Apple says the iPhone 15 Pro models have “seven lenses” in one device. That’s some creative math. There’s the macro camera, which is born out of the ultrawide camera having autofocus capabilities; the ultrawide; the 2X zoom, which crops the center of the main 48-MP sensor for a sharp result; and then the 3X or 5X zoom, depending on the Pro model. In between, Apple has denoted “24 mm, 28 mm, and 35 mm” focal length options, which are effectively 1X, 1.2X, and 1.5X zoom.
Apple insists these focal lengths are more than just digital zoom since they utilize the new image processing pipeline to produce sharp results. Frankly, I can’t refute this. The photos, compared to the same zoom levels on the iPhone 14 Pro, are indeed slightly sharper and have less noise. (I like shooting at 35 mm best!) That said, since you have to tap the 1X button three times to cycle between these three specific focal lengths, I can’t help but think that the vast majority of users will forget this feature even exists.
I strolled around New York City at weird hours to snap more than 250 photos to test the camera against the iPhone 14 Pro, Google Pixel 7 Pro, and Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra. Without boring you with the nitty-gritty, here’s my consensus: The iPhone 15 Pro Max is the best camera phone right now, and the most consistent. Apple isn’t as far ahead of the competition as it likes to suggest. There were certain scenes where I thought the skin tones on the Pixel were nicer. Samsung’s selfie camera seems to be sharper in low light. The iPhone’s 5X zoom captures more detail than Google’s 5X zoom, but it certainly can’t compete with the 10X zoom on the S23 Ultra. Apple does have a nice lead in the video department though.
Lastly, I want to touch on performance. The A17 Pro enables these iPhones to tackle more graphically demanding games, and that means AAA games like Resident Evil Village and Assassin’s Creed Mirage are coming to the App Store later this year. I demoed a beta version of Resident Evil Village, and I’m quite mixed on the experience. For one thing, I really don’t like touchscreen controls, especially when a game has lots of buttons you need to press. The phone also gets uncomfortably hot after about 30 minutes of play, if not sooner. Things are much nicer when you connect a controller like the Backbone One.
The visual quality of the game is impressive … most of the time. There are scenes where the resolution dips so things look a bit blotchy. Still, I haven’t seen a game tax an iPhone in some time, and this is a pretty big step to bridge the portable gaming world with smartphones even further. But how much will these games cost? If they’re going to have AAA pricing of $60, I’d much rather buy them for dedicated gaming consoles where I can enjoy greater graphical fidelity, like my PC or even the Steam Deck. Capcom and Ubisoft have yet to announce release dates and pricing for these titles.
As much as I hate to suggest spending more, if you’re going to buy a Pro iPhone this year, the Pro Max is what I’d go for with its beefier battery and the 5X zoom camera. The question is do you need a Pro iPhone or Apple’s latest? You can try to find the iPhone 14 Pro at other retailers for a cheaper price. Unless you’re all in on USB-C. If so, the convenience is worth spending more.