When Apple added the ability to take 48-megapixel raw images with the iPhone 14 Pro last year, the jump from the previous year’s iPhone 13 Pro was massive. The results speak for themselves when I went to print the images at poster size and asked strangers to try to guess which image was taken with a phone. Needless to say, there was a lot of hype and the results kept up, but can Apple keep up that momentum this year?
Throughout these tests, I shot in raw on the Canon R5, iPhone 15 Pro, and iPhone 14 Pro. I only used the built-in camera app on the iPhones. This is also the most realistic in practice, with it being directly built into iOS. I only used the 24mm (1x main) lens on both iPhones. Both the wide angle and telephoto cameras didn’t receive sensor updates this year. All shots were taken on a tripod for the iPhone 15 Pro and Canon R5 while handholding the iPhone 14 Pro as best as I could, snuggled up against the iPhone 15 Pro. All shots on the Canon R5 were taken in combination with a Canon RF 14-35 f/4L at varying settings you’ll find throughout the article.
All images were edited using only Lightroom Classic. I feel the most genuine way to do this comparison was to edit my Canon R5 images first, as if I was editing them for my portfolio. Then, I editedthe iPhone 15 images to best match the Canon images, Once I got them as close as possible, I copied the edit to the iPhone 14 Pro. Throughout this article, I’ll present images from an “Camera A,” “Camera B,” and “Camera C.” These will be mixed up throughout the test, but I challenge you to go through the images and see if you can guess which image is taken from each camera. The answers will be located at the end of the article.
Likely the most challenging test for any camera, questioning how far you can push those shadows and highlights within a single capture. Within this test, no camera was able to capture all the information of the scene, but this was something I was aware of when taking the images. Typically, I’d take multiple exposures for this shot and recover some of the highlight data, but to keep things on an equal field, I decided I would edit the images to emphasize the brightest part of the image. This is an artistic choice, but it’s one I’ve done many times in the past within my work.
This will likely be a test many of you get right because the giveaway is always water movement in tests like this, which is why I tend to avoid them in my comparisons because it makes it too easy. I’m still unsure why Apple hasn’t allowed us to control shutter speed and ISO when shooting in “raw max,” considering this is something you can do on the new (and old) Pixel 8 Pro lineup.
Regardless of that giveaway, I’m still impressed by the capabilities of the data and computation within the image. I can’t find any artifacts or ghosting in any areas that have movement, and while the shadow areas don’t hold up quite as well as my Canon R5, they are still workable within the edit.
This test will test more than just color. Most of the time, as a landscape photographer, I’m shooting large scenes with no foreground, but of course, I still find myself with foreground subjects sometimes. I’ve avoided these comparisons in years past because the depth of field rendition on phones is always worse than professional cameras as a simple matter of physics. In recent years, phone manufacturers have started implementing software-based portrait modes that do an alright job at mimicking what their larger siblings can accomplish. Throughout these tests, I’m not using any software to render bokeh.
Color science is an important part of the characteristics of any camera, and this was a wonderful test to see just how well the colors are captured on the iPhone. Many times, I find cameras struggle with saturated reds, but I didn’t have that issue on the iPhones and was able to easily match the colors quite well from the Canon R5 to the Apple images.
As for the details, those are also quite impressive. The giveaway is definitely the out-of-focus area past our foreground subject. It’s not as if the iPhones have no focal falloff, it’s just that it is not anywhere near as pleasing as the f/4 bokeh rendered from the Canon RF 14-35 f/4L.
In past years, the low light test was always a struggle for the iPhone or any phone camera, for that matter. My test during blue hour last year put my iPhone at only ISO 125, and it absolutely struggled in the darkest parts of the image to keep up with the Canon R5. This year, I’m conducting the test right around the same time of blue hour, but the ISO on both phones is much higher yet with seemingly better results for this particular scene. Something to note about this year is that I enabled a three-second timer on my phones. I’m curious if that tells the software to shoot with a longer shutter speed or not.
You’ll notice that the iPhone shutter speeds in this test allowed a bit of movement in the water. Combined with the distance away, it means we actually have a very close comparison in those areas without any dead giveaways. I need to do further testing to see if setting a timer on the phone enables longer shutter speeds.
When you zoom into 100%, you can see the details are still quite nice on the iPhones. From my test last year, this is typically where the shadow and black areas really suffered, but this year’s test has decent results, likely because there is far more uniform light on the scene than I had in other tests. Regardless, this is pretty good for high ISO numbers on the phones. Unlike larger professional cameras, when the ISO starts increasing on phone cameras, the images usually get significantly worse, and we are not really seeing that here.
What you can see, however, is the lack of any difference between the phones though. That brings me to how I was left feeling after this year’s test.
The first thing to say is the iPhone 15 Pro takes really great photos, as you’ve seen throughout this article. Everything I said last year in my iPhone 14 Pro review applies to this phone, almost identically. That’s where the truth comes out. Outside of slight differences in color science, I cannot see a visible difference between the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro.
Looking at the images side by side above, you might notice or think that the iPhone 15 is sharper in the distance, but it’s just that the focus was slightly shifted between the two images. The iPhone 15 Pro focused a bit more on the background, whereas the iPhone 14 Pro has slightly sharper focus on the wet rocks in the foreground. But can you see a visible difference between these two images? The edits for these are almost identical outside of adjustments to crop and transform with slight exposure adjustments to match.
Looking at the leaves zoomed into 100%, can you see any difference? I notice tiny variations in detail sharpness throughout each image, which seems to just be where each phone decided to focus, but other than that, I can’t see any variation.
Thus, from what I can tell, this entire year’s update was somewhat minor with regards to the main camera. The “three different focal lengths” of 24mm, 28mm, and 35mm use computational photography with the main lens, accomplished in software.
The images are still impressive, and if you have a phone that’s a few years old, you’ll absolutely notice a significant camera bump. I have even more tests in the video of this article with along with a lot of video footage from the iPhone 15 Pro, so be sure to check that out.
Alex Armitage has traveled the world to photograph and film some of the most beautiful places it has to offer. No matter the location, perfecting it’s presentation to those absent in the moment is always the goal; hopefully to transmute the feeling of being there into a visual medium.
Looking mightily impressive.
Regarding the bokeh. It’s worth mentioning that the latest release of Lightroom includes a new lens blur tool that can use the depth map generated from the phone’s camera to improve the bokeh effect. It’s also possible to manually refine the depth map. I reckon you would be able to make the iPhone photos even closer to the canon.