iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 11 Pro Camera Comparison: what has changed?

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iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 11 Pro Camera Comparison: what has changed?
What are the real differences between the cameras on the new iPhone 12 Pro against last year's iPhone 11 Pro? And if you already bought an iPhone 11 last year, is it worth upgrading to get a better camera?

This is our iPhone 12 Pro camera review where we compare the new iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 11 Pro, and explore the camera differences.

First, a quick peek at the specs shows there is no new camera hardware: the iPhone 12 Pro has the same triple camera system as last year's iPhone 11 Pro series. Well, with a few caveats, of course.

Here is a quick rundown of the camera specs...

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 11 Pro Camera Specs Comparison:

*Also check out a complete iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 11 Pro specs comparison here 

Highlighted in bold are the only differences in hardware: a 7-element lens is used for the main camera versus a 6-element lens last year, and you also get a faster, f/1.6 aperture on the main lens versus f/1.8 on last year's models.

And yes, Apple has also added that LiDAR sensor to the iPhone 12 Pro family this year, but the only camera-specific use that sensor gets is for faster auto-focusing in low light and it has no actual effect on image quality per se. With this in mind, let's take a look at the images, shall we?

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iPhone 12 Pro vs 11 Pro: Scene 1

This first photo is a good illustration of the direction where Apple went with the iPhone 12: brighter photo, sharper detail, slightly more saturated colors. It look punchier and has more of that wow factor.

Scene 2: Fall colors

The added sharpness is particularly noticeable in photos with many fine details such as the trees on the right here. Notice the brighter and more cheerful exposure that makes for an overall more pleasing photograph.

Scene 3: A view of the sea

While these photos are quite similar, it's easy to spot how colors in the leafage are boosted on the iPhone 12 Pro and it adds to the fall feel of this landscape picture. It's a slight but noticeable improvement.

Scene 4: Brighter is not always better

While usually the iPhone 12 captures a more contrasted photo, this one turned out a bit different. You can still notice the brighter exposure on the iPhone 12 as well as the less saturated skin tones, but the slightly darker picture on the iPhone 11 Pro might actually look a bit better in this case.

Scene 5: Outdoor space

Usually, there isn't a huge difference in the dynamic range between the iPhone 12 and the iPhone 11 series, but in this particular photo the iPhone 11 stumbles, while the iPhone 12 maintains well-balanced highlights, while also adding vibrance in the greenery at the bottom of the photo. Those colors truly look great on the iPhone 12! 

Scene 6: The Fountain

What's interesting about this shot is just how obvious the difference in sharpness is here. The many tiny leaves and branches are crispy to the point of being a bit oversharpened, while on last year's iPhone they sharp, but not too sharp. At the same time, the fountain below benefits from the exposure boost and the added contrast, and looks more impressive as the focus of this image.

Scene 7: Zoom Quality Comparison

There isn't much of a difference when it comes to the zoom cameras, both the 12 Pro and the 11 Pro have a 2X zoom lens with the same focal length and aperture. But notice how the brighter exposure seems to be coded in the algorithm on the iPhone 12 and it is amped up to the max in this most zoomed in photo. We noticed this on a few other zoom shots as well: zooming too far in results in a noticeably overexposed shot on the 12 Pro series and just look at that noise on my sweater!

Scene 8: Ultra-wide Camera Comparison

When it comes to the ultra-wide camera, the hardware hasn't changed at all, but the software has. Notice the more cheerful colors for the greenery and the slightly brighter exposure.

Scene 9: Ultra-wide

In this shot, the differences are really almost non-existant. If you look at the photo on a bigger screen, you would, however, notice that the iPhone 12 has that added sharpening.

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 11 Pro Night Camera Comparison

Jumping to low-light photos, the faster aperture on the main camera of the iPhone 12 Pro does make a bigger difference. Photos are consistently brighter and better-looking.

iPhone 12 Pro vs 11 Pro Ultra-wide Camera

The ultra-wide camera on the iPhone 12 series now also supports Night Mode which kicks in automatically when it gets dark. The ultra-wide camera on the iPhone 11 lacks this option, and it's quite useless in extreme low light.

Scene 12: Night Photos

One more shot with the main camera on the iPhone 12 Pro at night, and you notice how the image is a bit brighter and a bit sharper on the iPhone 12 Pro.

Scene 13: Ultra-wide camera differences

And once again, the ultra-wide camera on the iPhone 12 Pro with its built-in Night Mode makes for a literally night and day difference in quality.

Scene 14: Portrait in Low Light

Finally, here is a Portrait Mode photo captured in low light. The iPhone 12 Pro with its LiDAR sensor was a bit faster to focus, and you can also notice skin tones are a bit more pinkish and less saturated on the iPhone 12 Pro family.

Final Words

These are the main differences between the cameras on the iPhone 12 Pro and the iPhone 11 Pro.

The change to a faster, f/1.6 aperture on the main lens has forced a number of changes on the iPhone 12 series: overall, photos on the iPhone 12 are noticeably sharper, with consistently brighter exposure and a noticeable boost in contrast. Occasionally, colors are also more saturated and many times they just look better. But also yes, these are differences you notice most when you look at photos on a big screen, and these are not the kind of monumental enhancements like the introduction of Night Mode last year.

Still, these changes result in photos that look more punchy right out of the gate, more likable and more shareable, maybe at the slight expense of realism as sometimes they might look even a bit better than reality.

So, let's get back to the question that started it all: should you get the iPhone 12 Pro if you own an iPhone 11 series phone? If the photos you take on your phone are extremely important to you than yes, you will get these brighter shots at night and you will be able to use the ultra-wide camera at night. But for most people out there, these subtle differences are not alone a convincing reason to upgrade.

We are curious to hear your thoughts about these differences: are they enough for you to upgrade to the iPhone 12 Pro from an iPhone 11 series device?

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