I compared the iPhone 15 Pro Max vs. Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses for taking vacation photos — here’s what happened

Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses
(Image credit: Future)

If you went on vacation and didn’t come back with hundreds of photos, did it even happen? Preserving memories through pictures is a priority for me when I travel, but content capture isn’t always convenient. The anxiety of pickpockets and proclivity to stay aware of surroundings in a new environment means it’s better for my iPhone 15 Pro Max to stay stowed in my bag while exploring a new city.

Call it lucky timing — the new Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses arrived just before I left for a trip to Amsterdam, promising precisely the picture-taking practicality you don’t get with a smartphone. The second-generation smart glasses made in partnership with Meta and Ray-Ban have cameras in the corners of the frame that let you capture content quickly, discreetly and conveniently. The best part? They look like normal designer sunglasses.

When I conducted my full Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses review, I analyzed photo and video samples as part of scoring. But I wanted to see whether the glasses are just as capable of capturing the essence of a European escapade as my powerful iPhone 15 Pro Max. I couldn’t let my friends on social media miss out on all the windmills and stroopwafel, after all. 

So, donning the Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses (which are now water-resistant, a must for rainy Amsterdam) I captured the top sights from my trip as I saw them through my vision. For testing purposes, I took pictures of the same scene with my iPhone 15 Pro Max. Here’s how they compare. 

Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max: Photos compared

Since it was my first time in Amsterdam, I wanted to see all the can’t-miss sights. This included the famous street light-lit canals and countryside windmills. Luckily, a dear friend of mine lives in the Netherlands and was able to show me around. We started with a coffee date, fresh off my redeye flight.

While I appreciated how the sunglasses concealed my dreary eyes, it wasn’t practical to wear them at the cafe. The picture I captured before taking them off didn’t impress me. The shadows and quaint wood walls lacked detail and my friend looked a bit two-dimensional. My iPhone 15 Pro Max captured a much stronger portrait that I’ll be glad to have of my friend who I don’t get to see very often.

That night, we wandered the city and a portion of its 1,200 bridges. Wearing the Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses with tinted lenses obscured my vision, so besides for taking this photo at the canal, they stayed in my bag. (Moral of the story? I would invest in transitional lenses for indoor and night time use.) Either way, the photo came out terrible. It looks like I hadn’t stood still enough for the capture. I would blame the glasses of wine I had on a canal tour earlier that evening, if not for the fact that I also took this long-exposure night mode photo on my iPhone. The reflection of the street lights on the water, distinct colors of the boats and visible clouds in the sky look incredible. In fact, this might be one of my favorite photos from the trip.

The next day, I set out on a tour of small towns outside of Amsterdam, and the Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses redeemed themselves. This photo taken at sunrise is picturesque, relaying a moment that only lasted a few minutes before the sun rose over the horizon. I think the glasses successfully captured the scene’s beauty, while making the grass look more vivid than it does in the iPhone photo. The reflection of the clouds in the water is more brilliant in the glasses-taken photo, too. 

Nearby, I stumbled on some grazing goats. One had a heart-shaped pattern on its side, which absolutely justified a picture. In order to get a good photo from my iPhone, I had to reach my hands a bit over their fence. I assumed their owners wouldn’t mind me taking the shot, but if I suspected an issue, taking the photo on my glasses would’ve been more discreet. That said, the photo I took on my iPhone is sharper than the one captured with the glasses. The sky looked overexposed, and there’s no way to adjust the exposure before taking a photo like you can with your smartphone. You get what you get. 

Finally, I had made it to the windmills. I’m not sure what it is about them, but I find Dutch windmills very cool. I took plenty of photos and videos of the storybook-like structures, but one of the best I got overall came from the Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses. Surprisingly, the Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses photo and iPhone 15 Pro Max photo are evenly matched. The sky looks realistic, while the windmill’s features look sharp. 

Can the Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses replace my iPhone 15 Pro Max?

Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses

(Image credit: Future)

It doesn’t shock me that my iPhone takes better photos in a variety of settings. It’s a beast of a camera phone with high-end features that I expect to get for the $1,199 price. The Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses cost $299 by comparison, nearly $1,000 less.

But the Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses provided some great photos. I think I can also compromise on camera quality when I consider the convenience of smart glasses. Outside of these tests, I didn’t need to slow my travel partners or tour group down by taking out my phone every time I wanted a photo.  

When you take out your phone to take a picture, you inevitably end up spending a few seconds framing it, maybe adjusting the focus or exposure, and it’s possible that moment that you were trying to capture has passed by the time you’re ready to press the shutter. The Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses eliminates that friction. I could simply snap a picture without overthinking it.

As a content creator, I think there's room to travel with both. I look at it this way: Higher-quality iPhone camera photos are ideal for my Instagram feed. The images I posted to exist permantly on my page are the creme de la creme, the images I'd put in a Shutterfly album, if that were my type of thing. 

But for Instagram Stories, and more fleeting experiences that I’m trying to translate from my eyes to my friends following along with my trip, Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses are nothing short of a game-changer. 

Kate Kozuch

Kate Kozuch is the managing editor of social and video at Tom’s Guide. She covers smartwatches, TVs and audio devices, too. Kate appears on Fox News to talk tech trends and runs the Tom's Guide TikTok account, which you should be following. When she’s not filming tech videos, you can find her taking up a new sport, mastering the NYT Crossword or channeling her inner celebrity chef.