Reviews |Apple iPhone 13 Pro camera

Apple iPhone 13 Pro camera Review

Apple iPhone 13 Pro
Review

Price when reviewed

£949

$999
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Our Verdict

While the iPhone 13 Pro’s camera doesn’t make a massive upgrade to the iPhone 12 Pro’s camera, there are noticeable improvements. The image quality looks a little better for example, the low-light shooting is enhanced and the 2cm macro focusing with the ultra-wide camera is a nice bonus.

Does that make it worth upgrading to from the iPhone 11 Pro though? Probably not, but if you have an older iPhone, the iPhone 13 Pro is worth getting excited about.

For

  • High-quality images with impact
  • Easy to use
  • Great wide-angle capability

Against

  • Limited control in the native camera app
  • High price
  • The lenses are unprotected

What is the Apple iPhone 13 Pro?

The Apple iPhone 13 Pro is the 2021 edition of Apple’s top-flight smartphone range. As usual, it’s the camera that interest us the most and according to Apple, the iPhone 13 Pro makes the biggest step forward in camera technology that it has ever made.

In a nice change, the iPhone Pro and iPhone Pro Max have the same cameras so there are fewer difficult decisions to be made when selecting the model you want.

Specification

  • Camera type: Smartphone with 12Mp triple-camera system
  • Announced: 14th September 2021
  • Ultra wide: 13mm (equivalent) f/1.8 with 120° field of view, sensor-shift optical stabilisation, 6-element lens
  • Wide: 26mm (equivalent) f/1.5, dual optical stabilisation, 7-element lens, 1.9 µm pixels
  • Telephoto: 77mm (equivalent) f/2.8, dual optical stabilisation, 6-element lens
  • Zoom range: Optical: 5.9x, Digital: 15x for stills, 9x for video
  • Portrait Lighting effects: Natural, Studio, Contour, Stage, Stage Mono, High-Key Light Mono
  • Stabilisation: Sensor-shift optical image stabilisation in wide and telephoto mode, just wide in video mode
  • Video resolutions: 4K 24/25/30/60fps, 1080p 25/30/60fps, 720p at 30fps
  • Cinematic mode (for shallow depth of field): 1080p at 30fps
  • ProRes video (coming later this year): up to 4K at 30fps (1080p at 30 fps for 128GB storage)
  • Slow motion recording: 1080p at 120/240 fps
  • Selfie camera: 12Mp f/2.2 TrueDepth camera with Portrait mode, 4K video at 24/25/30/60fps
  • Screen: Super Retina XDR display with ProMotion, 6.1-inch OLED with 2532×1170 pixels at 460ppi, 10-120Hz adaptive refresh rate
  • Storage capacity: 128, 256, 512GB or 1TB
  • Dimensions (HxWxD): 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.65mm
  • Weight: 203g
Apple iPhone 13 Pro camera review

Features

Like the iPhone 12 Pro, the iPhone 13 Pro uses three sensors and lenses for its main camera but they are all new components. As before there’s a 13mm equivalent ultra-wide camera and a 26mm equivalent wide camera, but the telephoto camera has been upgraded from a 52mm equivalent device on the iPhone 12 Pro to a 77mm equivalent camera on the iPhone 13 Pro. That means that if you shoot from the same spot, the framing is a bit tighter with the iPhone 13 Pro. It also means you can take a step or two back when photographing people, which is likely to make it a more comfortable experience for head and shoulder portraits.

These focal lengths mean that there’s an optical zoom of 5.9x (lets call it 6x) plus there’s up to 15x digital zoom for stills and 9x for video.

In addition, the ultra-wide camera can focus on subjects just 2cm away. That makes it useful for macro photography and close-ups with lots of background interest.

All three of the cameras have a resolution of 12Mp however, the ultra-wide has an aperture of f/1.8 (up from f/2.4 on the iPhone 12 Pro), the wide has an aperture of f/1.5 (increased from f/1.6) and the 77mm telephoto camera has an aperture of f/2.8. The iPhone 12 Pro’s telephoto lens has an aperture of f/2.0, but as I mentioned, it’s also shorter.

According to Apple, the wide camera has 1.9 µm pixels, which is the largest size of pixel that’s every been used in an iPhone. That should be good news for image quality as larger pixels gather more light so the image signal requires less gain and there’s less noise.

The wider apertures in the ultra-wide and wide cameras enable more light to reach their sensors, which is good news when shooting in dim conditions. However, the Neural Engine and Deep Fusion also carry out pixel-by-pixel analysis of the image with the aim of delivering better detail in low-light.

There’s also the LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) scanner, which as well as helping the iPhone 13 Pro understand subject distance for applying blur  in Portrait mode, also helps deliver better portraits in Night mode (which is available with all three cameras).

All three of the cameras are stabilised with the wide and telephoto cameras using dual optical stabilisation and the ultra-wide employing sensor-shift stabilisation.

Apple introduced a new Photographic Styles feature with the iPhone 13. The default preset options are Standard, Rich Contrast, Vibrant, Warm and Cool, but the Tone and Warmth of each can be tweaked to your personal preferences and used at the shooting stage for future images – they can’t be applied post-capture.

These Styles are designed to keep images looking natural while enhancing key aspects.

Increasing the Tone setting delivers brighter, more saturated colours while decreasing it delivers more contrast and deeper shadows. Meanwhile, the Warmth slider allows you to create warmer or cooler images.

If the option is selected via the iPhone 13 Pro’s settings, it can shoot raw images in Photo mode. However, you have to switch to jpeg or HEIF or format if you want to use a Photographic Style.

There’s also something new for video. Firstly, there’s a new Cinematic mode which switches the camera to record Full HD video but gives control over the ‘aperture’. This works in a similar way to Portrait mode, allowing you to set a computational aperture value with the iPhone 13 Pro creating an appropriate degree of blur. As with Portrait mode in stills, it’s possible to adjust the aperture value post capture and you can tap on a subject to set it as the point of focus or the camera can use its face-detection system to find the subject.

Later this year, Apple is also going to bring ProRes recording to the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max with an iOS update. That’s probably going to chomp through quite a bit of storage capacity.

Apple announces its most advanced camera - iPhone 13 Pro

Build and handling

The iPhone 13 Pro looks very similar to the iPhone 12 Pro but the buttons on the side have moved a fraction so if you’re upgrading from the iPhone 12 Pro, you need to buy a new case.

Like the iPhone 12 Pro, the iPhone 13 Pro has a flat-edge design with a stainless steel band, a Ceramic Shield front cover, a textured matte glass back and finish that is resistant to abrasion and corrosion. The front cover is said to be tougher than any smartphone glass, giving ‘amazing durability and drop performance’, but the screen on mine has already picked up a small scratch.

Apple has also made the iPhone 13 Pro water resistance to a rating of IP68

Reverting back to the screen, Apple has plumped for a 6.1‑inch Super Retina XDR OLED display with ProMotion and 2532 x 1170-pixels, giving a resolution of 460ppi. That provides a crisp image and even in direct sunlight on a bright October day in the UK, there’s a good view of the scene.

Naturally, a new iPhone also comes with a new operating system, but not a great deal has changed with respect to the camera controls. With the native camera app open, you can swap between the various shooting modes (Time-lapse, Slow-mo, Cinematic, Video, Photo, Portrait and Pano), by swiping the options left or right.

In Time-lapse, Photo and Portrait mode you can reveal a small collection of controls by tapping on the arrow at the top of the screen. In Photo mode, for example, this gives a route to the flash, Night mode, Live,  Photographic Styles, Aspect ratio, Exposure, Timer and Filter settings as well as enabling raw-shooting to be turned on or off.

Performance

With 12Mp available on each of its main cameras, the iPhone 13 Pro doesn’t produce the largest images around, but generally, they look great on its screen. They also look good when shared on social media.

In bright sunshine the jpeg and HEIF images can look a little over-sharpened if you zoom in, but at normal viewing and sharing sizes, they look good. Raw files, which are saved in DNG format, however, usually look a bit more natural.

The iPhone 13 Pro quickly spots humans and animals in the image frame and lets you know by putting a yellow square around them and getting them sharp. Even if it doesn’t identify a specific subject and put a box around it, the 13 Pro does a good job of getting the nearest object in the frame sharp.

Thanks to the large apertures and the phase-detection focusing with every camera, the iPhone 13 Pro also gets subjects sharp quickly in gloomy conditions. It’s also quick to activate Night mode automatically if required – its icon in the top left of the screen turns yellow to let you know – and then takes a longer exposure (or composites several exposures). If your subject moves, it’s likely to be blurred but the iPhone 13 Pro does a great job of ignoring the accidental shake and wobble that comes with hand-holding the phone and can deliver sharp 2-second exposures.

I’m particularly impressed by the amount of detail visible in the bricks and logs around a dark fireplace shot in the evening when I held the camera for a two-second exposure.

Inevitably, it’s not all good news though. When I photographed my dog with the telephoto camera as he stood in a woodland, his fur looks at bit smudged and uniform at ISO 800.

Including the sun in the frame or close to the edge of the frame can also challenge the camera’s dynamic range and a few of my images with bright skies have a band of cyan between the brightest area and the normal sky blue.

On the whole though, I think the iPhone 13 Pro’s dynamic range is decent. I’m happy with the results I got when photographing a window on an overcast September morning. The windowsill, ornaments and curtains in the foreground look natural and not too dark while there’s plenty of detail in scene outside the window.

Portrait mode

Portrait or aperture mode is now a familiar feature of smartphone cameras and it works very well on the iPhone 13 Pro. Occasionally, the camera doesn’t handle the selection of subject quite as well as we’d like, but generally it does a great job and the transition from sharped to blurred looks good.

Photographic Styles

I was initially a little underwhelmed by the Photographic Styles, I was expecting a little more impact. However, after fiddling around with them, I’ve settled on using the Warm setting on most occasions. I prefer warm images and in many instances this produces images a little more towards my taste.

What I’d really like, however, is to have proper white balance control. Of this can be obtained by processing raw files or using an alternative camera app, but that’s not the point.

Using a Photographic Style rules out using raw files, but it means your images may be closer to what you’re aiming for at the shooting stage. If you do shoot raw files, the storage requirements jump up but as they’re DNG format they are widely compatible and popular apps like Snapseed can handle them.

Video performance

When set to 4K resolution, the iPhone 13 Pro produces very nice video and the stabilisation works well. The stabilisation does a great job of taking out the fine tremor that’s often seen when a camera is hand-held and it even enables watchable footage to be created when walking with the camera.

Activating Cinematic mode drops the video resolution to Full HD, but again the results look good. The transition in focus from one point to another is fairly swift and generally accurate, but it would be nice to have control over the speed of the change.

Mistakes in the subject identification are more noticeable in video than they are in stills so I’d advise being wary of using the largest aperture setting as this makes an errors more apparent.

I’ll update this review once ProRes mode becomes available.

Apple iPhone 13 Pro sample images

Follow the link to browse and download full-resolution images from the Apple iPhone 13 Pro.

iPhone 13 Pro sample video

This short video was shot using the Apple iPhone 13 Pro’s Cinematic mode with the focus point being moved from time-to-time to show the transition in focus and the effectiveness (or not) of the blurring.

Verdict

I was impressed by the results produced by the iPhone 12 Pro but the iPhone 13 Pro produces images that are a step above. It’s capable of producing very attractive images and there’s less tendency for the results to look a bit ‘HDR’.

It’s also a capable video camera. The Cinematic mode is an interesting introduction that adds a new dynamic, but it can also look quite fake and needs to be used with care.

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Gloria Williams
Gloria Williams
9 months ago

I upgraded to the 13 Pro; however, when taking pictures at a basketball game, the faces are distorted in alot of my shots. I don’t like the focus being on one object when it makes the rest blurry or distorted. My I phone 11 did not do this and pictures were great. I’m not impressed with the 13 Pro….