Homepage > Apple says it every year, but the iPhone 13’s cameras seem to have improved a lot

Apple says it every year, but the iPhone 13’s cameras seem to have improved a lot

Cameras continue to be one of the biggest smartphone differentiators, and Apple’s iPhone lineup is no different. Apple claims the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini feature the “most advanced dual camera system the company has ever designed”, while the 13 Pro and Pro Max feature “our most powerful three cameras to date”.

What you hope for, of course. But this year, Apple really seems to be making a big effort with its cameras, especially the Pro models. As always, the question will be, what is Apple capable of extracting from its hardware with image processing and software?

The iPhone 13 lineup marks the first time Apple has increased the size of the main camera sensor since the iPhone XS and XR in 2018, although last year’s 12 Pro Max has a 47% larger sensor than the 12 and 12 Pro. The size of the sensor is a key factor in image quality because together with the aperture of the lens it determines how much light the camera is able to capture. More light, less noise and less blur.

The main cameras on the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini have larger sensors, which is part of the reason why it and the Ultra are now arranged diagonally in the camera bump. Apple has also added Optical Image Stabilization by Sensor Shift, a feature first seen on the 12 Pro Max. It’s unclear exactly how large the 13’s sensor is, but Apple says it will pick up 47% more light than the 12.

The 13 Pro and Pro Max have an even larger main sensor and a slightly faster f / 1.5 lens that captures 2.2 times more light than before, according to Apple. Again, the exact size of the sensor has not been announced, but Apple has given the pixel size: it’s 1.9m, which is bigger than any modern smartphone that I know of. Apple can do this because the sensor is a relatively low-resolution 12-megapixel, but it’s still an impressive statistic that should translate into better low-light performance. For comparison, the 12 Pro Max had 1.7m pixels, while every other iPhone since the XS had 1.4m pixels.

It’s unclear what hardware changes Apple made to the iPhone 13’s ultra-wide camera; the company simply says it has a “faster sensor” that “reveals more detail in dark areas of your photos.” The Pro does have some significant hardware tweaks, however, as Apple increased the aperture to f / 1.8 for a 92% improvement in light collecting ability. The sensor now also has focus pixels on board – things are rarely blurry in ultra-wide shots because the depth of field is so great, but the addition of autofocus means the camera can be used for macro photography, with a focusing distance of 2cm.

The telephoto camera remains exclusive to 13 Pro phones, and Apple has increased its equivalent focal length to 77mm – three times the main camera. Previously, the iPhone 12 Pro’s telephoto lens offered 2x zoom while the 12 Pro Max upgraded to 2.5x. There’s a trade-off here – if you want to frame something with 2x zoom, the 13 Pro will have to crop from the main camera, reducing image quality. But your photos that go beyond the 3x zoom will be much sharper than before, and that should make for a better portrait lens. Apple also added Night Mode to the telephoto lens for the first time.

Compared to the Android competition, Apple doesn’t do much to outperform them on the hardware front. The large 1.9m pixels are remarkable, but most Android phone makers have favored large, high-resolution sensors over pure pixel size. Xiaomi’s Mi 11 Ultra, for example, has a massive 50-megapixel sensor with 1.4 µm pixels, which means it has decent light-gathering ability even when filmed at native resolution. without grouping the pixels together. And while the 3x telephoto lens is useful, it’s now common to see 5x (or sometimes even 10x) periscopic telephoto lenses in the Android world.

So while Apple has made significant hardware improvements to the entire iPhone 13 lineup, as always, its performance against its competition will depend on optimizing its software and image processing pipeline. The iPhone 11 was a much better camera than the XS the year before, after all, even though the hardware had barely changed. This year Apple is touting Smart HDR 4, which is able to individually adjust exposure for multiple people in the frame, but we’ll have to see the phones for ourselves to find out what sort of a difference that makes. The same goes for Photographic Styles, a new filter-like feature that Apple says is smarter at adjusting things like skin tones and the sky in each photo.

When it comes to video, Apple places great importance on its Cinematic mode which allows you to selectively adjust focus and depth of field during post processing, like Portrait mode for photos. This is something that we will certainly need to test thoroughly. The 13 Pro, meanwhile, lets you record and edit videos in Apple’s ProRes codec on the phone itself, or you can export the ProRes file to Final Cut Pro on a Mac.

All of the usual caveats about waiting for full reviews certainly still apply, but it looks like a pretty good year for the iPhone camera. Apple will never have the flashiest hardware, but it has made some welcome improvements in areas that make sense, and luckily it hasn’t locked down any features on the Max-sized iPhone. We can’t wait to see the results, as well as those from impending competitors like the Pixel 6.

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