The iPhone 12 Pro Won’t Magically Make You a ‘Pro’ Photographer

Cover image is a screenshot from Peter McKinnon’s latest video. Check it out!

Let me just say that I love what Apple is doing to push the photo industry — and the creativity industry forward. iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro first impressions videos are finally live on YouTube, with some of the best coming from MKBHD and Peter McKinnon. While there are lots of things to talk about, especially as Apple has basically headlined all of Techtober, one of the most important features to buyers is undoubtedly the new(-ish) camera set-up. And given the hefty new price tag that comes with each version of the phone, we need to continue to talk about the difference between cost and value.

This year, the biggest upgrade across the entire line will be felt with iOS 14, the A14 Bionic chip, and upgrades to Apple’s Deep Fusion HDR processing, not necessarily the hardware of the new phones (save for the Pro Max’s increased sensor size and sensor-shift stabilization, but that’s a different story.) That being said, it’s still interesting to watch a video like this to see just how the new 12s handle in the real-world, and from a professional photographer’s perspective.

Across most lighting conditions, this level of dynamic range will be insane to have in your pocket for everyday pics. The ability to record 10-bit Dolby Vision with the same device truly has the potential to change the way we all think about mobile filmmaking. And whether you’re shooting stills or videos, with some basic editing in either the stock Photos app or 3rd party apps like Lightroom or Premiere Rush, this could be the best camera that many buyers have ever used, period. But you’ll be paying for it.

Can you use this phone to take the pro-looking shots during the day and at night? Absolutely. Can you use it to record something like a documentary or short film? Of course. Could this replace something like a full DSLR or Mirrorless camera for a lot of casual photographers or enthusiasts? Maybe. But as Peter McKinnon says at the end here, “Can you drive a jeep without the doors in the middle of winter? Well, yeah, but you probably won’t want to.”

We all know that iPhones generally take stellar shots. Countless “#shotoniphone” campaigns over the last few years have adorned billboards worldwide and thanks to years of fragmentation across Android, most users think high-quality photos are practically an Apple exclusive. Speaking from personal experience, even older versions like the iPhone 8 (even in 2020) can still produce gorgeous images, given the right conditions and subject matter. But honestly, so will most phones released in the last 12-18 months.

The way that a lot of phones are sold as ‘pro’ these days is very misleading to everyday consumers, and I’m not the first person to feel this way. The cheapest iPhone 12 starts at $700 (without a charger in the box) and gets you a standard wide-angle lens and an ultra-wide lens. The Pixel 4a is $350 flat and comes with the standard wide-angle but if you want the ultra-wide, too, the Pixel 4a 5G will only set you back $500 (and all Pixel models come with an 18W charger in the box.) Both have Google’s incredible image processing and Night Sight/ Astrophotography modes, too. I’ve personally been using the 4a for a few weeks and have been blown away by the image quality on a device at this price point.

This is not to say that any generic phone will always match the new 12s in terms of picture quality, video quality, or even user experience, because a lot of factors go into each of those. Plus, I haven’t even touched on things like Apple’s new ProRAW file format for editing, but this won’t impact most everyday users. Now, it’s easy to watch a video like Peter’s and think, ‘the moment I get the new 12 Pro Max, I’m going to take images *just* like that!’ And sure, you can and probably will at some point. But above all else, aside from any new buzzwordy feature or ad campaign or YouTube review, given enough light and an interesting subject matter, most modern phones will still produce nice images, especially just for social media (which most users are thinking about anyways when it comes to this topic.)

When it came time for me to decide which new phone to get a few weeks ago, I naturally gravitated towards the then-unannounced iPhone 12 (Pro) for the photography experience. Now, I may have a dedicated photo account on Instagram yet I am by no means a pro; I’ve never been paid for a photograph in my life and until that day comes, I generally refer to myself as an enthusiast more than anything, one who has taken some of his favorite shots on outdated hardware and second-hand cameras. So when I saw the starting price point of $1000, I thought about what I’m actually looking for in a smartphone camera, what kind of images I usually take with my phone, and if that new pacific blue color was really worth a month’s rent.

If you have money to blow, want the most premium experience across the board, and genuinely feel that you’d make personal or professional use of the new recording features, the 12 & 12 Pro (Max) are the way to go, hands down. People like Peter McKinnon, Marques Brownlee, and the rest of YouTube’s upper echelon of tech reviewers and photographers will easily see these as a no brainer for their daily driver and a useful part of their professional workflows.

But if you’re just looking for a modern camera set-up, excellent image processing, and the versatility to take great night photos & portrait shots with the phone in your pocket, it’s important to note that you have more options than ever. As the saying goes, ‘the best camera to have is the one you’ve got with you,’ not just the most expensive.


Published by Dan Rosen

Documentary Photographer | Lover or Moleskine notebooks and Pilot G2 pens | Avid (and honest) Google Maps food critic

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