Image Quality & Performance

Processor power hasn't been an issue on high-end smartphones for quite some time and Apple's new A10 Fusion chipset is making sure that general operation on the iPhone 7 Plus is smooth and responsive at all times. The camera is ready to go very quickly and takes just over second from launch to capture.

We've had a handful of focus failures when very low light levels are combined with low-contrast subjects, but generally focus is reliable and very swift. Some slow-down is noticeable in low light but overall the iPhone's AF is on par with the best mobile devices.

We were also pleased with the phone's battery life. The 2,900mAh battery is not the largest out there but thanks to Apple's battery-saving technologies it easily takes you through a busy travel day with lots of navigation, picture taking and web-surfing. As usual, at the end of the day you should find yourself a power-outlet for overnight charging, though.

Daylight, Low ISO

In good light the iPhone 7 Plus images show punchy and pleasant colors and, thanks to Apple's Auto HDR mode, very good dynamic range. In high-contrast scenes, some blown highlights are unavoidable but the Apple is noticeably better than many other high-end smartphones.

The lens of the wide-angle camera is sharp into the corners but pixel level detail is only average. The image is sharp but blurring of fine detail and textures is very noticeable at 100% viewing. On the plus side the image is generally clean of artifacts, although in blue skies some luminance noise can be seen.  

Exposure is generally very good in all situations. When taking pictures of human subjects Apple's excellent face detection makes sure skin tones are natural and faces correctly exposed. There's room for improvement in terms of image detail, which will only be relevant to those who view or print images at large sizes, but overall the iPhone wide-angle camera delivers a very good performance in bright light. 

 Wide angle, ISO 20, 1/4556 sec
 Wide angle, ISO 20, 1/153 sec
 Wide angle, ISO 20, 1/1742 sec

At base ISO the camera's tele-lens performance is pretty much identical to the wide-angle. There is some very slight softness in the corners of the frame but otherwise the lens shows good sharpness. Color response and pixel-level processing are not distinguishable from the wide-angle.

 Tele, ISO 20, 1/977 sec
 Tele, ISO 20, 1/736 sec

Low light, high ISO

In lower light the iPhone 7 Plus wide-angle module is capable of achieving good exposure down to very low light levels, despite never increasing the ISO over 320 during our testing. Thanks to its efficient optical image stabilization the camera can use very slow shutter speeds but also appears to be applying multi-frame methods in low light. Despite shutter speeds as slow as 1/4 sec camera shake is hardly an issue.

The Auto White Balance system is doing a very good job in mixed light situations but when viewing images close-up detail is noticeably suffering as the light gets dimmer. That said, decent edge detail is maintained even in very dark scenes and noise, while visible, is fairly well controlled and pleasantly finely grained. 

  Wide angle, ISO 25, 1/30 sec
 Wide angle, ISO 80, 1/5 sec
 Wide angle, ISO 320, 1/4 sec

In lower light the limitations of the tele-lens become much more obvious than in bright conditions. Due to the longer focal length and the lack of OIS, the tele-lens uses a minimum shutter speed of 1/50 sec to avoid camera shake. In combination with a smaller F2.8 aperture, this means that much higher ISOs have to be used for a given illumination and the camera reaches its exposure limit much quicker than the wide-angle. In terms of tonality and color, the images look similar to the wide-angle images, albeit with higher noise levels and reduced detail.

When the light levels get too low Apple's camera software decides to digitally zoom the wide-angle rather than use the tele-module, as explained in the features section of this review.

 Tele, ISO 320, 1/50 sec
 Tele, ISO 800, 1/50 sec

ISO 800 in the shot above was the highest sensitivity the tele-module used during our testing. With the stock camera app the only way to capture a tele-image at a higher ISO is to use Portrait mode and set the camera to save a standard exposure along with the Portrait exposure.

As you can see, the resulting ISO 1250 shot below shows very high noise levels and noticeable underexposure. Alternatively, you can use the Lightroom Mobile app to force the camera into using the tele-lens in low light, but you'll have to deal with the same exposure limitations and high noise levels. 

 Tele, ISO 1250, 1/50 sec

Flash

The iPhone 7 series comes with a promising-sounding new Quad-LED flash, but in reality compared to the previous dual-flash version the differences are minor. In the shot below the flash does a decent job at illuminating the scenes and keeps the ISO low but overall, like on virtually all smartphones, flash is still best reserved for emergencies.

 Flash, ISO 64, 1/16 sec