In all the low-light photos I’ve captured, the Max usually delivers an image with less noise and sharper details over the iPhone 12 Pro. You need an eagle eye to spot them though. I put all of my test photos from both phones side by side on a large monitor, where sometimes it was easy to see the advantage of that larger sensor. Most of the time, however, I needed to really zoom in to see the distinctions. One thing I spotted consistently was that if I captured a scene with some darker areas (as in, almost pitch black) on the iPhone 12 Pro, there’s a good chance that those areas in the Max’s photo of the same scene would be a little brighter.
One key factor to note is that because the Max’s sensor can take in more light, you don’t have to rely on Night mode as much unless you’re photographing a scene that’s much darker. That also means the Pro Max can capture low-light photos faster than the iPhone 12 Pro. Speed in low light is important—shaving milliseconds off the amount of time the shutter is open means less of your hand’s shaking is recorded, and fewer shots come out blurry.
This better clarity, likely aided by sensor-shift as well, is more noticeable when taking Portrait mode photos at night. Both the iPhone 12 Pro and the Pro Max have a lidar scanner, which shoots invisible lasers out of the phone to measure the distance of objects in front of it (much like how a self-driving car sees the traffic on the road). The lidar sensor is what enables Night mode to work with Portrait mode. The additional light captured by the Pro Max strips out the noise and brings out more details.
While I was testing the Pro Max, I also carried the iPhone 12 Pro and the Google Pixel 5, our favorite Android camera phone. Both the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max took low-light photos that were a good deal sharper (even in Portrait mode) than the Pixel. The Pixel does sometimes step up and record more definition in areas left muddy by the Pro Max. I also occasionally prefer the Pixel’s daylight results, as colors can look more true to life in high-contrast scenes (even if the Pro Max’s images are a tad clearer).
The perks of the larger sensor are harder to discern over the iPhone 12 Pro when the sun is out. You won’t find too many photos you’re disappointed with when you shoot in daylight.
The Other Cameras
Nestled next to the main camera on the back of both the iPhone 12 Pro Max and the iPhone 12 Pro are two additional cameras. One is a 12-megapixel ultrawide, and it’s exactly the same on both iPhone models. Its wider field of view allows you to take in more of a scene than the default cam. It also does a solid job in low light, but I think the Pixel, which also has an ultrawide camera, fares a little better here.