Hands on: iPhone 14 Pro camera
Upgrade from 13 to 14 minimal, best improvement in Portrait Mode and sharper main lens
Last week I ran down the various reasons Apple gave for upgrading to the new Apple 14 Pro Max. I thought Apple did an effective sales job in its presentation, and was enthusiastic about getting my hands on a unit.
I did just that on Wednesday, and immediately ran out for a photo taking expedition in Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach, California, through mid-afternoon sun, Magic hour and sunset, the dark of night at 5 a.m. and a glorious sunrise.
Here’s my first photographic impressions:
If you have a 13, I wouldn’t rush out to upgrade just for the camera, which is marginally better now than it was. If you have a previous model, definitely make the upgrade.
—Sharper camera. The main wide lens is sharper than ever before, especially if you zoom in and crop.
—Better pictures of people in Portrait Mode.
—Improved Selfie camera
—”Action Mode” promises smoother video with less jerky motions that we’ve come accustomed to all these years. This was the feature I was most looking forward to, but I couldn’t get it to resemble anything close to the footage Apple showed off.
—”Improved” low-light performance. In many back-to-back shots with the 14 Pro Max and 13 Pro Max, I could barely see any difference between the files.
The iPhone 14 Pro
Apple introduced four new models, and while the two entry level models are basically barely updated 13s, the Pro models are where the fun stuff comes in. The models start at $800, while the top-of-the-line iPhone 14 Pro Max starts at $1,100. (With 1 terabyte of storage, which you’ll need for all those high-res photos and videos, you’re looking at $1,599, before tax.)
Let’s start with the Megapixels. To get the full, sharper results on the iPhone 14 Pro cameras, you need to shoot in RAW, which is an uncompressed image with more information. You’ll need to process the photo after you take it, which is easy to do in the Photos app by clicking EDIT. (The files are huge, upwards of 50 MB a piece, compared to the average 3 MB of a JPG.)
But in the end, I predict that most people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between photos shot at 48 MP to photos on previous iPhones. That is, unless you blow them up big time. In the frames below, I think pictures do a better job of explaining it. Kind of Night and Day, don’t you think?
The iPhone 14 Pro has the same 3 lenses displayed on the back of the unit as previous top of the line models, but the Camera app has four options: .5 (13mm) for ultra-wide camera, 1 for normal (24mm), the new 2x (48mm) for traditional portraits and 3x (77mm) for telephoto.
The 13mm, 24mm and 77mm are optical lenses, while 48mm is actually a crop. Apple contends it is not using digital zoom, which basically just uses software to simulate a zoom and usually results in a crappy looking image. Apple is sort of cropping here, by using part of the 48 MP image to create a 12 megapixel portrait.
For traditional portraits in the Photo app, 2x doesn’t really do anything for me, but in the Portrait app, which blurs the background of the subject, it really shines. Anyone who’s struggled in Portrait Mode with an image that is too wide (1x) or too close (3x) will appreciate the 2x, which is just right for a portrait. Check out these images I picked up of a surfer in Manhattan Beach at 1x, 2x and 3x. Which do you prefer?
The true fourth lens of the iPhone has been re-engineered, letting in more light and allowing for focusing on multiple subjects. In my tests, images looked great, especially when used in Portrait Mode.
I so wanted this feature to be everything Apple implied it would be. When we humans walk down the street, we naturally bounce. What if there could be a video of us walking where we didn’t do that? “Action Mode,” a new opt-in feature in the Video section of the Camera app, promises to do solve the problem, but it doesn’t. My footage was consistently jerky.
Unless I was walked really fast or ran. The feature is really aimed at fast action, like runners, shooting out the car window and the like. “Whether you’re filming from an offroad SUV or running alongside your subject, try Action Mode for smooth handheld videos,” Apple promises.
One can still dream.
Low Light performance
Apple has all sorts of promises about the cameras of the 14 Pro and how much better they are with low light on its website. The camera does fine. It’s an amazing little marvel, just like the 13 was and is.
But in back to back shots of the 14 vs. the 13 in low light, it’s hard to see any difference whatsoever. Take a look—what do you think?
If you heavily crop your photos, you’ll appreciate the 48 Megapixel camera. If Portrait Mode is all you care about, your images will look better on the 14 Pro models. If you don’t give a hoot about either of those, you may not need to upgrade. Remember the 13 Pro is still an incredible camera.
I didn’t mention the new perks of the Pro models, but the screen is brighter, the battery lasts longer and there’s that new (coming soon) satellite phone feature that would come in handy if you got stranded.
Meanwhile, we can all start dreaming about the next models, one with a real telephoto lens, USB-C charging instead of Lightning and so much more. We hope.
And for what it’s worth, even though the iPhone officially went on sale 9/16, many units are sold out through Halloween.
Thanks as always for reading, watching and listening! Have a great weekend everyone!