The iPhone 14 Pro Is The First Phone That Could Replace My Camera

Phone cameras have gotten increasingly better year over year, yet no matter how much they improve, they always fall short in comparison to professional cameras. This year is different.

Last year, I did a fun comparison between my Canon R5 and iPhone 13 Pro. Those results were quite impressive, so much so that I ended up printing images from that test to see just how far we could push the iPhone 13 Pro image. While I was happy with the results, at no point did I inspect the images and feel comfortable saying I could shoot with the iPhone in place of my Canon R5 given the two options. I expected the same results this year, and midway through editing my images, I realized something was different.

Throughout these tests, I shot in raw on both my Canon R5 and iPhone 14 Pro. I only used the built-in camera app on the iPhone, as last year, I had issues with third-party apps so close to release. This is also the most realistic in practice with it being directly built into iOS. I only tested the new "main" camera (24mm/1x) as it received the new 48 mp sensor while the telephoto and wide angle lenses didn’t receive significant enough upgrades to warrant comparisons this year. All shots were taken on a tripod and I’ll provide resulting settings that the iPhone used automatically. All shots on the Canon R5 were taken in combination with an adapted Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L at varying settings you’ll find throughout the article. 

All images were edited using only Lightroom Classic. I feel the most genuine way to do this comparison was to edit my Canon R5 images first, as if I was editing them for my portfolio. Then, I would edit the iPhone 14 Pro images to best match the Canon images. Throughout this article, I'll present images from an “Camera A” and “Camera B.” These will be mixed up throughout the test, but I challenge you to go through the images and see if you can guess which image is taken from each camera. The answer will be located after the article gallery.

First Sunrise

Last year I remember being very surprised the iPhone could capture an entire range of light during sunrise, and it’s even better this year with the iPhone 14 Pro. This scene lacked any cloud coverage, thus the light got harsh quickly, resulting in a scene with a huge dynamic range, something that persists throughout many of these tests. 

Camera settings:

  • Canon R5: f/11, 1/40 s, ISO 100
  • iPhone 14 Pro: f/1.8, 1/1,000 s, ISO 100

Notice the areas in shadow compared to those snow-capped peaks getting hit by bright direct light. Both cameras were able to capture this amount of dynamic range without much trouble, a noted improvement from last year for the iPhone. This is where things get interesting and what completely blew my mind when editing the photos. Zooming in was always where the iPhone image fell apart to immediately give away which camera took each image. Brace yourself.

Zooming into 100% into both images, are you seeing what I’m seeing? I’ll let the images speak for themselves. If you want to download this raw for yourself, you can find the updated link in the video above. 

Blue Hour

Low light is where all small sensors struggle, and phone sensors are the smallest of the bunch. Any review you read will continually mention low-light performance being directly correlated to how large the sensor is. This was the hardest test in this year's comparison for the iPhone 14 Pro. 

Camera settings:

  • Canon R5: f/8, 1/4 s, ISO 100
  • iPhone 14 Pro: f/1.8, 1/115 s, ISO 125

Yet the results, especially at smaller resolutions, are nothing short of amazing. I did struggle to match the iPhone image to the R5, but not necessarily because the data isn’t there to do so. This is in large part because this was the image I edited the most. Artistically speaking, this was the most pleasing scene throughout the comparison, thus I pushed the Canon R5 image as far as I could. Trying to get highlights, detail, and color science similar between the two cameras was challenging, so you can definitely see a bit of that at play here.

Zooming into 100%, you will notice a slight quality difference between both cameras. After taking these images and learning the strengths and weaknesses of the iPhone 14 Pro, shadow recovery in low-light scenes like this will have degraded quality. That being said, I’m still very impressed with the final image. I’m also very curious how this scene would have turned out if I used an app like Halide to set my ISO and shutter speed. If you’d be interested in further tests like that, let me know in the comments. 

This is how the image started, straight from the iPhone. Keeping in mind almost every raw photo from the iPhone looks like a black hole in scenes like this. This should provide some context in how far the image was pushed in the edit.

Second Sunrise

Another blue sky sunrise with a large dynamic range, so much, in fact, that many of the photographers around me were shooting bracketed shots, yet I was able to capture everything in a single exposure with both cameras. 

Camera settings:

  • Canon R5: f/8, 1/30 s, ISO 100
  • iPhone 14 Pro: f/1.8, 1/580 s, ISO 80

As someone who rarely shoots blue sky sunrises or sunsets, I decided to edit this image a bit differently than my typical style. Many of you reading this could very easily take an image like this and try to make it have a “film” look, or you could push the contrast heavily to create a high-key image, or you could even replace the sky if your heart desired. Thus, I tried my hand with a different editing style to see how the iPhone 14 Pro handled such an edit.

Zooming into 100%, you’ll see a bit of detail loss in the shadows, just like our blue hour shot. I notice that the shadow detail gets a bit lost, while any areas that had adequate light on them retain information a bit better. 

The Details

In this final image, we test a more realistic time for those of you out there not waking up for sunrise or staying out for sunset. This was taken a few hours before sunset, giving us long shadows, a ton of contrast, and most of all testing just how much detail the iPhone 14 Pro can pick up in a busy scene. 

Camera settings:

  • Canon R5: f/5.6, 1/40 s, ISO 100
  • iPhone 14 Pro: f/1.8, 1/640 s, ISO 100

This was another absolutely impressive image for the iPhone 14 Pro. A scene with plenty of light to work with gives us an immense amount of detail in both images. I’d be surprised if you can tell the difference between these two images without cropping in.

Zooming into 100% left me at a loss for words. Not only is the image absolutely packed with detail, the highlight retention and shadows are all there as well. This is not something I could have shown you last year, where zooming in would have lost far too much detail in a scene such as this. It’s this shot that made me literally step away from Lightroom to take a walk with how impressed I was with the results. 

On that walk, I had fleeting thoughts: “Am I seeing this correctly?” “Did I accidentally edit two Canon R5 images?” “This feels wrong.” I don’t use hyperbole lightly when I say that I could feasibly see myself taking photos with the iPhone 14 Pro that end up in my portfolio or for sale on my print site. This isn’t a camera replacement. It should be obvious there are a lot of limitations. However, if I’m about to pack a bag and climb a mountain, and something magical happens without my camera by my side and I snap some photos with the iPhone 14 Pro, I would be professionally happy with the results in the right circumstances. 

Another discovery in this year's test was using that using the ApplePro Raw profile in Lightroom didn’t give me the best results. By accident, I discovered I had an easier time matching the iPhone images to the Canon using the Embedded Apple Profile. Above, you’ll see a side by side of the same image where I couldn’t quite get the highlights to look right using ApplePro Raw. I would love to know your experience below if you have any editing these images. If you’d like to see more pixel peeping, my thoughts, and a bit more about the editing that went into these images, be sure to watch the video located in the article.

Below is a gallery of all the images throughout this comparison so you can enlarge them a bit more. Also included are a few images straight out of camera from the iPhone 14 Pro, which are comically bad in comparison to their raw counterparts. I would love to know your thoughts in the comments, as this was an eye-opening experience for me. 

iPhone is: A-B-A-B

Log in or register to post comments
20 Comments
Jon Kellett's picture

If you think the larger photos are comparable, honestly you need to buy a new monitor. Not trying to be snarkey, but there's a pretty profound difference on my calibrated monitors - And they're not flash ones either.

The smaller images at the end of the article favours the iPhone for the same reason it would favour any phone, too small to see the shortcomings.

I loved the photos though, Alex.

Drew Castelhano's picture

you are shooting in great light. what happens when the light sucks and you need to composite? I've owned every iPhone in hopes it could replace my backup, but my canon EOS R and R5 do a far superior job in any situation. Sensor size, dynamic range, and pixel density are no match. This is relying on software computations from developers who are giving their own take on photography.

Simon Thomas's picture

Exactly. Let's see how this would handle jazz in a dark basement club.

Julian Vrieslander's picture

Nicely done video. Just one comment about the forest floor shots. The iPhone shows better detail in foreground, and I think that's because its camera gives you more depth of field. All other things being equal, DOF will be proportional to CoC / (FL * FL), where CoC is circle of confusion, and FL is the actual focal length of the lens (not the full frame equivalent). I did not do the calculations for your shots, but I suspect there will be a significant difference. I wrote about this issue in a post on the DPReview forum.

https://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/66514137

winzehnt gates's picture

The main reason why current smartphones can't replace my dedicated camera is because the main cameras of all major flagship smartphones are just to wide. These 24ish mm main cameras might be good for vloggers, but for an all-purpose photography lens it's to wide. I could accept 28mm, but would rather like to have 35mm.
If we'd try the comparison from the article with a DSLR with 35mm lens and crop the iPhone images to the same FOV the iPhone wouldn't have the slightest chance to compare.

Where smartphones really got better is "colour science", especially Apple, Google and Sony got better in producing natural colours. Samsung seem to lag behind a bit (the colours of my old Samsung S10e are always oversaturated).

I hope the rumors about a new Sony smartphone with 1-inch sensor and variable aperture are true (F/1.2 to F/4.4). If it has a 24mm FOV, cropping to 35m FOV would still use a sensor area a bit bigger than 1/1.7". (I'm old enough to remember a time when the Canon S95 was lauded for it's "big" 1/1.7" sensor.)

jim hughes's picture

I guess ergonomics never really mattered. What were we thinking?

Michael Hickey's picture

It's never the sports/action photographers who say this? Wonder why that is?

Alan Fletcher's picture

My phone will never replace my camera. I buy my phones as communication devices and my cameras as imaging devices.
Yes, I can a take good pictures with my phone. Sure. But is my phone as good as a dedicated imaging device as my camera is. NO.

Dee Vee's picture

This is very nice video, of course that comparision have some technical aspects and we can talk about it all night, but the message is clear, It is comparable :-)

Christoph .'s picture

It's funny, when this comes up people always leap from "can it compete with my camera" straight to "can it COMPLETELY replace my camera in everything?". I got an S22 Ultra with the intent on using it to supplement my professional work. I use it all the time. I use it to generate quick, easy & good looking videos for social and BTS of my shoots that I can now charge extra for. The HDR capabilities in video sometimes actually beat my Z6 & BMPCC for range. Beautiful blue skies where the proper cameras are blown out white.

The quality falls apart when you view bigger than a phone, but that's not what they're meant for.

You'd have to pry my Z6 and BMPCC4K and thousands of dollars of lenses, lighting and other tools out of my cold dead hands and obviously in most situations, you need the pro gear... but as an extra tool you're missing out if you sleep on camera capabilities of modern smartphones.

Leon Kolenda's picture

Well, Let me say this, I don't make phone calls with my Nikon Z7II, and I don't take photos with my SE10 5G!!
Never will, HATE the ergonomics of a phone period!

Tom Reichner's picture

.

95% of the photos I take could not be taken with an iPhone.

I think it could be good for herp photography (reptiles and amphibians) on a limited basis, but only the herp photography that is done in daylight, and only that which does not require a true macro magnification or tilt/shift capabilities or very shallow depth of field.

For birds at supertelephoto distances, forget it.

For birds in flight at at any but the very closest distances, forget it.

For deer and other megafauna at supertelephoto distances, forget it.

For deer and other megafauna at close distance, but in very low light, dusk and pre-dawn conditions, forget it, especially if they are moving.

.

Undrell Maholmes's picture

And this is why photography and art in general usually suffer. This doesn't have to be a divided topic. There is a place for everything. There is a place for camera phones and a place for professional gear. Why does it always have to be a new camera comes out the first thing we as a community does is try make a case for why we will never do something? So i'll say this and leave it. When your work and clients start to dry up, money slows and you fade into obscurity, just remember you had a choice. You had a choice to use every tool available to make great art/work. Instead you chose to cling to a specific system, or brand or whatever. Unless they are paying you there is no need for your undying allegiance to these brands and systems, If you're a photographer you're a photographer with a camera phone or a camera. Use the tools you have. If you're shooting a billboard of course bring out the big guns, but if you're shooting a social media campaign could you get away with an iphone for images and video? ABSOLUTELY. This world changes everyday with or without us. So be grateful that we all get to participate in this beautiful thing called photography because none of us own it. Adapt to the changes and stay true to your craft. Or you can cling to the stupidity of past photographers just like the ones who fought the change from film to digital. It's truly adapt or die. Either way, I'll still be here to extract the fossils of you dinosaurs that couldn't let go of the past. Oh and for those talking about ergonomics, there are cages made for your phone just like they make for your camera that make it very ergonomic. Come pout of your caves, there's a big world out here.

Tom Reichner's picture

.

Undrell Maholmes,

You seem to have a lot of bitterness and negativity for those who choose to continue using their ILCs instead of switching to cell phones. Instead of using 70% of your words to put people down, perhaps you could re-write your post so that those words are positively supporting the virtues of cell phone photography.

Basically what I am saying is that your point is not likely to be accepted if you are primarily putting others down for thinking differently than you do. But if you show acceptance for these people, and accept their position as viable from certain standpoints, then go on to say positive things about cell phone imagery, those very people may actually listen to what you're saying, and consider your points thoughtfully.

.

Adam Palmer's picture

I came here to be annoyed but I left pretty convinced. I've been telling friends and family to skip buying a camera and get a new phone for a few years now and I'm pretty convinced. One think I wish and maybe it's coming to future phones is that they would use the same large sensors for the wide, ultrawide and tele cams. In the androids I've owned you get great quality from the middle camera and they cheap out a bit on the other two.

John Vander Ploeg's picture

Well done, the iPhone did a great job! Wouldn't be much help with my landscape photography tho, as I generally shoot wide(14-20) or telephoto. Too bad the quad bayer filter is only used on the main 24mm equivalent lens. Just wondering if you ever saw any evidence of artifacts or ghosting using the 48 mpx mode.

Dimon Dimon's picture

Put a link to the original files and I’ll show you the difference. The web browser and YouTube works 8 bit, this is how your hype works😀😅

Tom Reichner's picture

.

Dimon Dimon wrote,

"Put a link to the original files and I’ll show you the difference. The web browser and YouTube works 8 bit, this is how your hype works"

Dimon,

Did you really read the entire article carefully before you posted this comment? I ask you this question because the author DID put a link to original files in the article. So why are you asking him to do what he has already done? Didn't you read this part of the article?

Alex Armitage wrote:

"Zooming into 100% into both images, are you seeing what I’m seeing? I’ll let the images speak for themselves. If you want to download this raw for yourself, you can find the updated link in the video above."

Dimon,

Instead of asking the author to do what he has already done, it would have been more useful if you had followed the link he posted, downloaded the RAW files, examined them on a hi resolution monitor, and then posted your thoughts after careful examination of the images.

.

Aleksandar Ratkovic's picture

Well, as expected, a lot of people try to defend the cameras (mirrorless, slr's)...
The reasons given though, do not address the main one, as a difference between phone and mirrorless cameras.

Before saying that, I wonder if you noticed the color differences, in the sky mainly... Canon typically, and it is true for decades now, have the blue of the sky with added magenta to it (sometimes moves all the way to - having a pink cast), while Iphone's skies have just a little bit of green cast to it (resembles Sony from a few years back)?

- Anyway, at one point, Mr. Alex - the writer, wrote: "Brace yourself" trying to show us the differences in zoomed images, in which iPhone's one have better contrast and sharpness as compared to Canon.
It does appear so, on screen.
However, the difference was NOT made by a camera, it was made by the AI algorithm! And that is the big difference and the reason why in some of these examples iPhone did better. It simply recognizes the scene and AI does its magic. This is a fairly common scene, and in those, AI will shine. If MR. Alex tried to shoot something less predictable or common, the iPhone would surely fall apart (in his words), not just in zoom...

That said, AI is coming, fast, the algorithms will become more and more sophisticated and ... even better (because they are quite good now) - and it will shift the game, completely. That is certain. It will become easier and with less involvement, or photographic knowledge, to make great photos, IF we can call AI-generated stuff photos ... ;)

Tom Reichner's picture

Good insights about the phone's use of AI.

So does the phone automatically apply AI effects to all photos, whether we want it to or not? While our cameras allow us to shoot in RAW, and then choose what AI or other effects we want to use when we edit the images on our computers. Would you say that that is a main difference between phone photography and interchangeable lens camera photography?

Personally, I would much rather have precise and exacting control over what effects are applied to each and every one of my photos, and to what extent those effects are applied.