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iPhone 12 Pro or iPhone 11 Pro: Which Apple smartphone should you buy?

iPhone 12 Pro or iPhone 11 Pro
(Image credit: Amy Davies/Digital Camera World)

iPhone 12 Pro or iPhone 11 Pro? That is the question... should you go for the newest Apple model, or save a few bucks on what seems a similar smartphone? We have been using both side by side, to help you decide.

In a year where everything has radically changed, one thing has stayed the same - Apple’s annual release of a new iPhone. Not content with launching just one model, the Californian giant announced four different models. 

The iPhone 12 Pro is one of the two “pro” models, which we think photographers are most likely to be interested in - the other being the slightly larger (and with slightly different camera specs) iPhone 12 Pro Max. 

That said, many who already have last year’s iPhone 11 Pro might be wondering whether it’s worth upgrading at all. Similarly, if have an older model - or even a completely different brand - you might be contemplating whether you can save money by avoiding the latest model.

Let’s see if we can help you figure it out… 

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 11 Pro: Camera

(Image credit: Amy Davies/Digital Camera World)

When it comes to the photography aspect of these two phones, they are extremely similar. Both have a triple lens set up offering a standard (26mm) view, a 2x telephoto (52mm) and an ultra-wide angle lens (13mm) for you to choose between. The aperture is ever so slightly wider on the iPhone 12 Pro’s standard lens (f/1.6 compared with f/1.8), but otherwise the setup is virtually identical. 

Apple has also added a “LiDAR” scanner, which promises to bring a range of benefits, including faster autofocus in low light. In practice, we’ve found that focus acquisition is marginally faster - but perhaps only because we were particularly looking out for it. We’re not entirely sure the average person would be able to spot much of a difference, except in perhaps extreme low light conditions.

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 11 Pro: standard lenses 

iphone 12 pro or iphone 11 pro

iPhone 11 Pro: Standard lens (Image credit: Amy Davies/Digital Camera World)

iphone 12 pro or iphone 11 pro

iPhone 11 Pro: Standard lens (Image credit: Amy Davies/Digital Camera World)

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 11 Pro: ultra-wide lenses

iPhone 11 Pro: Ultra-wide lens (Image credit: Amy Davies/Digital Camera World)

iPhone 12 Pro: Ultra-wide lens (Image credit: Amy Davies/Digital Camera World)

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 11 Pro: telephoto lenses

iPhone 11 Pro: Telephoto lens (Image credit: Amy Davies/Digital Camera World)

iPhone 12 Pro: Telephoto lens (Image credit: Amy Davies/Digital Camera World)

The bigger differences come down to software, rather than hardware, tweaks. Big news for enthusiast photographers is the addition of Apple’s ProRAW format, which should give you lots of scope to adjust your shots in post-production. Sadly, this isn’t available from launch so we have to wait until an iOS upgrade to test that functionality out. According to Apple, this won’t be rolled out to the iPhone 11 range, so if you want it, you’ll definitely need an iPhone 12 Pro or Pro Max. 

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 11 Pro: Night mode

iPhone 11 Pro: Night portrait mode (Image credit: Amy Davies/Digital Camera World)

iPhone 12 Pro: Night portrait mode (Image credit: Amy Davies/Digital Camera World)

Both phones are loaded with the impressive Night Mode and Deep Fusion technologies that debuted in the iPhone 11 series, but a new addition for the 12 Pro series is the ability to combine Night Mode with Portrait Mode, thanks to the LiDAR scanner - so you should get better low light people shots. In real-world testing, we found that the iPhone 12 Pro did produce better detail in night-time portraits, so if it’s something you’re likely to do a lot, it’s a nice - if relatively minor - upgrade.

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 11 Pro: Portrait mode

iPhone 11 Pro:  portrait mode (Image credit: Amy Davies/Digital Camera World)

iPhone 12 Pro:  portrait mode (Image credit: Amy Davies/Digital Camera World)

We’ve spent a lot of time with both the iPhone 11 Pro and the iPhone 12 Pro, and looking at images side to side in the vast majority of cases provides little noticeable difference. You can spot some variation when using Portrait mode - with the older iPhone 11 Pro producing warmer tones than the more realistic 12 Pro - in isolation the difference isn’t particularly striking, but put them together and it becomes much more apparent. 

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 11 Pro: Video

Again, video functionality is broadly similar across both devices. Both can shoot 4K at up to 60fps. However, the iPhone 12 Pro series adds Dolby Vision HDR for video recording. You’ll only be able to view the full effect of this type of recording on compatible devices (such as the iPhone itself, or a Mac running Catalina OS). For the average user, it’s probably fair to say that this isn’t enough of an improvement to warrant an upgrade on its own – but content creators, vloggers and anybody who wants to use the iPhone 12 Pro for advanced or professional videos is likely to find it appealing. 

iPhone 11: 4K video

iPhone 12: 4K Dolby HDR video

iPhone 12: 4K non-HDR video

iPhone 12 Pro or iPhone 11 Pro: Connectivity 

(Image credit: Amy Davies/Digital Camera World)

5G is one of the big buzzwords of the past few months, and with the iPhone 12 Pro it finally comes to an Apple device. The iPhone 11 Pro is only compatible with 4G connectivity, so if you spend a lot of time downloading (or uploading) content, then you might be tempted by the much faster speeds. 

Most contract and SIM-only providers price 5G and 4G the same, so it shouldn’t cost you anything extra to access these faster speeds if it’s something you think you need. That said, if you mostly use your phone inside your home, or are a relatively low-data consumer, it again might not be enough to consider the upgrade alone.

iPhone 12 Pro or iPhone 11 Pro: Screen & design 

(Image credit: Amy Davies/Digital Camera World)

Here we’ve got a bigger noticeable difference between the iPhone 12 Pro and the iPhone 11 Pro. The iPhone 12 Pro has a larger 6.1-inch screen, compared to the iPhone 11 Pro’s 5.8-inch device. Impressively, Apple does this inside an overall device which is (slightly) slimmer and narrower than the older device, and just 1.3mm taller. It also weighs 1g less than its predecessor - 187g vs 188g.

If you want to know the exact iPhone 12 Pro dimensions, it’s 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.4mm, while the iPhone 11 Pro dimensions are 144 x 71.4 x 81.1mm.

The screen is also now tougher than its predecessor, with a ceramic shield front which is said to be 4x better for “drop performance” - which is you’re a little on the clumsy side could be good news. Both screens are Super Retina XDR devices, with both offering similar resolutions and ppi (pixels per inch), and the same brightness. When placed next to each other, images on either screen look nigh-on identical.

Apple has also rewound the clock a little when it comes to design, turning to its squared off edges of the iPhone 4 era. It’s not for us to decide which of those you prefer as that’s down to you as an individual, however one arguable benefit it brings to photographers is that you can balance the iPhone on its side - which could come in useful for certain shots. Another benefit is that the iPhone 12 Pro is slightly more water resistant - it can now go to 6 metres, compared to 4. 

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 11 Pro: Battery and capacity 

Apple generally plays its cards close to its chest when it comes to exact battery capacity, but by comparing the “playback” specs tells us that the iPhone 12 Pro battery is ever so slightly less than the iPhone 11 Pro. For most people, the difference will be barely noticeable, so it’s probably not worth worrying about too much - but if you wish your iPhone 11 Pro’s battery would last longer, you might be disappointed. 

Another potential disappointment is the lack of battery power adapter included in the box of the iPhone 12 Pro. Apple says this to help the environment since many people already have iPhone chargers - but if you don’t, or yours has broken/gone walkabout, then you’ll need to buy one. You can quickly charge either iPhone to 50% capacity in just 30 minutes with a 20W adapter.

Better news is that Apple has boosted the memory capacity of the iPhone 12 Pro series, with the minimum amount available being 128GB. That’s great news for photographers or videographers who might have found the 64GB base model of the iPhone 11 Pro series to be a little on the small side. It’s not possible to expand storage with either iPhone, so if you think you might run out, it’s worth buying the larger capacity if you can.

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 11 Pro: Accessories

MagSafe charger on iPhone 12 Pro (Image credit: apple)

One of the big improvements that Apple was keen to go into some detail about at the keynote launch of the iPhone 12 series was compatibility with “MagSafe” accessories and wireless chargers. 

That means you can use accessories such as powerful wireless chargers for quick charging, and special wallet cases with the iPhone 12 Pro. For some this will be considered a small upgrade, while for others, it’ll be a bigger deal. Being able to quickly boost your phone’s power wirelessly is certainly a nice luxury, but it’s unlikely to be considered an essential function for most.

As the two screens are different sizes, of course, you can not use the same phone cases on the two devices.

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 11 Pro: Price

Apple has already removed the iPhone 11 Pro from its website, but you can still pick it up from other sites, such as Amazon. That said, as a standalone unit, you won’t necessarily save that much by going for the older model - for example, when writing this an iPhone 12 Pro 128GB currently cost £999, compared to £919 for an 64GB iPhone 11 Pro. But the price difference may change - so do check the current deals below!

If you’re buying the phone outright and you don’t already have an iPhone 11 Pro, it likely makes more sense to go straight for the newer model. You might find bigger variances when it comes to phone contracts, but with hundreds of different offers and variables, it’s hard for us to come to any firm conclusion on that front – but be sure to check or ask how much of a saving you’d make by opting for the older model.

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 11 Pro: Conclusion

(Image credit: Amy Davies/Digital Camera World)

As ever with these things, it’s hard to come up with a definitive, straightforward answer. 

The iPhone 12 Pro is a better phone than the iPhone 11 Pro without question, but whether it’s worth spending a large sum of money to upgrade to it is another matter and comes down to a number of different variables. 

From a photography or video perspective, the cameras on the new model are very similar to those on the iPhone 11 Pro. The biggest upgrades are the addition of ProRAW, Dolby HDR video and Night Portrait mode. The first is very tempting for enthusiasts – the latter two are a bit more niche. If you’re broadly happy with how your iPhone 11 Pro photos turn out, it might not be worth the upgrade, but if you want more control, it could be a wise investment.

There are a number of other improvements which have little or nothing to do with photography, such as the larger screen, 5G connectivity and the tweak in design.

Put all these somewhat small upgrades together and you have a good evolution of the iPhone 12 Pro, but if you’re already in possession of an iPhone 11 Pro, skipping this generation and waiting for the iPhone 13 isn’t too much of a punishment as you still have a very capable phone. 

If you have an iPhone X or older, or are maybe coming across from an Android phone, it’s definitely worth going straight to the iPhone 12 Pro and missing out the iPhone 11 Pro, as it’s a much better value proposition – especially when bought outright. 

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