Each year, Sebastiaan de With does an in-depth review of the latest iPhones strictly from the viewpoint of the device’s photographic capabilities. de With is part of Lux, the company behind the excellent iPhone camera app Halide, and he brings the unique perspective of a veteran photographer with a deep understanding of what makes a great camera and a great image, but also of a developer who understands the inner-workings of the iPhone’s imaging engine.
Gone are the reflective, shiny polished stainless steel rails, replaced with an almost imperceptible brushed finish titanium frame that feels fantastic and grippy thanks to its soft finish. The rounded edges make it comfortable in the hand and contoured to your fingers. It might be an illusion, but even the clearance and contour of the buttons make the entire thing feel more tactile.
My previous Large iPhone Experiences— especially iPhone 12 Pro Max— were enough to make me prefer the smaller screen sizes for every subsequent release. Even my standard-sized iPhone 14 Pro felt borderline too large and heavy.
I totally agree with de Witt here. I was initially disappointed when it was announced that the 5x telephoto lens would be exclusive to the larger iPhone 15 Pro Max. I found previous generations of this model extremely unpleasant to use due to the weight and unwieldy size. But the weight savings of the new titanium design of the 15 Pro Max really does make a huge difference in making the phone more comfortable to use.
Beyond the weight savings, there is another small change to the iPhone 15 Pro Max that makes more of a difference than the numbers would suggest. It is slightly shorter and more narrow than the 14 Pro Max. Because Apple reduced the width of the bezels around the iPhone 15 Pro Max screen, rather than make the screen larger inside of the 147.5 x 71.5 mm frame of the iPhone 14 Pro Max, Apple opted to keep the 6.7” screen the same size while reducing the dimensions of the iPhone 15 Pro Max to 146.6 x 70.6 mm. (The phone’s thickness remains 7.85 mm.)
The reduction in overall dimensions, the more rounded edges, and the lower weight of the titanium design make the iPhone 15 Pro Max much more comfortable to use and carry. And I agree with de With on this as well: even if the 5x telephoto migrates to the iPhone 16 Pro next year, I’m going to stick with the Max. Apple has done a great job in mitigating the downsides of the larger phone.
Moving on to de With’s comments on the main camera of the 15 Pro Max:
While not mentioned explicitly during the event, the iPhone camera now combines a 48 megapixel high-resolution frame with a 12 megapixel frame to create a highly detailed, high-resolution-but-manageable 24 MP shot by default.
This is going to be a huge jump for most users, which have previously shot 12 MP shots (even on iPhone 14 Pro, which always shot 12 MP images unless set to ProRAW 48) and it makes absolutely perfect sense.
These new 24MP captures do indeed capture an incredible amount of detail from the 48MP sensor while keeping file sizes manageable. A fantastic middle ground and just a bit less than the 26.1MP on my other compact daily camera, the Fujifilm X100V. Obviously the iPhone 15 Pro Max can’t match the X100V when it comes to pure image quality. Some of that is due the physics of the 35mm equivalent lens the X100V has. But the photos the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max produce continue to close the gap between the iPhone and “real cameras,” making the iPhone “good enough ” for even more situations where you don’t want to—or can’t—carry a stand alone camera.
On the new 5x telephoto lens:
Is it a great lens?
It is, hands down, the sharpest telephoto lens Apple has ever shipped. “Of course!”, you could argue. “Why wouldn’t it be? It’s 2023 and technology gets better. Why wouldn’t it be sharper than the last one?”
Well, it’s a long lens. It is truly remarkable how nicely this new lens captures detail despite that length.
The 5x telephoto is simply the most profound camera advance within the iPhone lineup in some time. Yes, there are many Android phones with far “longer” lenses than the iPhone’s 5x lens, but I’ve yet to see any that can match the quality of the images this 5x lens captures with ease. It opens up so many new photographic possibilities and perspectives. (And it’s something even my trusty X100V can’t match.)
de With has a lot more to say about the iPhone 15 Pro Max, so be sure to check out his full review and his beautiful example photos.