Apple’s Photonic Engine technology improves low-light camera performance

It's an evolution of the company's Deep Fusion image pipeline.


The iPhone 14 delivers a 49 percent improvement in low-light performance and it's all thanks to a tweak Apple made to its Deep Fusion image pipeline. During its Far Out event on Wednesday, Apple detailed all the camera enhancements coming to the 2022 iPhone lineup, with the company's new "Photonic Engine" leading the list of improvements. When you go to take a nighttime photo with the new iPhones, Apple's Deep Fusion image processing algorithm will jump into action earlier than before, resulting in better colors and faster performance.

On the iPhone 14 Pro, Apple claims the Photonic Engine delivers improved low-light performance across all of the device's cameras. The front-facing, telephoto and main cameras are apparently up to two times better at capturing nighttime scenes, while the ultra-wide is up to three times better in less than ideal lighting. A new Action Mode available on all four new iPhone models allows the smartphones to use the entirety of their sensors to capture more stable video.

iPhone 14 Pro specs

Apple is pairing those software enhancements with new hardware. For the first time, the company has gone with a 48-megapixel main sensor on one of its Pro models. Going against industry trends, Apple had stuck with 12MP sensors while many of its Android peers began shipping phones with 48MP and 108MP main cameras. That allowed them to leverage techniques like pixel binning so their phones to capture more detailed photos in optimal lighting conditions, something Apple will do now as well.

In most instances, the iPhone 14 Pro will use its 48MP camera to snap 12MP photos, thereby maximizing the amount of light it can capture. However, the phone's ProRAW mode will also allow you to shoot full 48MP files, opening the door to plenty of editing opportunities. Another advantage of the new sensor is that it will let the iPhone 14 Pro offer true 2x zoom.

Apple has also outfitted the main camera with new glass. It now sports an f/1.78 aperture lens with seven elements and a 24mm equivalent focal length. Apple said 24mm is ideal for a variety of subjects, including portraiture, but it's definitely on the wide end of what you would want for taking photos of people.

iPhone 14 Pro Zoom

Other hardware improvements to the photography experience include a new ultra-wide camera with a 1.4µm pixel pitch that delivers a better macro mode. Apple has also completely redesigned the flash module on the iPhone 14 Pro. According to the company, it will now automatically account for the focal length of the photo you're about to take, leading, in theory, to better results. In practice, you will still be shooting the flash directly at your subject so still expect harsh light. The regular iPhone 14 does not have the redesigned module, but Apple says the flash on the standard models is 10 percent brighter. For selfies, there's a 12MP front-facing camera with autofocus, a feature that's also found on the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus.

On the video front, the iPhone 14 Pro's cinematic mode can now capture 4K video at up to 30 frames per second — though you're free to stick to 24fps for results that look more like a movie. As before, the iPhone 14 Pro can capture ProRes content at 4K and 30 frames per second on everything but the 128GB model — which is limited to 1080p due to storage constraints.

Follow all of the news from Apple’s iPhone event right here.