In the past, I have always chosen to go with Apple's budget line of phones like the XR and 12 mini because I did not feel like the bump in price would yield significantly better photos. When it comes to cameras, it mostly boils down to physics - bigger sensors and lenses allow them to capture more light which results in better photos overall. In 2022, Apple added a bigger sensor to its Pro lineup. Also, they bumped its resolution from 12 to 48 megapixels. With these updates, I knew my best choice this time is the Pro model. Fast forward to today, I have taken it on a couple of trips and had ample time to play around. So, below are some of my observations and thoughts about everything on the 14 Pro camera.
Like I mentioned before, 14 Pro has a bigger sensor now for both wide and ultra-wide cameras. Telephoto camera is unfortunately the same as last year and there is not much improvement in image quality. Due to larger sensor on the main camera, you get more bokeh(background blur), higher dynamic range, better low light performance among many other benefits.
New sensor in the iPhone 14 Pro (Source)
Computation photography has been around for a few years now and it has certainly evolved quite a bit over the years. When you take a photo with an iPhone these days, it takes multiple shots and they go through a pipeline which adds tone mapping, noise reduction, sharpening and so many other things that Apple has very specific marketing names to. The resulting image isn't so much true-to-life but rather a reality that the software thinks looks best. This is where my gripe is - I prefer less-processed, cleaner images. And as a photographer, I certainly don't want the camera to make artistic decisions on behalf of me.
When I first got my 12 mini, I noticed there is some over-sharpening in the photos and I am quite dissapointed to say that I still notice that with 14 Pro. This is especially noticeable when shooting foliage as seen below - notice the foreground where focus was set.
Foliage shot with iPhone 14 Pro (View HQ image)
Fortunately, shooting in RAW avoids a lot of the over-processing that happens with regular photos. ProRAW still takes advantage of things like pixel binning so you get 48MP images and more details in the shots. I did not objectively shoot photos during my trips so, I do not have direct comparisons for foliage between ProRaw and regular photos. However, the ProRAW image below should be a good example to compare for sharpness.
Folio shot with ProRAW (View HQ image)
Dynamic range you get with ProRAW is also quite amazing. I am able to recover a lot of highlights and shadows in post-processing and it's on-par with my full frame camera. As you see below, the sky seems completely blown in some parts. Yet, I am able to pull down the highlights slider in my editor and see those clouds magically appear. Same goes for the trees and foliage in terms of shadows. Also note that results below are just from changing highlights and shadows - no spot treatments or any other adjustments.
Dynamic range performance
It's also quite interesting to see how detailed the images are produced by this new large sensor. When I pixel peeped a few photos from my DC trip, I was surprised to see so much detail in the buildings and its hardly distinguishable from a full frame camera. Image below is a comparsion of the same 48MP ProRAW image when zoomed in at 100% - no post-processing.
U.S Capitol building (View HQ image)
Computational fairy dust works for the general population and frankly, even for photographers like me when snapping a quick photo for social media and such. However, I am glad we have ProRAW at our disposal that does not go through the same level of processing as regular photos. Therefore, we have the liberty of processing images however we want.
Overall, I am pretty blown away with the performance of this camera system. I finally feel like it can replace my bulky full frame camera in most situations. As they say, "the best camera is the one you have with you", and I am glad that it can now produce results similar to professional cameras!