Cameras continue to be one of the biggest differentiators in smartphones, and Apple’s iPhone lineup is no different. Apple says the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini have the company’s “most advanced dual-camera system ever,” while the 13 Pro and Pro Max have “our three most powerful cameras ever.”
Which you’d hope for, of course. But this year, Apple really does appear to be making a big push with its cameras, particularly with the Pro models. As ever, the question will be what Apple is able to wring out of its hardware with image processing and software.
The iPhone 13 lineup represents the first time Apple has increased the primary camera’s sensor size across the board since the iPhone XS and XR in 2018, though last year’s 12 Pro Max had a 47 percent bigger sensor than the 12 and 12 Pro. Sensor size is a key factor in image quality because, together with lens aperture, it determines how much light the camera is able to capture. More light, less noise and blur.
The iPhone 13 and 13 Mini’s main cameras have bigger sensors, which is part of the reason why it and the ultrawide are now arranged diagonally in the camera bump. Apple also added sensor-shift optical image stabilization, a feature first seen on the 12 Pro Max. It’s not clear exactly how big the 13’s sensor is, but Apple says it’ll capture 47 percent more light than the 12.
The 13 Pro and Pro Max have a even bigger primary sensor and slightly faster f/1.5 lens that capture 2.2 times as much light as before, according to Apple. Again, the exact sensor size hasn’t been advertised, but Apple did give the pixel size: it’s 1.9μm, which is bigger than any modern smartphone I’m aware of. Apple can do this because the sensor is a relatively low-resolution 12 megapixels, but it’s still an impressive stat that should translate to better low-light performance. For comparison, the 12 Pro Max had 1.7μm pixels, while every other iPhone since the XS has had 1.4μm pixels.
APPLE ISN’T OUTGUNNING ANDROID PHONES ON HARDWARE
It’s not clear exactly what hardware changes Apple has made to the iPhone 13’s ultrawide camera; the company simply says it has a “faster sensor” that “reveals more detail in the dark areas of your photos.” The Pro does have significant hardware tweaks, though, since Apple has increased the aperture to f/1.8 for a 92-percent improvement in light-gathering capability. The sensor also now has focus pixels on board — things are rarely out of focus in ultrawide shots because the depth of field is so large, but adding autofocus means that the camera can be used for macro photography, with a focusing distance of 2cm.