So, what 12 MP camera does the iPhone SE have? It's complicated, apparently
The iPhone SE is here after years of speculation and leaks. Featuring an A13 Bionic SoC, along with the battery, chassis and display from the iPhone 8, it is fair to say that Apple has re-used parts from various iPhones to build the SE. However, it is unclear whether Apple has re-used the 12 MP rear-facing camera from the iPhone 8 for the SE, too.
On the one hand, people like Austin Evans claim that the iPhone 8 and SE have the same camera. Accordingly, any improvements are software-based. Certainly, the technical specifications that Apple has disclosed about the 12 MP camera in the SE match those of the iPhone 8. According to Apple, both cameras have f/1.8 apertures, six-element lenses and OIS.
On the other hand, the same applies to the 12 MP cameras in the iPhone XR and iPhone 11. Unbox Therapy, for example, believes that Apple has equipped the SE with the sensor from the iPhone 11. By contrast, Jon Prosser asserts that Apple has used the 12 MP sensor from the iPhone XR instead.
While Apple has not confirmed what sensor it is using, its marketing copy offers an explanation of sorts. Specifically, Apple claims that the iPhone SE has the "best single-camera system in an iPhone". Firstly, that means that the iPhone SE will not match the image quality of the iPhone 11 series. However, it also means that it should outperform the iPhone XR, which Apple still sells.
Accordingly, the SE should have comparable image quality to the iPhone XS, which is leaps ahead of the iPhone 8. Hence, it seems unlikely that Apple would have spent time tweaking the 12 MP sensor from the iPhone 8 to outperform the one in the iPhone XR.
According to Rene Ritchie, the answer may be complicated than just which sensor Apple has used. By his account, the SE has a previous generation image sensor combined with a current-generation image signal processor and next-generation algorithms.
In short, the rear-facing camera system in the SE may feature represent old, current and future iPhones. Regardless, we expect that the SE will offer better camera performance than almost every sub-US$400 smartphone on the market right now.