Updated IPhone SE Camera Testing: Replacement Phone Shows Much Improved Results

Last week we published our initial review of Apple’s new iPhone SE. In the piece, I had remarked that the camera was relatively disappointing and suffered from a lack of detail in photos, with the phone’s camera seemingly suffering from optical weaknesses that manifested in partially blurred out shots. This was quite puzzling as the iPhone SE’s camera module should be of the same design as that of the iPhone 8, which produced sharp images.

I had notified Apple of the results ahead of the publication of the article, and the company communicated back that they had not seen such results before, and that they were not what was expected of the new iPhone SE’s camera abilities.

The company decided to dispatch out a new phone, and to collect my initial unit for analysis. I exchanged units earlier in the week, and was able to retest the new phone’s cameras.

In the new camera samples, we can see a dramatic improvement in sharpness of the pictures, and the new phone exhibits none of the optical issues that were initially described in the article.

Although I wasn’t able to test both units side-by-side, as the old phone had been collected at the same time, here’s some similar scene shots (although they are done on different days with different lighting conditions) between the two phones:

One can immediately note massive improvements in sharpness, with the new phone now performing as good as, or even better, than the iPhone 8.

I’ve completely updated the initial camera evaluation with new samples, and all criticism about the detail retention and optical performance of the iPhone SE naturally don’t apply any more, with the phone now performing excellently in that area.

Read: Updated iPhone SE Quick Camera Evaluation

For transparency’s sake – we’ve kept on the old page with the old samples in the article so that readers can see the differences between the two units.

Post-mortem

Overall, the new update is both good news and bad news. The good news is that the iPhone SE should feature a much better camera than initially reported, and I hope that’s what most users will experience.

The bad news is that we still don’t exactly know what went wrong with the first unit – what I don’t doubt is confirmed is that it suffered from a manufacturing defect in the optical system of the camera.

The problem with confirming such a scenario is that it’s very unlikely that I was extremely unlucky in being the sole person receiving such a sample, as usually one-off faults like these are insanely rare, with the more likely scenario being some sort of systematic failure for a whole batch of units.

As an anecdote, the last time this happened was a few years back, with initial production runs of Huawei’s Mate 8 having camera focus issues, and this was confirmed to be faulty manufacturing of the initial batches rather than just my unit. The issue was partly resolved by software updates, and fully resolved by a recalibration in the manufacturing lines.

For such a QA-issue to happen to Apple is extremely rare, and to their credit, they took it very seriously with a prompt response and device replacement. Only their internal analysis will showcase the root cause of the problem, and unfortunately given the company’s more secretive nature, we might never find out about the results of that investigation.

We’ll be following up with a full-blown camera analysis of the new iPhone SE (and a ton of other phones we have to catch up on!) in the next few weeks.