Is the iPhone 12 camera too sharp? Here are a few solutions

When I took a photo of a cat with iPhone 12 Pro Max, it looked like this in the viewfinder:

How is it, it's furry, isn't it cute?

However, when I click into the album, what I see is this:

This…what did the iPhone do to my cat? The original clean and fluffy hair looks dirty after being over-sharpened by the camera. The effect is particularly obvious on the iPhone’s XDR screen.

Searching for the keyword "iPhone 12, over-sharpening" on the Internet, you can hear many users' complaints. Under the lens of the iPhone 12 series, people are becoming "old" and pets are becoming "dirty".

▲ On the left is Corgi in the Live animation, and on the right is a still photo taken by iPhone 12. Picture from: u/betrai

Is there any way to solve the problem of over-sharpening? The answer widely circulated on the Internet is to turn off the camera's HDR (High Dynamic Range) display in the settings.

But this method does not fundamentally eliminate over-sharpening, which is a bit deceptive.

How can oversharpening be effectively eliminated? Don't worry, let's find the crux of the problem first.

▲ Picture from: appleinsider

Computational photography makes people love and hate

As early as the iPhone XS series released in 2018, Apple brought the Smart HDR (smart high dynamic range) function.

When this function is turned on, the iPhone will take 4 frames of images before and after the shutter is pressed, and then the system will look for better light and dark details in these photos, and finally stitch them into a high-quality image.

The wave of computational photography led by Smart HDR has since become popular.

▲On the iPhone before XS, it was difficult to shoot such a high dynamic range picture. Picture from: austinmann

A year later, the iPhone 11 series, equipped with Deep Fusion (deep fusion) function, has become a new height for Apple to play "computational photography".

To put it simply, in low-light scenes such as indoors or at night, the iPhone 11 series will automatically turn on the Deep Fusion function.

When you press the shutter button, iPhone will automatically take 9 photos.

Among them, before pressing the shutter, the iPhone will take 4 photos at a higher shutter speed. Then take 4 more photos with standard exposure time. The moment the shutter is pressed, the iPhone will also capture a long-exposure photo.

Then, the Deep Fusion function will automatically merge these 9 photos, and finally output as a HEIC or JPEG format photo with a size of about 3MB.

▲Apple used a portrait in a sweater to demonstrate the effect of Deep Fusion at the press conference

In this process, the bionic chip analyzes photos with pixel-level accuracy, including evaluating a series of picture elements such as skin, walls, buildings, and sky, and then fusing and optimizing them after separating high and low weights.

So Deep Fusion looked beautiful at that time, and it forced the iPhone's imaging level up from the algorithm level.

Computational photography also shines because of this, and some people even think that it is the future of photography.

▲ After turning on Deep Fusion, the details of the picture are more preserved. Picture from: birchtree

Until the advent of the iPhone 12 series, people found that computational photography seemed a bit overwhelming.

iPhone 12 claims to bring a more powerful Smart HDR 3 function, and a better Deep Fusion.

In some scenes, as the press conference said: the details of the sky and the ground are richer, the various textures are displayed more clearly, and the photos taken in the dark environment are brighter.

However, Apple seems to be too hard.

The iPhone 12 series pulls the contrast at the edges of objects too high, resulting in an over-sharpened picture effect.

▲ Taken by iPhone 12 Pro Max, it can be found that the edges of buildings and leaves are too sharp

In other words, Apple wants to make your photos clear. However, this algorithm is clear, looks unnatural, and even a bit "dirty".

During the 8 months of use of the iPhone 12 Pro Max, we found several patterns:

  • Over-sharpening of night scenes is more serious than during the day
  • The over-sharpening of the telephoto is more serious than the wide-angle
  • The more complex the lines, the more obvious the over-sharpening

From these rules, we guess that DeepFusion is the culprit of over-sharpening in some scenes. Smart HDR 3 may also have over-sharpening, but it is not as fierce as the former.

How to solve the problem of over-sharpening? We have found the following methods.

iPhone 12 Pro/Pro Max users see here

Compared with the normal version, the iPhone 12 Pro series has a unique advantage: it supports the Apple ProRAW function, and can take photos in RAW format in the built-in camera program.

Friends who love photography should know more or less about the RAW format. It is equivalent to a piece of uncut jade, which retains the information of the photo to the greatest extent, making you more comfortable in post-retouching.

So for users of the iPhone 12 Pro series, the first method is to take photos in RAW format, and then adjust the sharpness of the photos in the retouching software.

In actual operation, there is a very simple way. When viewing RAW format photos in the album, click "Edit", and you will find that the sharpness of the photos is automatically reduced.

At this time, just use the editor to make slight adjustments, such as adjusting the tilt of the photo, and then click "Finish" to get a new photo, and then the sharpness will return to normal.

The second method is to use a third-party app.

Currently on the market, NOMO RAW is rarely a photo application that can reduce sharpness. This function can be turned on on its settings page. However, it is currently limited to the iPhone 12 Pro series.

This is not to "discriminate" users of the regular version of iPhone 12. Because NOMO RAW reduces the sharpening effect, it relies on the Apple ProRAW function to achieve.

From the comparison chart below, you can see that the actual effect is very obvious. Not only the sharpening is normal, but the relationship between light and dark in the picture is also softened.

▲ Photos taken by the original camera and the enlarged picture

▲ Photos taken by NOMO RAW and enlarged images

In the past period of time, I took a lot of photos with NOMO RAW. The humanized interaction logic, the "toxic" color scheme, and the scientific exposure strategy are all reasons to recommend to everyone besides weakening the sharpening.

▲ They are GR III Hi-BW, M10 Standard, X100V C filters

It is worth noting that NOMO RAW is not a free app. The monthly payment is 13 yuan/month, and the annual payment is 63 yuan/year. If you are a subscriber of a NOMO PRO member, you can use NOMO RAW for free.

iPhone 12/12 mini users look here

Because iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini do not support Apple ProRAW, we can only use third-party apps to take photos in RAW format.

After a comprehensive experience, Halide Mark II and ProCamera are relatively interactive and effective. They can both take RAW format photos, even if your phone is not a Pro series.

Let's look at Halide Mark II first. One of its developers, Sebastiaan de With, used to be an Apple designer, and has done a good job in interaction.

The RAW photos taken with Halide Mark II do not have the participation of algorithms such as Smart HDR 3 and Deep Fusion. Although the noise is slightly higher, the overall picture is softer and looks more pleasing than the original camera.

▲The left is the original camera shot, the right is the Halide Mark II shot

▲ The top is taken by the original camera, and the bottom is taken by the Halide Mark II. Picture from:

Then we look at ProCamera. This application is equally powerful, with a refreshing interface, simple interaction, and it can take photos in JPEG format and RAW format at the same time.

The small component of ProCamera is also a bright spot, it will display the time of sunrise and sunset of the day, as well as the time period of the blue hour, which is convenient for professionals to refer to.

▲ProCamera's application interface and widgets

Through the comparison of the following figure, we can easily find that the photos taken by ProCamera are more silky than the original camera, and the contrast and sharpness can be controlled more naturally.

▲ The left is taken by the original camera, and the right is taken by ProCamera. Picture from: imgur

Both Halide Mark II and ProCamera are paid applications. The former is 15 yuan/month or 88 yuan/year, and can also be bought out at a price of 258 yuan. The latter is a buyout system, the price is 60 yuan, and you can pay to subscribe to advanced feature packages such as automatic perspective correction, and the price is 7 yuan/month or 28 yuan/year.

In terms of overall cost performance, ProCamera may be a more suitable choice.


From guiding the user's aesthetics to catering to the user's aesthetics. To be honest, the images of the iPhone 12 series are a bit disappointing.

Although its computational photography still leads the industry in terms of technology, it does not seem to be as stylish in terms of aesthetic orientation.

A sharpened and full-contrast picture may be a "good picture quality" in the eyes of some users. But for video enthusiasts or professionals, this is not advanced.

Using a third-party camera app or post-retouching is not the best strategy. We look forward to Apple being aware of this problem and giving an optimization solution in the updated iOS version to allow iPhone to regain the title of image master.

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