recent years -- Google's Pixel 4 and the OnePlus 7 Pro come to mind -- with quality surpassing what the average phone user even needs

Read: iPhone camera comparison: iPhone 11 with Deep Fusion vs. iPhone XR

But there's been lots of particular chatter about the iPhone 11 Pro's potential to compete with professional-grade cameras (for video, too). The sweeping roads and dramatic mountains I was heading for were an ideal scene to test out the phone's new super-wide lens.

My car of choice was the McLaren 600LT Spider -- a V8-powered monster, capable of doing 0-60 mph in under 3 seconds and with a roof that folds away to let all of that beautiful outside in. It also happened to be bright orange, which I knew would stand out on the road. My route would start in Inverness in the Highlands, heading northwest and following much of the famous North Coast 500 road trip route.

A quick note on my process for these shots before we begin. My plan for this trip was to see how close the iPhone 11 Pro's images can get to my professional Canon EOS 5D MkIV DSLR. For the most part I shot in raw format using the Moment app and processed the images in Lightroom Mobile on the phone itself. As this is how I work with my pro equipment, it seemed the fairest comparison. Keep in mind that nothing you see here is "straight out of camera" (unless otherwise stated). Instead, I want to show what can be achieved with the phone's camera when you take the time to craft an image.

The journey begins

I left Inverness underneath a vivid blue sky. It made for a tremendous backdrop and when I pulled up later at nearby Rogie waterfalls, the morning's golden light gave a beautiful glow to the autumnal colors. The waterfalls were in shadow and didn't make for a good photo, but a short walk to nearby footpaths held more suitable subject matter. 


I shot this toadstool in raw format and used Adobe Lightroom on the phone to boost the red of the toadstool's cap, as well as darken the edges of the image to help draw the eye to the subject. 

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As the sun rose higher, I got back on the road. This marked the end to the long shadows and golden light for now, which is characteristic of fall mornings. Now it was wide open blue sky and endless sunlight. I took down the roof of the 600LT Spider immediately to take in my surroundings and help keep an eye out for good photo opportunities.

As I drove though, I ran into a bit of a problem. As any landscape photographer will tell you, an empty blue sky does not result in the best photos. As such, I began to look for subject matter that focused more on foreground interest.


This fishing harbor in Badachro offered good subject matter at ground level. I filled the frame more with the boats and the curving coastline, instead of capturing the blank blue sky. This was shot in raw format and processed in Lightroom. 

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Stopping at the Roasters Highland Coffee Box road-side trailer for a caffeine boost.

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For this viewpoint overlooking Gruinard Bay, I walked up a small hill that was a short walk from the road. Using the 2x telephoto zoom on the iPhone 11 Pro, I focused on the mountains and the beach rather than the sky. I took this in raw and made only minor adjustments to exposure and color. 

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At around 5 p.m. I came to my stopping point for the night -- a loch-side hotel near the village of Dundonnell, which gave me time to unwind, shower and have a beer.

The weather forecast for tomorrow: mixed showers. That should give me the perfect combination of good light and interesting cloud textures, which would be more visually appealing to capture than another empty blue sky.

On the next day, I started my three-hour drive. My first stop was in the port town of Ullapool, where I pulled up and wandered down to the water's edge.


I took this shot of the Ullapool harbor at about 9 a.m. I love the soft morning light on the mountains and the cloud detail. This was taken in raw format and edited in Lightroom on the phone. I brought down the highlights to control the bright sky and brought up some of the shadow detail in the surrounding hills. 

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My main stop for the day was a hike up to a rocky outcrop on the mountain Stac Pollaidh. The drive to get there wasn't my favorite, but eventually I squeezed the car into the small car park at the bottom of the trail.

The walk up to the top was more strenuous than I'd imagined, but the views got better and better as I climbed higher. 


This shot was taken halfway into my climb up Stac Pollaidh using the iPhone's panorama mode. Despite using the 2x telephoto mode for a closer look on the mountains and lochs, I still captured a wide scene. 

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Using the iPhone 11 Pro's super wide-angle lens, I placed these rocks in the foreground in the lower third of this image, leaving space for the mountains in the background. I shot this in JPEG using the iPhone's standard camera app and made some light edits to exposure and color in Lightroom.

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When I reached the top, the wind was so strong that I had difficulty standing up and I couldn't get too near any of the steep edges. Still, the movement of the clouds meant the landscape would be dappled with rays of sunlight that I was keen to capture. 


The magical view from the top of Stac Pollaidh. I used the super wide lens to capture as much of the scene as possible, keeping the rock formations in the foreground. I tapped on the screen to expose for the bright sky since it's easier to bring up shadows in Lightroom than it is to rescue a blown-out sky. I love the different layers of light that can be seen as the landscape extends into the distance and the rays of sunlight that are visible up top. 

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With some great shots from Stac Pollaidh under my belt, I headed back to the car and gingerly navigated my way back along a tiny track until I hit the main road. My next destination was Kylesku bridge -- a great sweeping arc of a bridge that I've shot before. 


On my way to Kylesku bridge is the ruins of Ardvreck Castle, located on the shores of Loch Assynt. If I were shooting on my DSLR I'd use a long exposure to blur the motion of the water and create an ethereal, ghostly effect. But the iPhone has its own way of doing this; by taking an image as a Live Photo, you can edit the shot so that any motion in the live image becomes blurred. Using this trick, I got almost exactly the same effect I'd have achieved by using a slow shutter speed on my DSLR. 

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While driving around Loch Assynt on the way to the bridge, the 600LT really came into its own. It gripped into corners like it was glued down and the slightest tap of the accelerator shot me out of the corner like a bullet. It was tremendous fun and the roar from the two top-firing exhausts was an ever-present delight. 


A long, open road. Perfect for a supercar.

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Having shot the Kylesku bridge before, I knew the best location was from the top of a cliff face. I used the panorama mode on the iPhone to capture a wide scene. I would have loved to photograph the car in place on the bridge, but since I was alone, there was no way I could have parked the car on the bridge and left it in place while I took the photo -- not without causing a traffic incident, anyway. 

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The bright orange of the McLaren 600LT stands out against the muted surroundings.  

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Since it was impossible to shoot the car safely on the bridge, I opted to shoot it from an elevated location, looking down, where it was surrounded by mountains. I zoomed in using the telephoto lens on the iPhone 11 Pro and shot in raw, giving me more scope to edit the shot afterwards. 

As I headed back to the car the rain started to settle in. I wasn't hopeful that I'd find many more photo opportunities before my next destination. 

I headed further north, around more sweeping roads and across stunning moorland. Despite the weather, I kept my eye out for locations that made for good landscapes or for good locations in which I could take some photographs of the car itself. A few miles along the route, I found a spot that worked well for the latter. 

It was a small quarry, just off the main road. Large mounds of rubble and rock were piled around, and there was an excavator of some kind left unattended. I wasn't sure if I was allowed on the site, but there was no gate, no signs and nobody around. I decided to quickly reverse the car into a position I liked and hopped out to shoot. 


I love the contrast of the vibrant McLaren against the colorless rubble. I shot this using the telephoto mode on the phone, in raw format and did some basic tweaks to exposure and contrast in Lightroom. I also slightly lightened the front wheel to show off its details. 

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Here's an almost identical shot taken with a Canon 5D MkIV and a 70-200mm lens. It's remarkable that there's such little difference between the two images. If anything, I prefer the iPhone's image for the way the reflections look on the front of the car. This is a great example of just how well a phone camera can compete with professional photography equipment when you take time to craft it.

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Just as the sun had set, I reached my overnight stop at Durness, right on the northern tip of the Highlands. I'd hoped to get shots of the interesting rock formations on the nearby beach, but I'd arrived too late and it was already dark. Instead, I grabbed dinner, enjoyed a pint of local beer, relaxed into my bed and resolved to take the pictures in the morning.

By sunrise, however, the weather was foul, with low-hanging clouds and a persistent drizzle. With my plans totally scuppered, I grabbed another couple of hours sleep before getting back on the road. 

My journey on Day 3 was a long one; I cut down the centre of the Highlands, bypassing my starting point of Inverness and heading slightly south to the coastal town of Oban. The route, according to Google Maps, should take me about six hours, so I wanted to get on the road as soon as possible to give me enough time throughout the day to take photos. 


My first stop was at this waterfall I spotted a short walk from the side of the road. Because I wanted a long exposure to blur the motion of the water, I shot using the iPhone's standard camera mode with Live Photos activated. I like the way the water streaks out as it hits the pool, but I didn't keep the phone still enough. Some of the rocks and landscape came out a little blurry. 

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Further down the road, I passed this tiny cottage. By climbing up a small hill nearby, I captured not only the cottage, but also the car as it faced the road curving away into the distance. The foreboding clouds certainly lend a sense drama and atmosphere that was absent on the first day when I had empty blue skies. 

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I spotted this boat by chance as I was driving around another loch. I shot this image in raw format and slightly underexposed it in order to capture the drama of the clouds overhead. I then used an adjustment brush in Lightroom to selectively brighten up just the boat so it stands out more in the frame. 

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No Scottish road trip is complete without a picture of a Highland cow. I found this one in a field off to the side of the road and had to pull over for a picture. The pouring rain made the cow look forlorn in its bleak surroundings. I shot this using the telephoto lens, and digitally zoomed as the cow was some distance away.

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I was making good progress on my long drive despite the abysmal weather conditions. Unfortunately, the traffic became more congested, especially around Loch Ness. Given its fame as the home of the supposed monster Nessie, it's no surprise that the road around it was inundated with coach tours and sight-seers driving 20 mph in a 60 zone.


A supercar with a bit of road trip mud on it is a wonderful thing. 

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As the traffic eased and I journeyed south of Loch Ness, I pulled into a parking area with an attractive forest next to it, if only to get a break from trundling behind endless strings of buses. The weather cleared by this point and so I wandered down to the edge of the loch.


The view from the shore was nice enough, but thoroughly uninspiring as a photo.

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Thanks to a brief rain shower, the conditions changed 15 minutes later, and a beautiful rainbow erupted in the sky. I spotted this as I walked away from the shore, but sprinted back as fast as I could, knowing this would be visible for only a few minutes. I positioned the rainbow so it connected with the boat. I'm pleased with this image as it shows the importance of patience in photography. In only a short space of time this scene was transformed from a dull snap into a beautiful landscape. 

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Back on the road, I passed through the town of Fort William and noticed on the GPS that I was close to Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain. I found a car park, pulled over and set off on a walk along a footpath I found. 

I'd never been to the area so I didn't know where I was going or what I'd find. But I started hearing sounds of rushing water so I figured there'd be a waterfall of some kind ahead that could lend itself well to a photo. Walking quickly, I knew time was against me (I'd gone about a half mile and hadn't seen anything to shoot). It was about 4 p.m. by this point and the sun was starting to set, which meant that some nice golden light began to cast across the nearby mountains. 


It was only as I turned round that I noticed how beautiful the mountains behind me were looking.

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Eventually I reached Steall waterfall. I wanted to keep a good distance to capture the entire waterfall, and I liked how the branches near me helped frame the falls. My main issue with this picture is that the sun was setting behind the mountain, meaning the falls were plunged entirely into shadow. As a result, it's a bit flat and lifeless. I'd love to return at sunrise when the morning light would light this up beautifully.

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Having finished, I raced back to the car as quickly as I could. I wanted to get to Oban with enough light left to photograph the harbor. 


Thankfully I made it in time and captured this shot of Oban harbor. You can see the round McCaig's Tower peaking over the top. 

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As night fell on the harbor, I used the iPhone 11 Pro's new night mode to capture a lot more light in dark scenes. Here's the original, unedited version.

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And here's the exact same scene taken with the iPhone XS Max, which does not have the night feature. It's clear how much difference the new mode makes.

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With a few exposure tweaks in Lighroom, I edited the 11 Pro's image into this. A lot of the fine details are mushy -- as you'd find with shooting at a high ISO speed on a DSLR. But it's amazing how much light was captured in what was essentially a completely dark night. 

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This is the edited version of the XS Max's shot. I tried to get the exposure to match the 11 Pro's as close as possible. The amount of image noise, blotchiness and other artifacts makes this image completely unusable. Long story short: If you want to take nighttime photos, the iPhone 11 Pro is the way to go.

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My next day's drive from Oban to the town of Balloch was estimated to take two and a half hours, even with the long detour I had planned. I knew there'd be plenty of photo ops along the way. As such, I took various small roads around coastal inlets and lochs to hunt for good photos. 


A pretty stone bridge made for good subject matter.

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Further along still was this tiny harbor. I used the 11 Pro's new super wide lens to capture this fishing boat in the foreground.

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The harbor was also home to this friendly dog. I used Portrait mode to get an attractive blur in the background. Good boy.

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Further along the main road was a turn-off I'd planned in advance. I'd researched the area extensively and had found some shots of a mostly sunken fishing boat, with just the bow poking out of the water. This made for an excellent photo, and after a lot of research online I found out exactly where it was. 


This was taken on the iPhone XS Max.

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This shot was much trickier than I imagined and I ended up taking this shot with my iPhone XS Max. That's because the sky was incredibly bright compared to the rocks in the foreground and the boat itself. I needed something called a graduated neutral density filter -- essentially, a piece of glass where the top half is darker than the bottom. By sliding it into position, it darkens the sky, helping to balance the exposure overall. 

To use that filter on my phone, however, I needed a Moment phone case and the 37mm filter mount the company makes. I could then attach my Lee Filters square filter mount, insert the "grad ND" and shoot just like I do on my DSLR. Unfortunately, the iPhone 11 Pro has just been released and Moment hadn't created a case for all this yet. I did have the necessary accessories for my XS Max and as such, I used that phone instead to get the shot you see here. 

It was a lot of effort to both find this location and travel to it, but I'm glad I did. I like the rocks in the foreground and how they form leading lines that point towards the boat. My timing wasn't great though; the sun was positioned almost on top of the boat, making it fall almost completely into shadow. I had to do a lot of exposure recovery in Lightroom to get this final image. 

It's a shame I couldn't shoot the iPhone 11 Pro using any of my Moment lenses or my professional Lee Filters. They really help transform landscape photography and are a crucial part of my professional setup when I'm shooting landscapes or cars.


My Adidas Terrex Freehike GTX boots were crucial as they tackled the worst of the woodland trails. They're sturdy but comfy enough to drive in. My Arc'Teryx Beta SL jacket also formed a great barrier from the rain. It's important to consider your clothing when photographing areas like Scotland -- even good weather can quickly turn sour and you need to be prepared to stay safe. Do not go hiking into the mountains in Chuck Taylors and a T-shirt.

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The bad weather persisted on my last few miles to Balloch, but I loved the dramatic clouds overhead.

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My stay in Balloch signaled the end of my trip. The final day was simply a long drive back home, stopping briefly in the Peak District to visit my mum, and to rope her into help shooting the car.


I wanted to get a shot of the car in action, driving on a road. To achieve this, I rigged my iPhone 11 Pro to the back of my mum's VW Polo (below) and I drove behind her. I had a Bluetooth camera trigger in my hand that let me fire off endless frames, hoping to catch just the right angle. This shot is the best of the bunch and even then, it's not particularly sharp. The lack of motion blur from the road also makes it look like the car was simply parked on the tarmac.

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The rig I used to get the shot. I used a Manfrotto suction cup with a Magic Arm to attach the phone to the car. A standard smartphone clamp held the phone securely in place. I'd also bought a strong cord to tether the rig to the rear wiper -- a precaution so that when even if the suction mount fell off, the rig wouldn't fall into the road, destroying both the phone and potentially damaging the McLaren.

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A few hours drive from the Peak District and I was home in London, tired and aching but nonetheless pleased with how the trip had gone. 


The rear wing of the McLaren 600LT forms a perfect picnic table for a pork and apple pie.

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I set out to see whether a phone camera can capture a journey like this as well as my DSLR could have and I genuinely think it's a close-run thing. I was seriously impressed with the images I shot with the iPhone and there were many images that I couldn't tell whether they were taken with the phone or the professional camera. That's not something I'd imagine saying even a year ago. 

Had I been able to use my Moment and Lee Filters equipment with the phone too, I think it'd have been even closer. I did take my DSLR with me on the trip and fully intended to shoot some additional shots for fun, but I found that I just didn't need to take it out as often. I trusted the iPhone's quality would be sufficient to get what I wanted. 

While it's true that the iPhone won't completely replace my pro gear when I'm doing photoshoots for CNET, I can say with confidence that I'll definitely be choosing just the phone over my cumbersome DSLR when I'm going for short breaks. Instead of a whole kit bag of gear, this small rectangular slab that fits inside my pocket can do mighty well on its own.

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