Sebastiaan de With, designer for popular iOS camera app Halide, explains just how different the new camera system is in iPhone XS. His explanation also dispels the rumor that Apple has been applying a ‘beautification’ or ‘skin smoothing’ filter to selfies taken with the front-facing camera.
The iPhone XS merges exposures and reduces the brightness of the bright areas and reduces the darkness of the shadows. The detail remains, but we can perceive it as less sharp because it lost local contrast. In the photo above, the skin looks smoother simply because the light isn’t as harsh.
Observant people noticed it isn’t just skin that’s affected. Course textures and particularly anything in the dark— from cats to wood grain— get a smoother look. This is noise reduction at work. iPhone XS has more aggressive noise reduction than previous iPhones.
Yep. The front facing selfie camera hardware is worse in low-light than the back facing camera. The selfie cam has a tiny, pinkie-fingernail sized sensor, which means it takes in less light, which in turn means more noise, and thus more noise reduction.
The result is a smoother image, which with the new Smart HDR and computational-photography-heavy pipeline smoothens out the image a bit more than in the past.
So there you have it, an explanation. However, that doesn’t change the fact that selfies now look different, and that will continue to be an issue for a lot of people. I don’t take a ton of selfies anyway, and during my testing with iPhone XS Max, I’ve found this new system hasn’t bothered me.