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iPhone 14 Pro vs. iPhone 14 camera battle shows why small details matter

Smartphone cameras are unbelievably good in 2022, and Apple’s latest iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 are further proof of that. The former ushers in one of the biggest changes we’ve seen to the iPhone’s camera system in years, while the latter offers a very familiar (and reliable) setup.

But which one is the best to shoot with? Do the new and additional camera sensors on the iPhone 14 Pro make it worth the extra cash, or does the tried-and-true camera formula of the iPhone 14 hold its ground? Let’s take a closer look and see how the two compare.

iPhone 14 Pro vs. iPhone 14 camera specs

The iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

Before we get to the pictures, let’s familiarize ourselves with the camera specs we’re dealing with. At the heart of the iPhone 14 Pro is a 48-megapixel main camera with an f/1.78 aperture. You also get a 12MP ultrawide camera with an f/2.2 aperture, plus a 12MP telephoto camera with an f/2.8 aperture.

With the regular iPhone 14, the main camera is a 12MP sensor with an f/1.5 aperture. There’s also a 12MP ultrawide camera with an f/2.4 aperture, but unlike the iPhone 14 Pro, there is no telephoto camera.

The iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

Both the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 use Apple’s new Photonic Engine for image processing, plus they have Deep Fusion tech and Smart HDR 4. Also shared across the phones is portrait mode with different lighting effects, night mode, and Photographic Styles. Only the iPhone 14 Pro supports night mode portraits, macro photography, and Apple’s ProRAW image format.

iPhone 14 Pro vs. iPhone 14: main camera

That’s how things compare on paper — but what does all of that translate to in actual photographs? We’ll start by looking at the main camera and the below photo of the lake. This was taken on a very overcast day with the sun struggling to break through the gray, cloudy sky. Welcome to Michigan in late September!

Despite the less-than-ideal shooting conditions, both the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 produced great photos — and each one looks very similar at first glance. We have a nice view of the lake, the green trees surrounding it, and the swirling clouds above. But it’s in the fine details where the iPhone 14 Pro pulls out ahead. Zoom in on the downed tree branch, and you’ll see that it appears much sharper in the 14 Pro’s image compared to the regular 14’s. The same is true of the grass stands jutting out of the water, which are sharp in the iPhone 14 Pro’s image, but slightly blurry and out of focus in the iPhone 14’s shot.

The photo of my cat is a more drastic example of how the 48MP and 12MP cameras can differ. In addition to the fur appearing slightly sharper in the iPhone 14 Pro photo, there’s a significant difference in the natural bokeh that phones attempt. The iPhone 14 Pro naturally blurs the two pillows on the left, while the iPhone 14 keeps them in focus. The iPhone 14 does attempt to blur the gray couch pillow behind the cat, but it does so with a distracting halo around the edge of it — something the iPhone 14 Pro handles more gracefully.

We then get to see an interesting quirk of the iPhone 14 Pro’s 48MP main camera with the third photo of the flower. Because the camera sensor on the 14 Pro is larger, it isn’t able to focus quite as closely on subjects. That’s why its image of the flower is a bit further out, whereas the iPhone 14 photo is noticeably closer. It’s an odd thing to adjust to at first, but the 14 Pro also makes up for this with its macro photography mode — something we’ll go over a bit later.

When you add all of that together, the new 48MP sensor on the iPhone 14 Pro gives it the edge to be the winner here. It’s not a revolution over the 12MP camera in the iPhone 14, but it is the better camera to shoot with.

Winner: iPhone 14 Pro

iPhone 14 Pro vs. iPhone 14: ultrawide camera

Differences between the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 are much more difficult to identify when it comes to the ultrawide cameras. The photo of the tree is virtually identical in both shots. The colors of the tree trunk and leaves are accurate to real life, though both phones also overexposed the overcast sky. Pixel peeping reveals slightly finer details in the leaves with the iPhone 14 Pro’s shot, but it’s a detail I had to really strain to notice.

We find ourselves with a similar conclusion looking at the photo of the open field. From the details in the flora to the colors of the scene, the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 both do a really good job here. The iPhone 14 does give the sky a bluer hue, but I’d be perfectly happy with either image here.

Considering the similar sensors and shared usage of the Photonic Engine, it’s not surprising that the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 deliver such close results in the ultrawide department. While there are tiny differences between the shots, we have to chalk this one up to a draw.

Winner: Draw

iPhone 14 Pro vs. iPhone 14: 2x and 3x zoom

There may not be a clear winner with the ultrawide camera, but that’s not at all the case when it comes to zooming. As noted above, the iPhone 14 Pro touts a dedicated telephoto camera, and the regular iPhone 14 does not. You can still digitally zoom with the iPhone 14’s camera app if you want, though you probably shouldn’t.

Why? The iPhone 14 just isn’t a phone designed for zoomed-in shots — and that’s especially evident in side-by-side comparisons with the iPhone 14 Pro. In the 2x zoom sample above, the results initially seem quite comparable. But as you zoom in just a little, you’ll quickly notice that the iPhone 14’s photo is softer and less detailed all around. This is because it’s digitally zooming in on the 12MP shot, while the iPhone 14 Pro can do a physical crop of the 48MP sensor, making good use of its added resolution.

Looking at the 3x zoom example, the differences are even starker. The iPhone 14 Pro switches to the 12MP telephoto camera at this point, while the iPhone 14 simply zooms further in on that same 12MP image from the main camera. What you end up with is a photograph that looks more like a watercolor painting on the iPhone 14. Meanwhile, the iPhone 14 Pro retains significantly more detail and produces an image that’s actually worth looking at and sharing.

It should go without saying, but the iPhone 14 Pro handily takes the zoom round.

Winner: iPhone 14 Pro

iPhone 14 Pro vs. iPhone 14: night mode

Moving to the phones’ night mode performance, I pushed the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 to the limit with a couple of shots taken at around 9:45 pm — over two hours past sunset when it was plenty dark outside.

In the picture of the tree, the iPhone 14 Pro’s photo is visibly brighter. The regular iPhone 14 did a good job of brightening the scene, but the 14 Pro pulls out ahead. It also captures more detail in the shot. While the grass in both photos doesn’t look particularly good, there’s more depth to it in the iPhone 14 Pro’s image.

The iPhone 14 Pro again produces a better shot with the night mode photo of the pond and trees. The trees toward the back of the scene are greener and sharper in the 14 Pro’s photo. The iPhone 14 Pro also does a better job showing the individual streams of the fountain in the middle, whereas the iPhone 14 loses some of that detail.

It’s commendable how much the iPhone 14 is able to keep up with the iPhone 14 Pro in these harsh lighting conditions, but when all’s said and done, the 14 Pro is the better performer.

Winner: iPhone 14 Pro

iPhone 14 Pro vs. iPhone 14: portrait mode

What about portrait mode? Both the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 do a good job here … for the most part.

The first portrait subject of the succulent is a really challenging shot, featuring an odd design and many protruding (fake) plants. The iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 both incorrectly blur the black frame in the front, though the 14 Pro manages to keep more of it in focus the way it should be. Beyond that, each phone keeps most of the succulent in focus while giving the rest of the room a pleasing blur.

In the photo of my dog (a very good boy named Damon), the iPhone 14 Pro keeps his face nice and sharp. The fur on his face is a bit softer in the iPhone 14’s photo, and the detail in his nose has been hidden by the blur effect.

When it comes to edge detection, Apple has room to improve with both the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14. But like we saw in the camera samples above from the main camera, the 48MP sensor on the 14 Pro pretty consistently gives you more detail in every shot you take. That translates over to portrait mode photos as well, and it’s the reason why the iPhone 14 Pro takes a win here.

Winner: iPhone 14 Pro

iPhone 14 Pro vs. iPhone 14: selfie camera

Next, we have the selfie camera. The iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 both benefit from a new 12MP sensor with autofocus and an f/1.9 aperture.

As we’ve already noted in our full reviews of the phones, this year’s selfie camera is quite excellent. Images are consistently sharp, with good colors, and the addition of autofocus allows for far greater flexibility compared to previous iPhones. And since you have the exact same sensor in the 14 Pro and 14, there’s not much of a difference between the selfie shots they take.

The images above are a prime example of that. Both the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 deliver a selfie that’s really pleasing to look at. My face is in focus, the red on my shirt pops, and the background behind me is nicely blurred using portrait mode. Neither phone does a perfect job with edge detection around my hair, but beyond that, there’s little to complain about.

Winner: Draw

Macro photos on the iPhone 14 Pro

Finally, we should address the iPhone 14 Pro’s ability to take macro photos. Although the phone’s main camera can’t get quite as close to its subjects as the iPhone 14 can, that inconvenience is made up for with the 14 Pro’s macro mode.

Get close enough to a subject, and the iPhone 14 Pro uses its ultrawide camera to take stunning macro shots. Whether you’re taking a photo of a flower or finding intricate textures in everyday items (such as the stitching on my Vessi shoes, seen in the photo directly above on the left), the iPhone 14 Pro’s macro mode is a load of fun to play with. And unlike throwaway 2MP macro cameras on many Android phones, macro mode on the iPhone 14 Pro produces really great results. It’s one of my personal favorite shooting modes to play with, and it’s not something you’ll find at all on the regular iPhone 14.

Two great cameras, but with a clear winner

The iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

After six rounds, the iPhone 14 Pro won four, the iPhone 14 came out with zero wins, and both phones tied in two categories. And that’s not counting the iPhone 14 Pro’s ability for macro photography. All in all, it’s not too dissimilar from our iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro camera test.

While that doesn’t sound very good for the iPhone 14, it’s important to highlight that the iPhone 14 Pro won in the small details. If you want the best lowlight performance, sharpest details, better natural bokeh, and the ability to shoot macro photos, those things all add up to make the iPhone 14 Pro the better camera phone. However, the iPhone 14 is no slouch by any means. It’s a phone I’d happily shoot with if I needed to, and it’s captured many photos I’ve been extremely happy with.

But if you care about those smaller details and want the best, most robust photography experience on an iPhone in 2022, the iPhone 14 Pro is the way to go.

Editors' Recommendations

Joe Maring
Section Editor, Mobile
Joe Maring is the Section Editor for Digital Trends' Mobile team, leading the site's coverage for all things smartphones…
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