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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.