- 12MP sensor the equal of iPhone 6S
- Heavy focus on 'realism' in snaps
- Picture quality seems a little muted at times
- Smaller and less sharp screen not as useful as a viewfinder
The 12MP camera on the iPhone SE is a marked upgrade from that in the 5S or 5 in a number of ways, not just the boost in megapixels.
It's imbued with all manner of fancy technology that you just wouldn't have found on the earlier models - and, in fact, is another perfect example of Apple giving iPhone SE users the same toys as found on the larger 6S.
Firstly, the 12MP sensor comes with Focus Pixels, which are a secondary layer within the camera that works out what the phone is being pointed at and sharpens things up rather quickly. It's not the best in the industry, but it's more than quick enough and if you've got a millisecond to hold the camera steady you'll generally get a sharp snap each time.
Live Photos is added into the mix too, and while I was sceptical when I first saw the feature on the 6S, I can't deny that it does enhance some snaps (there's a surprise foam party that wouldn't have been the same without the feature).
It's also the sapphire covering on the camera that's a decent upgrade too - so many pictures on older phones are now fuzzy and seemingly covered in a smeared layer, such are the micro-scratches that festoon the cover.
By making this stronger Apple has removed one of the big issues that can plague the iPhone SE in its later life, and I love that it's now flush with the chassis thanks to being a little thicker. It's hard to say why, but the clean lines on the back are so much more pleasant.
Settings-wise, the iPhone sticks to simplicity, keeping only the options you want front and center. That means you can toggle on HDR or Live Photos, toggle the timer or flash and add an effect. Square mode remains for easier Instagram pics, and the video and slo-mo modes are within an easy swipe.
When using the camera there's only so much you can change when you're snapping - there's no professional setting to play with. When tapping the screen to focus a simple slide up or down with your finger will alter the exposure, but if you're looking to change color temperature or aperture speed, you'll need to install a specific app.
I'm a fan of the way Apple does things here. Cameras should be simple first and foremost, getting out of the way to let you take the best snap possible, rather than worrying you that you're not using the right settings in the correct places.
HDR becoming automatic really makes a difference too - while the mode has less of an effect now the iPhone packs a rather decent camera and usually captures more tone and detail than in previous years, I still got improved pictures when it fired automatically.
Let's get onto the actual camera quality. It's, obviously, pretty good - and I say obviously because the iPhone 6S' camera has already been dissected and impresses, so I was fully expecting the same to be happening here.
Apple's phones always err on the side of natural pictures - which sounds like a great thing, but I'm not always so sure. While it's great to have natural skin tones and more neutral colors to match more closely to what the eye is seeing, other phones add a slight richness to snaps that makes them 'pop' off the screen.
I'm not saying that this will be the sort of thing many people like, but I kept feeling like the pictures I was getting off the iPhone SE were a little muted in comparison to something like the Samsung Galaxy S7.
The iPhone SE also has a decent low-light mode, although again it's not the best around. It is, however, still brilliant at getting pictures in darker scenes, and for that alone it gets a big tick from me.
My only bugbear with this camera really comes from the size of the phone. I found that it was too small to properly wield when framing a shot - while it was easier to hold, and thus more steady, I really pined for a larger viewfinder to see what I was going to be capturing.
I maintain that a good photo is the one that you want to share, and the smaller 4-inch display meant I wasn't always sure I'd got something brilliant, having to zoom in and out to check clarity etc.
The smaller screen also made it harder to use the volume-down key to take pictures one handed, as I kept covering a portion of the screen with my palm. It's not a big deal, and one that I probably wouldn't feel if I wasn't coming from a larger phone.
But in this instance I think it's worth pointing to the larger phones as a superior photographic experience - in terms of holding the phone if you're thinking of sticking with the iPhone, or just checking out the brilliant snapping ability of the Galaxy S7.