Over the last couple years, Marques Brownlee—MKBHD on YouTube—has ran a blind cameraphone test. He posts a series of two photos of the same subject side-by-side, taken by two phones released in 2020, and asks followers to vote on which looks the best. He ran the same pairings on Twitter and Instagram stories (as those are the only two formats that allow simple A/B voting or polls with images) and, to keep it blind, he doesn’t disclose the phones that shot each photo. It’s a good watch, and I’ll embed it below.
Of course, this isn’t tremendously scientific, as there are a lot of variables at play—Twitter and Instagram compress photos very differently, social media polls are easy to manipulate, and we’ve all trained our eyes for very different color palettes and white balances. Spoiler: the iPhone models MKBHD included (iPhone SE and 12 Pro Max) got trounced early in the bracket.
Still, there are some interesting bits that came out of this, even if some are anecdotal. The most interesting to me is that most people apparently don’t tap to focus. MKBHD says this comes from a lot of data Google has, though he doesn’t go into more detail. Assuming this is correct, though, it sounds like a lot of people are missing out on a simple step to take much better photos. My question is: are people not aware they can tap to focus and potentially improve most, if not all of their photos? Or is it simply laziness?
When the iPhone has not been tapped to focus, it seems to default to a cooler white balance (with slightly more saturated blue tones). When those photos are stacked next to a shot of the same subject with a better default white balance, people overwhelmingly pick the latter because those colors look even better by comparison. MKBHD attributes this to both iPhone models losing in their respective first rounds.
Brownlee also breaks down some differences in the automatic color adjustments each platform applies, even when you don’t use filters.
I’d love to see a test like this done when every phone has been tapped to focus on the same subject for each shot. I’d also love to see Flickr included in a test, because fuck Facebook and Instagram.