iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max

Best iPhone for Photographers iMore 2019

iPhone cameras get better each year. Features such as Smart HDR and an adjustable depth of field are just two of the camera technologies the iPhone XS Max offers making it our most recommended iPhone for smartphone photographers. We've gathered other noteworthy models to help you choose the one that fits your needs best.

Best Overall: iPhone XS Max

iPhone XS Max vs iPhone 8 Plus

The largest of Apple's two current flagship devices offers the most advanced internals found on a large display iPhone to date. The iPhone XS Max features a 6.5-inch (diagonal) all-screen OLED Multi‑Touch display with dual 12MP wide-angle (ƒ/1.8 aperture) and telephoto (ƒ/2.4 aperture) cameras and a 7MP TrueDepth front camera with a ƒ/2.2 aperture.

Among the impressive camera features found on the iPhone XS Max is Smart HDR, which automatically adds more highlight and shadow detail to your photos. It does so using fast sensors, an enhanced ISP, and advanced algorithms. With an adjustable depth of field, the iPhone XS Max can blur the background as much or as little as you want. In doing so, you can create amazing portraits in seconds.

The iPhone XS Max isn't just great at taking photos. It also offers an A12 Bionic chip with a next-generation Neural Engine for fast performance. The chip uses real-time machine learning to transform the way you experience photos, gaming, augmented reality, and more. The phone is up to 50 percent faster than the iPhone X, which was retired in 2018.

Of course, all of these goodies come at a price. The iPhone XS Max is Apple's most expensive handset with a starting price of $1,049. It's available in space gray, silver, and gold.

Pros:

  • Biggest iPhone display to date
  • Great rear- and front-facing camera
  • Blazing fast

Cons:

  • Pricey
  • Difficult to hold with one hand

Best Overall

iPhone XS Max

Everything bigger

Here's the largest handset Apple has designed to date. Buy this one if you want zero limits!

Runner Up: iPhone XS

iPhone XS

The iPhone XS offers a 5.8-inch Super Retina HD display. Beyond this, it's nearly identical to the iPhone XS Max right down to its multiple cameras on both the front and back. Like the iPhone XS Max (and iPhone XR), the iPhone XS has an A12 Bionic chip with next-generation Neural Engine, Face ID, and wireless charging. For this, you'll pay at least $999, up to $1,349 for the most expensive model.

If you want everything Apple has to offer on a smartphone and have smaller hands (or just prefer a smaller phone), go with this model. Otherwise, photographers should stick with our No. 1 pick above.

Pros:

  • Same camera specs as Max
  • Current flagship

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Limited color options

Runner Up

iPhone XS

it's the flagship

Buy the iPhone XS if you want Apple's latest and greatest, but don't want the large display of the iPhone XS Max.

Best Alternative: iPhone XR

iPhone XR

The so-called "Goldilock iPhone is a terrific choice for most buyers. However, it doesn't offer the same camera specs as the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max although it's close.

On the iPhone XR, you'll find a single 12MP back camera (ƒ/1.8 aperture) with a digital zoom of 5x. The rear camera offers optical image stabilization, wide color capture for photos and Live Photos, Quad-LED True Tone flash with Slow Sync, Portrait mode with advanced bokeh and Depth Control, Portrait Lighting with three effects (Natural, Studio, Contour), and Smart HDR for photos. The front-facing 7MP TrueDepth camera is identical to the one found on the iPhone XS series.

Measuring 6.1-increases diagonally, the iPhone XR is significantly less expensive than the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max. The lower price comes with some drawbacks, however. Although the iPhone XR includes the same A12 Bionic chip with the next-generation Neural Engine as the other two, it ships without an OLED. Instead, there's an LCD with a thicker bezel bordering the screen. The lower-priced model also has limited storage capacity.

If you're buying an iPhone based on camera specs alone, you should stick with the iPhone XS or iPhone XS Max. Otherwise, the iPhone XR is an excellent choice given its price.

Pros:

  • Large display for less
  • Colorful choices

Cons:

  • LCD, not OLED
  • Thicker bezel than iPhone XS
  • No dual camera on the back

Best Alternative

iPhone XR

Almost as good for less.

Cheaper than the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max with nearly the same internals.

Best Value: iPhone 8 Plus

iPhone 8 Series

If you're looking for a budget iPhone to snap photos, this might be the one for you. However, it comes with one important caveat.

First launched in 2017, the iPhone 8 Plus features a 5.5-inch Retina HD display with a 12MP wide-angle (ƒ/1.8 aperture) and telephoto (ƒ/2.8 aperture) cameras. Features on the back cameras include optical image stabilization, 2x optical zoom; digital zoom up to 10x, Wide color capture for photos and Live Photos, Quad-LED True Tone flash with Slow Sync, Portrait mode, Portrait Lighting with five effects (Natural, Studio, Contour, Stage, Stage Mono), and Auto HDR for photos. The front-facing 7MP FaceTime HD camera offers ƒ/2.2 aperture, Retina Flash, wide color capture for photos and Live Photos, and auto HDR for photos.

The biggest drawback to buying the iPhone 8 Plus is that it could soon be replaced. Next month (September 2019), Apple's expected to announce its new iPhone lineup. When that happens, production on the iPhone 8 series could end, although that doesn't mean support for the phone is going away anytime soon. Regardless, you'll need to decide whether you want to buy a phone that could soon be discontinued.

Pros:

  • Heavily discounted
  • Tried and true

Cons:

  • Aging design
  • Touch ID, not Face ID
  • Retirement soon?

Best Value

iPhone 8 Plus

Well-tested workhorse

A perfect choice for anyone who wants to upgrade, but not spend a lot.

Bottom line

The iPhone XS Max is the best iPhone you can currently buy as a smartphone photographer.

The iPhone XS Max features a 6.5-inch (diagonal) all-screen OLED Multi‑Touch display with dual rear-facing 12MP wide-angle (ƒ/1.8 aperture) and telephoto (ƒ/2.4 aperture) cameras and a 7MP TrueDepth front camera with a ƒ/2.2 aperture. Yes, the handset is expensive. Nonetheless, it should provide you with years of enjoyment. Happy snapping!

Credits — The team that worked on this guide

Bryan M. Wolfe is a dad who loves technology, especially anything new from Apple. Penn State (go Nittany Lions) graduate here, also a huge fan of the New England Patriots. Thanks for reading. @bryanmwolfe

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