Astrophotography on iPhone 13 is unreal: Unfortunately for Apple, Android’s is… real


By now, you’ve probably seen or heard about smartphones that are able to take great pictures in low light. While this is certainly a nice advancement from the almighty flash, which was pretty much our only option a few years ago, there are bigger, better things.The iPhone 13, soon to be in the pockets of millions around the world, was expected to join an elite group of smartphones that value taking pictures of the stars and the moon!

The biggest “hint” about astrophotography on iPhone 13 we got was Apple’s own “California streaming” poster, as well as a video teaser, released upon the event announcement. The night sky over California and the whole glowing date surely meant the teaser had to be hinting at a few things:

  • Always-on display
  • Satellite connectivity
  • Astrophotography
Well, to my surprise, we got… macro photography (that’s true)! So, Apple pulled a cheeky prank on everyone – exactly what I did with the title of this story. Sorry! But hold on! Don’t go yet! Let me show you what Astrophotography on iPhone 13 could’ve looked like, if it’d happened.

California trolling: What is Astrophotography

Before we get to the pictures, let’s say that astrophotography on smartphones was made cool by the Google Pixel 4 series, and since then, we’ve seen a number of phones that try to mimic this feature – some with greater success than others.

The way astrophotography works, at least on the Pixel, is by taking multiple-exposure photos (the phone does it automatically) and then stacking them together in order to remove noise, ghosting, as well as star trails.

Speaking of star trails, there’s another device that has a similar feature. In fact, it’s quite a few of them. Huawei’s flagship phones have become synonymous with just about any kind of photography, and their special Light Painting mode can go a long Huawei (I apologize).

Let’s take a look at a few photos I took with my Huawei P30 Pro, which later became the inspiration for today’s story (which would’ve been a different story, had Apple given us astrophotography…)

As you can see, astrophotography can turn your ordinary nighttime pictures into something magical. But do you know what’s more magical? That all of the images you just saw were taken:

  • Without a special astrophotography mode
  • Without Light Painting mode
  • Without Night Mode
  • Without AI-enabled

That’s right! The almost-three-year-old Huawei P30 Pro still has some of the best camera hardware, even in 2021. It has a relatively large camera sensor (1/1.7-inch), ultra-wide aperture (f1.6), and Huawei’s excellent post-processing.

I was able to take the pictures you see without a tripod – by simply… pressing the shutter button in regular photo mode! I had to hold the phone still for about 2-3 seconds, as the phone was “sharpening the image”. In other words – I just took a photo – an ordinary photo, which looks anything but ordinary.

On the contrary, Google’s approach seems to be more intentional. Astrophotography is a special “mode” on the Pixel. It takes about four minutes, and it needs a tripod. Unfortunately, I don’t have a Pixel 4, but pictures from this mode usually come out cleaner since the exposure is much longer. Therefore stars and other astronomical objects will be better defined – which is the goal after all!

However, a key part of this story is that the pictures I showed you were taken spontaneously:

  1. I was sitting around the fire in the backyard with friends and family:
  2. I raised my gaze
  3. I noticed the sky was clear
  4. I pulled my… phone out
  5. I pointed up
  6. I pressed the shutter button
  7. Bob’s your uncle!
  8. For the record, my actual uncle was mind-blown when he saw how beautiful his backyard was (behave yourself!) in the photos taken by the P30 Pro. Not to trigger any Samsung fans, but he has a Galaxy S8, so that wasn’t a surprise.

The point is – no thought went into it, other than framing the shot against another object like a tree, wall, or fence in order to get a nice contrast, so the sky stands out. If I had a Pixel, I would’ve needed to find a tripod first, which means I would’ve given up immediately since there simply wasn’t one around.

With all due respect to Google, that’s far from ideal, at least as far as the average consumer is concerned. So, I think the more capable hardware on the Pixel 6 can’t come sooner. This would allow it to take similar photos in low-light without having to resort to using a four-minute exposure.

Will Apple ever bring astrophotography to the iPhone?

So, coming back to the iPhone 13 – it’s safe to assume that Apple’s considered bringing astrophotography to the iPhone, at least at some point in time. We don’t know if and when this will happen, but if it does, Apple will want to Apple-up the process of doing astrophotography as much as possible.

In its current shape, Apple’s Night Mode is already very capable. The iPhone 12’s exposure in Night Mode can go up to 10 seconds if the phone is handled and up to 30 seconds if it’s mounted on a basic tripod.

Of course, Apple being Apple, it’s expected that Tim Cook and company will find a way to simplify the process. It’s unlikely that the iPhone will require a tripod to make astrophotography pictures possible, although you might be encouraged to get one if you want the very best results.

However, as you can see by the P30 Pro’s images, even a seemingly regular photo can be an astrophotography photo, thanks to great hardware and software, which the iPhone 13 series is definitely going to have!

All new iPhone 13 models promise much better low-light performance, so I won’t be surprised if they come close to the results of the Huawei P30 Pro by simply using Night Mode. So, in the end, ironically, you might actually be able to take photos of the stars with an iPhone 13! I’ll take it!



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