This story is part Focal Point iPhone 2022CNET’s collection of news, tips and advice on Apple’s most popular product.
The iPhone 14 Pro has several camera system improvements that have led to stellar reviews, including a 48-megapixel sensor and Apple’s new image processing technique called the Photonic Engine. This immediately gives the iPhone 14 Pro an edge over last year iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Maxat least on paper.
But what difference do these new hardware and software features actually make in the real world?
I compared the two phones’ cameras in a series of tough situations around San Francisco to find out. All of these photos were taken in the default camera app on the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro, both running the latest version of iOS 16.
You can read more about specific improvements to the iPhone 14 Pro’s camera system in this deep dive from my colleague Stephen Shankland. CNET’s Patrick Holland also has a great analysis of iPhone 14 Pro photos and how the Photonics Engine helps improve photo quality in difficult lighting conditions.
The 48-megapixel iPhone 14 Pro sensor captures more detail
Hardware-wise, the biggest change between the two phones is the 14 Pro’s new 48-megapixel sensor on the main wide-angle camera which is also physically larger than the old iPhone, making just as much of a difference. for photo quality as megapixels increase. The 13 Pro uses a 12-megapixel sensor.
Using a technique called pixel binning, the iPhone 14 Pro joins four pixels together in groups to capture 12-megapixel photos with greater detail. You can also shoot a full 48-megapixel image if shooting in Apple’s ProRaw format, which gives photographers more flexibility when it comes to editing and retrieving shadow and highlight detail from among many other benefits.
In good light, the 12-megapixel shots of the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro look the same at lower magnification, and it might not be so easy to tell the difference. It’s when you push a bit that the benefits of the 14 Pro’s new sensor and image processing become apparent.
In the images below that I captured in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, the tree trunks are more defined and sharper in the iPhone 14 Pro photo than those on the 13 Pro. Fine detail areas, like grass, also retain much more resolution. You can click the full resolution image of the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro to compare more easily.
The iPhone 14 Pro’s lens on the main rear camera also has a wider field of view than the 13 Pro’s: 24mm versus 26mm. This means you can get a little more into your shot, which can be particularly useful for landscape photography.
iPhone 14 Pro can take photos with 2x zoom
The iPhone 14 Pro also has another trick up its sleeve: the 48-megapixel sensor can also take 12-megapixel photos with an effective 2x optical zoom. You will see a new 2x option in the camera interface. This crops the center of the high-resolution image to immediately give you more flexibility with focal length, without the need for a fourth lens. The iPhone 13 Pro can also take photos with 2x zoom, but it uses digital zoom and doesn’t have the same quality or level of detail as this new technique.
I find the new 2x option on the iPhone 14 Pro helps with portrait mode. Instead of just offering 1x and 3x options like the old phone, it can also shoot portrait mode at 2x. This results in more natural shots to my eyes. I find it’s more flattering on facial features than the 1x wide gaze or the 3x magnified perspective.
iPhone 14 Pro vs 13 Pro: low light and night mode
iPhone 14 Pro features a new image processing pipeline to help improve mid to low-light shots. Combined with the larger sensor, I can see the difference compared to the iPhone 13 Pro in all the photos I took at dusk. In the photos below, take a look at the details captured on the branches of the trees by the skyline.
The new phone also offers better noise reduction in low light, without night mode being activated. Dynamic range is also improved in low light, capturing more detail in shadows and highlights than the old phone.
For night mode shots in particular, both phones use similar exposure times ranging from 1-3 seconds depending on lighting conditions. The iPhone 14 Pro image below has more accurate white balance overall and slightly better detail when zoomed in.
Action mode is the star of iPhone 14 Pro video recording
The iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro run in 4K at up to 60 fps. The video image is similar when shooting on the main rear camera. But the iPhone 14 Pro unlocks additional video tools like Action mode. It’s like having a gimbal attached to your phone to give smooth results when moving, except you don’t need any extra hardware – it’s all done in the phone.
Action mode slightly crops your image and drops the resolution from 4K to 2.8K. But I think the results are incredibly impressive, especially when compared to the same video shot on the iPhone 13 Pro.
I chased my pup, jogged along the beach, and took a quick dolly shot past a waterfall in the park with Action mode, and the results were remarkable. The video image from the iPhone 14 Pro feels like I was filming with a stabilizer, even smoothing out sudden jerky movements. Video from the iPhone 13 Pro looks a lot more shaky.
You can see some examples in the video below, but my comparison video showing those exact clips will be up soon. I will update this article in the coming week so you can see for yourself.
iPhone 14 Pro has big camera improvements, but iPhone 13 Pro is still impressive
Apple’s latest iPhone has significant advantages over last year’s iPhone 13 Pro when it comes to capturing photos and videos. Crucially, you don’t need to consider yourself a serious or professional photographer to take advantage of that 48-megapixel sensor. But the iPhone 13 Pro is still at the top of its game in most other areas and still offers one of the best all-around cameras you can get.
Apple’s iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max introduce sweeping changes like Dynamic Island, a new 48-megapixel camera system, and Apple’s new A16 Bionic processor. All of these upgrades come together to deliver a new and fast experience compared to older generations.
Read our Apple iPhone 14 Pro review.
The iPhone 13 Pro is the best phone produced by Apple and it received an outstanding rating in our review. The new smartphone adds a third rear camera with 3x optical zoom (up from 2x on the iPhone 12), a stainless steel body, and a ProMotion display with refresh rates up to 120Hz for smoother scrolling.
Read our iPhone 13 Pro review.
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