This article is based on an article from the Japanese edition of Engadget and was created using the translation tool Deepl.


Apart from the body and screen size, the obvious difference between the iPhone 12 Pro Max and other models in the same series would be the camera. We know that it is more powerful than the iPhone 12 Pro, but what exactly is special about it?

The camera part looks the same as that of the iPhone 12 Pro when you put it side by side, but the iPhone 12 Pro Max's camera is actually larger. Although not mentioned in the specs, the iPhone 12 Pro Max's ultra wide-angle, wide-angle, and telephoto lenses, all of which are also different in size from those of the iPhone 12 Pro. The specs for the LiDAR sensor are the same.

The camera unit measures H40.93mm x W38.48mm for the iPhone 12 Pro Max (left) and H35.50mm x W33.32mm for the iPhone 12 Pro (right). The former is 2.79mm thick and the latter is 1.72mm thick. The lens is also slightly larger on the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Wide-angle cameras are different

The biggest difference between the iPhone 12 Pro Max and the iPhone 12 Pro's cameras is the wide-angle camera. It's the equal-sized (1x) camera that shows up when you launch the camera app, and it's the most heavily used standard camera.

In terms of what you can read from the specs, the iPhone 12 Pro Max has a 47% larger sensor size than the iPhone 12 Pro. Both cameras have the same 12MP pixel count, but the larger sensor size allows more area per pixel to receive more light, so the camera is stronger in darker areas and can produce a smoother gradient effect with less blackout and whiteout, even when there's a large difference between light and dark.

It's a minor detail, but only the wide-angle camera lens on the iPhone 12 Pro Max has been changed from the iPhone 12 Pro's six-element configuration to a seven-element configuration. It's a standard camera but with a slightly wider angle lens, so the additional lens improves the distortions that tend to occur when shooting. Such an increase in functionality requires a larger camera module and a more complex structure, which can lead to higher costs, but the fact that Apple has dared to use it shows the extraordinary commitment to a wide-angle camera.

Both models also differ in terms of image stabilization. While the optical image stabilization in the iPhone 12 Pro controls the image stabilization lens on the lens side, the sensor-shift image stabilization in the iPhone 12 Pro Max's wide-angle camera compensates for camera shake by moving the image sensor, as the name implies. The reason why this method was only used on the wide-angle camera is thought to be due to the aforementioned complex lens configuration.

Sensor-shift optical image stabilization is useful in interchangeable-lens digital cameras because the image sensor on the camera body is equipped with an image stabilization function, so image stabilization can be used regardless of the type of lens it's combined with. So, it may not have much of an advantage in the case of an iPhone camera with a fixed lens. If we take it a little further, there is a possibility of taking ultra-high resolution photos by intentionally shifting the image sensor to take repeated shots, like Olympus's high-resolution shots.

The telephoto camera with a stronger bokeh effect

The iPhone 12 Pro's telephoto camera is 52mm in 35mm format, while the iPhone 12 Pro Max has a 65mm telephoto camera, which is 13mm longer. But it's not just about being able to take bigger pictures of distant subjects.

In portrait mode, for example, the longer focal length of the lens allows for a shallower depth of field and a narrower angle of view to accentuate the background bokeh, which brings the subject to the fore. This is a great way to take photos of people and animals.

The iPhone 12 Pro Max's telephoto camera has an aperture of f/2.2, which is a bit darker than the iPhone 12 Pro, but I didn't notice it much in actual shooting. The image stabilization works well enough to help keep the camera steady in dim light.

On the iPhone 12 Pro Max, the optical zoom is 5x due to the more telephoto camera. The digital zoom has been enhanced to 12x to go along with it, but if you don't hold the device firmly in place when using the zoom, you'll have a hard time holding it in your hand because the photo will easily blur.

The peace of mind of being able to shoot without worrying about the weather or time of day

With the iPhone 12 series, the A14 Bionic chip and the Neural Engine provide astoundingly improved exposure compensation and spatial color processing for every photo you take. The result is more consistent photos in all conditions.

The hardware aspect of the camera has been complemented on the iPhone 12 Pro Max, allowing you to capture more expressive shots. Some of the photos look over-produced, but they're never as solid as they are when viewed as a record. If you want a more natural image, the soon-to-be-released Apple ProRAW should be the best solution.

The iPhone 12 Pro Max will exceed your expectations with the enhanced wide-angle camera, as well as with the ultra-wide-angle and telephoto cameras, no matter what you choose.

With that expectation in mind, I took some real shots at dusk on Enoshima Island, on the roof of Shibuya's Scramble Square, and on a drizzly night in Ginza. I was surprised at how well they turned out, all of which exceeded my expectations. I just walked around and took some quick shots whenever I felt like it. I didn't edit any of the images after shooting.

A "safe frog" on the end of the railroad track at Enoden Kamakura station. I used the portrait mode of the telephoto camera before I got on the train. It was far enough away to produce a natural bokeh effect. And yet the subject was sharp.
I turned around and photographed the arriving train in the normal mode of the wide-angle camera. Even the electronic bulletin board and the signboard, which tend to be blown out, were adjusted in a natural way. All you have to do is compose the picture and press the shutter button.
The photo I took with the wide-angle camera on the way out to Yuigahama before sunset. Unfortunately, it was cloudy on that day, so I couldn't take a picture of the setting sun. It was gradually getting darker, but thanks to the bright lens, I was able to take a picture of the clouds with little noise.
This is a photo taken with a wide-angle camera in the direction of Enoshima, where the setting sun is sure to be beautiful on a clear day. The area where the sun located is a little blown out, but this could be avoided by tapping on the area around the clouds when I took the picture and it would correct the exposure. I didn't do anything this time.
I took the same location as the photo above with the super wide-angle camera. I just pushed the shutter button without doing anything. The aberration peculiar to ultra wide-angle photography is automatically corrected by the iPhone. The reason the surface of the ship on the right side is rough when compared with a wide-angle lens is that the ISO sensitivity was raised due to the difference in lens brightness. The ISO sensitivity is 125 for the wide-angle camera and 320 for the ultra-wide-angle camera, and this is the difference when shooting in dim light.
A view of the street from the bronze torii gate at the entrance to Enoshima Island. I took this shot with the telephoto camera with the street illuminated by the soft lighting after sunset. The ISO is set to 640, so the whole scene looks a little rough, but I was able to capture this crisp image just by setting it up.
This is a shot of the torii gate of Ejima Shrine from the entrance. Taken with the wide-angle camera in the fairly dark surroundings. The ISO was raised to 1000, but I was able to take the picture without using the night mode. It's almost like an image I saw with the naked eye.
A wide-angle camera shot of a souvenir shop in Monzenmachi. The iPhone 12 Pro Max's sensor is perfect for documenting your travels on the move, as all you need is a little bit of light to get a good quality photo.
A photo of the Enoshima side of the Benten Bridge, taken from the middle of the bridge with the wide-angle camera. The scene was a bit nasty for a smartphone camera, as the flare created by strong light sources and the ghosting caused by light reflecting off the inside of the lens were noticeable. I checked to see how much the iPhone 12 Pro Max has improved, and to be honest, it doesn't seem to have changed from the previous model. The only exposure was doing pretty well.
I took this photo with the wide-angle camera while crossing the street in Ginza. It was drizzling, but you can see the brightness of Ginza in this photo.
This is a wide-angle camera shot of the Kabuki-za Theater in East Ginza. The building was illuminated by lighting, so I was able to take this photo without having to use night mode. The median strip on the road in the foreground is slightly wavy, and I think this is a sign of the correction of the aberration that occurs with the wide-angle lens.
I used the wide-angle camera to capture my favorite drinks at the dimly lit bar counter and the shelf behind the counter. Even though it's fairly dark, I was able to take the shot without using night mode. I wasn't sure if the LiDAR sensor was working, and the Deep Fusion effect made the bottle label surface and glassiness almost as clean as it looked.
I took a picture of a cat with the portrait mode of the telephoto camera. It's easier to use than before to take photos at close range. Previously, the boundary between the subject and the background was blurred, resulting in unnatural bokeh, but the iPhone 12 Pro Max creates a much more natural bokeh effect.

Comparison of iPhone 12 Pro Max and iPhone 12 Pro

Taken from the roof of Shibuya Scramble Square with the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max wide-angle cameras. There seems to be no difference in expression if there is a certain amount of brightness. The color expression was also similar.
The difference between the two with optical and digital zoom is the same as the specs. The iPhone 12 Pro offers up to 4x optical and 10x digital zoom, while the iPhone 12 Pro Max offers up to 5x optical and 12x digital zoom. The digital zoom is so-so when viewed at equal magnification, even though it's firmly fixed.
This is another nasty test, but I compared the ghosting in both wide-angle cameras. The results show the same degree of ghosting in both cases. The text on the neon tube is reflected in the lens as it is and appears faintly. The difference in ghosting position between the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max is due to the difference in lens configuration.
The clear difference between the two was found when shooting in such dimly-lit conditions. The difference in the size of the sensor resulted in a difference in the ISO sensitivity, which resulted in a difference in the roughness of the photo. You can easily understand the difference by looking at the area around the letters of SHIBUYA SCRAMBLE SQUARE in the center of the building.
If there is some kind of illumination in a dimly lit environment, the difference in finish between the two will be small. Shooting from the Shibuya Scramble intersection, I was able to shoot at the same ISO sensitivity for both, thanks to the brightness of the surrounding signs and other objects.

Comparing the two models in terms of the camera alone, there's really not much of a noticeable difference, but there's a definite difference in a few areas. How much value you feel for that part of the device will be the reason to choose the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Conversely, the iPhone 12 and the iPhone 12 Pro also offer a more than adequate level of photography, and you could just as easily choose one based on screen size. Thanks to this, it will be even more difficult to choose.


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This article is based on an article from the Japanese edition of Engadget and was created using the translation tool Deepl. The Japanese edition of Engadget does not guarantee the accuracy or reliability of this article.