On the face of it, the camera specs on the standard iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus are rather lackluster, with no major hardware upgrades to keep tech enthusiasts on the pulse. But there is more to the rear cameras than meets the eye.
While sticking to the 12MP resolution, the iPhone 14’s main camera is actually new, adding in a larger sensor and larger pixels; It now offers 1.9µm pixels and a faster f/1.7 aperture. The ultra-wide camera got an upgrade and is now capable of accommodating four times more scene.
Those are nice upgrades, but the real kick comes in the form of the new Photon engine. Without being overly technical, this is basically a way to implement intelligent computational imaging that Apple’s Deep Fusion neural image processing technology provided earlier in the imaging process.
Essentially, the Photonic Engine in Deep Fusion is expanding and focused on enhancing low-light photography, something I would argue that Apple could fall behind on competitors like the Google Pixel 6 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra. Now, the optical engine is not a replacement for the iPhone 14’s night mode, but instead aims to improve low-light photography across the board.
The question is, is it worth it?
Well to see I asked Tom’s guide editor to help and tame him tik tok (Opens in a new tab) Star Kate Kozuch and Content Director Mark Spoonauer, who snapped a bunch of snaps on the iPhone 14 and iPhone 13 models they had to hand.
Most of it was taken indoors, as both iPhones had to compete with a mixture of low light in some areas but also light streaming in from the windows; This is a tricky situation to get evenly balanced and balanced shots.
Let’s start with the above picture of Mark inside his house. iPhone 14 delivers a brighter, more natural-looking image with better color reproduction. Mark’s skin tone looks more realistic than the slight warm tones produced by iPhone 13.
The bright blue of Mark’s shirt and the purple of the vase in the background look much brighter and more natural than the darker and warmer colors offered by the iPhone 13. We can see the photon engine extend its legs by producing a brighter shot that reveals more details, such as the texture in the dark fireplace piece and the tiles around the stove.
My only issue with the iPhone 14 photo is that it struggles to hold back the light from the window from blowing out a bit, but there is an argument for adding more dynamic range to the shot. All in all, the iPhone 14’s white balance is more pleasing to my eyes than the warm, yellow tone of the iPhone 13’s photo.
The same is true of Kate Steve’s dog selfie. The iPhone 14 provides a brighter, more detailed shot, although edge detection isn’t as impressive as I’ve seen with phones like the Galaxy S22 Ultra; Admittedly, this compares a $799 phone to a $1,199 phone and one of the best Android phones you can buy.
Steve still looks like the excellent black Labrador seen in the iPhone 13 shot. But it lacks a bit of brightness and the photo effect is definitely muted.
Next, we have a shot of a mug decorated with Star Wars; Here we see the photon engine come into play on its own.
The difficult lighting condition and color combination are better handled by the iPhone 14. It provides a sharper shot with better colours, at least to my eyes.
In comparison, the iPhone 13’s imaging is less defined and the color gamut is not displayed well.
But the photonic engine isn’t just about brightening a scene. Pictured below of Mark’s Halloween decorations, both phones offer a fun blend of colors and details.
However, the iPhone 14 version is less noisy than the iPhone 13. Its exposure handling and white balance are also better, with the iPhone 14 offering a bright image that still allows for some texture in the form of light, and soft shadows on the wall. The iPhone 13 struggled to deliver those.
In low-light conditions and indoor photography, I feel the iPhone 14 has an edge over the iPhone 13. The gap doesn’t narrow when outdoor or well-lit shots are taken into account.
Take this outside picture of Mark: The differences between the two iPhones are rather small, and the one you like best may suit your taste. Mark’s face looks a lot brighter with the iPhone 13, but the tone of the shot looks a bit cool – basically the opposite of the inside photo.
While the iPhone 14 has a slightly warmer tone, although the overall exposure and balance of the photo look more natural than the two. I think the latest phone stands out from its predecessor with better dynamic range and color reproduction.
The terrarium shot below also caught my eye. While the Photonic Engine aims to deliver better low-light performance, it also appears to be more capable of delivering better-balanced images in terms of overall lighting and exposure.
In this photo, the iPhone 13 presents a brighter scene, but in doing so it loses a little bit of the detail of the shot. Look at the white petals of the flower in the top left of the shot: the brighter iPhone 13 image flattens some of the texture in the petals, while the iPhone 14 captures more detail.
By the hole in the photo, the iPhone 13 arguably does a better job of rendering some of the details and the waxy texture of the leaves of the plant in the lower left of the terrarium. But it doesn’t manage to do this on other plants, soil mix, and fine stone, which look more crisp in the iPhone 14 photo. I also prefer the iPhone 14 shot colors, which seem to offer a wider range of hues again.
With these picks, I’d say the iPhone 14 offers a bigger camera upgrade than the spec sheet suggests.
Do these changes make it worth upgrading from the iPhone 13? Well, this is a more difficult question to answer. If you take a lot of low-light photos, the iPhone 14 might be worth your attention. If not, the iPhone 13 still takes some excellent photos in good lighting conditions.
However, if you’ve got an iPhone 12 or an iPhone 11, the upgrades featured here, as well as those the iPhone 13 brought to the table in terms of improved photo processing, mean the iPhone 14 should be a phone to consider.
If you want to get the best upgrades, you will need to use iPhone 14 Pro, so check the details of iPhone 14 vs iPhone 14 Pro to see which one is best for you. But rest assured, iPhones are consistent entries on our best phones list, so whichever model you get, you’re not likely to be disappointed.
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