Every year without fail, Apple delivers one of the best cameras on any smartphone in its newest iPhone. Basically any iPhone you buy—even the previous year’s model—will snap excellent photos and record videos in stellar quality.
It’s that consistency, along with the popularity of Macs among photo and video professionals, that makes the iPhone so popular among photographers and videographers. Whether you’re a pro or just an enthusiast, the iPhone that is best for photography is almost always the newest one—but that also tends to be the most expensive option, so is that the model a photography enthusiast should buy?
While the top of the range iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max both offer advanced cameras and impressive technologies that will result in professional-looking photographs, the other iPhones still take excellent photos and are worthy of consideration.
In this article we will run though not only the current iPhones that Apple is selling right now along with some iPhones from the past few years. This way we will be able to offer advice on the best iPhone for photography that fits with your budget.
If you are ready to buy the best iPhone for photography we would recommend the iPhone 14 Pro, but if you would prefer to consider your options read on…
You may also like to read our iPhone buying guide and our iPhone comparison.
Best iPhone for photography
Apple iPhone 14 Pro
How the iPhone cameras compare
Every year, with each new iPhone, Apple improves the camera and video features of its iPhones. We tend to see new photography software and technology for each generation of iPhone, rather than vast changes to the specs of the cameras—although there were some pretty big leaps in the Pro models of the iPhone 14, as you can see below.
We’ll begin with an overview of the camera specs for the current iPhone models, before going on to look at the camera features that Apple has introduced over the years.
|iPhone||Main camera||Ultra Wide||Telephoto||Zoom|
|iPhone 14 Pro Max||48MP, ƒ/1.78 aperture||12MP, ƒ/2.2 aperture||12PM, ƒ/2.8 aperture||0.5, 1, 2, 3x optical zoom|
|iPhone 14 Pro||48MP, ƒ/1.78 aperture||12MP, ƒ/2.2 aperture||12PM, ƒ/2.8 aperture||0.5, 1, 2, 3x optical zoom|
|iPhone 14 Plus||12MP, ƒ/1.5 aperture||12MP, ƒ/2.4 aperture||0.5, 1x optical zoom|
|iPhone 14||12MP, ƒ/1.5 aperture||12MP, ƒ/2.4 aperture||0.5, 1x optical zoom|
|iPhone 13 Pro Max||12MP, ƒ/1.5 aperture||12MP, ƒ/1.8 aperture||12MP, ƒ/2.8 aperture||0.5, 1, 3x optical zoom|
|iPhone 13 Pro||12MP, ƒ/1.5 aperture||12MP, ƒ/1.8 aperture||12MP, ƒ/2.8 aperture||0.5, 1, 3x optical zoom|
|iPhone 13||12MP, ƒ/1.6 aperture||12MP, ƒ/2.4 aperture||0.5, 1 optical zoom|
|iPhone 13 mini||12MP, ƒ/1.6 aperture||12MP, ƒ/2.4 aperture||0.5, 1 optical zoom|
|iPhone SE||12MP, ƒ/1.8 aperture||0.5, 1 optical zoom|
|iPhone 12 Pro Max||12MP, ƒ/1.6 aperture||12MP, ƒ/2.4 aperture||12MP, ƒ/2.2 aperture||0.5, 1, 2.5x optical zoom|
|iPhone 12 Pro||12MP, ƒ/1.6 aperture||12MP, ƒ/2.4 aperture||12MP, ƒ/2.0 aperture||0.5, 1, 2x optical zoom|
|iPhone 12||12MP, ƒ/1.6 aperture||12MP, ƒ/2.4 aperture||0.5, 1 optical zoom|
|iPhone 11||12MP, ƒ/1.8 aperture||12MP, ƒ/2.4 aperture||0.5, 1x optical zoom|
In recent years the Pro and Pro Max models have offered identical camera specs, but this wasn’t always the case. For example, the iPhone 12 Pro Max offered a better telephoto lens. This does mean that there is no longer a reason for photography fans to chose the Pro Max over the Pro – unless they would benefit from the longer battery life offered by the bigger model.
You might assume that the 48MP camera on the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max would represent a huge leap from the other iPhones, and it does, but whether it really matters to you depends on whether you need 48MP photographs (which will take a lot of space up on your iPhone so make sure you choose an iPhone with plenty of storage!)
It’s not actually a standard setting—you need to enable 48MP ProRAW shooting if you want to use it. Shooting in RAW (in this case, Apple’s ProRAW) gives photographers more control when it comes to editing the photograph, but RAW has been a feature on iPhones since the iPhone 12 Pro, so it isn’t a feature unique to the iPhone 14 Pro models, it’s just the most data you’ve ever been able to capture on an iPhone.
One key difference is the addition of a telephoto lens on the Pro models. If you want a long focus lens then these are the phones to choose. Those phones also have the better optical zoom options, offering op to 3x, compared to 1x on the standard iPhones (the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max add a new 2x zoom). Macro photography is also limited to the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max and the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max. It uses the Ultra Wide camera and you can use it for live photos and macro videos too.
The apertures are also a significant variation across iPhones, changing practically every generation as Apple tries to design an iPhone capable of even better low light photography. An ƒ/1.5 aperture on the iPhone 14 will take in more light than the ƒ/1.8 aperture on the iPhone SE, for example.
But the aperture is only part of the story—in each generation Apple also improves the camera sensor. The iPhone 14 Pro has a quad-pixel sensor that combines every four pixels into one large quad pixel equivalent to 2.44 µm, and the 12MP Ultra Wide camera also features bigger pixels than previously, for example. See: How to choose the best camera phone: sensor size vs megapixels.
Another benefit of the newer iPhone cameras is gimbal-like second-generation sensor-shift optical image stabilisation, which is a feature of the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max only. This enhances the sensor-shift optical image stabilisation found on the iPhone 14 and the 13-series. The older iPhones offer optical image stabilisation.
The iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max clearly stand out as the best iPhone cameras. If you are looking for the best cameras on an iPhone these are the ones to choose.
However, if you don’t need a telephoto lens, and you aren’t planning to shoot in 48MP RAW, there are good options for photography fans among Apple’s less expensive iPhones.
Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry
What features do iPhone cameras have?
All iPhones are capable of taking good photographs thanks to Apple’s innovations in photography software and the processing that runs in the background. Most recently the company has introduced the Photonic Engine with the iPhone 14 range. This is a computational photography technology that can make low light photos look better, among other things.
The Photonic Engine builds on the Deep Fusion software, which arrived with the iPhone 11. The Deep Fusion process involves the camera taking a number of shots at different exposures which it then assesses and combines to create the best shot possible. It’s most beneficial for selfies and portrait photos.
Photographic Styles arrived with the iPhone 13 and also features on the iPhone SE (3rd generation). These are preset styles that are applied when you take a photograph, rather than adding a filter after the photo is taken. The benefit being that adjustments are applied to the right elements of an image—maintaining skin tones, etc—rather than to the whole image. The five presets are Standard, Rich Contrast, Vibrant, Warm and Cool and you can adjust Tone and Warmth for each. If you find a Photographic Styles you are happy with you can set it so your iPhone always uses it, saving you editing time later. You can of course edit your photos later using the filters in the Photos app.
With every generation Apple seeks to improve low-light photography. This is no more apparent than in the automatic Night Mode settings that arrived in the iPhone 11 and have improved over the generations since. A Night Mode Portrait setting arrived with the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max, and is available in the later Pro models, but not the iPhone 13 or iPhone 14.
Speaking of portraits, Portrait Mode is available in iPhone SE (2nd generation) and later, iPhone X and later, and the iPhone 7 Plus and iPhone 8 Plus. There is also a Portrait Lighting feature in the iPhone X and 8 Plus and later that allows you to select one of five effects to ‘light’ your portrait. You can adjust the depth of field for these portraits to create more or less background blur.
The Portrait Mode also inspires Cinematic Mode for making videos on the iPhone. With this setting the camera can record video with a shallow depth of field, so that there is more focus on the subject. Cinematic Mode is available on the the iPhone 13-series and later.
Another video mode that arrived recently is Action Mode. A features of the iPhone 14-series, Action Mode lets you capture smooth video when you’re moving.
Those are some of the standout features that have arrived in recent years, but there is so much more. For example, Live Photos let you take 3 second captures with each picture so you can pick the still image you want, create a Gif-like effect, or just keep the short clip. You can make a QuickTake video by holding the shutter button on the iPhone XS, iPhone XR, and later. And, of course, every iPhone can shoot time-laps and slo-mo videos as well as square, Portrait, and pano photographs.
Are iPhones good for video?
All iPhones currently sold (iPhone 12 or later) offer 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 and Slo-mo video support for 1080p at 120 fps or 240 fps.
The differences relate to features like Cinematic mode on the iPhone 13 and 14-series (but on only in 4K HDR on the iPhone 14-series), ProRes and Macro video recording (only available on the iPhone 13 Pro and Max and 14 Pro and Max phones) and HDR video recoding, which is 60 fps on the iPhone 13 and above, and 30 fps below, and not available on the iPhone SE. Anther omission on the iPhone SE is the Audio Zoom, which can help reduce background noise when recording and is present on iPhones 11 and later.
Features like Action Mode and Cinematic mode, mentioned above will no doubt prove useful to anyone making video with their iPhone.
Which iPhone camera is best
1. Apple iPhone 14 Pro
While the iPhone 14 Pro Max offers the same camera as the iPhone 14 Pro, we are choosing the Pro on the basis that it is lighter and smaller and therefore a little more comfortable to hold than the iPhone 14 Pro Max. However, the Max does have the benefit of longer battery life (29 vs 23 hours in video playback) and that may well be what matters most to you if you are likely to be out in the field for long periods of time.
If you have the money to spend the iPhone 14 Pro gives you the benefit of three rear facing cameras, including an ultra wide and telephoto lens, up to 3x optical zoom, Macro photography and video, and up to 48MP Apple ProRAW.
2. Apple iPhone 14
While it doesn’t offer same level of camera specs as the Pro and Pro Max, the iPhone 14 is still a good option if you want a decent camera on your iPhone without having to spend so much money. Like the iPhone 14 Pro, it offers the Action Mode for taking steady handheld video, the Photonic Engine computational photography technology to use machine learning to improve the photos you take. These features make it a better choice than the iPhone 13.
3. Apple iPhone 13 Pro
This is a bit of a wild card as Apple no longer sells it, but if you are looking for a bargain and find one for sale it’s worth consideration. Like the iPhone 14 Pro you get three rear facing cameras, including an ultra wide and telephoto lens, up to 3x optical zoom, Macro photography and video, and Apple ProRAW (although not 48MP).
iPhone camera tips to take better photos
How to disable the camera shutter sound on an iPhone or iPad
How to remotely control your iPhone’s camera