In this second part of the iPhone 13 Pro Review, we’re going to do a deep dive into the camera hardware. You’ll find a ton of images that demonstrate the capability and limitations of the hardware with some analysis in between. Let’s get to it.

The Basics

Apple has equipped the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max with the same hardware. Last year it was necessary to buy the 12 Pro Max to get certain features such as sensor-shift stabilisation. But that’s no longer the case. Apple is also using the same basic layout as last year for the rear triple camera system. The three cameras consist of a wide, ultra-wide and telephoto lens in addition to a LiDAR scanner. On the front, Apple is using the same sensor and lens as last year.

One of the notable differences to the camera system this year is just how much larger it is. The camera bump is considerably bigger than that found on the 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max due to larger sensors that gather more light and wider lens apertures. This does have the unfortunate consequence of increasing the amount of ‘wobble’ when the phone is placed on a surface without a case. But save for this, I think the trade-off of a larger bump is worth it for the increased image quality.

Returning software features include deep fusion which combined multiple exposures for additional image clarity and enhanced sharpness, Smart HDR which has been upgraded to version 4.0 for rich vibrant highlights. And this year Apple has added a new feature called ‘Photographic Styles’ which allows you to alter characteristics such as vibrancy and contrast but without altering skin tones or the appearance of highlights.

Photograhic Styles

The Wide Camera

  • ƒ/1.5 aperture
  • Seven element lens
  • Sensor-shift image stabilisation
  • 12 Megapixels
  • 1.9µm pixels
  • 26mm equivelaent
  • Dual pixel autofocus

The Wide Camera, often seen by many as ‘the good camera’ has seen many improvements this year. A wider aperture of ƒ/1.5 combined with a larger sensor containing 1.9µm pixels results in a significant increase in light gathering capability. Up to 2.2x more light according to Apple. The increased aperture also means the camera is capable of producing natural bokeh if you can get enough distance between your subject and the background. This is notable when switching to 1x portrait mode that relies far less on depth mapping.

The introduction of sensor-shift stabilisation across all iPhone 13 models is unsurprising. Sensors are lighter than lenses which enables more precise and faster stabilisation when compared to more traditional optical image stabilisation. Other smartphones use the cheaper OIS but Apple has taken the approach used by good quality DSLR’s. I’m all for it because not only does this improve stabilisation, it also facilitates better image quality in low light situations.

It would have been nice to see Apple increase the resolution of the camera this year but rather than focus on more pixels, Apple has chosen to focus on bigger pixels. Bigger pixels result in more light-gathering which in turn does allow the camera to capture more detail. This was probably the better choice of the two for Apple but I’d still like to see a higher resolution camera next year for enhanced sharpness when cropping in.

Wide Photo Samples

Smart HDR 4.0

The wide camera does a beautiful job of dialling up highlights while also preserving details in shadow. Exposure is excellent and white balance feels consistent across different lighting situations with Smart HDR 4.0 enabled. It’s enabled by default but you can choose to turn it off in settings.

Sensor Shift

Sensor-Shift stabilisation offers great benefits in situations that aren’t necessarily super low light, but where lightning is less than desirable for the sensor. These woodland photos preserve beautiful details in shadows without over-sharpening. It also means night mode doesn’t need to be activated which can sometimes create a less natural appearance.

Low Light

In these samples, night mode was enabled. In the first sample, the dark sky is wonderfully intact. In the second shot, night mode was activated for a much shorter period as plenty of natural light was available. But it did over brighten the sky a little. That being said I actually really like the result with the setting sun in the background.

Natural Bokeh

Note how both of these shots feature a subtle blur to the background. And yet these were not taken using portrait mode. The wider aperture of this year’s wide-angle lens means you can actually get a decent amount of natural bokeh in some situations.

Extra Photo Samples

The Ultra Wide Camera

  • ƒ/1.8 aperture
  • Six element lens
  • Optical image stabilisation
  • 12 Megapixels
  • Phase detection autofocus
  • 13mm equivalent with 120° field of view
  • 2cm Macro

Apple has made significant improvements to the Ultra Wide camera this year. First of all the camera offers a much wider aperture that lets in 92% more light. And this year the camera is stabilised with OIS. Both of these improvements result in much sharper images with notably less distortion in the corners of images.

A second major improvement to the Ultra Wide camera is the addition of Macro mode. Thanks to phase detection autofocus the camera can focus on objects as close as 2cm’s away from the lens. And the results are seriously impressive.

Smart HDR 4.0

Smart HDR 4.0 works just as well with the Ultra-Wide camera. Details and highlights stand out without being overexposed. And crucially there is no sign of the typical ‘fish bowl’ effect that can sometimes be caused by lenses with very wide angles.

Optical Image Stabilisation

Optical image stabilisation does wonders for low light photos taken with the Ultra Wide. That and the addition of the wider aperture. If these same shots were attempted with last years Ultra Wide, the results would have been grainy with notable noise in shadows.

Macro Photos

The Telephoto Camera

  • ƒ/2.8 aperture
  • Six element lens
  • Optical image stabilisation
  • 12 Megapixels
  • Phase detection autofocus
  • 77mm equivalent
  • 3x Optical Zoom

The telephoto lens is an interesting story. Apple has made some sensible choices but not without compromise. For instance, the focal length has been increased to 3x which enables enhanced portrait photos and lets you crop in closer without any loss of image quality. But unlike the other lenses, the aperture has actually gotten smaller which means less light can be captured. It means that in some situations night mode is necessary for the telephoto camera that wouldn’t be otherwise needed with the other lenses.

Smart HDR 4.0

The focal length of the updated Telephoto lens is an excellent decision on Apple’s part. The 3x crop makes for excellent image framing. With decent lighting, you can get some beautiful results.

Optical Image Stabilisation

Despite the smaller aperture of this year’s telephoto lens, optical image stabilisation aids in low light photography and scenes with lots of shade. Night mode is also available on the telephoto lens for super low light situations.


Sensor shift stabilisation keeps this panned shot nice and smooth. No gimbal required!
By contrast, this video taken from the Telephoto camera uses Optical Image Stabilisation. A much more challenging scenario with walking uphill but nonetheless demonstrates the stark difference in the two technologies.
By contrast, this video taken from the Telephoto camera uses Optical Image Stabilisation. A much more challenging scenario with walking uphill but nonetheless demonstrates the stark difference in the two technologies.
Thanks to supporting for Dolby Vision, HDR video capture is wonderful. The light of the Sun contrasts beautifully against the shadows cast by the trees. The autumn leaves are vibrant.
Apple’s excellent implementation of Macro photography extends to Video. The results are amazing and in particular, the fall off as the foreground moves into the background is bang on the money.


Apple has made meaningful upgrades across the camera system this year. The differences are notable compared to the iPhone 12 Pro, especially with new features such as photographic styles, macro mode and cinematic video. But the camera alone probably isn’t enough of a reason to upgrade for all but the most passionate smartphone photographers. But if you currently own an iPhone 11 or older then you might just find the upgrade is worthwhile, especially when combined with a plethora of other new features in the 13 Pro. I can recommend this year new iPhone with confidence.

Leave a Reply