When it comes to judging the quality of smartphone cameras, the MKBHD blind camera test is one of the most compelling consumer studies.
YouTuber Marques Brownlee takes the same photos with several different cameras and labels each photo with a letter, so no one knows which smartphone took which photo. He then asks ordinary people to indicate what they prefer.
The scale of the test is quite breathtaking …
This year saw over 10 million votes, which is incredible considering that a sample of 2,000 people is considered fairly scientific when it comes to most forms of consumer research.
So let me start by pointing out that I have absolutely no criticism of Brownlee’s approach and that I do not dispute his results.
He acknowledges that the poll was not scientific, but it is entirely appropriate for the purpose here, which is not to determine which camera is objectively “better”, but rather to find out which results ordinary people prefer. Given the same objective, I would have conducted the test in exactly the same way.
However, I take a different view than the majority of voters.
As we noted yesterday, the iPhone 12 Pro Max was knocked out in the first round when it faced the OnePlus 8T. You can see the two photos above, and again here. You can right click on the image below and open the image in a new tab to see a larger version.
In my opinion, it’s pretty easy to see why the majority of people opted for the N: sky photo.
If you take a look at each of them, the photo M – the iPhone – has one glaring problem – the sky is so overexposed that it’s almost completely blown away. The lower part of the sky is blown out in both photos, but there is a blue sky visible in the upper potion of the OnePlus photo, while it is almost entirely missing in the iPhone photo.
I suspect more (not all) voters looked at this and decided photo N was “obviously” better.
Now let me stress here that I am not saying they are wrong. This is a subjective test, and this is your favorite photo.
I’m not saying I would have been happy with the iPhone’s performance either; I will not do it. Blown highlights are a pretty basic flaw, and something I’m quite susceptible to.
What I’m saying is this: I suspect most people saw this foul and voted, without studying the rest of the photos in detail. And while the iPhone blew up the highlights, the OnePlus also failed when it came to the gray areas. Look at the lettering on the shirt, for example: perfectly visible on the iPhone photo, and very cloudy on the OnePlus photo. Look at his jeans, which are a black, lumpy mess in the OnePlus photo.
The truth is, the scene pictured here is too difficult even for today’s impressive smartphone cameras. More than that, an indoor shot with a face in the foreground and a bright sky behind is still too difficult, even for a DSLR in automatic mode. I understand Brownlee’s reasons for not having a DSLR reference photo, but in this case it would have been informative. The only way to get a decent shot of this scene is to expose for the sky, then use fill-in bounce flash from the ceiling or wall behind.
Neither camera had the necessary dynamic range here, so each relied on its own intelligence to judge how best to respond. The OnePlus seems to have opted for the best possible compromise, balancing the shadows and highlights as well as possible. This is often a reasonable approach. But not, I suggest, in this case.
Brownlee in her bedroom is the subject here, not the outside world. Given the choice between blocked shadows or blown highlights, the iPhone decided to prioritize the most important part of the photo: Brownlee’s face. It exposed it correctly, while the OnePlus severely underexposed it.
The result is that the iPhone got a good photo of Brownlee’s skin and clothes, a good photo of the room, and a bad photo of the outside world. The OnePlus got a bad photo of Brownlee’s skin and clothes, a better photo of the room, and a somewhat reasonable photo of the outside world.
What’s best is a subjective call. To those who have carefully studied the set of two photos before voting for photo N, I have no problem with that. It’s your judgment. But for me, when a camera can properly expose the subject or the background, but not both, it has to prioritize the subject – and that’s exactly what the iPhone 12 Pro Max did here. .
So that’s my take: Neither phone was up to the challenge in this photo, but the iPhone made the better choice. What is your own point of view? Please let us know in the comments.
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