Every time Apple releases a new phone, it’s huge news, and the iPhone 13 is no exception. An attention-grabbing September Apple event launched the phone which is showing all the signs of being another hit for the US tech giant. One key question remains, right now, with the new phone revealed, which should you buy? The iPhone 13 or the iPhone 12?
Of course, the iPhone 13 is the more cutting edge handset. With improved specs and new features, it’s the more ‘future proof’ option. However, we gave the older phone a commendable four and a half stars in our full iPhone 12 review, and with iPhone 13 now available, we can expect to see deals for the older handset in the coming months, as Apple’s new flagship takes over.
A large part of the decision-making process will be individual and dictated by budget constraints. It’s also worth considering exactly what features you require from a phone. If you need the very latest tech and money isn’t particularly an issue, the iPhone 13 is likely to suit you better than its predecessor. On the other hand, if your budget is a little tighter, we can still wholeheartedly recommend the iPhone 12, which excelled in our testing and is generally a fantastic handset.
In our full iPhone 13 review the new phone bagged a 4.5 star rating. Our reviewer loved the display, the improved battery life and the easy-t0-use camera.
If you’re tempted by the new Apple device, make sure to check out our iPhone 13 stock page for all the latest UK availability.
Looking for more Apple products? Head to our iPad mini page to find out more about the new iPad or read our AirPods vs AirPods Pro guide to help you decide which earbuds are worth your money. Or, to read about the iPhone 13’s big brother, check out our iPhone 13 Pro review.
Apple has consistently improved the camera on each model of iPhone. But is that true with iPhone 13? Some might argue that the improvements are negligible. And for the most part, those people would be right.
The most significant difference in the cameras is that iPhone 13 has a diagonal lens system, whereas iPhone 12 has vertically stacked lenses. The other major thing is that iPhone 13 has sensor-shift optical image stabilization. All that means is that as you’re moving your phone around, the sensor is physically moving to accommodate, whereas iPhone 12 zooms in on the image to help keep videos as smooth as possible.
Apple has released its new smartphone range, and the iPhone 13 is almost certain to be the most popular among them.
But how does this new phone compare to its immediate predecessor, the iPhone 12? We’ve spent lots of time with both phones, and have some definite ideas on the level of progress Apple has made here.
Let’s take a look at how these two phones stack up.
Here is where the iPhone 13 has a few differences that could sway your decision. Users who take their photos and videos very seriously could be persuaded by the new camera features.
The reason the iPhone 13’s rear camera lenses are now diagonal is so that Apple can fit a sensor-shift optical image stabilization system in there. It improves upon the standard optical image stabilization that is in the iPhone 12. The main specs for the rear camera on the two phones are the same—12MP Wide (ƒ/1.6 aperture) and Ultra Wide (ƒ/2.4 aperture)—but the main camera has a larger sensor for better low-light performance. The front cameras have the same specs (12MP, ƒ/2.2 aperture), but the iPhone 13’s selfie cam has support for the new iPhone 13 features.
The iPhone 13 now features what Apple calls Photographic Styles, which can change color tones without affecting skin tones. You can apply a style called Rich Contrast, and the shadows in a photo darken and colors become deeper. The Vibrant style makes photos brighter, while the Warm style increases golden tones, and the Cool style emphasizes blue colors.
A key new video feature is Cinematic mode, which creates a shallow depth of field—the person remains in focus while the background is blurred. You can shift the focus from one person to another, and you can even edit the effect on the iPhone to adjust the blur or change the focus. Cinematic mode works at 1080p at 30 fps.
iPhone 13 Cinematic mode
The iPhone 13’s Cinematic mode works on video recorded at 1080p at 30 fps.
Our pick: For users who make the cameras the top priority, the iPhone 13 is the way to go. The cameras are better and the new features are great for content creators who want to do more with their photos and videos. However, if your use case is more about snapshots and short video clips, you’ll find a great camera in the iPhone 12.
The camera specs of the iPhone 13 and the iPhone 12 are identical. Both phones include 12-megapixel sensors on the front and the back cameras. But that doesn’t tell the whole story about the photo processing differences between the phones.
On the iPhone 13, the new camera layout gives the wide-angle camera a larger sensor with sensor-based stabilization. The new diagonal layout of the iPhone 13’s cameras allows for that larger sensor, while the ultrawide camera’s new sensor helps it gather more light. On the software side, the iPhone 13 also includes Photographic Styles, which allow you to customize the way your camera develops your photos. These styles are not like Instagram filters, as they analyze the subject of your photo and apply the selected style as needed.
That said, the iPhone 12’s cameras are still no slouch, including many of the same enhancements offered by iOS 15. In our review, Holland notes that the iPhone 13’s camera upgrades do not make drastic differences, but improvements between the models year over year were noticeable.
Both of these phones pack dual 12MP cameras – one wide, one ultra-wide. But the iPhone 13 system is notably improved, with less noise in most scenarios than in comparable shots from the iPhone 12.
It’s not hard to see why this is the case. The iPhone 13’s 12MP wide sensor can suck up 47% more light than before, and captures chunky 1.7µm pixels versus the iPhone 12’s 1.4µm.
You also get the sensor shift stabilization system that made shots freakishly steady on last year’s iPhone 12 Pro Max, which is an impressive addition. The combination of larger sensor and superior stabilization means that low light shots are quite a bit better on the iPhone 13 than on the iPhone 12.
The newer phone’s ultra-wide sensor also sees improvements, with a wider f/1.8 aperture compared to its pokey f/2.4 iPhone 12 counterpart. Again, it provides a step up in low light conditions.
As always, Apple’s camera software is as important as its camera hardware – perhaps even more so.
Close up of rear cameras on iPhone 13
The rear cameras on the iPhone 13 (Image credit: Apple)
This year you gain Photographic Styles, which enables you to apply custom looks to all of your shots, from Rich Contrast to Cool. This goes beyond mere filters, fundamentally shifting the emphasis of the iPhone 13’s shots without making things unnatural. It can be quite a subtle change as a result.
On the video front, the iPhone 13 gains a rack focusing ‘Cinematic mode’, which can intelligently pick and shift its focal point for results that are, well, cinematic. The way it automatically changes focus when subjects do, and anticipates when a subject is going to enter the frame, seems like borderline witchcraft.
It takes some playing around with to get the results you’re after, but it’s a fun addition.
Cameras turned out to be a big point of difference between the iPhone 13 and iPhone 12, even if the number of lenses are unchanged from phone to phone. It’s what Apple has done with the camera hardware that makes the camera experience completely different on the iPhone 13.
Both the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini offer a 12MP main camera that has the biggest sensor ever used in a dual-camera iPhone. It should let in 47% more light than the iPhone 12 camera for sharper pictures. These two iPhone 13 models sport the sensor shift optical image stabilization feature Apple added to the iPhone 12 Pro Max last year, and the ultrawide lens promises more detail in the darker areas of your images.
The iPhone 13 Pro models feature even more dramatic camera changes. The main sensor is bigger on the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max for better low light images, while the ultrawide angle lens has a wider f/1.8 aperture. (It was f/2.4 on the iPhone 12 Pro models.) Again, that’s going to mean brighter, sharper images, even when the lights are low. And the 77mm telephoto lens on the iPhone 13 Pro models now offers a 3x optical zoom, an improvement over the 2.5x zoom found on the iPhone 12 Pro.
Night Mode works on all three iPhone 13 Pro cameras, and the iPhone 13 Pro offers sensor shift stabilization, instead of limiting that feature to the Pro Max model.
We haven’t done a formal head-to-head camera face-off between any of the iPhone 13 and iPhone 12 models. But in some photo comps, you can see how the iPhone 13 handles low-light photography a little bit better than its predecessor. In this shot of hydrangeas, the leaves look pinker in the iPhone 13 shot, and there’s brighter leaves surrounding the petals.
One other area worth highlighting is Cinematic mode, a video shooting feature available on all four iPhone 13 models. This mode automatically adjusts focus when you’re shooting video, shifting between objects in the foreground and background as your filming warrants. You won’t see a feature like this on the iPhone 12.
The iPhone 13 features two 12MP cameras on the reverse, including the all-new wide-angle lens, which captures 47% more light, make shooting in low light much easier, according to Apple.
During testing, our reviewer gave particular praise to the iPhone 13 camera. It takes professional looking photos, even in low light, thanks to a larger rear camera sensor which captures 47% more light. Overall the camera is hugely impressive and – despite not looking much better on the specs sheet – it’s a huge improvement on its predecessor.
Apple has also acknowledged the persistent customer irk of the ‘notch’ by reducing this significantly on the new handset. It’s still there, though, and that is bound to irritate some Apple fans.
The iPhone 12 also packed a dual-camera line-up, consisting of one main 12mp f/1.6 wide-angle camera and a 12MP ultra-wide lens more suited for group shots and landscapes. What really saw the iPhone 12 improve on its predecessor, though, was the power of its A14 Bionic chip.
Cameras are always a focal point in any big phone release, so it’s no surprise that Apple has improved on the offering of its previous flagship.
The most interesting addition to the iPhone 13’s camera line-up may be ‘Cinematic Mode’, which uses AI to automatically change focus within shots – for example, if a new character walked into a shot, the camera would automatically focus on them. This was shown off to great effect in the reveal event, but we’re not going to pile too much praise on Apple until we’ve tried it for ourselves.