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The best iPhone for photography in 2021: from the iPhone XR to iPhone 13 Pro Max

iPhone 13 vs iPhone 13 Pro
(Image credit: Apple)

Looking for the best iPhone for photography? Well, that doesn't necessarily mean that you'll end up choosing the most expensive model with the most sophisticated set of cameras. Depending on your budget and your needs, you might actually find that an older, more affordable option is actually the best iPhone for photography for you

This is because more expensive models haven't just focused on camera improvements, there will also be other aspects factored in as well, such as screen size and the quality of the display. 

However, with that being said, there's no denying that the latest up-to-date iPhone 13 series offers some of the best camera phone photographic capabilities around. The iPhone 13 Pro and the iPhone 13 Pro Max are the flagship iPhones, offering a triple camera rear unit with a 4x optical zoom and the ability to capture Night Mode portraits. Meanwhile, the vanilla iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini still offer fantastic shooting capabilities, with a wider aperture on the main camera. Check out our iPhone 13 vs iPhone 13 Pro guide to learn more.

However, if you're looking for the best iPhone for photography, but you also like to search for a good bargain, then you might want to consider either the iPhone 12 Pro or the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Both handsets also feature rear triple camera units – and they have the additional benefit of being a year older and, therefore, better value for money. 

It's also worth noting that the further back in the iPhone family you go, the more affordable the handsets get. For example, an iPhone 11 is great value for money, with dual rear-facing cameras that are capable of truly respectable images, considering the handset's price point. 

We've listed out the best iPhones for photography below to help you find the right model for you – good luck!

The best iPhone for photography in 2021

(Image credit: Apple)

More evolution than revolution, but still the best iPhone ever

Specifications
Release date: September 2021
Rear cameras: 12MP f/1.5, 12MP f/1.8 ultrawide, 12MP f/2.8 telephoto
Front camera: 12MP
OIS: Yes
Weight: 204g
Dimensions: 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.7mm
Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB/1TB
Reasons to buy
+Extensively upgraded cameras+120Hz screen refresh rate
Reasons to avoid
-Still 'only' 3x optical zoom

Though its camera improvements may be fairly modest when compared to the iPhone 12 Pro, the iPhone 13 Pro still sports some worthwhile upgrades. There's a useful new macro mode, along with an improvement to low light shooting with the ultra-wide camera. New picture styles are worth experimenting with, while the Cinematic video mode is a clever feature and nice to have if you're a budding movie-maker.

As for camera hardware, Apple has gone for a triple lens set up on the iPhone 13 Pro, giving us a standard, ultra wide and telephoto lens. We have the same focal lengths for the 26mm (equivalent) standard lens, and 13mm (0.5x) ultra-wide optic, but the telephoto lens has been extended to a 3x (78mm) offering, compared with the iPhone 12 Pro’s 2x lens.

Overall, the iPhone 13 Pro is without question the best iPhone for photographers to date (exactly what we’d expect) and it produces some fantastic images and video, but it’s not for those who are particularly budget conscious, especially if you’re already in possession of a 12 Pro which is very nearly as good.

iPhone 13 reviewiPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 13 Pro

(Image credit: Apple)

Clever photo features make the iPhone 12 Pro still a force to be reckoned with

Specifications
Release date: October 2020
Rear cameras: 12MP 13mm f/2.4, 12MP 26mm f/1.6, 12MP 52mm f/2
Front camera: 12MP, f/2.2 TrueDepth camera
Dual OIS: Yes
Weight: 189 g
Dimensions: 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.4 mm
Storage: 128/256/512GB
Reasons to buy
+Triple-camera unit+New Apple ProRAW file format+LiDAR scanner+5G
Reasons to avoid
-'Only' 12MP camera sensors

Though it's no longer the latest iPhone, the iPhone 12 Pro is still one of the most advanced handsets for photographers currently available. When compared with phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, which packs a 108MP sensor, you might initially consider the iPhone 12 Pro's 12MP camera sensors to be slightly less impressive. However, when you're working with a sensor as small as a smartphone sensor, huge megapixel counts don't necessarily mean good image quality. 

What the iPhone 12 Pro might 'lack' in megapixels, it certainly makes up for with a variety of imaging features. It features a triple camera unit, including an ultra wide f/2.4 camera, a wide f/1.6 camera and a telephoto f/2 camera. Meanwhile, the front-facing TrueDepth camera features a 12MP sensor as well. 

If you're wondering what photography-focused features the iPhone 12 Pro holds over the base iPhone 12 (other than the addition of the telephoto camera), there are a few things you need to know. The first is that the Pro model will have a LiDAR scanner, which will mean faster focusing in low light situations. The iPhone 12 Pro will also be able to use the new Apple ProRAW file format, which means users will be able to combine the great computational photography effects Apple is known for with the power of RAW files.

• Read more iPhone 12 Pro review
iPhone 12 Pro vs Max

(Image credit: James Artaius)

A pint-sized powerhouse with better cameras and a bigger battery

Specifications
Release date: October 2021
Rear cameras: 12MP 13mm f/2.4, 12MP 26mm f/1.6
Front camera: 12MP, f/2.2 TrueDepth camera
Dual OIS: Yes
Weight: 140g
Dimensions: 131.5 x 64.2 x 7.65 mm
Storage: 128/256/512GB
Reasons to buy
+Upgraded cameras+Cinematic video mode+Better battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Incremental updates-No telephoto lens-No ProRes / ProRaw

The iPhone 13 Mini does exactly what it says on the tin: gives you the same functions and firepower as the iPhone 13, in a more svelte form factor and with a smaller price tag to match. Unlike the iPhone SE, which achieves a lower price point by sacrificing specs (including, most notably, battery life), the iPhone 13 Mini squeezes the raw power of the standard 6.1-inch iPhone 13 into a 5.4-inch handset.  if a small phone is important to you, this is the one to go for – it takes superb photos, 4K 60p video, up to 240fps slow-mo (in 1080p), and its portrait functions now power the brilliant Cinematic mode for shallow depth of field in video. If you own the 12 Mini, there's not much reason to upgrade – but if you've skipped a generation, you'll fall in love with it!

(Image credit: Apple)

The iPhone 11 Pro still has some great features to offer

Specifications
Release date: September 2019
Rear cameras: 12MP 13mm f/2.4, 12MP 26mm f/1.8, 12MP 52mm f/2
Front camera: 12MP, f/2.2 TrueDepth camera
OIS: Yes
Weight: 188 g
Dimensions: 144 x 71.4 x 8.1 mm
Storage: 64/256/512GB
Reasons to buy
+Triple-camera array+Consistent image quality+Brilliant 'slofies'+Portrait effects
Reasons to avoid
-No 5G -Unambitious specs, on paper

You can't judge camera phones purely on specs. The iPhone 11 Pro's triple-camera array is hardly cutting edge by today's camera phone standards, but it works brilliantly. The colors, tones and exposures are consistent across all three cameras, and the image processing is perfectly judged to produce natural looking detail and not the usual over-sharpened, over-smoothed smartphone 'look'. The ultrawide camera is just brilliant for travel photography, landmarks and spectacular interiors, and while it can't quite match the edge to edge image quality of the other lenses, it still produces sharp, distortion-free ultra-wide images that widen your horizons in every possible way. We like the regular iPhone 11 Pro best – the iPhone 11 Pro Max has the same cameras but it's just a bit big, while the regular plain-vanilla iPhone 11 is cheaper but doesn't have the 52mm telephoto lens.

Read more: Apple iPhone 11 Pro review
Also consider: Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max review

(Image credit: Rod Lawton/Digital Camera World)

Apple’s biggest, boldest and best new iPhone... but it's hugely expensive

Specifications
Release date: October 2021
Rear cameras: 12MP 13mm f/1.8 Ultra Wide, 12MP 26mm f/1.5 Wide, 12MP 77mm f/2.8 telephoto
Front camera: 12MP f/2.2 TrueDepth
OIS: Yes
Weight: 240g
Dimensions: 160.8 x 78.1 x 7.65mm
Storage: 128 / 256 / 512GB / 1TB
Reasons to buy
+Automatic macro mode+Superb Cinematic mode+77mm telephoto lens+RAW capture
Reasons to avoid
-More of a phablet than a phone-Expensive, even by Apple standards

The iPhone 13 Pro Max is the biggest and best of Apple’s new-generation iPhones, with the same cameras and tech as the iPhone 13 Pro, but with a bigger screen (6.7 inches versus 6.1 inches). The Pro Max also boasts a slightly longer battery life of up to 28hrs video playback versus up to 22 hours on the smaller '13 Pro. It might be tempting to pick the Pro Max over the regular Pro model just to get ‘the best of everything’. The regular Pro costs enough, so why not take that last step and get the bigger screen? Well, some may simply find it too big to be comfortable to use every day. There's no doubt the iPhone 13 Pro Max is a truly stunning camera phone, whether you shoot stills or video. However, the regular iPhone 13 Pro boasts the same photographic performance in a more ergonomic (and cheaper!) package, hence why it's higher up this list.

Best iPhones for photography: Apple iPhone 12 Mini

(Image credit: Apple)

A fantastic mini-shooter with cutting-edge tech

Specifications
Release date: April 2021
Rear cameras: 12MP 26mm f/1.6, 12MP 13mm f/2.4
Front camera: 12MP, 23mm f/2.2 TrueDepth camera
OIS: Yes
Weight: 133 g
Dimensions: 131 x 64.2 x 7.4 mm
Storage: 64/256/512GB
Reasons to buy
+Top-notch image quality+Small but powerful
Reasons to avoid
-Poor battery life-No telephoto camera

The iPhone 12 Mini of a pleasing trend of Apple filling out the smaller end of its mobile offering, as well as putting out big flagship phones with more features, cameras and pixels than ever. This means it's much more affordable than its contemporaries like the iPhone 12 Pro, as well as being a good deal easier to hold and carry around.

Despite the reduction in size, Apple hasn't skimped on tech for the iPhone 12 Mini. it boasts a beefy dual camera array, with a 12MP 26mm f/1.6 and a 12MP 13mm f/2.4. There's no telephoto like you get on the Pro, but it's still very impressive, and with the capacity to shoot 4K video as well, any content creator is going to have a whale of a time with it.

The only real disappointment is the battery life. Granted, things had to give somewhere, but still, having a 2227mAh battery to work with is really going to curtail your ability to get a full day's use out of the thing, at least without carting around a separate power bank

(Image credit: Apple)

7. Apple iPhone 11

It's cheaper than the iPhone 11 Pro, but you lose the 'telephoto' lens

Specifications
Release date: September 2019
Rear cameras: 12MP 13mm f/2.4, 12MP 26mm f/1.8
Front camera: 12MP, f/2.2 TrueDepth camera
OIS: Yes
Weight: 194 g
Dimensions: 150.9 x 75.7 x 8.3mm
Storage: 64/128/256GB
Reasons to buy
+Twin-camera array+Consistent image quality+Ultra-wide 13mm lens
Reasons to avoid
-No 5G -No 56mm 'telephoto' lens

If you're looking for the best bang for your buck when it comes to a new iPhone, then we'd argue that the iPhone 11 might just be it. While we love newer iPhone models, the price difference can be hard to justify when the older iPhone 11 still delivers such respectable image quality. The iPhone 11 does have a few downsides though, namely its lack of a telephoto lens and OLED screen, but you can pick it up for such a great price now, that you have to ask yourself how important these features are to you? If you're looking for the very best iPhone for photography, then we'd recommend going with a Pro Max model. However, if you want a great iPhone for taking pictures that won't break the bank, then the iPhone 11 is a natural choice. 

Best iPhone 11 cases

(Image credit: Apple)

8. Apple iPhone 12

It might not have the telephoto camera, but the iPhone 12 is still a great buy

Specifications
Release date: October 2020
Rear cameras: 12MP 13mm f/2.4, 12MP 26mm f/1.6
Front camera: 12MP, f/2.2 TrueDepth camera
OIS: Yes
Weight: 164 g
Dimensions: 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.4 mm
Storage: 64/128/256GB
Reasons to buy
+Dual-camera unit+5G+New Ceramic Shield screen
Reasons to avoid
-No telephoto camera-No LiDAR scanner

The iPhone 12 might not have quite the same wow-factor as the iPhone 12 Pro, but it's certainly no slouch when it comes to its photographic capabilities. The iPhone 12 has a dual camera system featuring an ultra wide f/2.4 camera and a wide f/1.6 camera. While the iPhone 12 doesn't have a dedicated telephoto camera, users can achieve a digital zoom of up to 5x. All of the iPhone 12 models are now capable of HDR video recording with Dolby Vision, although on the iPhone 12 this is only up to 30fps as compared to the iPhone 12 Pro's 60fps. The iPhone 12's front-facing camera is capable of both Night mode and Deep Fusion, which weren't available on the base iPhone 11's selfie camera. The iPhone 12 is also now capable of Night mode Time-lapse. One of the most exciting upgrades for the iPhone 12 family is the new Ceramic Shield display, which features a 4x better drop performance. The iPhone 12 is also compatible with new MagSafe accessories and wireless chargers.

(Image credit: Apple)

9. iPhone XS

In its time, the iPhone XS was the best iPhone, and it's still good even now

Specifications
Release date: September 2018
Rear cameras: 12MP (Wide angle lens, f/1.8), 12MP (2x zoom lens)
Front camera: 7MP
OIS: Yes
Weight: 177 g
Dimensions: 143.6 x 70.9 x 7.7 mm
Storage: 64/256/512 GB)
Reasons to buy
+Same camera hardware as the Max+Very good image quality
Reasons to avoid
-Lacks ultra-low light ability of some Androids

The regular iPhone XS has the same cameras as the Max version. The rears offer two 12-megapixel cameras, one for standard wideangle shots, the other for 2x zoom images. Apple offers a very natural and faithful image preview, which shows a good estimate of the benefits of image processing before that processing has even taken place. The color balance and the character of Apple’s processing are also very pleasant. Other highlights include 240fps slo-mo at 1080p and X-series-only additional modes in the background blur portrait mode, such as Stage Lighting. This blacks out the background, for an image that looks a little like an actor’s headshot. The 2x zoom is also useful, particularly as it has optical image stabilisation just like the main camera. Many people might find this more useful than the new ultra-wide lens on the iPhone 11, so the iPhone XS is still a good option, even though it's now last year's model.

Best iPhone XS cases

(Image credit: Apple)

10. iPhone XS Max

It's bigger than the iPhone XS but not necessarily better

Specifications
Release date: September 2018
Rear cameras: 12MP (Wide angle lens, f/1.8), 12MP (2x zoom lens)
Front camera: 7MP
OIS: Yes
Weight: 208 g
Dimensions: 157.5 x 77.4 x 7.7 mm
Storage: 64/256/512 GB)
Reasons to buy
+Big screen for composing shots+Excellent general image quality
Reasons to avoid
-Very high price

The iPhone XS Max has the same camera setup as the iPhone Xs. So what benefit is there here? It’s pretty obvious, really. The Max has a larger screen, which helps when composing images. This is a particularly bright OLED display with max power of around 650 nits. It copes remarkably well outdoors, and goes into a ‘turbo’ mode when required, to make sure you can see the image preview even when it’s sunny. Both X-series phones also have dual front-facing cameras. The imaging sensor is a 7-megapixel chip just like the recent older iPhones, and the second is a “time of flight” camera. This is used solely for depth mapping. Its primary function is to make the Face ID unlock feature work well, but it also improves “bokeh” images. You can alter the blur effect level, effectively changing the virtual aperture, after shooting the image. 

The best phablets

(Image credit: Apple)

11. iPhone 12 Pro Max

Still one of the best iPhones you can buy, and prices are starting to drop

Specifications
Release date: September 2020
Rear cameras: 12MP (Wide angle lens, f/1.8)
Front camera: 7MP
OIS: Yes
Weight: 194 g
Dimensions: 150.9 x 75.7 x 8.3 mm
Storage: 64/256/512 GB)
Reasons to buy
+Long battery life+Features Apple ProRaw
Reasons to avoid
-Still quite expensive-Feels large in the hand

The iPhone 12 Pro Max is technically superior to a lot of iPhones higher up this list. However, there is a reason this handset is so far down. While the iPhone 12 Pro Max features a more powerful battery life than the other iPhone 12 handsets – and even a slightly better rear camera than the iPhone 12 Pro – it has two major cons. The first is that the 6.7" screen is so large that users with smaller hands might struggle to use it effectively. Secondly, despite it no loner being the latest iPhone flagship, prices are still quite high. However, if you don't mind big handsets and you're happy to splash the cash, then there's still plenty of exciting features to write home about with the iPhone 12 Pro Max. With its blazing-fast chipset, quality camera set-up, battery and screen, it's no surprise that the 12 Pro Max is a great iPhone for photography.

(Image credit: Apple)

12. iPhone XR

It's a great camera phone at a good price, but there's no zoom

Specifications
Release date: September 2018
Rear cameras: 12MP (Wide angle lens, f/1.8)
Front camera: 7MP
OIS: Yes
Weight: 194 g
Dimensions: 150.9 x 75.7 x 8.3 mm
Storage: 64/256/512 GB)
Reasons to buy
+Retains high quality build+Very good battery life
Reasons to avoid
-No telephoto or ToF camera-Lower price, but hardly cheap

The iPhone XR is one of the most interesting phones in the 2019 line-up from an Apple fan’s perspective. It’s now an older, cheaper iPhone so bargains are out there, although the lack of a zoom camera is its biggest loss. The iPhone XR has only the one rear camera, the same 12-megapixel stabilised get-up as the iPhone XS. You get great images, sure, but a zoom is handy for gigs and other situations when you can’t simply move closer. Here you have to use a compromised digital zoom. Other differences? While the iPhone XR has the same processor as the pricier iPhone X models, it uses an LCD screen rather than an OLED. This screen is larger than the iPhone Xs’s, though, and battery life is far better than that of the smaller, fancier iPhone Xs too.

(Image credit: Apple)

13. iPhone SE (2020)

iPhone 8 body + iPhone 11 processor = iPhone SE

Specifications
Release date: April 2020
Rear cameras: 12-megapixel, 28mm f/1.8
Front camera: 7MP
OIS: Yes
Weight: 148 g
Dimensions: 138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3 mm
Storage: 64/256GB)
Reasons to buy
+Great 4K video+Very good imaging in bright light
Reasons to avoid
-No zoom-No Face ID

The iPhone SE (2020) is a brilliant proposition: a cut-price iPhone that takes the form factor and camera of the iPhone 8, and pairs it with the processor and software magic of the iPhone 11 Pro. The result is a pocket-friendly handset in terms of both size and price, with fusion technology that delivers highly respectable photographs and 4K video. Its smaller 4.7-inch 720p screen isn't as bright and doesn't refresh as fast as the flagship models, but that also means that its battery doesn't get gobbled up as fast either. It sticks with Touch ID instead of Face ID, and boasts Qi wireless charging. It's IP67 water and dust resistant, and features image stabilization for rock-solid 4K 60fps video. Between the A13 Bionic chip and Apple-standard software updates, the iPhone SE is the best value handset out there.

Read more:

• These are the best camera phones in 2021
• •The best phablets
• Looking for the best budget camera phones? Try these!
Premium iPhone 11 will feature a triple-camera array (report)
10 fantastic iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max camera tips and tricks
• The best TikTok lights
Best camera for TikTok

Rod Lawton

Rod is the Group Reviews editor for Digital Camera World and across Future's entire photography portfolio, with decades of experience with cameras of all kinds. Previously he has been technique editor on N-Photo, Head of Testing for the photography division and Camera Channel editor on TechRadar. He has been writing about photography technique, photo editing and digital cameras since they first appeared, and before that began his career writing about film photography. He has used and reviewed practically every interchangeable lens camera launched in the past 20 years, from entry-level DSLRs to medium format cameras, together with lenses, tripods, gimbals, light meters, camera bags and more.