After six years of offering a 12-megapixel module on its iPhones, Apple has decided to offer something better for its Pro models. How the iPhone 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max inaugurate a main sensor of 48 Mpx (f/1.8, 24 mm equiv.), a big leap for the Californian company, which has to face an increasingly aggressive Android fleet in terms of mobile photography.
It must be said that the main opponents of the iPhone have all left 12 Mpx for a while. It was Samsung that opened hostilities with the Galaxy S Ultra, which has offered a 108 Mpx main module for three years. Google then joined the fray with its Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, which moved to a 50MP wide-angle after years under the 12MP regime. If Apple’s software processing is among the best on the market, we cannot fully trust it. From then on, the switch to better hardware had to be thought over for a long time until it was available on the 2022 models.
A very “classic” operation
With the iPhone 12 Pro, Apple has integrated a function to record 12 Mpx images in raw format: a mode called ProRAW, found again on the 13 Pro model and also returning to the 14 Pro version. Unlike the previous two years, the ProRAW mode on the iPhone 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max allows you to switch to 48 Mpx, i.e. full definition. Because yes, like the competition, the iPhone 14 Pro takes photos in 12 Mpx as standard thanks to the technology from pixel binding which consists of merging four pixels into one.
Theoretically, 48 Mpx photos should provide much more detail than those taken by default. A theory that is not always verified on Android, whether with this definition or even higher (64 or 108 Mpx). Apple is Apple, and given the number of years to switch from 12 to 48 Mpx, we can expect a real difference.
Let’s add that in addition to the hardware, Tim Cook’s company seems to have gone through the software treatment. Fi therefore of Deep Fusion and make room for the Photonic Engine, its evolution. A solution that will primarily improve recordings taken in low light thanks to machine learning. Texture, micro-contrast, noise and detail are optimized to offer the best possible reproduction. Nothing new as it is simply software processing, but now bears a good name Made in Apple.
48 Mpx in the service of detail
Few of the “full definition” modes are truly satisfying. In general, switching from standard mode to pro mode does not lead to more detail or better overall quality. But it’s clear that Apple has it under control. If the 12 Mpx remains more than correct, the transition to 48 Mpx gives another shot. More details, better color rendering and controlled contrast: Apple offers a completely different rendering, softer and leaves more freedom in post-production.
We notice even more detail in the image when comparing to a 100% crop on both sides. The faces are more detailed, as is the piece of map that is often missing.
During the day, 48 Mpx gives a different dimension to the images, but it’s another pair of sleeves at night. The rendering in ProRAW certainly seems fairer, closer to natural and softer, but the exposure in 12 Mpx seems more flattering. The micro-contrast is also more pronounced (sometimes too much), but overall gives a slightly more pleasant picture.
We can verify this observation with a 100% crop. The 48 MP image is far from useless – and can still be reworked – but the 12 MP image has an expressive and more interesting rendering.
Faced with the Google Pixel 6 Pro – which doesn’t allow you to let loose and take pictures in full resolution, i.e. 50 Mpx – the battle is a bit closer. Observing 12 Mpx, the processing operated by the Google smartphone gives a more flattering result, but not necessarily much more detailed. The image takes on a warmer tone and handles shadows better, providing more micro-contrast.
The level of detail is satisfactory in the image taken with the ProRAW mode (therefore in 48 Mpx). Many will prefer the image of the Pixel 6, which, processed, turns out to be more pleasant, but it must be said that the iPhone 14 Pro in full definition makes it admirable. Despite a more “flat” rendering, Apple’s 48 Mpx module manages to stand up to the Pixel 6’s.
To better judge the capabilities of the 48 Mpx mode on the iPhone 14 Pro, we compared its Pro Max version with the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, which allows you to record in 108 Mpx, as well as with the Oppo Find X5 Pro, which goes up to 50 Mpx in full format.
In both cases, it is the iPhone that delivers a more natural result and, above all, much less processing. The Samsung model offers quite aggressive software processing of the colors (very saturated) and the sharpness is not as important as on apple smartphones. On the Chinese Oppo side, the Find X5 Pro presents a rather interesting and very flattering picture. However, the contrast is a little too strong, which tends to distort the image.
What to remember?
At the end of the day, what Apple does is provide the ability to take a 48 Mpx photo in raw format, which Samsung, Oppo and Google do not. If they give permission to take a photo in the full definition of the sensor (apart from the Pixel), it should not be forgotten that what comes out is a JPG that has already undergone a good software processing behind it, just to deliver an image that is immediately usable and, above all, more pleasing to the eye.
The 48 Mpx image from the iPhone 14 Pro is a raw material that allows its editing on external software such as Lightroom or Photoshop, as long as the user has the guts to do so. It is possible on the iPhone thanks to various apps, but not available to everyone. Admittedly, the full-resolution image will be less flattering on the eye, but this is the option to choose if you want the best possible quality. Let’s add that, depending on the scene, the differences between 12 and 48 Mpx will not be very striking, but full definition at least has the advantage of more zoom in the image.
The 48 Mpx mode therefore has a real interest, it is within everyone’s reach thanks to its easy and quick activation. However, if you prefer ready-made images, then you will not benefit from it.