iPhone 12 Pro Max is the new camera phone to beat — here’s why

iPhone 12 Pro Max cameras
(Image credit: Future)

Both the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max are stellar smartphones from Apple. But the 12 Pro Max comes with slightly higher spec cameras than the 12 Pro, and some key performance differences between the two are coming to light.

According to developer Sebastiaan de With on the Halide blog, there aren't many discrepancies between the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max in regular daylight shooting. But the differences become more apparent in low light.

The iPhone 12 Pro Max has the same 12MP f/1.6 aperture main lens as the iPhone 12 Pro, but the sensor is 47% larger. And it makes use of sensor-shift stabilization, which allows the whole lens to move around to compensate for shaky hand movement when trying to snap a photo or record video. By comparison, the iPhone 12 Pro just uses standard optical image stabilization. 

As such, this means the iPhone 12 Pro Max can capture more detail in scenarios where there’s not a lot of daylight. Sebastiaan de With demonstrated how the 12 Pro Max captures more detail in a city scene when the sun is setting. 

The difference isn’t night and day, but in our iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max comparison, we found that the 12 Pro Max delivers better texture and detail, as well as better focus in low-light photos. 

The iPhone 12 Pro Max also uses a system that blends a 2.5x optical zoom of the 65mm focal length telephoto lens with the wide angle lens to deliver a 5x optical zoom range. In comparison, the iPhone 12 Pro has a 2x optical zoom. Unsurprisingly, this lets users get close up to subjects without running into digital zoom distortion and loss of detail.

The Halide blog did note that the telephoto lens on the 12 Pro Max has a smaller f/2.2 aperture than the f/2.0 on the 12 Pro’s telephoto camera. That means zoomed in photos shot in low-light conditions might suffer a little on the 12 Pro Max, though our testing hasn’t revealed that to be the case.

As such, if you want the very best in Apple smartphone photography, and indeed one of the best camera phones overall, then the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the phone to get. 

But at a starting price of $1,099 it’s far from cheap; that's $100 more than the $999 iPhone 12 Pro. So you’ll need to weigh up whether a larger 6.7-inch OLED display, bigger battery, and slightly better cameras are worth the premium.

Roland Moore-Colyer

Roland Moore-Colyer a Managing Editor at Tom’s Guide with a focus on news, features and opinion articles. He often writes about gaming, phones, laptops and other bits of hardware; he’s also got an interest in cars. When not at his desk Roland can be found wandering around London, often with a look of curiosity on his face.