When Apple unveiled the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus earlier this month, the company focused heavily on photography, highlighting the dual rear-facing lenses on the Plus model, optical zoom, and other camera technology. Consumer Reports purchased several iPhone 7 and 7 Plus models at retail on the day of launch, and we've done some initial evaluations in our camera labs.  

So far, we've found no major leap in camera performance from the iPhone 6s models.

We have not yet assessed the phones' video capabilities—that testing will be done over the next few days. And Apple's most enticing upgrade, the 7 Plus's new portrait mode that produces shallow depth-of-field effects, won't be available until a software update later this year. We will report on that when it is released to the public.

What's New

Apple has made several upgrades to the cameras in the new iPhone line. The most conspicuous is the addition of a second camera on the back of the 7 Plus—a 2x optical telephoto with an f/2.8 lens. The main rear-facing cameras on both the 7 and 7 Plus now have a larger aperture lens of f/1.8 (iPhone 6s models had smaller f/2.2 apertures), which the company claims lets more light into the sensor.

Both the 7 and 7 Plus now have an optical image stabilizer; previously that was only available on the 6s Plus. Optical image stabilization lets the internal lens float slightly to compensate for hand shake, allowing for longer exposures without blurring.

Apple's iPhone 7 line has updated its LED flash to what the company calls a "Quad-LED True Tone" flash. That system uses four LEDs and is supposed to be brighter than previous flashes, and able to adjust to the color temperature of the scene to make for sharper, brighter photos in dark settings.

The front-facing "selfie" cameras have also gotten a modest bump from 5 megapixels on the iPhone 6s line to 7 megapixels on the 7 and 7 Plus.

What We Found

Overall, we found few significant improvements from Apple's iPhone 6s cameras when it comes to still photography taken from the rear-facing 1x (non-zoom) cameras found on both the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. However, in our tests, the additional 2x (zoom) telephoto camera on the 7 Plus performed better. Here are our initial findings.

  • The 1x still cameras (equivalent to a 28mm lens) on the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus produced admirable image quality, but did not outperform the cameras on the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus.

  • The 7 Plus's 2x still camera (with the equivalent of a 56mm lens) did produce sharper images than the 1x lenses on the iPhone 6s phones and both iPhone 7 phones. 
  • We also tested the phone cameras in a controlled low-light scenario that's equivalent to what you might experience in a dim restaurant. In this situation, the new phones seemed to perform no better than the iPhone 6s for still photos.

  • Apple highlighted the Quad-LED True Tone flash in its press event. However, in our test it was not superior to the flash on the earlier models.

  • In the limited testing we've done so far, the front-facing selfie camera on the 7 Plus was sharper than the one on the iPhone 7. We'll look into this further, since Apple has not indicated that the selfie cameras on the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are different.
This the Apple iPhone 7 Plus and its zoom capability
The Apple iPhone 7 Plus has a 28mm (1x) and 56mm telephoto (2x), both with optical zoom. The 10x zoom on the far right is produced digitally.
Photo: Terry Sullivan