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iPhone 12 Pro or Pro Max? This camera review settles it

Published Nov 10th, 2020 7:31AM EST
iPhone 12 Pro Max Review
Image: Apple

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  • The iPhone 12 Pro Max offers several improvements in the camera department compared to the iPhone 12.
  • The iPhone 12 Pro Max has a 47% larger sensor and larger pixels that will help with low-light photography, while a sensor-shift stabilizer can improve video recording. The telephoto lens supports 5x optical zoom.
  • A camera review from pro photographer Austin Mann might answer the pressing question some iPhone buyers might have this year: Is the Pro Max worth it?

The iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max preorders kicked off on November 6th, and they’ll reach your door on Friday. That’s also when the phones will be available to order in stores if you don’t like buying phones online, where you’ll be able to try all four iPhone 12 handsets and see which one is best for you. All the handsets offer the same set of basic features, so you’ll get the same experience across the board: A14 Bionic processor, high-resolution Retina display covered with hardened glass, 5G connectivity, and MagSafe wireless charging. The bigger phones will offer bigger screens and battery capacities, and the Pro models will have three-lens cameras on the back with a fourth LiDAR sensor compared with just two lenses for the mini and regular iPhone 12. The Pros also come with stainless steel metal chassis, rather than aluminum.

Buyers looking for the absolute best iPhone 12 experience should go for the Pro models. And this year, the two devices aren’t identical, save for the size differences. The Pro Max does come with an even better camera system than the iPhone 12 Pro, and there’s a review that will tell you whether you should spend $100 more for the Max or stick with the Pro.

Out of the plenty of iPhone 12 reviews that we’ve seen in the past few weeks, Austin Mann’s camera review of the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro stood out. The photographer published similar reviews for all the previous iPhone models, highlighting the new camera upgrades and what they can offer photographers. Mann did the same thing with the iPhone 12 Pro, explaining the main differences between the two Pro models, complete with plenty of camera samples.

The iPhone 12 Pro Max does offer a few key upgrades compared to the iPhone 12 Pro: a bigger sensor, longer telephoto lens, and sensor-shift stabilization technology. What that translates to in real life is better photography in low-light conditions and slightly faster results compared to the iPhone 12 Pro. Remember that all iPhone 12 units also run the same software, including the camera stack. The same algorithms will be working behind the scenes on improving photos on all four handsets.

iPhone 12 Pro Max Review
The same low-light photo captured with the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max. Image source: Austin Mann

Mann took the photo above with the iPhone 12 Pro and the Pro Max to show the differences between night photography between the two handsets:

This kind of scene really leverages the major hardware strengths in the Max. The larger sensor can collect more candlelight, the bigger pixel size keeps the grain smoother without sacrificing detail, and the sensor-shift OIS keeps the image sharp despite my handheld camera shake.

The iPhone 12 Pro Max also gets slightly better zoom thanks to that telephoto hardware upgrade, going to 5x optical zoom. Mann has plenty of examples showing it in action.

But while the Pro Max does deliver the best camera performance of the iPhone 12 series, Mann concluded that the upgrade might not be a must-have for most people:

Is the iPhone 12 Pro Max camera worth the extra size and financial investment? This is a really tough one for me — I came into testing this expecting the 12 Pro Max to outperform the 12 Pro across the board, but I really only found a substantial improvement in very specific scenes.

The photographer explained that one of the downsides of the Pro Max is its size, which might make it hard to operate single-handedly. The full iPhone 12 Pro Max camera review complete with lots of photo and video samples, is available at this link.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.