When it comes to smartphone requirements, a fantastic camera is usually on the top of everybody’s list.
While it’s easy to see how far iPhone cameras have developed since the first generation, understanding the differences between models is much more difficult. To take a closer look at what’s currently available, we put the new generation of iPhones up against previous releases.
iPhone 13 Pro
Apple’s most recent line of iPhones continues to push what cameras are capable of in the mobile space.
The 13 Pro camera shares similarities to its 12 Pro predecessor, with telephoto, wide and ultra-wide lenses. All the standard photography settings you’d expect from a premium iPhone are included – such as Night Mode, Time-Lapse, Portrait Mode, and Portrait Lighting with six different effects.
From here we can see some of the improvements Apple has made. The 13 Pro’s wide lens has a wider aperture and larger sensor than the 12 Pro, offering better low-light shots, plus faster autofocus thanks to the enhanced use of the LiDAR scanner. With these capabilities, you can take beautiful, focused headshots in darker environments.
The ultra-wide lens aperture is also wider than that of the 12 Pro, with a faster sensor and new autofocus technology, so shallow-depth-of-field photography looks its best and close-ups maintain sharp focus up to two centimetres. With 6x optical zoom range, you’ll be able to capture the whorls of a fingerprint or the precise detail of a leaf – there’s no end to the possibilities. For long-range camera shots, the 13 Pro excels with its 3x zoom telephoto lens, and distant targets will be captured in rich detail.
Alongside iPhone 13, iPhone 13 mini, and iPhone 13 Pro Max, the Pro has Apple’s new Cinematic mode. Much like the standard video recording mode, this feature defaults to a 16:9 aspect ratio, but it also provides you with an aperture number in the top-right corner, which you can tap to manually alter the depth of field. This setting can also automatically identify the most important subject in the shot and change the focus accordingly.
So, if someone else in your video starts to speak, or a new person enters the frame, Cinematic Mode detects this and anticipates the necessary change to in-depth control. The 13 Pro also benefits from HDR video recording with Dolby Vision, which records more details about a specific scene, so you’ll have greater autonomy during the editing process, and be able to edit your footage at a granular level, frame by frame.
Like all phones in the 13 range, the Pro is rated IP68 water and dust resistant, so there’s no need to worry about filming in the rain, and with Cinematic video stabilisation, you can bank on getting smooth video, even when you’re on the move.
iPhone 13 Pro Max
Best premium iPhone camera
iPhone 13 Pro Max takes position as our ‘Best Premium iPhone Camera’, even though it features the same camera technology as the iPhone 13 Pro. That’s because the Pro Max is the best iPhone on the market right now for everyday use, and has some extra benefits for the slickest photography and videography, but which device you prefer will come down to your taste in smartphone size, your need for extended battery life and your budget.
With iPhone 13 Pro Max sporting a higher-resolution 1284 x 2778 display on a 6.7-inch screen, your in-device editing capabilities are much improved when it comes to tweaking shots or video footage. Combine this with a battery capable of up to 28 hours of video playback, and you have a powerful editing suite on the go. To compare against iPhone 13 Pro, the latter’s stats come in at 1170 x 2532 on a 6.1-inch display, with up to 22 hours of video playback.
iPhone 13 Mini
Best small phone camera option
iPhone 13 Mini offers very similar camera hardware and software to iPhone 13, but in pocket-friendly form, with a 5.4-inch OLED display. Like iPhone 13, the Mini is equipped with a dual-lens rear camera, comprised of one 12MP wide lens and a second 12MP ultra-wide lens, to help you capture those stunning landscape shots, or get the whole family into a group photo. As a result, it’s a great choice for photographers looking for a smaller, on-the-go camera, despite lacking the telephoto lens present on the Pro and Pro Max models.
With 2x optical zoom range, you can still experiment with close-up photography, catching small details in superb clarity. Meanwhile, when you’re filming in 4K, you’ll be able to make the most of audio zoom – a feature that focuses on the sounds that matter most, leaving out any disruptive background noise for a professional-grade cut.
As well as this, Night Mode is present on every camera in the iPhone 13 series, including the 12MP front camera on each device. These are all TrueDepth cameras, which emit thousands of infrared dots to accurately map your facial data, enabling you to unlock your phone seamlessly with Face ID.
iPhone SE (3rd generation)
Best budget iPhone camera
The next step up from the 2nd generation iPhone SE, which Apple called the ‘best single-camera system on an iPhone’, the 3rd gen SE is a brilliant choice if you’d prefer to stick to a mid-range budget for your next handset. New for 2022, the latest iPhone SE has been built with a 12MP rear camera and 7MP front-facing camera – that’s plenty of megapixels to snap professional-looking shots in both bright and low light.
iPhone SE shares many of the photography features found on Apple’s premium handsets, including Portrait Mode with all six Portrait Lighting effects. You’ll be able to get creative with the subject of your shot, and on both the front and rear cameras you can access Depth Control, which will use machine learning and monocular depth estimation to allow you to adjust the amount of background blur in each picture. Simply use the toggle to add more or less blur to a photo – you can even do this after you’ve taken the shot.
Next-generation Smart HDR 4, meanwhile, helps to enhance every single photo taken. It intelligently adjusts highlights and shadows to ensure your picture has the very best lighting, removing any overexposed or unnaturally dark areas. You’ll also have the option of adding customisable photographic styles: Rich Contrast, Warm, Cool, or Vibrant.
Last but not least is iPhone SE video. You can record on the rear camera at an amazing 4K up to 60fps, and with stereo audio recording, the sound will be crisp and crystal clear. You can even use the QuickTake feature to take a still photo while filming – perfect for capturing unforgettable moments to share on social.
iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Mini
With advanced dual-lens cameras on the rear, and a brilliant 12MP True Depth camera on the front, budding photographers won’t be let down by iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Mini. Pulling out all the stops, Apple has added identical specs to both handsets – meaning fans of smaller smartphones won’t have to miss out on the latest camera tech.
On the back there’s a dual-lens camera system, with a 12MP wide lens and 12MP ultra wide lens. Upgraded from previous iPhone models, the main wide lens now uses an f/1.6 aperture, enabling the rear camera to take in 27% more light. Combined with Night Mode on both lenses and Apple’s new Deep Fusion technology, capturing photos in low-light conditions has never been easier.
And that’s not all, you’ll also find Optical Image Stabilisation on both iPhones, 2x optical zoom and 5x digital zoom, and Apple’s own Portrait Mode and Depth Control. Zoom in without sacrificing photo quality, experiment with new styles and explore the blurred background bokeh effect. You can even shoot with confidence, knowing Smart HDR 3 has your back. New for iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Mini, this feature will automatically adjust your camera’s settings, fixing the white balance and enhancing details and colours for the best results.
4K Dolby Vision HDR up to 30fps is now possible with any of the iPhone 12 series. A first for smartphones, this professional 10-bit HDR video format means you can expect to produce outstanding, cinematic videos directly from your phone. There’s end-to-end support too, so you can record in real-time then edit and play back video all in Dolby Vision.
iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max
Best iPhone camera in a previous generation
If you’ve been enticed by iPhone 12, but you’re after more advanced camera specs, then you’re sure to love iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max. Featuring a triple-lens camera (reserved only for Apple’s Pro models), you can shoot like a professional straight from your smartphone.
iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max are both packed with Apple’s finest smartphone photography specs. There’s a 12MP wide lens, 12MP ultra wide lens and a final 12MP telephoto lens, with all three equipped with Night Mode for beautifully clear and vibrant results. iPhone 12 Pro Max, however, has a larger sensor on its wide lens, resulting in a huge 87% improvement when shooting in darker environments. Pro Max is also capable of some seriously impressive zoom capabilities: you can look forward to 5x optical zoom, 12x digital zoom, 2.5x zoom in and 2x zoom out. Even when shooting from far away, you can expect nothing less than super detail shots.
iPhone 12 Pro has plenty to offer too. It sees a 27% improvement in low-light, and has its own cutting-edge zoom specs, with a 4x optical zoom, 10x digital zoom and 2x zoom in and zoom out. You’ll have everything you need to take up-close macro shots or photos from far away, and exclusive Apple features like Deep Fusion, Smart HDR 3 and Apple ProRAW help you to take your smartphone photography and edits further.
Just like iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Mini, you can record with the outstanding 4K Dolby Vision. For Pro models, there’s a choice between 30fps or 60fps, and the specs don’t stop there. As well as shooting in real time in 10-bit HDR quality, you can edit Dolby Vision directly on the devices, and even play your homemade film for friends via AirPlay.
iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max
Preceding handset with a powerful camera
Apple’s first triple-lens rear camera can be found on both iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max – two of Apple’s flagships released in September 2019. With an additional lens, Apple has taken smartphone photography up a notch, and all three lenses measure 12MP.
The 12MP Ultra Wide lens shoots with a 120-degree field of view. This means you’ll be able to see four times more, making it a perfect option for capturing breath-taking landscapes. The 12MP Wide lens helps autofocus happen at lightning speed – even in low light. Finally, the 12MP Telephoto lens uses 2x optical zoom to give you more control over the depth in your images. You can manually switch between all three lenses quickly and easily, so you’ll never miss that vital moment.
Both iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max include a new feature called Night Mode which ensures low-light images are refined, well-lit and showcase colour beautifully. Portrait Mode and Portrait Lightning have been improved as well, with new effects added for more flattering photos.
4K video recording, slow-motion selfies (aka Slofies) and a new 12MP True Depth selfie camera are all yours to explore on both phones.
For more iPhone insights, look at our iPhone 13 review, our iPhone 13 Pro Max vs Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra comparison, or find out how the 3rd generation iPhone SE measures up to the iPhone 13.