I take more pictures of my dogs than I do of my kids. I feel no guilt in saying this. My dogs are often a lot more entertaining than my kids, who spend a lot of time doing homework and don’t have an irrational fear of Amazon boxes, large bags, or the wind. Beyond this, dog pics have become an important secondary form of communication with my family. You can say a lot with a photo of a dog eating someone’s underwear.
Increasingly, people buy phones for the camera. Or rather: They buy phones for the pictures they can take and share with friends, family, and the internet. I’m no different. I like my phones to be good cameras — not in a “this image exhibits the silver halide qualities of true black and white” way, but in a “this photo of my dog passed out after eating a dozen bagels looks great” way. And with its new triple-camera system (ultrawide, wide, and telephoto), Apple’s new iPhone 11 Pro line is a very good camera indeed — perhaps the best smartphone camera around. It is also a very good phone in a “Thing performs intended functions well. Thing good!” way, as I explained at length last year.
The other upgrades? They’re all pretty great, though incremental. But odds are, what you care about is the camera. What I care about is my dogs. Anyway, let’s do this.
My dogs and I have spent the past few days with the iPhone 11 Pro Max, and I think they would agree when I say that it is an excellent camera for humans who enjoy photographing dogs. As a test of camera performance, dogs are my gold standard: They don’t stay still, and capturing their details (fur in particular) is a challenge. Not only is the iPhone 11 Pro Max capable of taking dog photos of great variety and visual accuracy, it can take them in the low-light conditions dogs so enjoy and with studio effects that do a good job of making them appear as adorable as they truly are. And if you should, say, drop it in the shallow waters of a local creek while playing lifeguard to an 80-pound dog terrified of being swept away in 3 feet of water, there’s a very good chance it will continue to work afterward. Here, see for yourself.
Much ultrawide. Wow.
Note how the iPhone 11 Pro Max’s new ultrawide lens ably captures the entire breadth of this recently dug hole (up to four times more hole than previous iPhones) and the majesty of Anouk, the 120-pound animal who created it. This was an easier photo to shoot because of a camera interface tweak that lets you see outside the frame — remember: I am a human, not a photographer.
Fergus is a wide dog, so this lens is very effective for shooting pictures of him. Note the beautiful highlights on his chonk, the natural-looking fur tones, and the detail in the remains of the sandcastle on his back. Who builds a sandcastle on a dog beach?
Were it not for the improved 2x optical zoom in/out on the iPhone 11 Pro Max, I may not have noticed the dirt on Fergus’s nose — a sign that he is once again trying to tunnel under the house like some befurred Boring Company digger. Bad dog! Bad! As you can see, the phone does a great job of capturing the shame and appeal for mercy in his eyes.
Thanks to a new slow-motion setting on the latest iPhone’s front-facing selfie camera, “slofie” is now a “word.” It is briefly fun in the way that all slow-motion video is fun but seems destined for America’s Funniest Home Videos tedium if it becomes an actual thing on Instagram. That said, “dogies” (doge-eeze) — my new portmanteau for “slofies” of dogs — are pretty great #dogie. The dogie below was shot in low-light conditions and is a little grainy as a result, but it came out much better than the drool-filled pepperoni-toss dogies that preceded it.
Amaze Night Mode.
For people whose dogs do stupid things in the dark, this is a godsend. That it works automatically — unlike the Night Mode on Google’s Pixel — is perfect for those moments when your dog thinks he’s going to get away with yanking a 5-pound hard salami off the kitchen counter because it’s 3 a.m. and you were sleeping too soundly to hear him knock the coffee pot to the floor. Below, three photos taken in near-total darkness in ultrawide, wide, and telephoto.
Much 4K (up to 60 fps).
The incredible detail in this short video of Fergus behaving like an idiot is stunning, isn’t it? If only my phone had been able to shoot video like this five years ago when he ate a pink highlighter — or that stormy night when he got into his anti-anxiety “Fergucet” and drunkenly knocked over a bunch of furniture (long story). Slow-motion video is, IMHO, quite good — particularly for wet dog shake-off footage. You can almost smell the detail.
I take a lot of dog photos in Portrait Mode, which uses the iPhone’s multiple lenses to create an artificial depth of field that can be used to blur a photo’s background, which once required fancier cameras. Portrait Mode in the iPhone 11 Pro seems to be better, though, and, like Fergus, I’m not quite sure why. What I do know is that I am not deleting as many Portrait Mode fails.
High-Key Mono: What is happen!
High-Key Mono is a new portrait lighting effect in iOS 13 that gives subjects a monochromatic look set against a solid white background, and it’s something Apple spent a lot of time talking about at its fall iPhone event. I put a lot of effort into taking a decent High-Key Mono photo of Anouk, hoping that because she is a vast mountain of white fur, it would render as little more than two disembodied, floating eyes. Sadly, the feature seems to have been designed for people, not pets. This is not a dog-friendly feature, and it should be. Think different, Apple. Sheesh.
Many other what.
Apple promises that the battery life of the iPhone 11 Pro Max is five hours longer than that of the iPhone Xs Max, which, as I wrote last year, already has a fantastic battery life. Battery life was never an issue, and I used the hell out of my loaner. Lithium-ion batteries, the kind of battery in the iPhone, decay over time, which means that new batteries will always hold a charge longer than one that’s two years old. That said, Apple claims that the iPhone 11 Pro Max’s battery can last an additional five hours over last year’s model, which is consistent with my experience dog-testing the newest iPhone.
The device’s display is gorgeous and as bright as the contents of Marsellus Wallace’s briefcase. Finally, “spatial audio” — which uses some updated hardware to create a sort of 3D audio effect around your head — is kinda cool, even if I have no plans to watch Godzilla: King of the Monsters on a screen it was never intended for.
So should you buy the iPhone 11 Pro?*
“Then pick the ecosystem you like. Spend what you can afford. Buy the newest device. If that’s the iPhone Xs iPhone 11 Pro, it’ll be the most badass phone you’ve ever had. Just like the last one.”
*For iPhone XS owners like myself, this is a tough question. I certainly would like an 11 Pro, but to upgrade for the ultrawide camera and a handful of incremental improvements feels frivolous. Were I to own an iPhone X, the upgrade would be a no-brainer.