When I was first starting out as a photographer, I remember that I focused mostly on capturing still life. There was a lot of flower and plant photos, a lot of food and a lot of random, generic items around my house.

While I don’t consider myself to be a macro photographer per se, I do still use macro techniques in some of my photography. I recently had the chance to check out the new iPhone 13 Pro Max, and after spending some time with it, I have to say that the new Macro Mode feature has a ton of potential.

Photo by Daniel Sak

Editor’s note: All this week, we’re taking a close look at the new iPhone 13 series of phones, focusing specifically on their photography and video capabilities. Stay tuned!

Easy to use and perfect for those just getting started

Macro Mode is as simple as physically moving your iPhone toward your subject, up to a whopping 2cm away. It happens automatically; you’ll see a slight shift on your screen, where you’ll find that elements get sharper. And as you continue to move your phone closer to the subject, you’ll see how perfectly sharp and in-focus it is.

While in macro mode, you can also select from the three different zoom levels — .5x, 1x and 3x — for different views.

For those who don’t want to use Macro Mode, a toggle will be coming in a future iOS 15 update. But for now, you will automatically switch over to Macro Mode when you get close enough to a subject.

And even better, Macro Mode works with all of the default formats — JPEG, HEIC and Apple’s ProRes RAW. Note that it only works with the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max phones.

How the iPhone compares to a regular macro lens

In working with details, the iPhone absolutely shines, even when you aren’t on a tripod. With a standard macro lens, in order to achieve perfect sharpness you often have to rely on a tripod. Therefore the iPhone’s implementation of Macro Mode works really well. It’s approachable, without any extra equipment.

In terms of image quality, I was impressed too. Images and the details captured were really crisp.

Let’s talk backgrounds

Macro Mode is computational, meaning you’re not dealing with a true macro lens on the back of your iPhone. It sharpens what it sees, and keeps things in-focus as you bring them closer to the camera.

Compared to a traditional macro lens, which blurs the background very nicely and narrows in on a focus point, the iPhone seems to focus more on blurring and distorting the edges instead of a true depth of field effect (like it does with Portrait Mode). This works pretty well with most subjects — especially if you really go in on them. But it’s easy to see the difference between a pro-level macro lens and the iPhone’s macro capabilities:

Additionally, I did experience some weird background blurring on buildings and trees, almost like I was seeing double.

What if I don’t have a new iPhone?

You’re in luck. Halide recently announced that it’s bringing its own version of Macro Mode to all its app for iPhones, version 8 and newer. This works with the app checking which of your lenses can focus closest to your subject, switching to it, and then providing fine focus control to ensure sharpness. AI then enhances the details in your shot.

And if you do upgrade your iPhone, it’s supposed to work on top of the stock Macro Mode capabilities from Apple.

We haven’t tested this out yet, but stay tuned.

What about video and Macro Mode?

In addition to capturing still photos, Macro Mode also works with video. In our tests, Macro Mode for video worked equally well; check out the playlist of videos below, which shows Macro Mode capturing a screen, text, bubbles and an onion, courtesy of Rich Harrington.

Should I upgrade my iPhone to get Macro Mode?

When Apple debuted Portrait Mode a few years back, it was something that people applauded. I wasn’t impressed when it was first launched, but since then, I’ve become an adopter of it, as Apple has improved its technology immensely. I expect Macro Mode will continue to see improvements over time.

The iPhone’s Macro Mode isn’t that far away from being a regular, everyday camera for people. If you’re just looking for a casual macro lens, or if you can’t justify the cost of a pro-level macro lens for your camera, the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max are really great options that will unleash your creativity. And in terms of that, Macro Mode is a total home run.

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