Apple’s largest iPhone 12 Pro Max finally went on sale for pre-orders this past Friday, and it didn’t take long before shipping dates slipped into December, suggesting that Apple has once again perhaps underestimated exactly how popular the new 6.7-inch model would be, in much the same way as it did for the standard iPhone 12 Pro.
This means that if you weren’t fast enough to get in on the first round of preorders, you may now be asking yourself if it’s really worth the wait to go for Apple’s largest-sized iPhone or if perhaps you should have just settled for the older 6.1-inch iPhone Pro after all.
This year, however, there’s a lot more to the iPhone 12 Pro Max than just the larger size — in fact, this year’s model belies the “Max” designation and is more akin to the “Plus” models of yesteryear, although we can understand why Apple may have been reticent to go back to that older naming convention — “iPhone 12 Pro Plus” is just kind of awkward to try and say three times fast.
For the last couple of years, Apple’s “Max” iPhone models — the iPhone XS Max and iPhone 11 Pro Max — have differed from their smaller siblings solely in their physical size and a slight increase in battery life as a result of having more space for a larger power cell. However, Apple’s iPhone “Plus” models — from the iPhone 6 Plus to the iPhone 8 Plus — all offered slightly better camera capabilities than the smaller 4.7-inch non-Plus models, and it looks like this year Apple is repeating that with the iPhone 12 Pro lineup in a pretty big way.
In the case of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s lineups, the differences were fairly subtle; both of the “Plus” models featured the same camera systems as the smaller ones in general, however, they added optical image stabilization — something the smaller models likely simply didn’t have the room to accommodate.
When the iPhone 7 landed in 2016, however, Apple made an even bigger improvement in the Plus version by adding a second 2X camera, opening the door to a whole world of new features, including Portrait Mode. This same distinction was repeated with the iPhone 8 family the following year, but after the 5.8-inch iPhone X also added a dual camera that year, the following iPhone XS and iPhone 11 Pro models continued along the same camera upgrade path in lockstep with each other.
What’s Different About the iPhone 12 Pro Max?
Unlike the iPhone 7 Plus and iPhone 8 Plus, which had a very obvious extra camera, the camera improvements on the iPhone 12 Pro Max over the iPhone 12 Pro aren’t visually obvious from the physical design — from the outside, both iPhone models look identical in everything except for their physical size.
However, under the hood, the iPhone 12 Pro Max packs in a noticeably better camera in three specific areas.
- More Zoom: While all of Apple’s “Pro” and “Plus” iPhones have heretofore included a 2X “telephoto” camera, the iPhone 12 Pro Max takes that up a notch to a 2.5X lens, offering a better optical zoom, and increasing the overall digital zoom range to 12X (7X for video), as opposed to the 10X (6X for video) found on the iPhone 12 Pro and prior telephoto-equipped models. There’s a slight tradeoff here, however, as the 2.5X lens on the iPhone 12 Pro Max actually does have a slightly smaller aperture (f/2.2 versus f/2.0 on the iPhone 12 Pro’s 2X lens), which means that it won’t capture as much light.
- Bigger Sensor: Likely because it has more room for it, the iPhone 12 Pro Max also gets a 47 percent larger image sensor. This not only means that it will be much better at low-light photography (combined with the new f/1.6 aperture, that works out to an 87 percent improvement over the iPhone 11 Pro models), but it’s also going to be able to provide less noise and better dynamic range, as well as better fine details in things like close-up macro shots and landscape photography.
- Better Optical Image Stabilization: In what feels like a repeat of the iPhone 6 Plus era, Apple’s largest iPhone model once again provides unique optical image stabilization capabilities, but this time in the form of improved “sensor-shift” optical image stabilization that stabilizes the image sensor itself rather than the lens, providing even better stability for high-frequency vibrations, such as when shooting from a moving vehicle. It’s worth noting that this is only available on the main lens, however, so you won’t gain this benefit when shooting with the ultra-wide or 2.5X lenses.
Note that while Apple actually describes the iPhone 12 Pro as having a 4X optical zoom range and the iPhone 12 Pro Max with a 5X optical zoom range, but this refers to the total range across all three lenses, which of course includes the ultra-wide lens as well. The iPhone 12 Pro Max can zoom in more, but it has the exact same ultra-wide capabilities as the smaller 6.1-inch model.
What’s the Same?
While all of that might make it sound like the iPhone 12 Pro Max is a much better iPhone for photography, it’s worth noting that those are the only differences in the camera system. In every other way, the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max have the same photographic capabilities — they can shoot in the same resolutions, record video in the same frame rates, and feature all of the exact same computational photography features.
This includes Smart HDR, Deep Fusion, and Night Mode photography, including Night Mode Portrait photos for the first time ever, thanks to the new LiDAR Scanner, which also powers faster autofocus on both models, especially under low-light conditions.
Both iPhone 12 Pro models also support Apple’s new ProRAW format in the exact same way, allowing computational photography data to be embedded alongside a pure pixel-by-pixel RAW image so you can get the best of all worlds when editing your photos later on.
On the video side, both Pro models offer native Dolby Vision HDR video recording in 4K at 60fps, plus Extended Dynamic Range for all video resolutions with frame rates of up to 60fps.
Further, the front TrueDepth camera is identical across the entire iPhone 12 lineup, including the non-Pro models, so you get all of the exact same photographic capabilities for selfies no matter which iPhone 12 model you buy.
A Word on Battery Life
Since the iPhone 12 Pro Max also has room for a much larger battery, you’ll also get better battery life out of the larger 6.7-inch model as well. That’s really just the laws of physics and chemistry at work — a bigger battery means more power, and the larger screen on the iPhone 12 Pro Max doesn’t consume so much more power that there still isn’t plenty of extra battery life leftover.
This is the one thing that’s been true of every larger iPhone since the iPhone 6 Plus debuted six years ago, and unfortunately, those same laws also apply to the iPhone 12 mini in the opposite direction. In the case of the iPhone 12 Pro Max, you’ll get three hours more video playback (although that drops to only one hour extra for streaming video), and up to 15 hours more for audio playback. That said, we’ll have to wait for some real-world tests to see how those numbers actually work out in practical daily use, especially when factoring in 5G as well.
The Bottom Line
If you’re a really serious iPhone photographer, it’s hard to argue that the iPhone 12 Pro Max isn’t worth it — the larger sensor alone means you’ll get better pictures with more detail, especially in low light conditions.
That said, however, unless you spend a lot of time in the dark or you plan on taking award-winning photos, you’ll almost certainly find the photographic capabilities on the iPhone 12 Pro to be equally amazing; they represent a big upgrade over the iPhone 11 Pro’s already great camera system, especially with the addition of the LiDAR Scanner, and while there’s a certain element of FOMO involved here, we’d say that the vast majority of iPhone users will be extremely happy with the iPhone 12 Pro — we’d say that the camera systems between the two models can best be described as “amazing” and “more amazing,” so we certainly wouldn’t recommend thinking of the 6.1-inch iPhone 12 Pro as a second-class citizen when it comes to its photographic capabilities.
Of course, that doesn’t mean there still aren’t lots of other great reasons to get the iPhone 12 Pro Max — the larger 6.7-inch screen along is worth it if you watch a lot of videos and don’t mind the larger size, and it’s really hard to argue with better battery life, but if you’re on the fence we don’t think there’s any reason to be pushed into the iPhone 12 Pro Max just for its slightly better camera system unless you really know you’re going to be making full use of it.
Enter our iPhone 12 Pro Max giveaway, here.