iPhone 12 Pro Max Night Mode. Shot with Wide Lens (26mm) hand held, 1/13s

Night Mode with iPhone 12 Pro Max in Florence

Posted on Dec 1rst, 2020
Update in Dec 14th, 2020

Shooting photos at the night in Florence with iPhone 12 Pro Max

With this article I will analyze the Night Mode on iPhone 12 Pro Max.
I dedicated a separate test from the main review because it is a relatively new mode for the iPhone: it was in fact introduced only last year with the iPhone 11 series, and already at its debut it had been talked about in a positive way, even in comparison with the excellent results that the Google Pixel series of smartphones has always achieved.

   I suggest you also read the full review of the iPhone 12 Pro Max in which you can find many other photographs in addition to the technical data of the lenses and sensors used. I have also covered other topics related to iPhone 12 Pro Max and iPhone 12 series in the following articles:

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 Night Mode. Shot with Telephoto lens (65mm) hand held, 1/25s, ISO 1000
Shot with Telephoto lens (65mm) hand held, 1/25s, ISO 1000

Night Mode: What’s new

Let’s start by saying that there are some news regarding the focal lengths with which you can use the Night Mode. With the iPhone 12 series, the night mode is also added to the ultra wide angle lens (13mm).

The new 65mm lens is instead excluded from the Night Mode. In practice, the iPhone when it enters Night Mode with the telephoto lens is actually cheating, because it uses the wide lens (which has the new larger sensor and a maximum aperture of f/1.6). Then it makes a crop and resize at a resolution of 12 MP.
You can do a test in very dark scenes, set the telephoto lens, put a card or a finger in front of the lens (it is the one higher than the three) and you will still see an image on the screen.

From the tests I’ve done, this passage only happens in really very dark scenes. In practice, the Apple camera makes sure to use the true telephoto focal length as much as possible, going to make the switch only in extremely dark scenes. It should be noted that the shots with Telephoto in which the wide lens will be used, you will find this indication also by looking at the Exif data.

How night mode photos shot hand held with iPhone 12 Pro Max

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How night mode on iPhone 12 Pro works

Night Mode is part of Computational Photography technologies. In practice, thanks to the computing capabilities of modern smartphone processors and new intelligent algorithms (mathematical functions), we are able to go beyond the technical and physical limits of photography, in this case of night photography.

In fact, when we take pictures in low light with a common camera, to achieve the perfect shot, we need either to raise the ISO, or to set a long exposure time. The long exposure time, however, will force to use a tripod to get a clear shot.

If these concepts are obscure to you, subscribe to the Newsletter, you will be notified as soon as I have completed my online photography course which will cover all these aspects!

Night mode with computational photography allows you to go beyond the limitations I discussed above. In practice, during the long exposure, the smartphone takes a sequence of many shots which are then merged together to remove the noise and have more light.

   I suggest you to give a look at the smartphone review page where you can find other articles about smartphone photography :

How to activate the night mode on iPhone

This is a question that many are asking, and in Apple’s style of simplification you won’t have to do anything.

Night Mode is activated automatically with basic camera modes, portrait mode and you can use it even with Time Lapse Mode! When the light drops below a certain threshold, an icon will appear in the upper left (a half moon with horizontal stripes) indicating that iPhone will use Night Mode for the shot.

Settings for Night Mode on iPhone

It is interesting to note that by clicking on this Night Mode icon on the iPhone, we will have the ability to change some settings.

We can thus choose to leave the Automatic setting which will choose for itself the right number of seconds to use or we can force to have more seconds, or even disable the Night Mode.

I did some tests and I must say that even when I manually decided to increase the seconds, I didn’t notice a big difference in quality in the end.

It is interesting to note that in some very few situations, especially those with very little light outdoors, I had better results by deactivating the Night mode. I’m going to do some more testing on this aspect because I was surprised and honestly say that I don’t know if the reason was that particular photo, or the fact that I moved slightly when shooting with Night Mode.

iPhone 12 Pro Max Night Mode. Shot with UltraWide lens (13mm) hand held, 1/17s, ISO 800
Shot with UltraWide lens (13mm) hand held, 1/17s, ISO 800

Details: Night Mode with iPhone 12 Pro Max

Here you can find an image with its full 100% crop to valutate the sharpness and the details in it.

Some observations using the Night Mode on iPhone 12 Pro Max.

I analyzed the Exif shooting data to understand a bit how the settings are set when shooting with Night Mode.

For example, it is interesting to note that using the Wide (26mm) and Tele (65mm) lenses the exposure time almost never drops below 1/25s. Only once did it happen (in the cover photo) that the exposure time with the Wide lens was 1/13s.

Apple has been very conservative in this. Considering above all that the new iPhone 12 Pro Max adopts a new stabilizer on the sensor (IBIS) that should help even more to obtain perfect photos with lower times, one could have expected to be able to go down to 1/8s if not more using in this way a lower ISO.

So I wanted to do a test, and using Halide App, which allows you to shoot manually by choosing times and ISO, I was able to get a perfectly clear photo with the Wide sensor (26mm) using 1/4s.

I think that Apple’s choice is due to the fact of finding an automatic solution that works for everyone: in fact, using a too slow time of exposure does not allow you to freeze the movement of people walking (even if even with 1/25s we cannot freeze for good movements).

With the ultra Wide lens (13mm) the minimum time taken was 1/12s. With the front lens, 1/14s.

Another pity is not having any information in the Exif data (not even reviewing them in Apple Photos) whether the Night Mode has been activated or not. I also remember that if you activate the Flash or Live Photos, the Night Mode is deactivated.

Night Mode on iPhone with a small Tripod

Where the results with Night Mode become surprising is when you manage to stabilize the iPhone with a small tripod.

In this case the camera (via the gyroscopes) manages to understand that the device is stationary and therefore prefers a longer exposure and above all, the final results are of an excellent quality both in terms of details and in terms of the noise present in the final shot.

If we add to this the possibility of saving a file in raw format with Apple ProRaw with further possibility of interpretation in post-processing with Lightroom or Capture One, here is that the photographs taken with Night Mode on iPhone 12 Pro series can really rival in quality the photographs taken with a camera (to this extent I’m thinking about a new comparison article, so stay tuned for more!).

iPhone 12 Pro Max Night Mode. Shot with Wide lens (26mm) with the iPhone on a small Tripod. Interesting to note that, even if the shot was about some seconds long, the Exif reports 1/8s. ISO 125
Shot with Wide lens (26mm) with the iPhone on a small Tripod. Interesting to note that, even if the shot was about some seconds long, the Exif reports 1/8s. ISO 125

  Image sample Download
I’ve added to the Free package of iPhone 12 Pro samples a selection of images at the full resolution from the Night Mode with 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.

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  • Robbie Thomas
    Posted at 14:25h, 07 February Reply

    Superb articles and a great website! Well done on the diligent work and researched articles.

  • Enrico Toracca
    Posted at 18:26h, 15 December Reply

    Congratulations on your articles and the beautiful images of Florence.
    I can’t wait to get the iphone 12 pro max to try out its photographic features too.

    • Alessandro Michelazzi
      Posted at 12:21h, 16 December Reply

      Thanks so much Enrico! When you try the iPhone 12 Pro Max too, let me know how you feel using it!

  • Carlo Augusto Talamona
    Posted at 21:25h, 01 December Reply

    Many compliments on your ‘Night Mode IPhone 12 Pro Max’ suggestions and I waiting gladly for your Apple ProRaw observations.
    Thanks a lot.
    Carlo Augusto Talamona

    • Alessandro Michelazzi
      Posted at 10:20h, 02 December Reply

      Ciao Carlo, many thanks for you Feedback! Yes, Apple ProRaw will be the next big topic! I’ve so many things to share about it! So let’s keep in touch! 😊

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