Posted on Nov 24th, 2020
Updated on Dec 14th, 2020
iPhone 12 Pro Max: a new milestone for smartphone photography
As every year, of course, we are here to witness new updates that push the capacity of smartphone photography further and further forward. This review will talk about the iPhone 12 Pro Max, from a photographer point of view.
This year, Apple has decided to differentiate its offer a little in relation to photography.
On the one hand, therefore, we have the iPhone 12 which has only two focal lengths, the ultra wide angle (13 mm) and the wide angle (26 mm). On the iPhone 12 Pro the telephoto focal length (52 mm) is also added to these two focal lengths.
The choice of the largest smartphone, the iPhone 12 Max Pro, the subject of this review, was quite different. Apple has in fact decided to offer more than the basic 12 Pro model: and therefore give the wide-angle focal length a 47% larger sensor and a longer telephoto lens (equivalent to a 65mm). For the first time, only on the main wide-angle sensor there is also an image stabilizer on the sensor, which in the statements makes the stabilization even more accurate.
In addition, Apple has decided to reserve the future function of capture in the ProRaw format only on the Pro models of the iPhone 12.
I recommend you also see the other articles related to iPhone 12 Pro that I wrote:
All the photos in this article are posted unedited. To see more details of the shot, you can enlarge a photo and read the description.
iPhone 12 Pro Max: Images details
I skipped the previous generation of iPhones. In fact, I was shooting all summer with an iPhone XS which I found really good in terms of the size and general quality of the images (I will soon publish a new article talking about these photographs).
The leap from a 2018 iPhone XS to a 2020 iPhone 12 Max Pro is therefore remarkable. I noticed some big improvements on all fronts: from the quality of the balance of lights and colors to the retention of details.
Apple declares that the iPhone 12 series uses the new Smart HDR algorithms (numbered 3) in addition to the fact that the Deep Fusion technology, arrived last year with the iPhone 11, is active for all three focal lengths (last year it was not active for the Ultra Wide lens).
I have found these remarkable updates. The quality of color and contrast is always excellent. I do not share the opinion of some reviewers who have accused the photos of the iPhone 12 Pro of excessive saturation, because I find the colors of the photos always well balanced and never too excessive.
In my opinion it is on the skin tone that Apple has also done a great job. In the past, in situations of direct and contrasted light the subject tended to have too much orange skin, now the hue is much more neutral (read here my article about a portrait photo session shot with the iPhone 12 Max Pro using the new telephoto 65mm lens and the new bigger sensor on the wide 23mm lens).
iPhone 12 Pro Max: Real World Photo gallery
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Iphone 12 Max Pro: is larger size a problem?
Let’s talk about one of the most requested and discussed aspects by users: the choice between the iPhone 12 Pro model and the larger version, iPhone 12 Pro Max.
I personally at the moment chose for the second model. For me at the moment the big advantage is having a bigger battery that allows me to take hundreds and hundreds of photos without worrying about the autonomy and the new 65mm focal length.
Let’s start with the 65mm focal length: it is the first time that in an Apple device we find such a long focal length and I must say that I personally love having this possibility! In fact, I use it a lot in “street photography” shooting situations but also for portrait sessions!
Speaking of the battery, I can testify to my experience in over a week of using the smartphone. I managed to have a full day of really heavy usage, using the device many hours for social networks (by the way, check out my Instagram page too!), Then I used GPS tracking in the BikeMap App for about four hours, I took hundreds and hundreds of photos in every light situation (even at night with Night Mode) and shot videos in 4k at 60fps. The battery held up smoothly all day with this intense workload!
iPhone 12 Pro Max also features an on-sensor stabilizer (IBIS) for the Wide Primary lens for the first time. Apple declares that this device allows greater accuracy than in the past and therefore the benefits are noticed especially in photos with little light.
(If you are “strong of heart” I suggest you watch the video of JerryRigEverything in which it goes to completely open the camera modules to show you the new stabilization system!)
iPhone 12 Pro Max: do you notice the difference in size in the main sensor?
This is a difficult answer to give on the spot. If you look at photos of an iPhone 12 Pro and an iPhone 12 Pro Max in good light, you probably won’t notice much difference.
The difference, however, begins to be more appreciated in low light situations. Having a larger sensor, images with night mode are able to have more details and less noise. (The night mode will be analysed in the third article that I will publish on the iPhone 12 Max Pro.)
At the level of greater blur (lower Depth of Field) due to a larger sensor, even in this case I have not noticed a huge difference compared to the past.
iPhone 12 Pro Max: from Hardware to Software
In this case, the winning recipe, as always in the case of Apple, is the perfect integration between the hardware and software.
So if the new hardware (larger sensor, longer focal length, better stabilization with IBIS) on the one hand performs their function at the best for their physical size, the mathematical part of computational photography (Smart HDR 3, Night mode and Deep Fusion) does the rest, offering, as mentioned, always balanced images.
This year, however, Apple with iOS 14 has added some interesting features to the camera, like the new global exposure compensation. In the past it was already possible to underexpose/overexpose the photograph but the adjustment remained locked for only one click. At the next shot, the operation had to be repeated. Well, now there is a global adjustment that allows you to keep an underexposure or overexposure fixed. I used it in some shots to get more contrast or more brightness based on my shooting experience.
Another news related to the software on the iPhone 12 Pro series: from iOS 14.3 it’s possible to shoot saving the file with the Apple ProRaw. In this way you will have all the raw data saved by the sensor, but not only, because Apple will also put in the file the additional information calculated by computational photography such as the sum of the exposures, the noise reduction, etc.
Some considerations on the hardware of the iPhone 12 Pro Max
iPhone 12 Pro Max is a big device, there’s no doubt about it. Compared for example to the OnePlus 8T, iPhone 12 Pro Max is a bit wider and this makes for less handling. If you then add a cover (I personally took the Red Apple silicone cover) the device grows in size and weight.
The new design that refers to the shapes of the iPhone 4, iPhone 5 and 5s is very nice even if I must say that the edges are quite angular, and perhaps on such a large device they turn out to be less pleasant than in the smaller variants.
From my point of view, the issues highlighted above (better main sensor, 65mm lens, and longer battery life) require me to put in a little effort in putting up with these size issues and choose the iPhone 12 Pro Max over the 12 Pro variant.
Speaking of the screen, I can only praise its remarkable brightness even in strong light situations, the good natural rendering of colors and the calibration of the panel: looking at an image on the monitor of the iPhone 12 Pro Max and on the monitor of my iMac 27 ”retina I did not notice large color differences thanks to the sharing of the Display P3 color space.
The iPhone 12 Pro series also features the new LiDAR depth sensing scanner. This sensor is used to help the camera focus faster on subjects within five meters of distance. Substantial improvements are therefore seen especially in photos taken of subjects in low light situations. Hopefully in the future, the LiDAR scanner can be used to further improve the blur maps for portrait mode.
Details: iPhone 12 Pro Max
Here you can find an image with its full 100% crop to valutate the sharpness and the details in it.
iPhone 12 Pro Max Tech specs
Wide Lens Camera
Ultra Wide Lens Camera
Telephoto Lens Camera
Shooting Modes On iPhone 12 Pro Max
- Photo Mode with Wide, Ultra Wide and Telephoto lens. Night Mode with all three focal length.
- Video: 4k 60fps, 30fps, 24fps, 1080p 60fps, 30fps, 720p 30fps.
- Video Slowmotion: 1080p Hd 240fps, 120fps.
- Portrait Mode with Wide and Telephoto lens and night mode.
- Pano photo mode with all three focal length.
- TimeLapse with all three focal length and Exposure Compensation.
- Front Camera: 12Mp f/2.2 with Photo, Portrait, Video, Slo-Mo and Timelapse Modes.
Image sample Download
In my Products page I provide a free package with a selection of images to judge the quality at the full resolution coming out from the iPhone 12 Pro Max.
Note: The images provided are for personal use only. It’s forbidden to use them in any pubblication, social networks, blog or website without a previous contact and agreement with the author.
Any copyright infringement will be pursue.