The iPhone 13 Pro Max features what Apple calls the 'biggest camera update ever on an iPhone', a feat it shares with the smaller 13 Pro. The claim sounds justified even simply by looking at the spec sheet - all three rear cameras are new and improved in one way or another.
The primary camera on the back uses a new 12MP sensor with larger pixels - the pixel pitch is now 1.9µm, up from the 1.7µm of last year's Pro Max. These are the largest single pixels in a smartphone, larger than the 1.8µm of the Xperia 1 III, though Tetrapixel (Quad Bayer) and Nonapixel designs can counter that with effective pixel sizes up to 2.8µm on the Mi 11 Ultra. Apple doesn't reveal the overall size of the sensor, but it's a little bit larger than the Xperia's Type 1/1.7" - so comfortably smaller than the Mi's 1/1.12".
Apple introduced sensor-shift image stabilization on the 12 Pro Max, and the main camera on all 13s is stabilized this way. The lens is only left with focusing to deal with. It's got a super bright f/1.5 aperture and a 26mm equivalent focal length.
The telephoto is nowhere as bright - in fact, the f/2.8 aperture on this one is the sole camera downgrade compared to last year's model (f/2.2). The upgrade here is in the reach - the now-77mm equivalent lens offers 3x zoom, up from the 12 Pro Max's 2.5x. Apple doesn't advertise the pixel or sensor size of this 12MP imager, but with the tradeoff between focal length and aperture, it's not inconceivable that it's the same 1/3.4" size as before.
No word on the 12MP ultrawide's sensor size either, but there are significant upgrades to the optics. The lens now lets in more light with its larger f/1.8 aperture (f/2.4 on the outgoing model), but the most important development here is the addition of autofocus. No longer locked at infinity, the new lens can focus far and near alike, enabling the use of the ultrawide camera for closeups.
There's also a LiDAR scanner that assists the main and portrait cameras with detailed depth maps for portraits and faster autofocus in low-light conditions. Depending on how you look at it, you might say this is the iPhone's fourth camera.
One thing that hasn't changed is the selfie camera. It's the same 12MP unit with a 1/3.6" sensor and a 23mm focal length f/2.2 aperture lens. There's no autofocus here, unfortunately. The structured light 3D scanner for FaceID also helps out for Portrait mode here.
The viewfinder has been mostly the same since the iOS 13 and the iPhone 11. It lets see outside of the frame being captured when using the main and the telephoto cameras thanks to the precise calibration between the three modules. If, however, you find the feature distracting, you can turn it off.
The Apple image processing includes all legacy features like Smart HDR, Night Mode on all cameras, and Deep Fusion.
The Night Mode icon pops up automatically when a low-light scene presents itself, and it will take a pseudo-long-exposure shot, handheld, of course. You will see the seconds suggested next to the Night Mode icon, but if you tap on it, you can change the simulated long exposure or altogether disable it. Usually, it's between 1 and 2 seconds, but sometimes the phone allows you to go for up to 30 seconds, depending on the available light. You can use this mode on all four cameras.
Deep Fusion is used when light conditions aren't ideal, say, indoors. It triggers instead of Smart HDR and Night Mode. Deep Fusion uses four frames before you hit the shutter, four more once you do, and one long exposure shot. The Neural engine will select the best frames and create a high-quality HDR photo that is very detailed, sharp, and more natural-looking. The Neural processor's machine learning magic analyzes the image being taken and processes them differently depending on what's in the frame - say, sky, foliage, or skin tones. Meanwhile, structure and color tones are based on ratios obtained by the Neural unit on the A15 CPU.
As usual, all cameras talk to each other, so they already know the correct exposure and tone mapping settings when you switch between them. This applies to both stills and videos.
The camera interface is mostly unchanged. You swipe between modes and have a couple of settings you can uncover with an upward swipe - flash, night mode, live photo, photo aspect, exposure compensation, and filters. In video mode, you can change the resolution and frame rate from the viewfinder.
It's from this interface that you can access the new feature called Photographic Styles. Don't call it filters (because there are filters too) - this one supposedly automatically edits a photo, one element at a time, applying different corrections to different elements in the frame. You can choose between Standard, Rich Contrast, Vibrant, Warm, and Cool. You can tune each of these modes by your liking and set your preferred one as default.
Portrait mode is available on the main and the telephoto cameras on the back, as well as the selfie cameras.
The new hardware and software on the iPhone 13 generation enabled another interesting camera feature - Cinematic Mode. It's sort of a portrait mode for video - it selectively blurs parts of the frame and does automatic rack focus between them based on the subjects and their interaction. The phone records a depth map alongside the video, so you can change the focus point manually after the fact. Editing such videos is possible in iMovie and Clips apps.
Another new 'feature' is the ability to take close-up shots. Enabled by the ultrawide's camera newfound autofocusing capability, it's an option you only get on the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max, but not on the non-Pros.
That comes with a potentially infuriating side effect that the phone will quietly switch from the main to the ultrawide when you go below the main camera's minimum focus distance threshold while maintaining the main camera's field of view - upscaling and all that. There's more to it, however - the 13 Pro Max will also switch from the tele to the main camera in a similar situation.
That's a brand new behavior with this one, the 12 Pro Max doesn't practice this switching, and it's not like there's a new development with the focusing capability and relationship between the tele and the main units. We couldn't find a setting to turn off the auto-switching, but Apple has allegedly promised they will add one with an update later this fall.