The iPhone 11 Pro hit the market last year with not two, but three lenses. It was a novel idea to have three lenses, a wide, medium and telephoto, on one phone body. Given that the iPhone 11 series was widely regarded as a stepping stone year, I had high hopes for something big for photography in the iPhone 12. And I was disappointed.
The same three lenses, and the promise of some more computational photography smarts and some form of raw called ProRaw, powered by something called the A14 Bionic chip. There’s even a “Night Mode Portrait Mode.” Frankly, computational imaging is no substitute for actual optics, and A14 Bionic means about as much to the average user as “Digic” or “Expeed” mean to Canon and Nikon users, which is to say not much.
But more to the point, all of these upgrades are largely software-based stuff. ProRAW and better computational imaging should be in every other iPhone that’s out there now anyway, if the chips from last year were as powerful as claimed. It’s not entirely clear how the LiDAR hardware functions in Night Mode Portraits. It beats up the consumer that just spent $1,000 on the flagship phone last year to make them spend the same money to get useful software features such as ProRaw. It smacks of the same software crippling that camera companies have been accused of for years.
But wait! What about the iPhone 12 Pro Max you say? It has a longer zoom than the Pro! A bigger wide angle sensor! Well, The size of the screen is matched only by the long name. The high price tag (starting at $999 for the base model Pro), buys you a little extra zoom and a bigger sensor size that isn’t really specified for the wide angle lens. If you’re going to make me carry a phone that big and that pricey, it better have a larger sensor or something in it, even if I called that sensor size a lie not that long ago. Yes, there’s some actual hardware improvement here, but for photographers, it feels like a ho-hum refresh.
A Bone For Video Shooters
There are a few small things thrown in for video shooters. Both new phones can now shoot 10-bit HDR video, and there’s a mode called “Night Mode Time-Lapse” which can drag the exposure for better time-lapses, according to Apple.
Indeed, the sample footage on Apple’s website looked good. Really good. But as with anything coming from a company’s press office, what’s not clear is how much extra gear and color grading went into the final product that’s posted on the site. If I had to take a guess, there’s at least a drone of some sort being used and plenty of stabilization tools beyond just the phone, and the color looked just too even across the board to have not been graded. Apple is not known for providing extensive manual controls in its phones to be able to match from shot to shot like this. Details looked sharp, so perhaps video might be a reason enough for some to make the switch.
Will You Make the Switch?
After years of iPhones, I switched to Google’s Pixel 3a XL last year and haven’t regretted it, at least photographically. This year’s iPhones haven’t really moved the needle from last, at least for me, but maybe it did for you. Will you be purchasing the new iPhone for its photo chops? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.