How to shoot Smart HDR photos with iPhone XS (Max)/XR

With Smart HDR, your photo becomes even more beautiful with more detail in shadows and a better balance between light and dark parts of a photo. Here’s how this new feature works.

What’s Smart HDR?

The iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR have a new Smart HDR function. With that, you can make nicer photos than ever before, especially if there is a big contrast between light and dark on the photo.

You don’t have to perform complex manipulations or adjustments with the camera – Smart HDR works automatically and is fully hands-free.

With normal HDR, a camera takes several photos in succession with different lighting. These photos are then combined with each other so that an optimal photo is created.

Smart HDR does not take three photos, but nine in total. The secret lies in the new A12 Bionic chip of the latest iPhones. This feature relies not only on the sensor and the lens but also on the chip and the software that runs on the new smartphones.

The A12 Bionic chip is capable of combining data from the Image Signal Processor (ISP) in the iPhone with the power of the Neural Engine, which recognizes what a scene looks like using machine learning.

Apple gave the example of an object that moves. Smart HDR helps in that case in two ways.

Firstly, the camera continuously shoots a buffer with four frames, so there is no delay when you press the release button.

Secondly, the camera also shoots “interframes” between these frames. This is done with varying degrees of lighting, so that the details are clearly visible, even with parts of the photo that is in shade.

Instead of simply combining those frames into one photo, the Neural Engine chooses the best parts of a photo. The Neural Engine can perform 1 trillion calculations per second!

Since a lot of calculations are involved and everything is done intelligently, this feature is called “Smart HDR”.

Why Smart HDR?

Photography is an important function of smartphones. Smartphone functions such as automation or smart assistants have matured up to a point where new enhancements are few and far between.

Moreover, they are often not interesting enough to get people to upgrade.

However, a better camera does appeal to people and there are plenty of new improvements in this area.

Apple is obviously not alone in this. Huawei also has a Neural Engine called “Master AI”. Samsung also takes frames before you press the shutter button, to make sure that you capture every single moment.

Google combines multiple underexposed shots into a single HDR photo on the Pixel phones to ensure that light and dark are in balance.

Professional photographers use “bracketing” technique for a similar effect, in which they take multiple photos of a certain object and merge them post-production.

With a smartphone you want everything to work automatically, so that’s why Apple takes as much work off your hands at this point. All you have to do is press the release button.

Which iPhone models are compatible with Smart HDR?

This feature only works on the following devices –

  • iPhone XS
  • iPhone XS Max
  • iPhone XR

How to enable Smart HDR on iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR

Maybe you do not want to know how Smart HDR works, but you want to know how you can make your photos look more beautiful. The good news is that you can just tap a few buttons and start shooting better pictures.

When taking a photo you will find an HDR button at the top of the screen. Tap on it to enable the HDR function for the next photo you take.

How to enable Smart HDR on iPhone XS/XR

We, however, suggest enabling automatic HDR.

  • Open the stock Settings app on your iPhone.
  • Go to the Camera section.
  • Toggle on the Automatic HDR option.

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