The iPhone 13 is the most advanced smartphone by the company yet, and much of its upgrades take place around the camera system. If you’re looking for a camera to take on-the-go, it’s hard to look past the iPhone 13.
The great thing about a phone is you always have one in your pocket. It’s easy to take with you, no matter where you’re going. No need to fuddle with lenses, straps or other accessories (though, those might enhance the experience).
The iPhone 13 is the best iPhone yet. And it brings some groundbreaking features that both casual and pro shooters will love.
- Cinematic mode works excellent, and is a great way to get creative with filmmaking
- Low-light photography is vastly improved across the board
- Macro mode works really well, with great, sharp details present
- Easy to take with you
- Same camera systems between the Pro and Pro Max versions mean you don’t need a bigger phone for the best experience
- Macro mode only supported on Pro models
- Photographic Styles leave a lot to be desired
- Some effects (like Long Exposure) still need some work for optimal resolution
iPhone 13 Pro Max — Technical specifications
For this review, I took a look at the iPhone 13 Pro Max, the upper tier of Apple’s iPhone lineup. Here are the specs, provided by Apple:
- Display: 6.7 inch Super Retina XDR display with ProMotion
- Capacity: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB
- Camera: Triple 12MP cameras (Ultra Wide, Wide and Telephoto)
- Front-facing camera: 12 megapixel TrueDepth camera
- Chip: A15 Bionic chip with 6-core CPU, 5-core GPU and 16-core Neural Engine
- Water and dust resistance: Rated IP68
- Battery life: Up to 28 hours video playback (streamed); up to 28 hours audio playback. Fast-charge capable.
- Dimensions: 6.33 x 3.07 x 0.3 inches
- Weight: 8.46 oz (240 g)
- Colors: Graphite, Gold, Silver, Sierra Blue
iPhone 13 Pro Max — Ergonomics and build quality
If you’ve used an iPhone before, Apple’s attention to beauty and detail shouldn’t surprise you. Featuring a Ceramic Shield front and a textured matte glass back, along with stainless steel around the outside, this is certainly a pro-level smartphone. And of course, the first thing I did was put a case on it.
In the past, I’ve struggled with the smaller iPhones in terms of using them as a camera. They just seem a bit too small in my hands. But the iPhone 13 Pro Max is a larger size, and lends itself to feeling more like a rangefinder style, when it comes to the size. In essence, it feels much better holding it and using it as a camera.
iPhone 13 Pro Max — Image quality and characteristics
All in all, I was impressed with the image quality I was able to get. Details were sharp, colors were accurate and the three camera system worked well together.
Focusing has always been a great quality of the iPhone, and with the iPhone 13 Pro Max, it’s no different. This is especially evident when using Cinematic Mode, which uses AI to determine which subjects should be in focus, and which shouldn’t.
But even when taking a regular video, or photo, autofocus is quick to recognize and lock on to objects. The same goes for when you use Night mode. It just simply works.
Every iPhone photo I took — whether it be RAW or HEIC format — came through very clear. Everything I wanted to be sharp was; I didn’t see much lacking. Will it capture the same amount of detail as a 50-megapixel camera? No way. But is it good enough for casual shooting? For sure.
The only time I was let down by the sharpness of the iPhone was when I converted a Live Photo to a long exposure. The way this works is Apple applies image stabilization to the image, and crops in on it slightly. Doing so means that you lose resolution, and therefore, you might see your sharp trees become a little soft.
I’d love to see image stabilization as an option to turn off here. While this is great when shooting handheld, if you’re on a tripod, it’s simply unnecessary.
One note about ProRAW
When using the ProRAW format, you might get some colors or over-exposed images when transferring them other photo editing software. This happened with the iPhone 12 series as well, only to be fixed after release. I’d expect something similar with the iPhone 13 Pro Max. For now, I’d take photos in HEIC format if you aren’t planning on editing them through your phone’s native Photos app.
iPhone 13 Pro Max — Highlighted features
The iPhone 13 Pro series boasts some impressive features that take advantage of some groundbreaking technology by Apple. The company has used AI in ways I didn’t dream was possible, and does so very effectively.
For still photographers, this was by far the most exciting part of Apple’s iPhone 13 launch. It only works with the Pro lineup of phones, but it works very, very well. iOS 15.1 will add a toggle to turn off the auto Macro function, but I didn’t find this to be much of a problem when shooting.
Macro mode captures details incredibly well, at lengths as close as 2cm. For nature photographers, this is an absolute gold mine.
Not being a videographer myself, I often long at some of the cinematic effects that videographers are able to render. With Cinematic mode, the iPhone automatically selects what subject should be in focus, and moves seamlessly between subjects. It works very, very well.
In the above video, you can see that I start with a focus on a log, and then slowly shift over to my friend, Dan. It knows that Dan is a person, and so it prioritizes it over the log or any of the rocks, even though they are closer to me.
Cinematic mode is available across all iPhone 13 models, meaning even the iPhone 13 mini can achieve some breathtaking effects while filming.
To say I was impressed with this would be an understatement. The best part isn’t even while shooting — it’s the fact that you can change your focus after shooting.
If I started to get more into video, I would definitely use this a lot. The AI that Apple employs for this works really well, and the adjustment between subjects gives a real — ahem — cinematic vibe. It’s something you’d see in the movies.
If there was anything that was underwhelming for me with the iPhone 13, it was Photographic Styles. These are meant to be filters that you can use to form a specific style in your photographs. Once you select a style, it stays that way until you change it.
Photographic Sales changes things like tone, contrast and more. But really, I found that Apple just wanted to give users a way to add on an Instagram filter … without using Instagram. In my experience, the styles aren’t drastic enough in terms of their differences from each other. And the fact that I can’t change the style after I take the photograph makes this a deal breaker in my book.
Apple could’ve gotten really creative with Photographic Styles and rivaled what Instagram offers. But there’s nothing groundbreaking here, and the effects are subtle at best.
Night mode and low-light shooting
One of the things I was most excited to try was to see how the iPhone 13 Pro Max performed in dark situations. I took it out downtown for a short photowalk, and was able to focus on things quickly and easily, while also getting a great exposure on the subject I was capturing.
One thing I did notice is there was some flare and ghosting around bright lights, but not enough to deter me from using the photographs.
While I haven’t used Night mode on another iPhone before, it works very, very well with the iPhone 13 Pro Max. I had shutter speeds up to 3 seconds, and was able to get a crisp shot, thanks to the iPhone’s built-in image stabilization.
There’s not much to be said here. Portrait mode is now available on both the wide and telephoto lenses, and it works very well. It is going to replace in-studio work? No, but for photo enthusiasts who want to capture their subjects with that shallow depth of field we all long for, Portrait mode is a great way to do it.
One thing I did notice is that using Portrait mode at night works great when you have a light behind a subject. Without Portrait mode, these lights can often be overexposed, and the image can appear a bit crunchy. With Portrait mode, the lights are soft and less distracting.
Does the iPhone 13 Pro Max replace a “real” camera?
Simply put, no. But the iPhone isn’t meant to replace the cameras we know and love. I see an iPhone 13 Pro Max as a tool, and one that works great as an everyday, walk around camera.
Is it going to produce that next stunning landscape shot you can’t wait to share? Maybe. But will it replace cameras for professional work that involves lighting and high-end production setups? No.
And that’s what makes the iPhone 13 Pro Max great. I felt comfortable sending clients photographs of various different angles before setting up my Sony a1 camera, knowing that they’d be able to see what I’d be photographing and make out details clearly. At the same time, I know I could take the iPhone out for the night and have some fun with taking photos of friends. And we’d love the photos.
It’s often said that the best camera is the one you have with you. And with the iPhone 13 Pro Max, that’s never been a truer statement.
Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max
The Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max features the most advanced pro camera system ever on an iPhone. The pro camera system gets its biggest advancement ever with new Ultra Wide, Wide, and Telephoto cameras that capture stunning photos and video, powered by the unmatched performance of A15 Bionic, more powerful than the leading competition. These technologies enable impressive new photo capabilities never before possible on iPhone, like macro photography on the new Ultra Wide camera and up to 2.2x improved low-light performance on the new Wide camera.