Can Prints From an iPhone 13 Pro Compete With a $5,000 Camera?

Cameras on phones have gotten incredibly good in the last five years, but can their images hold up in print? I wanted to find out, and the results blew me away.

I already did a full comparison of the iPhone 13 Pro to my Canon R5 in different conditions and settings. I highly recommend you check out that article to see my real-world comparisons and editing methods. We’ll be using an image from that article for this comparison. A brief recap is that I tried to capture real-world images while in the field and then edited the Canon R5 images first and pushed them just how I would normally. Then I tried to match the iPhone images to those, which pushed some of the images in the process.

The results from that entire comparison were very impressive, but there was an overwhelming response that the images are passable for online consumption but not anything professional. I wanted to put that to the test and see just how big we can push these images in print.

The Method

No matter what camera you’re printing from, you might need to increase the resolution of your images before sending them off to be printed. For example, my Canon R5 produces images that can be printed as large as 27 by 18 inches at 300 dpi natively, meaning if I want to print larger such as 24” by 36”, standard poster size in the U.S., I need to enlarge them. This is a standard practice in photography and exactly what I did for the images from both my camera and my phone. 

Both images scaled up to 24"x36"

I used ON1 Resize and upscaled both images to 24 x 36 inches; that's 10,800 by 7,200 pixels at 300 dpi. This should help make up for the lack of resolution the iPhone 13 Pro has but isn’t a “cheat” button to suddenly make smaller images full of detail. The upscaled images still have a discernible detail difference that you can see zoomed in to 100% in the comparison above. Programs like ON1 Resize use AI and computational learning to upscale images. This should give better results than simply expanding the image into a bigger canvas in Photoshop or exporting at larger resolutions in Lightroom.

The Image from the iPhone 13 Pro to be printed

I picked this image from the original comparison because it was the most dynamic, with the most detail and a shot that was more challenging for the iPhone. I specifically had to push the dynamic range and noise floor within this particular image quite far, which you'll see in the resulting print. I printed in three sizes: 8 by 12, 16 by 24, and 24 by 36 inches. I had these printed by The Print Space, who were kind enough to send them to me for free. These were printed as C-Type prints on Fuji Matte.

The Results

Let’s just dive into what you’re all here for, the poster-size prints. The results were quite impressive, and of course, there’s a quality difference. When you get in close enough, especially when you’re comparing the two prints side by side. There’s more detail in the Canon R5 shot. Taking a closer look at the clouds, the ISO noise becomes more apparent. If you look closer at the light on the fence, you can see visible noise. The grass isn’t nearly as defined. This is all somewhat expected. 

Can you tell which is which?

The question is: how much does it matter from a normal viewing distance? If you imagine there is a piece of glass in front of the print, along with a reasonable viewing distance of two to three feet, you would never guess this print was taken from an iPhone. Remember that the majority of people buying art or your prints aren’t going to see all the little details you see. They aren’t inspecting every inch with a magnifying glass. 

My ultimate takeaway here is that at this size, I would not sell a print from my phone professionally. But I would print it for myself or my own home. This says a lot, because I have plenty of larger images I could choose from, but if I captured a beautiful moment on my phone, I could print it without a second thought. If you’re reading this, wondering if you could make large prints from your phone like this, give it a try. I think you’ll be impressed. 

Comparing the 16" x 24" prints

Now, for the other two sizes. It only gets better from here. At 16 by 24 inches, you’re getting close to being able to print at this size professionally. I honestly think I could print some images from my phone at this size professionally — not this particular image but one that’s a little cleaner, with less noise and better shadow detail. I had to push this capture a bit too far in editing, so the noise levels are higher than I’d like them at this size. Bump down to 8 by 12 inches through, and it’s a no-brainer. I could easily sell images of this size that were taken by my phone professionally. 


When I reference a professional print, I’m referring to something I qualify as detailed and refined enough to sell to a client. I”m very particular and detail-oriented when it comes to prints. I tend to comb over my work meticulously, sometimes to a fault, always trying to deliver something I’m proud of. Thus, when I say I could see myself printing and selling images at sizes up to 16 by 24 inches taken from my phone, that’s incredibly impressive. If you want a tangible comparison in the real world, head down to your local home decor store and find their generic wall art prints that are roughly poster size. The detail in those pieces is substantially worse than the prints you could make from your images taken by your phone. People decorate their walls with those all the time, which is a reminder that the majority of clients buying your work aren't looking at things under a microscope and that it's more about the work as a whole. 

Overall, these results were better than I expected, but what’s most exciting about it to me is the reminder of how accessible photography has become in the last 10 years. The more people that can learn, practice, and produce photography without a barrier to entry is a wonderful place to be. Try printing something from your phone. I’d love to hear about your results! 

Alex Armitage's picture

Alex Armitage has traveled the world to photograph and film some of the most beautiful places it has to offer. No matter the location, perfecting it's presentation to those absent in the moment is always the goal; hopefully to transmute the feeling of being there into a visual medium.

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If you really want to test your theory you'll need several prints of a variety of scenes, at least 20 subjects and a researcher who doesn't know which print is the iphone or the R5. Sorry but everything else is just one writer's biased opinion.

I have no clue when quality photography was not accessible to the general public ever.1800s yeah, may be. I'm not sure that travel portrait photographers where making an extravagant living even back then. Definitely since the 70's people have always had great amount of options. Knowledge may be different, but options have been big for many, many decades.
Do people really print from their phones? Probably nothing compared to the film days.

Generally photography only became really accessible to the general public with the release of the low cost ‘Brownie’ in 1900. There had been others by Kodak, the #1 in 1888 but it was still too expensive for most people at that time.

It comes down to this; do you enjoy taking photos with your phone or with your camera? I find the phone a miserable thing to take photos with, but I'm probably in the minority. But, because the phone is miserable for me, the answer to the print question is answered by default. I have a few pictures of my granddaughter on my phone. Funny thing; I emailed them as they were taken with my camera then I saved them on my phone to use for my wallpaper. :-)

In my 50+ years of amateur and then part-time pro, I have taken pictures with anything from smart phones to 4x5" gear. For years, I made a good living selling enlargements up to 24x36" at gallery shows and art festivals. My customers always told me that what made them want to buy my photos was how beautiful and compelling the subjects are, with little to no concern about the technical quality of the prints. This Winter, I took an 8Mp picture with a Galaxy S7 of my town at sunrise. The light was breathtaking with an awesome visual contrast of shady sea ice in the foreground and the first rays of the sun on the town buildings in the background, and an orange and blue sky. I certainly did not give up the shot because I did not have my D780 with me. There is going to be a limit to how much I can enlarge it but there is no doubt that it will sell.

You make a very good point here. Often the impact of an image will overwhelm any technical aspects. Plus big prints require big viewing distances. No one is going to pixel peep. There is too much bullshit posted about needing the best gear to take the best images. It’s just not true. Nice image by the way. Captures a real moment especially for the folks living there.

I think it comes down to the style of the finished photograph. If you’re going for abstraction, with an image composited from multiple shots using blurs and overlays, the optics and camera specs become less important. I prefer shooting with a dslr because I tend to have a more serious, intentional mindset. But the fact of the matter is, my iPhone is always in my pocket. ✌️

After having been an amateur photographer for 50+ years, the one thing I’ve learned, is that the best camera in the world…is the one you have with you when you see something you need to shoot!