Sebastiaan de With, Co-founder and Designer of the professional iOS camera app Halide, has shared a deep dive blog post into the photographic capabilities of Apple’s iPhone 12 Pro Max, showing a technical breakdown of all three cameras packed inside the flagship device.

In many of the articles we gathered in our iPhone 12 Pro Max review roundup, reviewers said they didn’t actually notice that big of a difference in image quality between the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro Max. This came as somewhat a surprise considering how promising the technology in the iPhone 12 Pro Max looked, but without having further information to work with — or a review unit in our hands — it’s all we could go off of.

As it turns out though, the cursory first-looks and reviews didn’t paint the entire picture for what the iPhone 12 Pro Max is capable of. Thankfully, Sebastiaan took matters into his own hands and has provided an incredibly detailed look into why initial reviewers didn’t notice nearly as big a difference as expected and provides a number of examples to showcase what’s actually capable with the new iPhone 12 Pro Max when you use it in a more advanced capacity.

Sebastiaan starts by revisiting the specs that set the iPhone 12 Pro Max apart from all the other iPhone 12 models: a 47% larger sensor, a faster F1.6 lens, improved image stabilization, 87% high ISO sensitivity and a new 65mm (full-frame equivalent) telephoto lens. As impressive as those specs are for a smartphone camera, they don’t mean much without context and examples to back them up.

To that point, Sebastiaan shares the above graphic to show just how much larger the new sensor is compared to the one found in the other iPhone 12 models. While the larger sensor should help with noise, Sebastiaan notes the difference is far less noticable during the day, compared to when the sun starts to set. He uses the below comparison shot to show just how well the iPhone 12 Pro Max (bottom image) handles noise compared to its smaller iPhone 12 Pro (top image) companion. As you can see when viewing the full-size image, it’s clear the photo captured with the iPhone 12 Pro Max (bottom image) holds much better detail in the shadows and doesn’t show nearly as much noise.

Click to enlarge.

Sebastiaan posits that the reason most reviewers didn’t notice the difference in image quality as much is twofold. First, many photos taken by reviewers were done during the day, when high-ISO and larger photosites don’t make nearly as big a difference. Second — and arguably even more importantly — most reviewers were using the stock iOS camera app, which uses various intelligent image processing technology to create the final image, which can soften parts of the image with noise reduction and other artifacts. To see how good the iPhone 12 Pro Max camera was without all of the image processing, Sebastiaan used Halide to capture Raw (DNG) images, which ‘omits steps like multi-exposure combination and noise reduction.’

Click to enlarge.

If you’re wondering just how much of a difference it makes when using the stock iOS Camera app versus a camera app that can capture a Raw image, such as Halide, take a look at the above comparison shot Sebastiaan captured in San Francisco at sunset. Notice the lack of detail in the distant buildings, the muddiness of the windows on nearby apartments and the overall ‘watercolor’ effect that happens when too much noise reduction is applied. Sebastiaan shows multiple other examples that highlight just how much of a difference it can make to use third-party apps capable of capturing Raw images compared to those captured with the stock camera app.

Also tackled in the deep dive is the improvement in image stabilization, which is now sensor-based rather than lens-based, as well as the new 65mm telephoto camera, which offers a slightly longer reach (65mm, full-frame equivalent vs the 52mm full-frame equivalent of other iPhone 12 models)

All in all, Sebastiaan concludes his breakdown by saying the ‘results [are] mind-blowing’ as the developer of a camera app. He summarizes it all saying:

It achieves images previously only seen in dedicated cameras, with sensors four times its size. It allows photographers to get steady and well exposed shots in conditions that weren’t imaginable a year ago. It captures low-light shots beyond anything we’ve seen on an iPhone. By a lot.’

That’s high praise compared to previous reviews, but the data doesn’t lie. To read the in-depth dive (which you absolutely should), head on over to the Halide blog using the link below:

The iPhone 12 Pro Max: Real Pro Photography

You can keep up with the Lux team — Sebastiaan De With, Ben Sandovsky and Rebecca Sloane — on Twitter and download Halide Mark II in the iOS App Store.


Image credits: Photographs/images provided by Halide, used with permission.