Apple introduced new iPhone 12 series couple of months ago, and as an occasional photography enthusiasts ourselves, we decided to test a model from the previous generation iPhone 11 Pro Max and confront it against an entry level iPhone 12 model from the latest generation.
What is the result? Read and watch to find out!
iPhone 12 vs iPhone 11 Pro Max Main/Tele 1x 2x 5x Camera Zoom Photo Quality Comparison
Image quality comparison – pixel-peeping analysis of indoor performance under good LED lighting conditions of two latest and greatest Apple iPhone models introduced back in late 2019 and 2020. Who is the best? Who is the winner? Watch this video to find out!
About Video: Many phone camera comparison reviews only show downscaled images e.g. when viewed on screens with limited size and resolution (FHD/QHD/4k) it is hard to clearly see the details down to the pixel level and exact amount of difference in quality. For this very reason, the examples below are enlarged by a factor from 2 (200%) to 4 (400%) depending on the scene and initial zoom ratio, so that it becomes easier to see the difference, even on small mobile phone screens.
All 1x and 2x zoom photos are 1/4 or 1/16 detail crops. All 5x zoom examples are 1/1 and 1/4 detail crops from original 4032×3024 resolution in order to better evaluate the differences in details and noise on smaller mobile phone screens.
With the latest trend in phones getting bigger and bigger every week, Apple decided to turn phone market upside down! Pro and Pro Max are still there, but there’s now iPhone 12 Mini edition, as well, which will be greeted by many users who don’t like to carry a brick in their pocket.
A14 5-nanometer chip promises revolution with 16% faster performance than previous A13 generation, and comes with even higher clocks and optimized performance, but we feel there’s a little stagnations when it comes to camera hardware and performance.
Granted, new tools that integrate with mixed / virtual reality and try to remove boundaries between real and imaginary world remain to be tested over time, but what about classic camera snapper? Does the new model iteration brings anything really new and revolutionary in the photography segment today?
Competition in the Android world has geared up to some “insane” resolutions like 108 MPix, and zoom ratios up to 10x hybrid/optical and 100x total combined digital zoom, but Apple is still holding up to its proven 12 Mpix format and conservative zoom range. Is it enough? Hmm… maybe, sure. Depends who you ask, really.
If you take a closer look at the camera specs, you will notice that they are quite close, if not the same, as in some Samsung Galaxy models we tested few months ago. But, despite the fact they might have similar hardware, performance is definitely not.
Camera Specifications: iPhone 12
Photo Resolution: 12 MP 4032×3024 pixels (native 4:3 ratio)
Main Camera System: 12 MP / 1.4 um pitch sensor with f/1.6 aperture / 26 mm focal length / 79 degrees field of view
Tele Camera System: None
Wide Camera System: 12 MP with 1.4µm f/2.4 sensor and 13mm focal length / 120 degrees field of view
Tele Zoom Range: 5x Digital Zoom
Camera Specifications: iPhone 11 Pro Max
Photo Resolution: 12 MP 4032×3024 pixels (native 4:3 ratio)
Main Camera System: 12 MP 1/2.55″ / 1.4 um pitch with f/1.8 aperture and 26 mm focal length / 79 degrees field of view
Tele Camera System: 12 MP with 1/3.4″ / 1.0 um pitch sensor with f/2.0 aperture and 52 mm focal length
Wide Camera System: 12 MP with f/2.4 aperture and 13mm focal length / 120 degrees field of view
Tele Zoom Range: 2x Optical Zoom / 10x Hybrid Zoom
Main Camera Review – Key Impressions
- iPhone 12 has less noise at 1x zoom and slightly more contrast than iPhone 11
- iPhone 12 has better white balance and color accuracy – it is not always noticeable, but in some scenes there’s a difference
- iPhone 12 resolution starts to suffer and lack details at 2x zoom or more – it is expected because there is no Tele lens present
- iPhone 11 Pro Max has more details overall at longer zoom – but it is also more noisy at pixel peeping levels
- Overall, both phones feel fast, responsive, with no practical difference – you get quality with both phones and great main (back) cameras!
When you test two physically very different iPhones such as these, you have to wonder how close their camera performance gets? Trying to set a unique signature plays a key role, but there are minor differences between the two, actually.
In some examples, iPhone 12 had overall more pleasing results to our eyes, although the details were on the iPhone 11’s side when it comes to the longer zoom. Despite “inferior” hardware on paper (no tele zoom lens, to be clear), iPhone 12 does not stay behind too far, as you might expect, even when we pushed it all the way up to the 5x digital zoom (maximum built-in value). Granted, it is not as clear as competition because Apple is still very reserved when it comes to periscope lens implementation, all rumors aside. iPhone 12 Pro / Pro Max tries to fix that, though, but they still lack behind 120 mm long end we’ve seen in some other brands and models. Sigh.
Do not underestimate that 1x zoom main lens in iPhone 12, please. It has much brighter f/1.6 aperture, and it is shown in our examples, as they turn to be very clean and much less noisy (although, to be fair, noise reduction is also obviously stronger). That should also create nicer and more natural DSLR-like close-ups and portraits.
However, that little amount of noise in iPhone 11 can disappear in an instant with modern post-production noise reduction algorithms, and you can pump up the contrast and sharpness to match that of iPhone 12, while you’re at it.
Should I upgrade my iPhone 11 Pro Max to iPhone 12 because of camera?
All things considered, the deciding key point prior making an upgrade or purchase decision between iPhone 11 Pro Max and iPhone 12 will be this: do you need more zoom with modern curved phone body (iPhone 11 Pro Max), or do you feel nostalgic about traditional squarish monolith design with latest Apple A14 chip and supporting features (iPhone 12)? Both phones cost about the same at the moment (around $750 USD).
If you already own iPhone 11 Pro Max and don’t care about 3D scanner and VR games, you are good, you can pass. However, if you need a 3D LiDAR scanner, then you have no other alternative but to purchase iPhone 12 Pro or iPhone 12 Pro Max – both phones have almost identical back and front camera setups, except Pro Max has extra 0.5x zoom tele lens (52 mm vs 65 mm). In the future, all iPhone models might receive LiDAR feature, but that remains to be seen.