iPhone 8 Plus vs. 7 Plus: How much better is the new camera?
I toured San Francisco to test out the dual rear shooters on the new 8 Plus and last year's 7 Plus.
Patrick HollandManaging Editor
Patrick Holland has been a phone reviewer for CNET since 2016. He is a former theater director who occasionally makes short films. Patrick has an eye for photography and a passion for everything mobile. He is a colorful raconteur who will guide you through the ever-changing, fast-paced world of phones, especially the iPhone and iOS. He used to co-host CNET's I'm So Obsessed podcast and interviewed guests like Jeff Goldblum, Alfre Woodard, Stephen Merchant, Sam Jay, Edgar Wright and Roy Wood Jr.
Patrick's play The Cowboy is included in the Best American Short Plays 2011-12 anthology. He co-wrote and starred in the short film Baden Krunk that won the Best Wisconsin Short Film award at the Milwaukee Short Film Festival.
But just how much better is the 8 Plus at shooting pchotos and videos? Can you even really tell the difference between them? To find out, I took them out and around San Francisco for ice cream, surf guitar and city views in an good old-fashioned
iPhone 8 Plus and 7 Plus photos: What's the difference?
Check out this picture of Stella the cat taken with the 7 Plus and another one taken with the 8 Plus.
Both photos are good, but the one from the 8 Plus has a more detail in her fur and a slightly wider dynamic color range.
Here's a shot of a Cable Car on California street.
The photo from the 8 Plus has a tad more contrast than the one from the 7 Plus.
The headliner: Portrait Mode
Then there's Portrait Mode. It was first introduced on the 7 Plus and uses the two rear cameras to simulate an artistic blurry background also known as bokeh.
The 8 Plus has a new Portrait Lighting Mode which adds lighting effects to portraits. The combination of background blur and lighting effects makes Portrait Mode photos taken with the 8 Plus pop a bit more.
There are five lighting effects on the 8 plus:
Natural Light - Makes lighting look softer, less harsh
Studio Light - Adds an even, soft spread of light across your subject
Contour Light - Adds shadows to contour the face
Stage Light - Drops the background to black
Stage Light Mono - The same as Stage Light, but in black and white
Natural Light, Studio Light and Contour Light effects seem to work the best. Stage Light and Stage Light Mono are difficult for the 8 Plus to execute perfectly. I had a bunch of examples of it not working. It cut out glasses from the background oddly or made people's hair look a bit Picasso-like -- and not in a good way.
I should note that Portrait Lighting Mode is still in Beta and will hopefully improve over time as did the original Portrait Mode on the 7 Plus.
When Portrait Lighting Mode worked, especially in Stage Light Mono, the pictures looked stunning.
It's safe to use the flash again
My next stop was a post "Blade Runner 2049" beer with friends. Look, I don't like using a flash on any phone. It's distracting, and your subject turns into a glowing white light zombie against a dark shadowy background.
But Apple addressed this on the 8 and 8 Plus with a feature called Slow Sync Flash. Basically the camera's shutter stays open longer to take in more light, making the background look less dark.
Check out these photos below taken with the flash inside a bar. The one from the 7 Plus has a darker background and lots of nasty harsh light on the subject. There's even a little red-eye happening. The 8 Plus blends the light from the flash better with the background and the image overall looks pretty good.
Slow Sync Flash is hands down my favorite feature on the 8 Plus even more so than Portrait Lighting Mode. And there's nothing you need to do to set it up besides turn the flash on.
But what about 4K?
Next, I swung by Nourish Cafe for an espresso and to test out video and slow motion. As with the photos, videos I shot with the 8 Plus looked a bit better to my eyes. There was more detail, colors looked more saturated and highlights (the brightest areas) didn't blow out as easily as they did on the 7 Plus.
Most of the improvement in video detail and dynamic range comes from a combination of software and hardware. The 8 and 8 Plus have a dedicated video encoder which does real-time analysis of the image you're filming and optimizes it for motion, textures and patterns resulting in better and more accurate detail.
Both phones can shoot at 4K. But the 8 Plus gives you a variety of frame rates: 24 frames per second (fps), 30fps and 60fps. The 7 Plus shoots 4K only at 30fps.
Slow motion video is another area where the 8 Plus outshines the 7 Pus. In 1080p video, the 7 Plus can shoot 120fps while the 8 Plus can shoot 240fps. Slow motion video from the 8 Plus looked sharper. The "slow motion effect" on movement seemed more buttery smooth and dramatic especially when someone was juggling potatoes.
Check out the video included with this article to see a variety of video footage shot with both phones.
Watch this: iPhone 8 Plus vs. 7 Plus: Dual rear camera shootout
Photos and video taken in low light from both phones were noisy (the specks in the shadows) especially when shot on the telephoto lens. But the 8 Plus seemed to apply noise reduction smarter cleaning up textures and patterns better than on the 7 Plus.
When I played back the 8 Plus videos I shot on the phone's display they looked good. The same could be said for the 7 Plus. But once I got the videos onto my laptop, the 8 Plus videos looked like a painting from the noise reduction. The 7 Plus videos showed more noise.
It should come as no surprise that the 8 Plus is better at photos and videos than the 7 Plus. How much those improvements are worth will be up to you. But for me, the best iPhone for taking snaps and videos s definitely the 8 Plus.
But, if you are trying to decide between the buying an 8 Plus or a 7 Plus, I'd actually recommend the 7 Plus. Image quality is really close to that of the 8 Plus and if you can live with a less storage, it's cheaper. See the chart below.