iPhone 14 vs iPhone 13 camera shootout: can you tell the difference?

iPhone 14 vs iPhone 13 camera face-off
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

An iPhone 14 vs. iPhone 13 comparison tells us more than how much Apple's phones have changed over the course of a year. Since Apple continues to sell the iPhone 13, looking closely at both phones helps determine whether to splurge on the new model or save money by opting for Apple's older handset. And an iPhone 14 vs. iPhone 13 camera comparison goes a long way to settling that debate.

After all, cameras are usually at the top of the feature list for what separates the best phones. If we're going to buy a phone, we want one that takes great photos under all sorts of conditions so that we can be confident any photos we capture will turn out looking their best.

The desire to have the best camera phone would seem to steer shoppers toward the iPhone 14. It is the newer model, and Apple did offer some improvements over the cameras on its predecessor. But the iPhone 13 has a well-earned reputation for being a great camera phone in its own right. If it can produce comparable photos to what you get from an iPhone 14, maybe the older model deserves a second look, especially since its costs $100 less than the latest iPhone.

For this iPhone 14 vs. iPhone 13 camera comparison, we're focusing on the entry-level models. Not only do the iPhone 14 Pro models feature an additional rear camera lens, they also saw more significant improvements over their predecessors, as our iPhone 14 vs. iPhone 14 Pro face-off details.

Here's how the iPhone 14 and iPhone 13 cameras compare and whether the changes to the newer iPhone makes a noticeable difference in picture quality.

iPhone 14 vs. iPhone 13 cameras: What's changed

First released in 2021, the iPhone 13 features dual 12MP wide and ultrawide angle cameras. The main camera benefits from a new sensor that lets in 47% more light than the one inside the iPhone 12, while the ultrawide lens captures four times more of the scene. Apple improved low-light capabilities on that camera, too.

iPhone 14 vs iPhone 13 camera face-off

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

For the iPhone 14, Apple boosted the sensor size of the main camera from 1.7µ to 1.9µ. The aperture of that lens is also faster at f/1.5, compared to f/1.6. According to Apple, all those changes add up to better action shots and continued improvement in low light. As with its predecessor, the iPhone 14's ultrawide angle camera is supposed to capture more of a scene and perform better in low-light settings.

After leaving the front camera alone for years, Apple made some changes with the iPhone 14. Both the iPhone 13 and iPhone 14 rely on a 12MP sensor for the TrueDepth camera, but the aperture on the newer phone is f/1.9 compared to f/2.2 on the iPhone 13. That's going to help the iPhone 14 let in more light. What's more, Apple added autofocus to the TrueDepth camera on the iPhone 14.

So what do these changes mean for actual performance? Let's look at some iPhone 14 vs. iPhone 13 camera samples.

iPhone 14 vs. iPhone 13 cameras: Outdoors scenic, daylight

You'll have to strain to spot the differences in this photo of a purple-and-gold houseboat moored in a nearby marina. Both iPhones turned in similar-looking shots, right down to the fact that the purple skews more blue in both photos. 

I think the iPhone 14 captures a litte bit more detail in the water, as you can see deeper reflections on the surface, as well as more distinct ripples of the incoming tide. If you zoom in, the yellow railing on the houseboat appears better defined in my opinion. But the differences here are marginal at best.

iPhone 14 vs. iPhone 13 cameras:  Outdoors close-up, daylight

That continues in this photograph of a reindeer statue that someone fashioned out of scrap metal — you really have to zoom in to find any variance in the two photos. If you do, though, you'd notice that the reindeer's eyes have a rougher surface in the iPhone 14 shot; they look smoother in the iPhone 13's version. The iPhone 13 has also rendered the reindeer's snout in a deeper shade of blue while making the grass a touch darker. The iPhone 14's shot is more representative of what the scene looked like to the naked eye.

iPhone 14 vs. iPhone 13 cameras:  Indoors food, daylight

Moving inside did little to call out more differences between the iPhones' cameras. If anything, this taco platter may be the most evenly matched photo of them all. Twist my arm, and I'd argue that the pickled carrot in the foreground looks a little more detailed in the iPhone 14 photo — you can see more the circle on the inside of the carrot here, while the iPhone 13's shot almost erases those circular lines. Everything else — the different taco meats, the salsa, the surface of the tortillas — looks consistent in both shots.

iPhone 14 vs. iPhone 13 cameras: Indoors, low light

We begin to see some separation between the two camera phones when the lights are low and Night Mode has to kick in. I think the iPhone 14 does a better job photographing skeletons I store in my basement when there's just a little ambient lighting coming in from an open door on the right side of the shot.

You can see the details of the scene in the iPhone 14 photo without sacrificing the shadows, and that helps create a mood for the shot. The iPhone 13 trades lighting for detail — look at how much brighter the face of the skeleton on the right is — and while gives you a cleaner view of the scene, it does dial back on the atmosphere. It may be another case of personal perference, but I prefer the iPhone 14's more nuanced shot.

iPhone 14 vs. iPhone 13 cameras: Outdoors, night

Moving outdoors at night, we get slightly different images from the iPhone 14 and iPhone 13, only I'm not sure there's a definitive winner. I lean toward the iPhone 14 shot, which gives my skin a more natural tone. The iPhone 13 makes my skin a lot ruddier than it actually is.

That said, I'm pretty impressed with how the iPhone 13 handled the texture of my sweater. Even with just a little ambient lighting from overhead, the details of my sweater remain visible. The iPhone 14 blends the threads together somewhat, despite the fact that Apple's newer phone offers a Photonic Engine feature that's supposed to give textures and colors a boost in low light. That's not in evidence here.

iPhone 14 vs. iPhone 13 cameras: Indoors portrait, evening

Here's the first instance where one phone clearly outperforms the other, and it's the iPhone 14 that finishes on top, with a much better portrait shot of my daughter. There's a clear separation between her and the background behind her, and while the bokeh effect catches some of her loose hair, it's still pretty clear the iPhone 14's software figured out where she ended and the rest of the scene began. The color looks a bit off to me, but we'll attribute that to the fact that I took this shot at dusk when artificial lighting in the room had yet to take full effect.

Maybe the iPhone 13 struggled with that lighting, but I was very disappointed by the shot that phone produced. There's a lot of noise in the photo, and the bokeh effect has gotten overly aggressive, spilling into the right side of my daughter's face. Maybe it's the lighting, maybe my hands shook at the precise moment I tapped the shutter button, but that's not a very compelling photo.

iPhone 14 vs. iPhone 13 cameras: 2x zoom

Neither the iPhone 13 nor the iPhone 14 has a dedicated telephoto lens — you've got to spend iPhone Pro money to get that feature. But I did want to give the zoom feature on both phones a try to see if one handled close-ups better than the other.

For this shot, i stood across the street from a movie theater and zoomed in 2x to see how clear the text on the theater marquee looked. To my eye, the iPhone 13 has the cleaner text, despite some glare off the word "panther" on the right edge of the sign. The lettering in the iPhone 14 shot doesn't seem as sharp, though, admittedly, you have to zoom in to spot that kind of difference.

Another mark in the iPhone 13's favor is that it captures more of the detail in the designs decorating the theater's facade. The iPhone 14 lightens them somewhat, making them look smoother and less distinct.

iPhone 14 vs. iPhone 13 cameras: 5x zoom

Both phones max out at a 5x digital zoom so to test that, I went down to the waterfront and took a shot of the Oakland skyline to see how clearly I could read the text on the Tribune Tower. A giant yacht happened to be blocking most of the view that day, but it's not big enough to obscure how much better the iPhone 14 handles 5x zooms.

The iPhone 14 zoom features less noise and fuzziness than the iPhone 13's shot, particularly when it comes to the buildings in the background. You can read the Tribune sign and even make out the name of the boat in the iPhone 14's effort — all that lettering is pretty blurred in the iPhone 13 shot. I'm not sure I'd share either photo, but if I were to pick one, it'd be the iPhone 14's.

iPhone 14 vs. iPhone 13 cameras: Ultrawide, daylight

Turning to the ultrawide lens, I choose a deliberately difficult shot — straight into the sun, looking at the local high school. You get the predictable back-lighting in both shots, but the iPhone 13 in particular seems to struggle with the burst of sunlight. It has more lens flare, including a visible sunspot in the lower left corner of its photo. (There's some glare in that same area of the iPhone 14 photo, but it's more subdued.)

iPhone 14 vs. iPhone 13 cameras:  Selfie, daylight

If the changes to the iPhone 14's TrueDepth camera made any difference in this selfie I took, please point them out to me because I'm stumped. Everything looks about equal — skin tone, sweater texture, background lighting. You could argue that there's more shine on my forehead and cheeks in the iPhone 14 shot, but I'm wondering if that's more a reflection of lighting than of one phone's strengths or weaknesses.

iPhone 14 vs. iPhone 13 cameras:  Portrait selfie, daylight

It's a similar story when I switched on portrait mode and took another selfie. Both phones produced comparable shots, with no real differences in color or bokeh effect. I am once again shinier in the iPhone 14 selfie, so maybe that's the f/1.9 aperture letting more light.

iPhone 14 vs. iPhone 13 cameras: Verdict

For the most part, you can expect pretty similar shots from either the iPhone 14 or iPhone 13. In the few instances where one phone performed notably better than the other — the portrait modes test for example — the results went the iPhone 14's way. But did I see $100 worth of difference between these photos most of the time? No, not really.

Other factors go into determining which phone to get. The iPhone 14 and iPhone 13 both use an A15 Bionic chipset, though the iPhone 14's version has an extra core in its GPU, giving it a performance edge over the older model. The iPhone 13 lasted longer on our battery test — we're guessing that's a result of the extra GPU core. While both phones run iOS 16, the iPhone 14 offers features like crash detection and Emergency SOS via satellite, while the iPhone 13 does not.

In other words, these are two closely matched phones, right down to their cameras. If you get the iPhone 14, you'll be getting a top camera phone. But the iPhone 13 isn't too much off the pace and may be more attractive to bargain hunters.

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.