This story is part of meCNET’s collection of news, tips and advice around Apple’s most popular products.
Apple’s iPhone 14 Pro has several camera system improvements that have resulted, including a 48-megapixel sensor and the company’s new photo processing technology called the Photonic Engine. This immediately puts the iPhone 14 Pro at an advantage over last year at least on paper.
But how big of a difference do these new hardware and software actually make?
I compared the cameras on both phones in different challenging conditions around San Francisco to find out. All these photos were taken in the old camera app on the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro, both running the latest version of iOS 16.
You can find out more about specific improvements to the iPhone 14 Pro’s camera system in this deep dive by my colleague Stephen Shankland. CNET’s Patrick Holland also has a great look into the iPhone 14 Pro’s photos and how the Photonic Engine helps improve image quality in challenging lighting conditions.
The iPhone 14 Pro’s 48-megapixel sensor captures more detail
On the hardware front, the main change between the two phones is the new 48-megapixel sensor of the 14 Pro on the wide-angle camera that is also physically larger than the old iPhone, which makes a big difference to the quality of the image as the increase in. megapixels. 13 Pro uses a 12-megapixel sensor.
Using a technique called pixel binning, the iPhone 14 Pro combines four pixels together into groups to capture 12-megapixel photos with more detail. You can also capture a full 48-megapixel image if you shoot in Apple’s ProRaw format, and that gives photographers more flexibility when editing and restoring shadow and highlight detail among other benefits.
In good light, the 12-megapixel images from both the iPhone 14 Pro and the iPhone 13 Pro seem to have reduced resolution, and it may not be easy to tell the difference. When you push a little the benefits of the new 14 Pro sensor and image processing become apparent.
In the photos below that I took in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, the tree trunks are more defined and beautiful on the iPhone 14 Pro image than on the 13 Pro. Areas of fine detail, such as grass, also hold more resolution. You can click to full resolution image from iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro for easy comparison.
The iPhone 14 Pro’s lens on the main rear camera also has a wider field of view than the 13 Pro’s: 24mm and 26mm. This means you can get a little more in your shot, which can be especially helpful for landscape photography.
The iPhone 14 Pro can take photos at 2x zoom
The iPhone 14 Pro also has a trick up its sleeve: The 48-megapixel sensor is also capable of taking 12-megapixel photos at an effective 2x optical zoom. You will see a new 2x option in the camera menu. This crops the center of the image larger to give you more flexibility with focal lengths, without the need for a fourth lens. The iPhone 13 Pro can also take photos at 2x zoom, but it uses digital zoom and doesn’t have the same quality or level of detail as this new technique.
I found the new 2x option on the iPhone 14 Pro helps with portrait mode. Instead of only offering 1x and 3x options like in the old phone, it can take portrait mode photos at 2x. This results in more natural looking shots to my eye. I find it more interesting on facial features than a wide-angle shot from 1x, or a zoomed-in perspective at 3x.
iPhone 14 Pro vs. 13 Pro: Low light and night mode
The iPhone 14 Pro has a new image processing pipeline to help improve medium to low light. Combined with the larger sensor, I could see the difference compared to the iPhone 13 Pro in all the photos I shot in the evening. In the photos below, see the great detail captured on the tree branches through the sky.
The new phone also has better noise reduction in low light, without installing night mode. Dynamic range is improved in low light as well, capturing more shadow and highlight detail than the old phone.
For night scenes in particular, both phones use the same exposure times from 1 to 3 seconds depending on the lighting conditions. The iPhone 14 Pro image below has a better overall white balance and a little more detail when you zoom in.
Action mode is the star of iPhone 14 Pro video recording
Both the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro shoot in 4K at up to 60fps. Video footage is similar when filming on the main rear camera. But the iPhone 14 Pro opens up more video tools like Action Mode. This is similar to connecting a gimbal to your phone to give better results when moving, except you don’t need any additional equipment – it’s all done in the phone.
The operating mode scales slightly to your image and drops the resolution from 4K to 2.8K. But I think the result is very interesting, especially when compared to the same video shot on the iPhone 13 Pro.
I followed my puppy, ran along the beach and took a quick tracking shot in front of a body of water in the park with Action mode, and the results were amazing. The iPhone 14 Pro video looks like I’m filming with a stabilizer, adjusting for sudden movements. The iPhone 13 Pro video looks very shaky. You can see these examples in action in the video below, or at the top of this page.
The iPhone 14 Pro has major camera improvements, but the iPhone 13 Pro is still impressive
Apple’s new iPhone has some significant advantages over last year’s iPhone 13 Pro when it comes to taking photos and videos. Importantly, you don’t need to consider yourself a serious or professional photographer to take advantage of this 48-megapixel sensor. But the iPhone 13 Pro is still at the top of its game in most other areas, and it still offers one of the best smartphone cameras you can get.
Apple’s iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max introduce many changes such as Dynamic Island, a new 48 megapixel camera system and Apple’s new A16 Bionic processor. All of these improvements come together to make an experience that feels fresh and fast compared to older generations.
Read our Apple iPhone 14 Pro review.
The iPhone 13 Pro is the best phone that Apple has produced and it has received good marks in reviews. The new phone adds a third rear camera with 3x optical zoom (up from 2x on the iPhone 12), a stainless steel body and a ProMotion screen with a refresh rate of up to 120Hz for smooth scrolling.
Read iPhone 13 Pro reviews.
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