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iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 13 Pro: which Apple smartphone should you buy?

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 13 Pro
(Image credit: Amy Davies/Digital Camera World)

iPhone 13 Pro or iPhone 12 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.

As sure as night follows day, each year there’s the age old question about which is better - the latest flagship iPhone or the one that came before it? This year, the iPhone 13 Pro represents a series of fairly small or incremental changes on the iPhone 12 Pro, but there’s still enough significant differences - particularly between the onboard cameras - to warrant a discussion about which one is right to buy. 

The iPhone 13 Pro is one of two “Pro” models which we think will appeal most to photographers. The other is the iPhone 13 Pro Max, but, as the camera units are the same on both models, you can apply this comparison to that device too in most respects. This marks a change from last year where there were slight variances between the cameras on the Pro and the Pro Max versions. 

That aside, the iPhone 13 Pro has some very similar specifications to the iPhone 12 Pro, with neither of them being no slouch when it comes to camera performance. That may very well leave you wondering if it’s worth upgrading at all - or whether it might be worth opting for an older model and saving some cash.

Let’s see how the duo stack up against each other…

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 13 Pro: Camera

(Image credit: Amy Davies/Digital Camera World)

In many respects, both the iPhone 13 Pro and the iPhone 12 Pro are very similar. Both offer a triple lens set up, and each has a standard, ultra-wide and a telephoto lens. But there’s been some small but key changes under the hood. 

The iPhone 13 Pro’s standard lens, which is 26mm equivalent, has a slightly faster aperture (f/1.5 vs f/1.6) and also uses the larger sensor size previously only found in the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Put these two specifications together and we should see better low-light performance. On a similar note, the ultra wide angle lens (13mm equivalent) now has a much wider f/1.8 aperture, when compared to the f/2.4 lens on the iPhone 12 Pro. 

Lastly, the telephoto lens for the iPhone 13 Pro has been bumped up to 3x (78mm equivalent), compared with the 2x of the iPhone 12 Pro, or 2.5x of the iPhone 12 Pro Max. You do lose out a little when it comes to aperture though, with the iPhone 13 Pro’s being f/2.8 compared to the iPhone 12 Pro’s f/2.0. 

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iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 13 Pro

iPhone 12 Pro - tele lens (swipe to see other camera views) (Image credit: Amy Davies/Digital Camera World)
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iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 13 Pro

iPhone 12 Pro - ultra wide lens (swipe to see other camera views) (Image credit: Amy Davies/Digital Camera World)
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iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 13 Pro

iPhone 12 Pro - standard lens (swipe to see other camera views) (Image credit: Amy Davies/Digital Camera World)
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iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 13 Pro

iPhone 13 Pro - tele lens (swipe to see other camera views) (Image credit: Amy Davies/Digital Camera World)
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iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 13 Pro

iPhone 13 Pro - tele lens (swipe to see other camera views) (Image credit: Amy Davies/Digital Camera World)
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iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 13 Pro

iPhone 13 Pro - standard lens (swipe to see other camera views) (Image credit: Amy Davies/Digital Camera World)

A new addition for the iPhone 13 Pro is the ability to focus extremely close-up in a new automatic macro mode. This works by switching to the ultra-wide camera when a close-subject has been detected. As it does it automatically, there’s no way to stop it happening, but it’s quite a striking difference compared to the iPhone 12 Pro which doesn’t offer the same functionality.

Aside from the addition of the A15 Bionic chip (processor) for the iPhone 13 Pro - claimed to be the iPhone’s faster chip ever, many of the same specifications have been brought across from the iPhone 12 Pro. That includes many things, but notable specs include the “LiDAR” scanner which promises faster autofocus in low light (compared to the iPhone 11 Pro), 4K video recording and the general screen and body design.

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

iPhone 13 Pro - Macro mode (Image credit: Amy Davies/Digital Camera World)

There’s also the same ability to record in Apple’s ProRAW format (DNG) available on both phones, giving you scope to make adjustments in post-production if necessary. 

That said, there’s been a couple of other software-type tweaks for the iPhone 13 Pro which are worth thinking about. Most excitingly, probably, is the addition of Cinematic Mode for video recording, which recreates a shallow depth of field effect.  This is something we’ve seen from other manufacturers in the past so it’s not hugely surprising to see Apple finally adding it to the iPhone. The other new addition is “Photo Styles” which you can use to change the look of your shots directly at the point of capture. These can be customized to your own preferences, and are also available on the more basic / cheaper iPhone 13. What’s interesting is the fact that despite it being a software tweak, as of yet, they’re not available on the iPhone 12 Pro - but it’s something that perhaps may be added at a later date.

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 13 Pro: Night Mode and low-light shooting 

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

iPhone 13 Pro night mode (Image credit: Amy Davies/Digital Camera World)

Both phones are packing the same impressive Night Mode and Deep Fusion technologies, both of which debuted in the iPhone 11 series. The LiDAR Scanner comes into play for low light portraits, but otherwise the software tech is the same here. As the iPhone 13 Pro has a slightly larger sensor and a wider aperture however for the main/standard, there are some slight differences which you can see if you examine pretty closely but otherwise aren’t hugely obvious at first glance. 

iPhone 13 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro: Portrait mode

iPhone 12 Pro Portrait Mode (Image credit: Amy Davies/Digital Camera World)

iPhone 12 Pro Portrait Mode (Image credit: Amy Davies/Digital Camera World)

Both the iPhone 13 Pro and the iPhone 12 Pro have the same portrait mode that we’ve seen on the last few generations of iPhone. However, as the telephoto lens for the newer model is a 3x zoom, rather than 2x, there is a clearly marked difference between the two when shooting with the 2x/3x option enabled.

If you shoot at the 1x option to include more of the background/context of whatever it is you’re photographing - bearing in mind that Portrait mode is not just for Portraits but for any subject which you want to isolate from the background - the differences are a lot more subtle. 

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 13 Pro: Video

iPhone 12 Pro video sample

iPhone 13 Pro video sample

Although video functionality is broadly similar across both devices - both have the ability to record 4K at up to 60fps, and both have Dolby Vision HDR, there is one key difference seen in the addition of Cinematic Mode. 

You can use this to create shallow depth of field effects for moving subjects, something which was previously only available for stills shooting with the iPhone 12 Pro.

It works pretty well for the iPhone 13 Pro, particularly if the subject - such as a person or a pet - has a reasonably well-defined outline. That said, you can’t record this in 4K so it’s perhaps more something you might consider a fun effect rather than anything more seriously. It also seems reasonably likely that this could come to the iPhone 12 Pro via a firmware upgrade at some point.

The iPhone 13 Pro will also have “ProRes” (Apple’s professional video format) 4K recording available later in the year - but crucially this will only be available for devices with at least 256GB of storage, so if you’re seriously into your vlogging, make sure you plump for a higher capacity device - ProRes video will take up a lot of space on your phone.  ProRes at 1080p will be available for 128GB models. 

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 13 Pro: Screen & design 

(Image credit: Amy Davies/Digital Camera World)

While the iPhone 12 Pro marked somewhat of a design departure from its predecessor, the iPhone 13 Pro is almost identical to its forebear. Both the iPhone 13 Pro and the iPhone 12 Pro have 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR screens, with both offering HDR displays at the same resolution.

The iPhone 13 Pro adds ProMotion technology with adaptive refresh rates, but, looking at both of these phones next to each other it’s really quite difficult to spot the difference - so it seems unlikely most people will notice much of a change in isolation. The iPhone 13 Pro is also slightly brighter (1000 nits vs 800 nits in typical usage), but again this is difficult to spot. 

Both also feature the same IP68 water resistance, meaning the phones can be taken down to 6 metres for up to 30 minutes. Or more realistically for most users, can stand being dropped in the bath or exposed to a heavy downpour. Both models also use the same tough ceramic shield front which was said to be 4x better for “drop performance” than the iPhone 11 Pro - good news for the clumsy among us.

(Image credit: Amy Davies/Digital Camera World)

In terms of size, shape and weight, the two iPhones are almost identical, with the iPhone 13 Pro being fractionally deeper. If you want to know the exact measurements, that’s 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.6mm (iPhone 13 Pro) compared with 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.4mm (iPhone 12 Pro). In other words, it’s just different enough to warrant you having to buy a completely new phone case too - thanks Apple!

The iPhone 13 Pro is slightly heavier at 203g vs 187g, but again it’s hardly noticeable in reality. Apple has stuck with the squared off curved edges of the iPhone 12 Pro for the iPhone 13 Pro - the best way to play spot the difference between the two models is to flip them over where the newer model’s larger camera lenses make it most apparent. 

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 13 Pro: Battery and capacity 

(Image credit: Amy Davies/Digital Camera World)

Apple never officially reveals the exact specs when it comes to battery capacity, but we can glean enough information from the stated “playback” life of both models to tell us more or less what we need to know.

The iPhone 13 Pro offers a longer playback than its predecessor, but, given that the devices are roughly the same size, this seems likely to be down to the A15 Bionic chip inside the newer model being more efficient and therefore making it last longer. Either way, we’ve found that both models generally comfortably last the day with moderate usage. 

Last year’s iPhone 12 Pro was the first iPhone model to come without a charger in the box (you do get the cable). Not surprisingly, this has continued for the iPhone 13 Pro - but given that most people have plenty of USB adapters lying around this is unlikely to be a deal breaker. If you have a 20W adapter, you can fast charge both phones up to 50% in just 30 minutes. 

Both are also compatible with the MagSafe accessories, which includes a fast wireless charger. You can charge both the phones wirelessly with other compatible wireless chargers, but it won’t be as quick.

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 13 Pro: Price

(Image credit: Amy Davies/Digital Camera World)

The iPhone 12 Pro has already gone from Apple’s official website, but you can still get it from other third-party retailers such as Amazon. You may also be offered it as part of a contract from the network providers. But do note that the price difference may bee a lot less than you expect, judging from deals we've been seeing

With that in mind, if you’re buying the phone outright and don’t already have a 12 Pro, it seems likely that you may as well pay just a little bit more and get the newer model. 

Prices are likely to vary fairly widely between different network providers however, so it’s harder to make a bolder statement about those variables - it’s always worth checking to see the saving when going for the older model, and if it’s quite significant, definitely consider it carefully. 

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 13 Pro: Conclusion 

(Image credit: Amy Davies/Digital Camera World)

As is almost always the case, coming up with a definitive and easy-to-summarise conclusion here is not particularly straightforward.

While the iPhone 13 Pro is unarguably a better phone than the iPhone 12 Pro, the differences between the two are reasonably subtle and therefore won’t necessarily be worthy of an upgrade for many people. 

In terms of body design, connectivity (both are 5G), screen and so on, the two phones are nigh-on identical. If you base your phone buying decisions on the quality of the on-board cameras, it’s here that we actually see more noticeable differences between the two, which is interesting. Here, there are some upgrades which are fairly tempting, but perhaps more so if you're upgrading from an older model than the 12 Pro. 

The big upgrades are the new longer telephoto lens, the larger sensor for the main camera, the addition of Cinematic Mode for Video, Picture Styles for stills and the new close-focusing option. All of these things are nice to have, and add up together to make a nice set of upgrades, but are arguably not likely to be used enough to justify a big spend if you already have the 12 Pro. 

If you have an iPhone 11 Pro or older and you want to upgrade because you've had it for a couple of years, the price difference between the 12 Pro and the 13 Pro is so minimal that you may as well plump for the 13 Pro, but otherwise, the 13 Pro is a generation that many may choose to skip and wait for the 14 series.

If you can find good deals on contract, or the second hand market for the older 12 Pro model, it may also be worth considering going for the older handset if it’s upgrade time. Otherwise, if you’re buying outright, brand new from most retailers, the iPhone 13 Pro offers the best value for money.

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