Best iPhone for Photographers iMore 2021
iPhone cameras get better each year. The company's flagship Pro devices have a three-camera system for taking shots in any environment. It's this system that makes the iPhone 12 Pro Max our most recommended iPhone for smartphone photographers this year. We've gathered other noteworthy models to help you choose the one that fits your needs best.
- Best Overall: iPhone 12 Pro Max
- Runner Up: iPhone 12 Pro
- Best Alternative: iPhone 12
- Best Budget: iPhone 11
Best Overall: iPhone 12 Pro Max
The well-received iPhone 12 Pro Max is an easy choice for the best iPhone for photographers of the year. Though it and the iPhone 12 Pro are nearly the same, they aren't where it counts. Besides offering a bigger screen, the Pro Max includes better camera features than its little brother. Though these extra camera perks might not be significant to most users, they make a difference for photographers.
With the Pro Max, you get a 2.5x optical zoom-in, 5x optical zoom range, and digital zoom of up to 12x found on the Max Pro. This compares to the Pro's 2x optical zoom-in, 4x optical zoom range, and digital zoom of up to 10x. Another camera difference between the Pro models comes from the telephoto lens, which measures 65mm on the Pro Max versus the Pro's smaller 52mm. That heftier telephoto lens means less distortion and more compression, making it ideal for taking portraits and product shots. The downside is its f/2.2 aperture, which isn't as good in low light as the iPhone 12 Pro's f/2.0 aperture.
With video recording, there are also slight differences. The Pro Max includes sensor-shift optical image stabilization (OIS), plus the familiar 2.5x optical zoom-in and 2x optical zoom-out. Digital zoom is measured up to 7x. The iPhone 12 Pro comes with traditional optical image stabilization, 2x optical zoom-in, and digital zoom up to 6x.
Beyond this, the iPhone 12 Pro Max offers the most battery life between charges of any iPhone on the market. It also includes the faster processor ever created for a smartphone, the A14 Bionic that's also found on the Pro, iPhone 12, and iPhone 12 mini. It also features MagSafe, which works with the best MagSafe-compatible features.
The biggest negative, not surprisingly, is the price of the Pro Max. It's $100 more at all storage levels compared to the already expensive Pro. Keep this in mind before making your purchase.
- Most prominent iPhone display to date
- Unique rear camera features
- Blazing fast
- Difficult to hold with one hand
- Camera difference not important to everyone
Runner Up: iPhone 12 Pro
One month before the 6.7-inch iPhone 12 Pro Max was released, Apple dropped the also great 6.1-inch iPhone Pro. As mentioned above, the Pro's camera system is just a tad less impressive than the one found on the Pro Max. And yet, for most, that won't make a big difference, although the enhanced battery life will.
Regardless, the iPhone 12 Pro also includes an A14 Bionic chip with next-generation Neural Engine, Face ID, 5G capabilities, and MagSafe support. The iPhone 12 Pro offers up to 17 hours of video playback, 11 hours of video-streaming, and 65 hours of audio enjoyment. Like the Pro Max, the Pro has a strong body (ceramic front shield and surgical-grade stainless steel), a LIDAR Scanner, and more storage options than the regular iPhone 12.
Did I mention you can hold the iPhone 12 Pro with one hand?
The biggest negative here shouldn't come as much of a surprise. The iPhone 12 Pro is (also) expensive at every storage level. Nonetheless, it's near as good as the best iPhone for photographers this year.
- Nearly the same as Pro Max
- Fits in your hand
- Strong body
- Still expensive
- Slightly less impressive camera features
Best Alternative: iPhone 12
The well-reviewed iPhone 12 was introduced alongside the iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Pro Max. Available in Blue, Green, PRODUCT (RED), White, and Black, the model is available with 64GB, 128GB, or 256GB of storage. Like the other 2020 iPhones, this model is compatible with MagSafe accessories and wireless chargers. It also features 5G wireless, where available, for super-fast downloads and high‑quality streaming. The iPhone 12's battery is designed to allow for up to 17 hours of video-playing between charges, 11 hours when that video is streamed, and up to 65 hours of audio playback. With fast-charge, you can get up to a 50% charge in just 30 minutes.
Further, it offers a ceramic shield front that provides four times the protection of previous iPhone models. The phone's body is made from aerospace-grade aluminum, and it provides water resistance to a depth of six meters for up to 30 minutes. This year's flagship iPhone comes with a 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR display, an A14 Bionic chip. On the back, you'll find a dual 12MP camera system (Ultra Wide and Wide); on the front, there's a 12MP TrueDepth camera.
There are four main areas where the iPhone 12 compares unfavorably with the much higher-priced iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max. Only the Pro models feature a Telephoto camera and a LiDAR Scanner for Night mode portraits, faster autofocus in low light, and next-level AR experiences. The iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max are also the only two 2020 models to include surgical-grade stainless steel. And finally, only the Pro models come with up to 512GB of storage.
You'll need to decide if you can live with one less camera, lower storage options, and other step-downs that come with the iPhone 12/12 mini versus the iPhone 12 Pro series.
- Today's flagship
- Same internals as the Pro models
- Better price
- No triple camera on the back
- No 512GB option
Best Budget: iPhone 11
You shouldn't buy the iPhone 11 for its camera system. If you do, you'll be disappointed. The 2019 flagship should still be considered if the price is a major factor because the camera system is still excellent. The highly-rated iPhone 11 still backs a punch even though it's almost 2-years-old.
This handset, which offers a 6.1-inch Liquid Retina HD display, is made with aerospace-grade aluminum and comes with a dual 12MP Ultra-Wide and Wide camera system. On the front, there's the 12MP TrueDepth camera. Available in Purple, Green, Yellow, Black, White, and PRODUCT(RED), the iPhone 11 is one of the most colorful handsets Apple has produced. The iPhone 11 is available with 64GB, 128GB, and 256GB of storage and uses Face ID for login purposes.
In terms of battery life, the iPhone 11 provides up to 17 hours of video-playing between charges, 10 hours with streaming video, and up to 65 hours of audio playback. Here you can also get up to a 50% charge in just 30 minutes.
Unlike the newer models, the iPhone 11 doesn't offer a ceramic front and back or an OLED display, nor will you find MagSafe capability. And yet, make no mistake, this is still a terrific phone that will provide your child with years of enjoyment and for two Benjamins less than the iPhone 12.
- Large display for less
- Six unique colors
- Dual camera system
- LCD, not OLED
- Front and back include glass, not ceramic.
- Almost 2-years-old
The best iPhone for photographers
The iPhone 12 Pro Max is the best iPhone you can currently buy as a smartphone photographer. The Pro Max features a 6.7-inch (diagonal) all-screen OLED Multi‑Touch display with a triple camera with Ultra Wide, Wide, and Telephoto options. There's also a 12MP TrueDepth front camera with a ƒ/2.2 aperture. Inside, it's the only iPhone to include a 2.5x optical zoom-in, 5x optical zoom range, and digital zoom of up to 12x, among other extra goodies over the smaller iPhone 12 Pro.
Like other iPhone 12 series smartphones, the Pro Max features the high-speed A14 Bionic chip and includes a Ceramic Shield on the front. 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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