The iPhone 13 Pro vs. iPhone 12 Pro Camera Shootout

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It seems like the time between each Apple keynote gets shorter every year, or maybe time just flies when we’re having fun. Either way, it wasn't that long ago that the popular iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 Pro models were released. Years later, these models are still stout with camera capabilities and totally live up to the initial hype. Like all of you, we were wondering how different it is between these two models specifically — and, more importantly, if an upgrade is worth it between one year and the next. We spent a full week comparing the two devices in various situations. Be sure to check out Caleb and Nile's video on YouTube; the moving visual examples help facilitate a better representation than us writing about it, especially for the video footage.

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What’s Different?

The most obvious things that affect photo output between the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro are the improved technical specs of the cameras. The most obvious change is the addition of a 3x optical zoom in, 2x optical zoom out, and 6x optical zoom range on the 13’s Pro lineup, while the updates to the standard wide lens are small but meaningful. Oh, and cinematic mode, of course.

Here are a few of the most important updates:

  • A15 Bionic chip - 6‑core CPU with 2 performance and 4 efficiency cores
  • Pro 12MP camera system: Telephoto: ƒ/2.8 aperture, Wide: ƒ/1.5 aperture, Ultra Wide: ƒ/1.8 aperture and 120° field of view
  • 3x optical zoom in, 2x optical zoom out; 6x optical zoom range
  • 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB storage options
  • Improved battery life

While the actual hardware changes appear more evolutionary than revolutionary, we’ve learned that many more than megapixels and aperture go into the final results of smartphone photos. Since these devices are miniature computers with tiny cameras, much of their photo magic occurs in the software that captures the images and the invisible processing that occurs behind the scenes.

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Don’t Doubt the Software

Safe to note the camera system on the iPhone 12 Pro features similar configurations to the 13 Pro but still loses the battle. The wide aperture, optical zoom, sensor size, pixel count, and low light capabilities boast better specs on the iPhone 13 Pro. Toss in the highly anticipated cinematic mode and macro photography on the new model, and you have a clear winner. Apple continues how their smartphone’s high megapixel count process inside the camera, meaning each upgrade’s software change will inevitably be better than its predecessor.

What might be the most oblivious (and perhaps most exciting) upgrade from the 12 Pro to the 13 Pro is Apple’s introduction to cinematic mode — a comprehensive, yet simple-to-use feature bringing cinema-level quality to your phone. Think of it as “Portrait Mode” for the moving subject, a blurred bokeh-licious background while subject-tracking a moving focus. When two subjects are placed in the frame, Cinematic Mode focuses on whoever is closer until the closer subject turns away, thus shifting to the further away subject in the frame. Although imperfect and initially gimmicky, it delivers smooth, highly effective cinematic goodness when utilized under proper lighting conditions. Worth noting that it’s only applicable to 1080p HD recording at 30 frames per second (fps).

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Our Honest Thoughts

If you haven’t watched our YouTube video yet, I invite you to do so. The visual comparison flashes on the screen are wildly helpful, and often more convincing than a drab paragraph of words. At first glance, even Niles noticed how well the depth-of-field on the 13 Pro is compared to the 12 Pro.

Nonetheless, let’s have a chat. While the 12 Pro’s footage looked visibly more overexposed, the iPhone 13 Pro’s colors looked slightly over-processed at times, but not enough to warrant concern. Despite shooting in RAW, off-panel color profiles and highlights can be tricky to edit during post-processing. However, the 13 Por’s exceptional detail and clarity blow past the 12 Pro, almost as if a built-in ND filter was applied to the latest model. The difference is rather striking, most of our comparisons result if much more miniscule results.

When shooting a video, there’s no doubting the difference in skin tone between the two. The 13 Pro’s highlights are dimmed, marking more true-to-life color enhancements and sharper dynamic range than the 12 Pro.

As fanboys who hardly dig optical zoom, the 13’s Pro 3x tele does the focal length justice. However, when converted to digital zoom by the twitch of a finger, the clarity in the 13 Pro’s footage is much sharper than the dull, almost muddy detail of the 12 Pro.

How these cameras operate better and better every year gets us stoked on what’s next.

As Caleb says, “Dude, it’s good”.

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