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Ever since iOS 11 or 12 (whichever the mid-2017 iOS upgrade was), my 64GB iPhone SE camera’s functionality has been diminished:

  • The camera no longer focuses very well (e.g., taking a photograph of a 8.5"×11" page of 12pt text results in mostly unreadable blur, even in bright lighting conditions.)

  • The camera's resolution has been nerfed, with resolution maxing out at about 1150 pixels by 1530pixels, or around 15% of the nominal 12MP resolution. Back in 2017, the camera took pictures that were 3000 pixels by 4000 pixels

I have:

  • I am using the rear-camera, not the front-facing camera
  • Restarted the phone
  • Cleaned the camera lens; and had my iPhone repair friend clean the camera inside the case
  • Hard reset the phone
  • Factory reset the phone
  • Insured that HDR and Live Photo are disabled
  • Tested with camera Flash set to Off, On, and Auto
  • Tested by replacing the camera with a brand new camera at my local iPhone repair shop which produced identical results (opted to keep original camera in light of this).
  • Under Settings > Photos I have Keep Originals checked
  • Under Settings > Camera I have tried Keep Normal Photo checked, and unchecked, and neither setting affects the problem
  • Under Settings > Camera I have tried Record Slo-Mo at both 1080p and 720p, and neither setting affects the problem
  • Under Settings > Messages Low Quality Image Mode is off
  • I only use the native Camera app, and have no other camera applications installed.
  • The current battery health is fine, and is not triggering reduced performance.

I do not use, and have never used iCloud, so I suspect this is not an issue of having used too much iCloud storage.

How do get normal functionality back on my iPhone SE camera?

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    I'm not sure what the problem might be, but as a data point, I have an SE running 13.3.1 and photos are 4032 x 3024. I've not messed with any of the settings, and I don't use iCloud Photo. Live Photo and Keep Normal Photo are on; there don't seem to be any settings to set the resolution. – benwiggy Feb 27 at 9:48
  • In Settings > Messages, swipe down the bottom to see if Low Quality Image Mode is toggled on. – IconDaemon Feb 27 at 12:16
  • @IconDaemon Low Quality Image Mode is not turned on – Lexible Feb 27 at 17:07
  • Out of curiosity, if you go to Settings > Camera > Formats, and set Camera Capture to Most Compatible or to High Efficiency, does that make any difference? Or in Settings > your-name > iCloud > Photos, is Optimize iPhone Storage checked or not? – kal-al Feb 27 at 23:32
  • @kal-al (1) There is no Settings > Camera > Formats in iOS 13.3.1 on my phone, and (2) I believe you missed the part where I said "I do not use, and have never used iCloud, so I suspect this is not an issue of having used too much iCloud storage." This means that there is no Setting > MyName > iCloud > Photos, since it has not been set up. – Lexible Feb 28 at 5:47
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The iPhone SE camera cannot take pictures at a 1150×1530 pixel resolution – so something is not adding up here. By default the back camera should produce images at 4032×3024 pixels.

I would suggest the following to ensure that you're grabbing a correct picture:

1) Use the built-in camera app

2) Ensure that no other apps are running at the same time (especially nothing should be used the camera for video)

3) Ensure that the dial at the bottom of the camera view is set to "Photo"

4) Ensure that you're using the back camera of the iPhone (i.e. not "selfie mode")

Take a photo and check its resolution using this method:

1) Open the Photos app and find your photo

2) Press the Share button in the lower left corner

3) Choose "Saves to Files" and save it on iCloud Drive or on the phone

4) Open the Files app

5) Find the photo in the list

6) Long-press the photo to get a popup menu

7) Choose "Info" in the popup menu

You can now see the actual resolution of the photo listed.

I have a suspicion that you might be sending the photo to someone else or a computer or similar using MMS, Messenger or similar, and that program is altering the resolution before you check it.

Therefore it is important that you transfer the photo using a method that preserves its full resolution.

That could be for example using iCloud Photo Library to sync it with your computer, or it could be using AirDrop to transfer the photo.

| improve this answer | |
  • "You can now see the actual resolution of the photo listed." is reported at 1575×2100 (oddly enough). Indeed, I am using Signal to transfer photos typically (so possibly that explains the difference between 1150-ish×1530ish), but even when I examine photos in iOS Photos they are obviously low resolution/not 12MP images. Also: I believe I said I do not use iCloud (and I won't). – Lexible Feb 27 at 17:11
  • A little more snooping and HOLY MOLY! If I pull the pictures off the phone using macOS app Image Capture, I am getting full-resolution (even the trick with Files you mentioned which reported 1575×2100: that photo is pulled off 12MP 3k×4k). Thank you for helping me with this! It has been driving me crazy. (I have edited your answer to highlight the most relevant part.) – Lexible Feb 27 at 17:21
  • The poorer-focusing still remains, but boy howdy am I glad that you helped with the image size. – Lexible Feb 27 at 17:25

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