Camera test: iPhone 12 vs. 12 Pro vs. 11 Pro
Photos by the main and ultra-wide cams are identical
The iPhone 12 and 12 Pro share two cameras on the back - their 12MP primary and 12MP ultrawide snappers are identical - sensors, lenses, processing. Some readers expressed concerns about the identical quality of those, so we shot a bunch of photos side by side.
Let's see some photos then.
Well, looking through these photos, it's safe to say that both the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro shoot identical photos with their primary cameras.
Now, let's look through some ultrawide snaps.
Unsurprisingly, these photos look like duplicates, and we can't see a single difference.
Finally, here are a bunch of low-light photos. Once again, there is virtually no difference between the ones taken with the iPhone 12 and those with the iPhone 12 Pro.
2x optical zoom does make a difference
Now, let's see some digitally zoomed photos from the iPhone 12 and how they compare to the optically zoomed ones coming from the iPhone 12 Pro. After all, the telephoto camera on the back is the key feature that the 12 Pro offers over the vanilla 12.
The iPhone 12 doesn't have a Quad-Bayer sensor on its main camera. Image quality is bound to take a hit when cropping from a 12MP sensor and producing 12MP photos. Multi-sampling and image stacking could have probably helped, but it doesn't seem Apple is doing that.
The iPhone 12 2x zoom photos are quite soft and lacking in detail. But if you resize them to 3MP or so, they would be perfectly fine for social networks.
They are, however, no match for the quality of the optical zoom camera on the iPhone 12 Pro.
You get the same quality low-light Portrait photos
The Apple iPhone 12 Pro has this cool feature called Portrait Night Mode, which uses the LiDAR scanner to help with autofocus and the scene depth map. The LiDAR can work even in a pitch dark room.
Apple claims this is the reason why only the iPhone 12 Pro can offer Portraits with Night Mode, and not the iPhone 12. They only work with its main camera, and your subject has to stand still for a bit longer while Night mode does its magic.
However, we were curious about what we could achieve if we tried capturing the same scenes with the iPhone 12. It can still take night time Portrait photos - they just lack the Night Mode processing.
The Night Mode Portrait photos by the iPhone 12 Pro indeed turned out great. The separation is very good given the conditions, the contrast is nice, and the colors are very well preserved.
Here are two additional scenes. In the first photo, you can notice the restored highlights in the background, which were then proficiently defocused. The separation is also quite competent, and the iPhone 12 Pro will take great portraits shots with the right background.
The next two photos are taken indoors but with different light sources. The brighter one has an additional light source from the side, while the last one has only the Christmas lights and nothing else. Both are good but don't expect miracles when the light is really scarce.
While the iPhone 12 Pro relies on the LiDAR scanner for the depth map, we believed the iPhone 12 and "its A14 computational photography" should be able to do similar photos with the main camera even if Night Mode is not available.
And well, the iPhone 12's Portrait Mode really puts up a good fight. The photos are obviously a bit darker and somewhat desaturated but are mostly on par as far as detail and separation are concerned. Pixel peepers will find holes in the iPhone 12 depth map, but not as large as you would have guessed, and for the average user - they are relatively indistinguishable.
But here is the kicker. Put those default portraits to Photo's Auto Enhance feature, and you'd end up with a pretty similar image to iPhone 12 Pro's Portrait Night Mode.
Yes, Night Mode for Portraits is a powerful new feature available only on the Pro model, but with a couple of taps, you can also get a similar photo with the regular iPhone 12. This means the Night Portrait Mode alone isn't enough to sell the Pro over the iPhone 12.
Verdict - enjoy the savings with iPhone 12
The primary and the ultrawide cameras on both phones are identical and shoot equally good photos.
The 12 Pro's exclusive Portrait Night Mode sounded good on paper, but as it turns out, you can get a similar quality image with the iPhone 12.
So at the end - if you don't care about the AR and 3D scanning applications of the 12 Pro's LiDAR camera, the iPhone 12 Pro has only one advantage over the iPhone 12 and that's the 2x optical zoom.
Indeed, the optically zoomed photos are noticeably sharper at closer examinations at 12MP. However, if you don't need high-resolution zoom images or you never care to look at your photos on larger screens, the iPhone 12 digital zoom might be just enough for you allowing you to save some cash from the upgrade.
It turns out, it's easy to put a price on the telephoto+LiDAR combo. Considering the same storage version (128GB), the iPhone 12 Pro is $120 more expensive in the US, and €200 more expensive in the EU. Sure, it comes with stainless steel frame instead of aluminum, but we're fans of the more subdued matte look that the iPhone 12 frame has.
- a 13 year old techie
like...my 48 MEGAPIXEL realme 6i can never with the iphone 12's 12 MEGAPIXEL...how can the 12 megapixel sensor on the iPhone be better than my 48 megapixel sensor on my realme 6i? just asking hehe
- 20 Apr 2021
Thanks for the article. Will go for the iPhone 12 vanilla (my mind was mostly made up after the 12’s screen upgrade), and that the 12 pro is now the same size as the 12... But that all comes down to the screen now. Might have gone the mini (upgra...
- 21 Mar 2021
Nice review, thank you for the information I was exactly looking for!
- 14 Mar 2021