According to Time magazine, the second and third generation iPhone SE are both refined products of the iPhone 8, which can be said to be a complete iPhone with Touch ID. The 3rd-gen iPhone SE certainly has the most advanced SoC of its generation, the exterior glass is as strong as the iPhone 13 series, and it has a built-in 5G modem.
On the other hand, the mechanical design and functional aspects have been completed and updated to the latest platform, but no updates have been made that significantly change its functionality.
If you want an easy-to-buy model with Touch ID, a biennial update is important for your product line. The big theme of the cutting-edge iPhones released in the fall is “what can be done,” but the iPhone SE is also a product that understands what Apple considers “the basic form of the iPhone.”
However, that’s why I decided to compare the 2nd and 3rd generation from the unique perspective of this iPhone. The topic of this column is “How much does the quality of a photo change just because of the SoC?”
The onboard camera module follows the second generation
As mentioned earlier, the material of the exterior glass has been updated, the color matching is simple but the color is slightly different, but the basic appearance is exactly the same as the 2nd and 3rd generation.
In other words, it can be said that the price of the terminal can be suppressed because the production efficiency is improved and the development cost is amortized. Also, is the installed camera module updated?
The answer is no, that the 2nd and 3rd generation iPhone SE use the exact same camera module. No sensor-shift image stabilization or large sensors are employed.
So, if the hardware of the camera itself is the same, many readers may wonder how different the picture quality will be with different SoCs. Apple uses the term computational photography heavily every year to promote image quality improvements. That is to say, the difference in picture quality between the 2nd and 3rd generation iPhone SE is the difference in video processing of the SoC.
To sum up, there are non-negligible differences in white balance and tone mapping (distribution of light and dark levels), and when there are multiple subjects with different brightness within the viewing angle, the difference in the image is obvious.
A strict comparison reveals differences in depth of detail (like the texture of cloth) and noise when shooting in the dark, but overall there’s no “big difference”. Painting, however, is quite different.
Is the difference in resolving power a difference in tone map?
The difference between the two is very similar to the difference between the iPhone 11 series and the 13 series, or the iPhone 12 series and the iPhone 13 series. The iPhone 13 has a big change in drawing, so the trends are a bit different from previous cameras, but there are similar differences in drawing.
The 2nd generation has light and dark contrast, and the parts are clear and bright. However, looking at the whole picture, you can still feel a slightly unnatural tendency. In other words, various parts of the subject, background, intermediate scene, etc. can be seen clearly, but the whole picture is unbalanced.
By the third generation, the tones of the entire photo will be matched instead of sharp and contrasting photos. At first glance, the 2nd generation looks better, but the 3rd generation has fewer scenes that feel unnatural.
For example, soup in a bowl in a food photo. It’s very similar, but the vermilion of the bowl is so vivid and contrasting that it looks like plastic. A more natural tone mapping will be used for Gen 3 unless done in post processing.
Smart HDR automatically combines multiple images with different exposures, and the effect is different. The 3rd generation has more realistic and full expressions in both dark and bright places.
Also, when I was shooting black subjects in a dark room, the noise suppression was better with the third generation. Since the camera modules are the same, there is no difference in the strength of the camera shake resistance and the absolute amount of information, but it seems that the noise is properly removed with the noise processing.
By handling the noise well, it seems that the processing is being actively performed so that the details are deeper and more detailed. In the Yae Sakura photo, the difference in white balance is noticeable, but if you look at the petals of the cherry blossoms, each 3rd generation SE is drawn more precisely.
The same trend can be seen in photos of railway tracks. I shot to capture scenes with large contrast differences, but when painting shadows and sun with large contrast differences within a limited dynamic range, the stone accompanies the 3D effect firmly in the third-generation SE photo. It is drawn with local contrast.
If you buy a new iPhone 8 or earlier, you’ll be surprised how different the cameras are.
However, the above comparison is just a task to confirm whether the picture quality is really improved by increasing the number of SoC generations. I haven’t photographed the mockup yet, but I can confirm that even with the exact same camera hardware, I can enjoy some of the improved elements of the latest iPhone through the difference in SoC.
Unless you have a specific reason for the 5G modem, you can’t think of a reason to buy a new phone if you’re on the second-generation iPhone SE. Still, if you’re an iPhone user with Touch ID before the iPhone 8, the usability is still the same, and the camera will be a big switch.
I also think it’s easier to use than the built-in camera on many Android devices because it’s almost automatic and doesn’t look unnatural, but it takes good-looking photos. If you want to use the camera comfortably by handing it over to the terminal rather than mastering it, the 3rd generation iPhone SE is the one you can choose with confidence.