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This iPhone 15 and iPhone 14 camera test is closer than I expected

Purple iPhone 14 (left) and a green iPhone 15 in hand.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

Every year, we get a new iPhone; that’s just the way it goes. And one of the biggest upgrades each year is with the camera system.

Though the spotlight is typically on the Pro models of the iPhone, Apple gave us a pretty significant upgrade this year with the standard iPhone 15. Of course, it’s not as feature-packed as the iPhone 15 Pro, but Apple brought the Dynamic Island and USB-C to the regular iPhone 15, and even bumped up the camera to a whopping 48MP.

But you know what they say — it’s not the megapixel count that makes a good photo. Is the jump from 12MP on the iPhone 14 to 48MP on the iPhone 15 going to make that much of a difference? The iPhone 15 is certainly better, though the differences may not be as big as you would suspect.

Let’s take a look as we compare the cameras on the iPhone 15 with its predecessor, the iPhone 14.

iPhone 15 vs. iPhone 14: camera specs

Purple iPhone 14 (left) and a green iPhone 15.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

Before we dive into the photos, let’s take a look at the camera specs for both phones first. Though they both feature dual camera systems, Apple made big improvements to the iPhone 15 this year.

The iPhone 14 has a 12MP main camera and 12MP ultrawide lens. The main camera also has a f/1.5 aperture, while the ultrawide is f/2.4. It only has an optical zoom range from 0.5x to 1x.

With the iPhone 15, we have a 48MP main shooter and 12MP ultrawide. The main camera has a f/1.6 aperture while the ultrawide is f/2.4, like its predecessor. However, due to the advanced dual camera system on the iPhone 15, it is capable of optical zoom range of 0.5x, 1x, and 2x.

On the selfie front, the cameras are basically the same with a 12MP camera with f/1.9 aperture.

An important thing to note with the iPhone 15 lineup as a whole is that with the 48MP camera, images are now captured in 24MP files instead of 12MP from before. This means images from any iPhone 15 device will feature more detail when the primary camera is used.

iPhone 15 vs. iPhone 14: main camera

For most people, the main camera is the only one that really matters. So, let’s see if that megapixel count really matters.

This first photo shows the iconic storefront of the Lego Store in Downtown Disney, featuring Lego Maleficent Dragon breathing fire onto Prince Phillip on his horse. The iPhone 14 image has more shadows, which makes it hard to see the texture of the Lego bricks making up Maleficent Dragon.

Colors are much more vibrant with the iPhone 15, especially in the green fire breath. Details are definitely sharper in the iPhone 15 image too, as the iPhone 14 version has softer detail with the horse. The iPhone 14 also struggles with the sunlight, as evident with the lens flare that also washes out the color.

Here’s a photo of the Christmas tree in Disneyland. Both photos look pretty good, but the iPhone 15 has a slightly warmer tinge to the tree, which more accurately reflects the sunlight at the time (almost 4 p.m. in Pacific Time). The 24MP resolution with the iPhone 15 really helps retain the little details like textures in the ornaments and the tree itself, which get lost in the iPhone 14 image. But unless you really zoom in here, it’s not like the iPhone 14 one is bad — I just prefer the iPhone 15.

There’s nothing quite like seeing Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland decked out in snow and festive decor. On the surface, these two images look identical. But if you start zooming in, you can see the iPhone 14 image gets blurrier the more you zoom, while the iPhone 15 image retains sharpness in the garlands and icicle lights and even the “100 Years of Wonder” text on the sign. The texture on the castle exterior is also sharper in the iPhone 15 version, as it is a bit softer with the iPhone 14.

This is one of my favorite spots in Disneyland Park — the Snow White waterfall located to the right of the castle. At first glance, it looks like the iPhone 15 image has a bit of a warmer tone than the iPhone 14, as the rays of sunlight on the rocks appear more golden in color.

But if you examine the images more closely, the iPhone 14 is definitely lacking in detail compared to the iPhone 15 version. Textures appear softer and smoother, whereas the iPhone 15 has a crisp and clear texture, and the sharpness makes it easier to even make out the detail on Snow White at the top. You can even make out all the individual leaves in the trees around the area with the iPhone 15, whereas the iPhone 14 has some distortion.

Winner: iPhone 15

iPhone 15 vs. iPhone 14: ultrawide camera

Let’s take a look at this ultrawide shot of Pixar Pier at Disney California Adventure Park. You’ll have to excuse the lens flare in both images — not much I can do about the sun’s position in mid-afternoon. Since both phones have the same 12MP ultrawide lens, both images are pretty similar.

That said, the iPhone 15 seems to have fewer shadows in the background across the water, so you can make out the structures a bit better, whereas the iPhone 14 is really dark in the back. The sky in the iPhone 14 is also a lot more vibrant, while the iPhone 15 is closer to what you see in reality. I do feel like the iPhone 14 handled the lens flare situation a bit better though, as it is harder to see the Mickey face in the Ferris wheel with the iPhone 15’s photo.

This is an ultrawide shot of the Disneyland Monorail-themed water slide and pool at the Disneyland Hotel. The iPhone 14 shot has much more vibrant colors that really pop for the pool and the hotel towers behind it, but the clouds in the sky and even the cement ledge in the bottom left corner appear washed out. On the other hand, the iPhone 15 image colors are more true-to-life, the center cloud is not washed out, and the shadows aren’t overpowering in the trees and plants.

Here’s an image of Pluto, Mickey, and Minnie-shaped hedges with a Disney 100 sign in front of Disneyland Hotel. Again, it seems that the iPhone 15 image is a smidge warmer in tone, has less harsh shadows, and a bit more texture detail as a result, though the lens flare is a bit much. With the iPhone 14 image, it has a cooler tone and darker shadows that reduce some of the texture. But the Disney 100 sign is clearer since the lens flare isn’t as bad.

Winner: Draw

iPhone 15 vs. iPhone 14: Portrait mode

Portrait mode is a great way to get a professional-looking portrait without a DSLR. The iPhone 15 lineup also has Auto Portrait, which will automatically capture depth information even with a regular photo if it detects a person or pet in the scene. This allows you to change a normal photo to a portrait even after the fact.

And since the iPhone 15 has 2x optical zoom capability, it defaults to that when Portrait mode is selected, while the iPhone 14 is only capable of 1x Portrait mode. For this comparison, however, I switched both phones to Portrait mode manually, rather than using the Auto Portrait feature. I also stuck with the default zoom setting for both.

Here’s a portrait of my husband while we’re waiting for our food. The iPhone 15 portrait is pretty good with the edge detection and focus, as there are no issues from what I can tell. I tried to replicate the zoom distance with the iPhone 14 by holding the phone closer to him. This may be the reason why everything below the neck is not in focus, unfortunately.

As far as edge detection is concerned, both phones did an admirable job. However, the iPhone 14 has a bit of a warmer cast, which affects the skin tone. The iPhone 15 version is more accurate in that regard.

I tried another portrait of my husband outside in front of our home before the sunset. Again, I tried to replicate the distance. The iPhone 15 version is again pretty good with keeping him in focus and the edge detection, as I can’t really see any issue with it. In the iPhone 14 version, however, you can see the edge detection struggle a bit around the hair and ear on the left side, as it looks a bit jagged from the background bleeding through. The same issue can be applied to the edges of the sleeve on the left side of the photo.

Lastly, here’s a portrait of my daughter in our front yard. For this one, I kept it at the default distance for both phones since, well, it’s hard to get a two-year-old to stay still at all. The iPhone 14 image isn’t bad, per se, but there are evident signs that the edge detection slightly struggled with her hair, as it looks a bit jagged towards the bottom and on the right side. I think the iPhone 15 handled the edge detection better here, and the colors align better with reality, as the iPhone 14 washed out the greenery a bit.

Winner: iPhone 15

iPhone 15 vs. iPhone 14: lowlight images

I remember when smartphones weren’t great at taking photos in the dark or in dimly lit environments. But ever since phones started getting night mode and larger sensors, it’s pretty incredible what results you can get with just an iPhone.

This is a house we passed by when we took our daughter trick or treating. Pretty simple — some Halloween-themed outdoor house lighting. The lights themselves look pretty similar in both photos, but the iPhone 15 did better by not washing out the rest of the scene, like the grass, sky, and tree trunk.

Here’s someone’s front yard that was elaborately decorated for Halloween. Though both photos look very similar, you can see some differences if you look closely. For example, the lighting in the back towards the wall appears more washed out in the iPhone 14 version, making it hard to see the details on the jack-o-lanterns towards the left. But otherwise, the iPhone 14 did hold its own pretty well here, with the iPhone 15 just getting a very slight advantage.

Winner: iPhone 15

iPhone 15 vs. iPhone 14: selfies

Sometimes you just need to take a selfie to show off that cool place you’re at, right? Both the iPhone 14 and iPhone 15 have basically the same specs on the selfie camera front, so let’s see if the results can be any different.

Here I am in a nice quiet little spot I found while wandering around the Disneyland Hotel. Both selfies are similar, though the iPhone 15 handled background details a bit better than the iPhone 14 — you can make out the leaves in the upper left corner better, as well as on the left side and the tree trunk too. Colors are also slightly better with the iPhone 15, as my shirt color and Club 33 ears are more accurate to real life.

Another basic selfie here. The iPhone 14 looks decent enough, but when compared to the iPhone 15, it is apparent that some colors are washed out, such as the wall behind me, and the sky. Otherwise, these two images are pretty much the same, which isn’t surprising considering the specs are identical.

Finally, here’s a selfie portrait. I’m not a fan of how the iPhone 15 casts a very warm tone in the image, but it is very clear that it handles edge detection much better than the iPhone 14. The iPhone 14 image has weird jagged edges around my hair, making it look like a bad Photoshop. The details in my shirt are also more clear with the iPhone 15. But skin tone-wise, I prefer the iPhone 14.

Winner: iPhone 15

iPhone 15 vs. iPhone 14: verdict

Purple iPhone 14 (left) and a green iPhone 15.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

As you can see, the iPhone 15 won in pretty much every category, except for one where it was a draw. Even though the iPhone 15 is the standard base model of the new lineup, Apple gave it a pretty significant upgrade in terms of the camera, as well as some other hardware features.

However, that isn’t to say the iPhone 14 has a bad camera. It still takes good photos, but since it’s limited to 12MP, it just lacks a bit of detail when compared to the 48MP main camera and 24MP resolution default of the iPhone 15. And you don’t really notice the differences unless you are zooming in and scrutinizing each photo closely.

If you just want to post your photos on social media, then the iPhone 14 is still perfectly capable. But if you tend to print out photos a lot, especially on larger canvases, then the iPhone 15 will be better. The iPhone 15 also handles low-light images better overall, and the Auto Portrait feature is incredibly useful.

For a closer look at how the two phones compare overall, be sure to check out our iPhone 15 and iPhone 14 comparison.

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Christine Romero-Chan
Christine Romero-Chan has been writing about technology, specifically Apple, for over a decade. She graduated from California…
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