You’re probably considering whether it’s worthwhile to upgrade this year or wait one or two more years to obtain something that will have a little more staying power now that it’s a new year and a new iPhone. It was very simple to advise you to wait until the next cycle to upgrade last year, but this year’s alluring promises of a 48-megapixel camera and a new Dynamic Island in place of the notch make that recommendation harder.
Design and Build
The iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro have just minor aesthetic differences, as you might anticipate, but the physical dimensions of this year’s phone have changed just enough that last year’s cases will not fit on it. Apart from that inconvenience, I really find the phone’s look to be quite appealing because, well, I’ve grown quite accustomed to it. There is something to be said about the rather smooth transition from one to the other.
I will remark that it is evident that Apple has increased brightness for the iPhone 14 Pro over the model from last year. More than twice as bright as the TV in my living room, Apple’s new Super Retina XDR Display is a bespoke OLED with a peak brightness of 1,600 nits while showing HDR content and an absurd 2,000 nits outside. Since switching to the iPhone 14 Pro, I have a newfound appreciation for how bright it can get. I never actually thought my iPhone 13 Pro was dark.
To be honest, I didn’t really notice that the iPhone 14 Pro has probably improved the quality of the content I’m watching on my phone.
Another modification is the always-on display option, which is activated by default on the iPhone 14 Pro. Initially, I utilized this for a few days before deciding I didn’t like it; as a result, I now just leave my display off. I understand now because I have an Apple Watch with an always-on display. When you need to quickly glance down to check the time, it doesn’t always seem like a watch when you flick your wrist just so or tap the display. A smartphone, though? It feels like something I don’t need, and even though Apple claims it won’t significantly drain your battery, I didn’t see any reason why it should.
The Dynamic Island seldom ever appears in my daily usage, in my experience. The only other thing is that when I use Apollo to browse Reddit, my tiny puppy walks on top of it. There isn’t a fun way to use this functionality in any of my other products yet, but I anticipate that will change over time.
What I will say is that adding a strip of screen above the Dynamic Island’s ovular hole punch has made it just a little bit more difficult to hit the very top of my screen to initiate auto-scrolling to the top of a page. Even though the iPhone 13’s “notch” was criticized, at least it was a sizable target.
At PetaPixel, we are most concerned with the cameras. Apple claims to have created the finest iPhone camera every year, and this year’s improvements include increased main camera resolution, additional capture options, improved low-light performance, and more zoom capabilities.
The addition of a new 48-megapixel quad-pixel primary sensor, which Apple claims enables better images and new capabilities including an additional 2x telephoto for a total of four zoom options, is the largest improvement to the iPhone 14 Pro’s camera. While the primary camera is undoubtedly the star of the show, Apple claims that a new Photonic Engine has improved the low-light performance of all the cameras.
A nine-LED array with what Apple refers to as “adaptive” behavior has been added to the flash, which has also undergone modification. This is certainly useful, but it’s still flash, and I don’t like crucial lighting that comes from the same angle as the primary camera, which is why I’ve never been a fan of on-camera flash.
If there is one thing you take away from reading this review, I want it to be that Apple has figured out how to produce stunning photos under the right lighting conditions. The main camera of the iPhone 14 Pro is amazing in bright, sunny light. By default, the phone uses all of that 48-megapixel data and compresses it into a final image of only 12 megapixels, producing some of the highest-quality pixels I’ve ever seen in a smartphone and by far the best-looking images I’ve ever seen from an iPhone.
When looking at Program, which generates images that, if not for their 12-megapixel size, I’d believe originated from a full-size camera, the quality is even more stunning. There are no signs of the “blackness” I have come to expect from a cell phone camera, and even the minute details, such individual grass or hair blades, are all present. If I had one criticism, it would be that when shooting to JPEG or HEIC, colour appear a little muted, but that problem is easily fixable.
The 48-megapixel sensor’s additional advantage of being 65% bigger than the one in the iPhone 13 Pro looks to be large enough to produce some background and foreground defocus. In the past, if you were close enough to a subject and the background was far enough away, it was feasible to accomplish, but I’m noticing it more lately.
Considering how little I’ve learned to expect from smartphone zooms, even the new 2x zoom option, which is really a digital chop, looks great. While details aren’t quite as sharp as they are in the usual 1x setting, they still look fantastic. In such a crop, the details that would otherwise be destroyed are preserved.
Additionally, the ultra-wide camera has been enhanced, and according to Apple, the sensor is nearly twice as large as the one found on the iPhone 13 Pro in addition to software side improvements.
As a result, images shot with the wide camera typically seem decent, but in any lighting situation, they fall short of the primary camera’s quality. Sure, pictures taken during the day look quite good, but in my opinion, a wide-angle lens is better suited for capturing an entire scene than for producing art. But the value of a utility like that shouldn’t be minimized.
It is obvious that the telephoto camera hasn’t seen the same improvements as the other two cameras. Even though Apple’s Photonic Engine has made images marginally better, they still use the same sensor, making it the least reliable of the options. If you’re going to zoom, err on the side of the 2x rather than the 3x as the latter at least makes use of Apple’s more recent, larger sensor.
The 3x zoom of the telephoto lens is only worthwhile when there is a lot of light to work with, as opposed to the 2x zoom from the primary camera. The quality drastically declines once things start to get gloomy. On my iPhone 13 Pro, I discovered that I used the telephoto lens the least, and I don’t anticipate that changing with the iPhone 14 Pro.
Night and Other Modes
Although I like the concept of portrait mode, I’m still not a fan. Since its launch, the synthetic bokeh that is used to create the illusion of a larger sensor hasn’t seemed to get any better, or at least any advancements haven’t kept up with my expectations of what they ought to be. In general, I find that blurring the background in Portrait mode distracts me more than an in-focus, undisturbed background does.
Of course, the main camera’s significantly larger sensor makes it the ideal option for Night Mode. It can be used with the ultra-wide, but none of the telephoto camera’s low-light pictures I took were satisfactory.
Although there are rumor’s that it doesn’t focus as closely as the iPhone 13 Pro camera’s did, Macro Mode is back and functions roughly the same as it did last year. Since I was able to go up close to my subjects and accurately capture their details, I can’t say that I was aware of it.
Even though we don’t discuss video often at PetaPixel, Apple has made some significant advancements in the iPhone’s video-shooting capabilities that we would be negligent not to note. The most noticeable change is that Action Mode enables incredibly smooth video even when you’re moving the phone around. I was genuinely surprised by how well the camera could stabilize movement even before turning on Action Mode, but after activating the new feature, film genuinely appears to have been taken with a gimbal.
Having said that, there are drawbacks. The highest definition footage that can be recorded in Action Mode is 2.8K at 60 frames per second. On a full-size monitor, I did observe that pixels in Action Mode became much less distinct (this wasn’t noticeable on the iPhone when comparing footage). Although the video is still what I would describe as “good,” it is unquestionably less clear and defined than when Action Mode is turned off. Nevertheless, it’s wonderful to have options, and occasionally a smooth shot is more important than a high resolution.
Additionally, the iPhone can now film in 4K at a framerate of 24 frames per second in Cinematic mode, which is preferred by visual storytellers because it looks more natural than 30 or 60 frames per second, which can look jittery or too smooth.
The video captured on the iPhone 14 Pro is excellent. For the past year, the iPhone has been our top pick for the best smartphone for video, and I don’t see that changing.
A Legitimate Camera
While Canon, Sony, Nikon, Fujifilm, and the like are all very secure when it comes to a mix of resolution and quality, Apple is likely to start making them sweat. Full-size camera quality in a smartphone has been creeping closer and closer.
Apple appears to realize that even while a smartphone can fit many megapixels, a good camera isn’t necessarily one of them. Because I don’t think the utilization of those pixels will be excellent, I’m not impressed when I see a 200-megapixel smartphone announced. Apple demonstrates how it can produce a final 12-megapixel image that looks like it was captured with a full-size camera using just 48 megapixels.
If I’m being honest, the remainder of the bundle doesn’t feel all that different. The Dynamic Island is very cool, but it is hardly used. Although the screen is wonderfully bright and lovely in my opinion, the model from last year will still work just fine. The remaining modifications strongly resemble those in iOS 16, which is accessible on more than just this phone.
But because I am not accustomed to seeing this kind of improvement in performance from one generation of Apple smartphones to the next, the camera genuinely surprised me.
Are There Alternatives?
For the most part, people who have grown accustomed to living in Apple’s walled-garden ecosystem won’t want to even consider leaving it, but for those who can be persuaded, there is a lot to like about the Vivo X70 Pro+ because its camera system is seriously impressive and is currently our top pick for Android-based devices. If you can be persuaded to join team blue, Sony’s Xperia Pro-I is also rather impressive. Finally, the Google Pixel 6 Pro is a great option, however, you might want to wait for the company’s upcoming model right now.
Should You Buy It?
Yes. If the camera is truly essential to you and you’re still using an iPhone 13 Pro from last year, this upgrade is actually worthwhile. It’s an even simpler recommendation if you’re using a previous iPhone model because you’ll be even more amazed by how much better the experience on the iPhone 14 Pro is, even without the camera upgrades.