iPhone 13 camera shootout: Mini vs Pro vs Pro Max

Posted: 24 September 2021 8:00 am
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iPhone 13 shootout_Supplied_1800x1000 (1)

Do Apple's iPhone 13 Pro cameras justify the bigger price tag? We pitted them against the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini to find out.

It's iPhone 13 season and just like last year we are looking down the barrel of four different devices. We're hard at work on the reviews, but in the meantime we've conducted some preliminary comparisons between the iPhone 13 cameras.

The camera is arguably the most important consideration when it comes to buying a new phone. So if you're not sure which iPhone 13 to go for yet, take a peek at our comparison shots first.

It's worth noting that all four phones are running iOS 15 and the default camera app was used to take the photos. I utilised the default focus and exposure (including night mode for the low light shots), with the exception of using the zoom function for those specific tests.

No editing to the images themselves were done in post. However they are compressed to save on file size. You can probably get better results from customising the software, shooting in RAW or using third party camera apps. However, I chose to shoot as default as possible to reflect the behaviour of most phone users.

And if you're interested in full reviews of every model, we have tested the iPhone 13 Pro Max, iPhone 13 Pro, regular iPhone 13 and the iPhone 13 Mini.

Buy iPhone 13 at eBay

Buy iPhone 13 at eBay

iPhone 13 camera specs

But first, let's take a look at those cold hard specs.

This year the Pro and Pro Max devices have three rear lenses (12MP telephoto, 12MP wide, 12MP ultra-wide) and a single 12MP selfie cam. They also have a LiDAR scanner and macro photography capabilities.

The iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini also have some upgrades with new and improved lenses - 12MP wide and 12MP ultra-wide. They also have the same 12MP front-facing camera as their bigger siblings.

The question is just how much of a difference the extra hardware and software capabilities make when it comes to the Pro models vs the iPhone 13 and Mini.

iPhone 13 landscape shots

Generally I like to take phones out on hikes to get camera samples, but that that still isn't possible right now. So we'll have to make do with this park.

As you'll see in the samples, there's not a great deal of noticeable difference between the cameras here. From the Pro Max to the Mini, you're getting a quality shot when you're simply pointing and clicking on a bright sunny day.

iPhone 13 camera

iPhone 13 camera

iPhone 13 camera

iPhone 13 camera


iPhone 13 portrait shots

You start to see a difference with rear-camera portrait shots. The iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max had a tendency to zoom that little bit closer into the subject naturally and have a strong bokeh effect behind that kicks in easily.

Neither phone had any trouble focusing immediately, possibly due to the LiDAR scanner which assists with focus as well as low-light shots. It can only be found in the two Pro models of the iPhone 13.

The regular iPhone 13 also does a decent job here, though it backs off the subject a little bit more and wasn't quite as quick to focus. But the bokeh isn't that dissimilar.

However, you do see a noticeable difference with the iPhone 13 Mini. The bokeh isn't as nice and looks more like a blur than a purposeful effect. That being said, the subject still looks sharp despite losing some of the detail that the more expensive models capture.

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iPhone 13 selfie portrait shots

When it comes to the front-facing portrait shots we don't get much difference between the devices at all. This is because they all have the same 12MP selfie cam. So if that is a priority for you, you don't have to fear going for a cheaper model -- you're still going to get a quality shot here. Well, if you have a better face than me.

iphone13promaxselfieportrait_tegan_1920x1080.jpg

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iPhone 13 night mode

This is the first time that all four devices in the latest crop of iPhones have night mode capabilities.

There's not a lot of opportunity to take nice (and safe) night shots with the current lockdown rules, but I did my best indoors on the first night of having the phones.

The only source of light for these shots was from my hydro herb garden in the adjoining room. All four iPhone 13 devices did a really decent job of utilising that to bring light into the shot, making it appear like the source is much bigger than it actually is.

The iPhone 13 Pro models retain more complexity and texture in these shots, as well as a touch more light. And with the LiDAR scanner, this is to be expected. And I would wager that this will be more apparent when I get the chance to test this with more complex night shots.

Regardless, while I thought the iPhone 13 would do an okay job I didn't expect this level of quality from the Mini. Again, more tests need to be done. But I'm impressed so far.

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The zoom

So far the most significant difference in quality so far has been with the zoom functionality.

The iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max devices can go up to 15x thanks to their 3x optical zoom and new stabilisation features.

Comparatively, the iPhone 13 and Mini cap out at 5x. And even then, they're looking pretty bad by the time you hit that limit.

Here's a 5x comparison of all four devices:

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iphone 13 camera

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While a fair amount of detail is retained in the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max, the younger siblings become a fuzzy mess.

But lets zoom in further. Here's the 10x zoom on the Pro and Pro Max:

iphone 13 camera

iphone 13 camera

Detail is still present here, though it seems to be a bit less so with the regular Pro. But to be honest I think this was a me thing. As you'll see in the 15x below, the iPhone 13 Pro still goes hard against the Pro Max:

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iphone 13 camera

While I am not the biggest zoom user myself, I am still impressed at how crisp these images are without the aid of a tripod. The stabilisation software is doing a lot of the heavy lifting here and makes me wonder how useful it will be for stargazing shots in the future.


Macro photography

As previously mentioned, the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max models have macro photography capabilities. This is something that some Android phones have been doing for a few years now. So while the results so far aren't bad, they're also not eye-bulgingly impressive. And they're certainly not at the level witchcraft afford by the dedicated microscopic lens in the Oppo Find X3 Pro.

But it is cool and I look forward to getting some more sample shots when I've messed around with it more. The only downside is that at the time of writing there is no way to disable macro mode when you use the ultra-wide lens and approach a subject. However, Apple has said that it will release an update allowing automatic switching.

iphone 13 camera

iphone 13 camera

And just to demonstrate the difference, here's what happened when I tried to get up close and personal with the regular iPhone 13:

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I did not bother with the Mini after that.


Verdict

Despite Apple having four different iPhone 13 devices this year, all of them are quite good when it comes to photography. Considering how far behind Apple has been on this front compared to some Android devices, this is a pleasant surprise.

But if you're after the best photography that iPhone 13 has to offer, you will still want to be looking at the upper echelons of the range. But if you don't particularly want lug around the truly humungous Pro Max, you don't have to. The regular iPhone 13 Pro still clearly offers great quality here.

However, if you would prefer something cheaper and don't need the best of the best, you're not going to get a bad camera setup with the iPhone 13. While there is more of a gap between the iPhone 13 and entry-level Pro this year, it still gets the job done when it comes to the basics - landscape, portraits and night mode.

While I wouldn't go for the Mini myself, I do like that its camera capabilities aren't that much different to the iPhone 13. So if you're someone who loves that smaller form factor and doesn't care about the smaller battery and specs, this is still an excellent choice.

We'll continue testing as we write our reviews and if anything significant in the photography experience crops up, we'll be sure to update this post.


Buy iPhone 13

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You can pre-order all iPhone 13 models now from a variety of eBay sellers. Here is a list of prices with links to buy. You can check out more Australian online stores in our iPhone 13 buying guide.

ModelPrice
Apple iPhone 13 128GB$1,349.00
Apple iPhone 13 256GB$1,519.00
Apple iPhone 13 512GB$1,869.00
Apple iPhone 13 Mini 128GB$1,199.00
Apple iPhone 13 Mini 256GB$1,369.00
Apple iPhone 13 Mini 512GB$1,719.00
Apple iPhone 13 Pro 128GB$1,699.00
Apple iPhone 13 Pro 256GB$1,869.00
Apple iPhone 13 Pro 512GB$2,219.00
Apple iPhone 13 Pro 1TB$2,569.00
Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max 128GB$1,849.00
Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max 256GB$2,019.00
Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max 512GB$2,369.00
Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max 1TB$2,719.00

Looking for more information on the latest iPhone launch? Check out all the available iPhone 13 plans from Australia's major telcos.

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