Which iPhone has the best camera?

Every year without fail, Apple delivers one of the best cameras on any smartphone in its newest iPhone. Basically, any iPhone you buy—even the previous year’s model—will snap excellent photos and record videos in stellar quality.

It’s that consistency, along with the popularity of Macs among photo and video professionals, that makes the iPhone so popular among photographers and videographers. Whether you’re a pro or just an enthusiast, the iPhone that is best for photography is almost always the newest one—but that also tends to be the most expensive option, so is that the model a photography enthusiast should buy?

While the top of the range iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max both offer advanced cameras and impressive technologies that will result in professional-looking photographs, the other iPhones still take excellent photos and are worthy of consideration.

In this article, we will run through the current iPhones that Apple is selling now, along with some iPhones from the past few years. This way we can advise on the best iPhone for photography that fits within your budget. 

If you are ready to buy the very best iPhone for photography we would recommend the iPhone 15 Pro Max as it is the best option currently, but if you would prefer to consider your options read on…

You may also like to read our iPhone buying guide and our iPhone comparison.

How the iPhone cameras compare

Every year, with each new iPhone, Apple improves the camera and video features of its iPhones. We tend to see new photography software and technology for each generation of iPhone, rather than vast changes to the specs of the cameras—although there were some pretty big leaps for the iPhone 15 and 15 Plus as they caught up with the megapixel offerings of the Pro and Pro Max models this year, as you can see below. There are also big changes to the optical zoom offered on three of the four handsets for 2023-2024.

We’ll begin with an overview of the camera specs for the current iPhone models, before going on to look at the camera features that Apple has introduced over the years. 

iPhone Main camera Ultra Wide Telephoto Optical Zoom
iPhone 15 Pro Max 48MP, f/1.78 12MP, f/2.2 12MP f/2.8 0.5, 1, 2, 5x
iPhone 15 Pro 48MP, f/1.78 12MP, f/2.2 12MP f/2.8 0.5, 1, 2, 3x
iPhone 15 Plus 48MP, f/1.6 12MP, f/2.4 0.5, 1, 2x
iPhone 15 48MP, f/1.6 12MP, f/2.4 0.5, 1, 2x
iPhone 14 Pro Max 48MP, ƒ/1.78 12MP, ƒ/2.2 12MP, ƒ/2.8 0.5, 1, 2, 3x
iPhone 14 Pro 48MP, ƒ/1.78 12MP, ƒ/2.2 12MP, ƒ/2.8 0.5, 1, 2, 3x
iPhone 14 Plus 12MP, ƒ/1.5 12MP, ƒ/2.4 0.5, 1x
iPhone 14  12MP, ƒ/1.5 12MP, ƒ/2.4 0.5, 1x
iPhone 13 Pro Max 12MP, ƒ/1.5 12MP, ƒ/1.8 12MP, ƒ/2.8 0.5, 1, 3x
iPhone 13 Pro 12MP, ƒ/1.5 12MP, ƒ/1.8 12MP, ƒ/2.8 0.5, 1, 3x
iPhone 13  12MP, ƒ/1.6 12MP, ƒ/2.4 0.5, 1x
iPhone 13 mini  12MP, ƒ/1.6 12MP, ƒ/2.4 0.5, 1x
iPhone SE 12MP, ƒ/1.8 0.5, 1x
Recent handsets that are no longer sold by Apple are shown in italics, you may still be able to buy one of these models.

In recent years the Pro and Pro Max models have offered identical camera specs, but this wasn’t always the case and it isn’t the case for the iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max. The main difference between the two Pro models of the 2023-2024 iPhone is the zoom, with only the larger iPhone offering a 5x zoom. The iPhone 15 Pro still offers up to a 3x zoom, as has been the case since the 13 Pro arrived in 2021.

In contrast the standard iPhone 15 and 15 Plus max out at a 2x zoom, but this is an improvement on the iPhone 14, which offered a 1x zoom.

In addition to the better optical zoom there are other improvements for the standard iPhone 15 and 15 Plus. For its 2023 update, Apple brought the 48MP camera to the iPhone 15 and 15 Plus. 2022’s iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max were the first to gain this feature, and now the cheaper handsets offer it too. The 48MP camera does represent a huge leap, but whether it really matters to you depends on whether you need 48MP photographs (which will take a lot of space up on your iPhone so make sure you choose an iPhone with plenty of storage!) 

With the iPhone 14 Pro and Max you needed to enable 48MP ProRAW shooting if you wanted to shoot in RAW. The iPhone 15 and 15 Plus don’t support Apple’s ProRAW though. ProRAW gives photographers more control when it comes to editing the photograph and shooting 48MP means you can capture even more data on an iPhone. For the iPhone 15 and 15 Plus, the 48MP shooting enables the 2x zoom.

Macro photography is also limited to the iPhone Pro and Pro Max models. The presence of a telephoto lens on the Pro iPhone modes is another key difference between the four handsets. So, if you want a long-focus lens then these are the phones to choose.

“Hidden Gem” (water bead in leaf) by Jirasak Panpiansin (@joez19). Macro photograph, shot on iPhone 13 Pro Max.


The apertures are also a significant variation across iPhones, changing practically every generation as Apple tries to design an iPhone capable of even better low-light photography. An ƒ/1.6 aperture on the iPhone 15 will take in more light than the ƒ/1.8 aperture on the iPhone SE, for example. You may therefore be wondering if the ƒ/1.6 aperture would match the ƒ/1.5 aperture in the iPhone 14, but the aperture is only part of the story. In each generation, Apple also improves the camera sensor. The iPhone 14 Pro gained a quad-pixel sensor that combines every four pixels into one large quad-pixel equivalent to 2.44 µm, and this is retained for the iPhone 15 Pro and Max, while the iPhone 15 and 15 Plus gain a 2 µm sensor (up from 1.9 µm).

Another benefit of the newer iPhone cameras is gimbal-like second-generation sensor-shift optical image stabilization, which was a feature of the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max, and is now only available in the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max. This enhances the sensor-shift optical image stabilization found on the iPhone 15, 14 and the 13-series.

The iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max clearly stand out as the best iPhone cameras, but if you want the ultimate iPhone camera it has to be the iPhone 15 Pro Max with the extended zoom. 

How the zooms compare: iPhone 14 Pro Max vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max

Simon Lohmann

However, if you don’t require a telephoto lens and you aren’t interested in macro photography, there are good options for photography fans among Apple’s less expensive iPhones.  

What features do iPhone cameras have? 

All iPhones are capable of taking good photographs thanks to Apple’s innovations in photography software and the processing that runs in the background. The Photonic Engine (which arrived with the iPhone 14 range) is a computational photography technology that can make low-light photos look better, among other things. 

The Photonic Engine builds on the Deep Fusion software, which arrived with the iPhone 11. The Deep Fusion process involves the camera taking a number of shots at different exposures which it then assesses and combines to create the best shot possible. It’s most beneficial for selfies and portrait photos. 

Photographic Styles arrived with the iPhone 13 and also features on the iPhone SE (3rd generation). These are preset styles that are applied when you take a photograph, rather than adding a filter after the photo is taken. The benefit is that adjustments are applied to the right elements of an image—maintaining skin tones, etc—rather than to the whole image. The five presets are Standard, Rich Contrast, Vibrant, Warm and Cool and you can adjust Tone and Warmth for each. If you find a Photographic Styles you are happy with you can set it so your iPhone always uses it, saving you editing time later. You can of course edit your photos later using the filters in the Photos app. 

A low-light photo taken with the iPhone 15 Pro.

Jim Martin / Foundry

With every generation, Apple seeks to improve low-light photography. This is no more apparent than in the automatic Night Mode settings that arrived in the iPhone 11 and have improved over the generations since. A Night Mode Portrait setting arrived with the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max, and is available in the later Pro models, but not the iPhone 13 or iPhone 14. 

Speaking of portraits, Portrait Mode is available in iPhone SE (2nd generation) and later, iPhone X and later, and the iPhone 7 Plus and iPhone 8 Plus. There is also a Portrait Lighting feature in the iPhone X and 8 Plus and later that allows you to select one of five effects to ‘light’ your portrait. You can adjust the depth of field for these portraits to create more or less background blur. 

A new “next-generation portraits” feature in the iPhone 15 series means the iPhone will look for human faces when you take a photo and automatically record depth data so that if you later decide it would have been a good Portrait shot it can be converted to that format. This feature works on cats and dogs too.

The Portrait Mode also inspires Cinematic Mode for making videos on the iPhone. With this setting the camera can record video with a shallow depth of field, so that there is more focus on the subject. Cinematic Mode is available on the the iPhone 13-series and later. 

Another video mode that arrived recently is Action Mode. A features of the iPhone 14-series, Action Mode lets you capture smooth video when you’re moving.

Smart HDR has been around since the iPhone XS and XR in 2018, but with the 15 generation iPhone it’s now at Smart HDR 5.

Those are some of the standout features that have arrived in recent years, but there is so much more. For example, Live Photos let you take 3 second captures with each picture so you can pick the still image you want, create a Gif-like effect, or just keep the short clip. You can make a QuickTake video by holding the shutter button on the iPhone XS, iPhone XR, and later. And, of course, every iPhone can shoot time-laps and slo-mo videos as well as square, Portrait, and pano photographs. 

Are iPhones good for video?

All iPhones currently sold offer 4K video recording at 24 fps, 25 fps, 30 fps or 60 fps, 1080p HD video recording at 25 fps, 30 fps or 60 fps and Slo-mo video support for 1080p at 120 fps or 240 fps.

The differences relate to features like Cinematic mode on the iPhone 13 and 14-series (but on only in 4K HDR on the iPhone 14-series), ProRes and Macro video recording (only available on the Pro and Max iPhones (13, 14 and 15) and HDR video recording, which is 60 fps on the iPhone 13 and above, and 30 fps below, and not available on the iPhone SE.

The video recording features of the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max are superior to the previous generation, with the addition of Log video recording and the Academy Color Encoding System. ProRes video recording up to 4K at 60 fps with external recording equipment for these models too.

An omission on the iPhone SE is Audio Zoom, which can help reduce background noise when recording and is present on iPhones 11 and later. 

Features like Action Mode and Cinematic mode, mentioned above will no doubt prove useful to anyone making video with their iPhone. 

Best iPhone Camera

1. Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max

The iPhone 15 Pro Max model is much more than a big iPhone 15 Pro thanks to new camera tech including a 5X zoom on the telephoto camera made possible by the new “tetra prism” periscope lens that bounces light four times internally for a longer focal length: 120mm, or a 5x zoom. This is a big increase over the 3x/77mm telephoto camera on the iPhone 15 Pro. The digital zoom also increases from 15X to 25X.

The new ultra-wide camera, in both of the pro iPhone 15 models, gains a new anti-glare lens coating and better night mode quality.

Both of 2023’s Pro models feature the Action Button, which replaces the mute switch and is customizable so it can be used to perform complex actions such as launching the camera. 

Read our full Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max review

2. Apple iPhone 15 Pro

Apple iPhone 15 Pro

On paper, the camera in the 15 Pro doesn’t look that different from the iPhone 14 Pro, but in reality, the larger sensor on the new Pro iPhones (measuring 2.44 µm) will improve the quality of shots. This sensor is also larger than that on the new 48MP camera on the iPhone 15. 

The entire iPhone 15 series shoots a new default 24MP HEIF image, but with the 15 Pro this 24MP mode can use different areas of the image sensor to produce three different zoom levels: equivalent to 24mm, 28mm, and 35mm lenses. 

Read our full Apple iPhone 15 Pro review

3. Apple iPhone 14 Pro

Apple iPhone 14 Pro

Apple doesn’t sell the iPhone 14 Pro anymore (other than via its Refurbished Store), but you may still be able to buy one, so we will continue to recommend it in the short term.

While the iPhone 14 Pro Max offers the same camera as the iPhone 14 Pro, we are choosing the Pro on the basis that it is lighter and smaller and therefore a little more comfortable to hold. However, the Max does have the benefit of longer battery life (29 vs 23 hours in video playback) and that may well be what matters most to you if you are likely to be out in the field for long periods. 

If you can find one on sale, we’d pick the iPhone 14 Pro over the iPhone 15 because it gives you the benefit of three rear-facing cameras, including an ultra-wide and telephoto lens, up to 3x optical zoom, Macro photography and video, and up to 48MP Apple ProRAW. 

Read our full Apple iPhone 14 Pro review

4. Apple iPhone 15

Apple iPhone 15

If you don’t need all the bells and whistles of the iPhone 15 Pro Max and the iPhone 15 Pro still sounds a little bit expensive to you, the iPhone 15 is still a great option if you are looking for a good iPhone for photography.

iPhone 15 has a dual-camera array with a wide-angle and ultra-wide camera, but Apple has upped the main camera’s megapixels from 12 to 48 with a quad-pixel sensor and 100 percent Focus Pixels for fast autofocus. Shots are saved in 24MP by default so it shouldn’t fill up all your memory.

The iPhone 15 can take 2X telephoto shots despite not having a dedicated telephoto lens.

Further reading:

iPhone camera tips to take better photos

How to disable the camera shutter sound on an iPhone or iPad

How to remotely control your iPhone’s camera

Source : Macworld