Apple’s Night Mode can brighten up some of the darkest shots. But, contrary to appearances, it doesn’t work the same way across all three of an iPhone 11 Pro’s lenses.
In fact, photographer and Peta Pixel contributor Amos Chapple did a bit of digging and actually discovered that Night Mode isn’t compatible at all with the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max’s telephoto lens. More than that, Apple is aware and may be “hiding” this information.
Chapple was alerted to this fact by an anonymous emailer after he posted a photo essay titled “Forty Days of Darkness” which featured shots taken in the Arctic Circle using an iPhone 11 Pro.
The emailer pointed him in the direction of a post penned by John Gruber of Daring Fireball back in October 2019. According to that post, the iPhone 11 Pro’s telephoto lens doesn’t support Night Mode. (Interestingly, the original source for this info appears to be Halide co-creator Sebastiaan de With.)
Both Gruber and Chapple tested that theory themselves and found similar results. Basically, when you try to use Night Mode while zoomed in 2x, the iPhone will actually switch back to the primary 1x lens — but will keep the appearance of 2x via digital zoom.
Normally, that wouldn’t be much of an issue. Except that it looks like the iPhone 11 Pro is actively trying to hide the fact that the 2x lens doesn’t work with Night Mode.
In the Camera app, there’s no indication that an iPhone 11 Pro has switched back to the 1x lens. And if you look at the EXIF metadata, Apple appears to have upscaled the photos so that 1x and 2x images have the same image size.
There are a couple of hints about the sneaky switch, however. You’ll be able to see it in the EXIF lens information, as well as in the unchanged focal length between shots.
You can even try covering the 2x telephoto lens with your finger while shooting in Night Mode. If you do, you’ll find that you’ll still be able to shoot 2x photos — when you technically shouldn’t be able to.
It’s all fairly unusual, especially when you consider the fact that Apple could have simply just told everyone that Night Mode wasn’t available on the telephoto lens. It’s been upfront about the iPhone’s other camera limitations, such as the ultra-wide lenses’ lack of image stabilization.
Omitting that info would be one thing. But taking steps to obscure it doesn’t make a lot of sense for a limitation that’s actually relatively minor.
The sneakiness has even fooled many prominent tech journalists. And while you could argue that it isn’t a big deal, Apple should still take steps to clear up any confusion about the feature.