The iPhone 13 is a definite step up on many fronts. The quality of the captured image is noticeably better (even under tough shooting conditions).

However its important to note that the actual resolution and bit depth for both photos and videos remains unchanged. So when we speak of image quality, I am using it in the aesthetic sense mostly.

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. Click here to read our previous installments.

Setting capture formats for photos

Your camera can capture three different still image formats: JPEG, HEIC and DNG. Knowing when and what to choose can make a big difference.

compare JPEG and HEIC from iPhone 13
Photo by Bryan Esler


For capturing compressed files, I highly recommend HEIC over JPEG. The space savings are immense and the iPhone will automatically convert to JPEG when you export or share the images. The HEIC files also offer extended dynamic range and depth information from the LiDAR sensor. So short version, don’t shoot JPEG … ever.

To choose a format:

  1. Open the Settings app on your iPhone
  2. Tap Camera
  3. Tap Formats
  4. Set camera capture to High Efficiency

While the HEIC format can support 16 bits per channel color in HEIC, Apple has yet to implement this feature.

Apple ProRAW

Apple ProRAW creates a high-quality DNG file that can be opened by most photo editing tools. Some applications offer better support for the tone-mapping, but most should be able to open the image.

Opening a Apple ProRAW file in Adobe Camera Raw
An Apple ProRAW file opened in Adobe Camera Raw

To set up Apple ProRAW:

  1. Open the Settings app on your iPhone
  2. Tap Camera
  3. Tap Formats
  4. Set Photo capture to Apple ProRAW
Setting a iPhone 13 for Apple ProRaw

You should strongly consider the Apple ProRAW format, as it offers superior image capture and greater flexibility when editing. If you intend to process on the phone, the RAW files are better. 

Enabling ProRaw on an iPhone

Be sure to check that you have raw enabled in the camera app when capturing.

Setting capture formats for video

Just like photography, you have a choice when capturing video. There are options to control the codec used (compressor/decompressor) that will also affect other recording options.

H.264 vs. HEVC

Choosing HEVC/HEIC on an iPhone 13 Pro

You can choose to capture a broader compatible H.264 video file or the much more space efficient HEVC (High Efficiency Video Codec). The HEVC space savings really adds up and is a requirement of you want to use the HDR video option.

  1. Open the Settings app on your iPhone
  2. Tap Camera
  3. Tap Formats
  4. Set camera capture to High Efficiency

In general, I strongly recommend HEVC. The extra disk space is a plus, and its very easy to convert the video when exporting or sharing. Plus pretty much every cool option (from 4K to Cinematic Video) require the HEVC choice.


ProRes on Apple iPhone 13 Pro

If capturing the highest quality video is a must, then you’ll be excited for Apple ProRes. You’ll also need to be patient as this isn’t shipping yet. But Apple promises that ProRes will be available in a future iOS 15 update.

For those of you not familiar, ProRes is an advanced video codec used widely as the delivery format for professional video and film. Shooting in ProRes offers higher color fidelity and less compression, making the files easier to edit with and allowing for greater flexibility in color correction and grading.

Here’s what we do know.  

  • ProRes capture is only for the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max (no big surprise there … pro = pro).
  • If you want to capture ProRes in 4K at 30fps, it is limited to the 256GB, 512GB and 1TB models.
  • The 128GB handset variant can shoot ProRes at 30fps, but at a reduced resolution of 1080p

As far as file size goes, that’s unknown. I’ve seen online rumors suggesting anything between 1–6GB per minute for storage. It really comes down to which exact flavor(s) of the ProRes codec they implement. In any case, it’s going to be important to transfer the files off the device … this means the need to plug the phone in and transfer. Using AirDrop or cloud syncing sure seems onerous with those larger files.

Dynamic range

Comparng the nighttimes shots from iPhone 11 and iPhone 13 Pro
The iPhone 13 handles noise and tonal details significantly better

The ability to see more details in an image is closely tied to the dynamic range. This is a way of expressing the difference between the lightest and darkest elements in a scene. On all fronts, the iPhone 13 is a clear improvement.

Smart HDR 4 for photos

A Smart HDR 4 image
A group photo showing how well Smart HDR 4 can handle skin tones and backlighting. Image courtesy Apple.

One change that has a lot of people searching user manuals and support forums is the Smart HDR feature. In previous cameras, this option could be toggled on or off, plus you could save the processed and original file. With Smart HDR 4, this option appears to be always on with no controls to remove it.  

Apple uses machine learning to power Smart HDR 4. This allows the camera to boost color and contrast, as well as lighting. It’s really optimized for people shots and can recognize and handle up to four people in a photo. This is designed to really help bring out accurate colors and contrast. It in fact can adjust each person automatically to refine contrast, lighting, and skin tones for each person.

It is unclear if Apple will reverse the decision to allow manual override in a future update, but many are clearly filing this request.

Deep Fusion for photos

The Deep Fusion technology was first unveiled with the iPhone 11. It effectively works the same and uses multiple photos as well as other data to optimize the image. Generally speaking is most useful for low-lit photos. And is often used in conjunction with the Night Mode option.

A Deep Fusion photo from iPhone 13.
An image with Smart Fusion to show off more dynamic range. Provided by Apple.

So when is Deep Fusion is active?

  • For the wide lens, Deep Fusion for medium to low lit scenes. Otherwise Smart HDR is used for bright to medium-lit environments.
  • For the telephoto lens, the camera will use Deep Fusion except for shots that are very brightly-lit when Smart HDR will activate.
  • For the ultra wide lens, Smart HDR is used for most photos when needed.

Dolby Vision for video

DolbyVision footage compared
A sample of standard vs Dolby Vision capture. Image provided by Dolby.

The addition of Dolby Vision to video capture significantly improved the ability to record HDR video. This high dynamic range format offers more information than a standard video signal.

It’s important to note though that HDR video can’t be see on all displays, so you might not be able to appreciate it without a device like an iPhone or HDR television. But Dolby Vision is widely used and quickly becoming a standard.

Dolby Vision hasn’t changed really on the iPhone 13 models, but the larger sensors in the Pro cameras let you get a lot more color and tone information. Dolby Vision is available for all four models of iPhone 13 and also works on all four lenses (even the front-facing camera).

Be sure to turn on Dolby Vision for the best color and tone:

  1. Open the Settings app on your iPhone
  2. Tap Camera
  3. Tap Record Video
  4. Enable HDR Video
How to enable Dolby Vision on iPhone 13
How to enable Dolby Vision on iPhone 13

Now you’re capturing with 10-bit color, which means a lot! The 10-bit image can display up to 1.07 billion colors, while the 8-bit video is limited to only 16.7 million colors.

If you prefer third-party camera apps for recording video (they do offer some great features) you can also use Dolby Vision. Dolby Vision capture is found on FiLMiC Pro, Manual Camera, ProCamera, ProCam 8 and more. These apps are targeted for professional use as they include controls and status information that consumers are unlikely to need (or understand).

Dolby Vision file details for HEVC iPhone video

Using Dolby Vision will bump up the file size slightly (that’s the 8-bit vs 10-bit thing). A one-minute 4K 30 fps video file size comparison:

  • No HDR (High Efficiency format): 173 MB
  • Dolby Vision HDR (High Efficiency format): 190MB
  • No HDR (Most Compatible format-H.264): 345MB

Digital noise

Before we go any further … let’s remember something. Despite all the improvements and all the internet interests, the iPhone camera is still a phone camera. To expect that it matches a full frame sensor DSLR is crazy … it doesn’t, it won’t, it can’t. With all of that said … the iPhone 13 cameras, especially the pro ones, are pretty amazing. The larger sensor we discussed at the top of the article is the reason why. More light = less noise. It’s that simple.

The circle shows the noise level for an image shot at  night on the iPhone 13 Pro Max.
The circle shows the noise level for an image shot at night on the iPhone 13 Pro Max.

You shoot on the phone camera for convenience. Our phones are pretty much always with us. They have a direct line to the Internet. They feature incredible apps that make editing and sharing photos easy … heck the in-camera processing done by the iPhone is what’s holding so many back from mirrorless and DSLRs.

Seriously, if the “real” camera manufacturers would stop worrying so much about camera companion apps and sharing and instead pay closer attention to the Smart HDR and Deep Fusion capabilities they’d be in a much better place.

Photographic Styles

My first inclination on this new addition was, meh.  

But then I thought about it.  I am a bit biased as I prefer to shoot with raw formats and believe that any picture thats worth sharing is worth editing.  But these styles can be used at the capture stage (when shooting standard HEIC files) to give a photo a specific look. 

Apple tends to keep its default settings very neutral, but thats not always popular. It’s the same reason why DSLR and mirrorless cameras offer picture profiles for things like Vivid and Landscape. The options with the iPhone 13 are:

  • Standard
  • Rich Contrast
  • Vibrant
  • Warm
  • Cool

You can also tweak the settings to emphasize different aspects. Effectively there are two controls, Tone to control how contrasty the image is, and Warmth to warm or cool a shot. As you adjust the sliders, the preset will take on a different name to better match the style. You can have four styles loaded and you can reset a style to default. You cannot save a custom style, but they are persistent and will hold until reset.

These styles are baked in to the HEIC images … you cannot remove them. So use them carefully. These choices will influence how the Smart HDR capture works … shifting white balance, color, and contrast. Remember, this won’t work on RAW files. But if you want to have a look that’s applied when you capture, you may find this a good option. Personally, I recommend editing color and tone after the shot.


The iPhone 13 sees no changes in capture sizes. While the camera sensor improved, the iPhone has left the resolution alone and instead focus on improving the image quality.

Recording video on iPhone 13
Image courtesy Apple
  • All lenses capture a 12 MP still image
  • You can also capture 8 MP stills while simultaneously shooting 4K video

If shooting video, the following sizes are available:

  • 4K video recording at 24 fps, 25 fps, 30 fps or 60 fps
  • 1080p HD video recording at 25 fps, 30 fps or 60 fps
  • 720p HD video recording at 30 fps
  • Slo‑Mo video support for 1080p at 120 fps or 240 fps
  • The video is also stabilized for all three resolutions options
Despite bumps in the road and vibrations, the stabilization in camera does a great job.