Apple iPhone 13 Review | Photography Blog



Introduction

This year’s iPhone release sees four new models introduced to the range – in order of price (and level), that’s iPhone 13 Mini, iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max. In this review, we’ll be looking at the mid-range iPhone 13.

The iPhone 13 features two cameras with a super-wide and wide-angle lens, and is the same shape and size as the iPhone 13 Pro – with the latter however you get some extra functionality and hardware differences, including an extra telephoto lens.

With an f/1.6 aperture, the iPhone 13’s standard / wide-angle lens offers an equivalent focal length of 26mm. It is joined by a 13mm f/2.4 (equivalent) super wide angle lens.

Apple has used new sensors for this phone compared to the iPhone 12, but they are still both 12 megapixels in resolution. Apple doesn’t reveal exact specifications for sensor sizes, but we do know that they are a little bit larger than the previous generation.

Other interesting specifications which are new for the iPhone 13 include sensor-shift optical image stabilisation, Cinematic Mode for video, Picture Styles for stills and the new A15 Bionic chip, with a 4-core GPU that Apple claims makes it faster than other models in the market.

There are several specifications which have been kept from the iPhone 12, which includes Night mode, Portrait Mode and 4K video recording.

In terms of non-photographic specifications, there’s also 5G connectivity, a 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR screen and compatibility with MagSafe accessories. There are some key features missing that you’ll find instead on the iPhone 13 Pro – such as raw format recording, ProRes video recording and the telephoto lens as already mentioned.

As a result, the iPhone 13 is cheaper than the iPhone 13 Pro. At the time of writing the iPhone 13 retails for £779 for 128GB model, rising up to £1079 for the 512GB model. It is available in five different colours – Pink, Blue, Midnight (Black), Starlight (White) and Red.

As with last year’s iPhone 12 series, a charging adapter does not come included in the box – just the cable. If you don’t already have an adapter (Apple assumes that most people will already have one, and doesn’t include them for “environmental” reasons), then you will need to factor this into your budget.

Ease of Use




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As we often find to be the case with Apple devices, the design variation between models tends to be relatively limited. In this case, the iPhone 13 is almost exactly the same as its predecessor, the iPhone 12 – being less than 0.2mm slimmer but the same height and width.

The screen is 6.1-inches in diameter, and as before it’s a Super Retina XDR Display which has a “Ceramic Shield” for toughness, and uses Aerospace-grade aluminium for the body.

Both of these specifications should mean that the iPhone is reasonably able to withstand drops and scratches. It is also rated IP68 for splash, water and dust resistance, meaning the iPhone 13 can be submerged in depths of water up to 6 metres for as long as 30 minutes.

Just like the iPhone 12, the iPhone 13 uses angular edges compared to the rounder ones of the iPhone 11 and before – clearly this design choice has proven popular. It certainly creates a striking look. There’s a number of different colours to choose from, including the (Product) Red option we’ve been using, which is probably the most vibrant.

Anyone who has used an iPhone before will be very at home with how the native camera app launches and works, as Apple has kept to a very similar layout and design since pretty much the first iPhone, tweaking it along the way with new features – which we’ll discuss in more detail as we go along.




Apple iPhone 13

To launch the app, you can hold down the camera icon from the lock screen. If the phone is already unlocked you can find the camera app icon on your home screen – it can be useful to place the camera app on your iPhone’s dock so you can always access it quickly and easily.

Although it’s easy to argue that the iPhone’s native camera app being so basic is a shame for more advanced or enthusiast photographers, the fact that it is so simple and easy to use makes it a very straightforward proposition (and perhaps one of the reasons why the iPhone has always proven so popular with the masses).

If you are an enthusiast photographer who would like more direct control over various shooting settings, there are literally hundreds of different apps which you can download for iOS to rectify that (but you won’t be able to launch said apps directly from the lock screen). That said, the native app is a little more complex than it might look from the outset, with plenty of tips and tricks that can be followed to get more control than you might think.

When you launch the camera app, it will open by default in the “Photo” mode, which is what you’ll likely capture the vast majority of your images in. With this mode you can tap around the screen to change the focus point (and the metering).

You’ll find that if you tap on the screen, a small sun icon will appear that you can move up and down using your finger to adjust brightness. You’ll also find that if you hold down your finger when selecting an AF point that you’ll also be set an AE/AF lock, meaning you can focus and recompose without the phone trying to adjust focus or exposure.




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Towards the bottom of the screen (or to the left if you’re shooting in landscape format), you’ll see two circles with 1x and 0.5x in – these are the two lenses, which you can switch between simply by tapping on either of those numbers. You can also pinch to zoom, which will also engage the digital zoom – though that is best avoided unless absolutely necessary.

At the top of the screen, there’s the option to switch the flash to auto or off, and the ability to switch off Live Photos (whereby a short video clip is also recorded with your images). Unlike with the iPhone 13 Pro (and 12 Pro), there’s no option here to engage raw format recording – though again some apps can be downloaded that will give you that kind of functionality if you desperately crave it.

A handy feature which first debuted with the iPhone 11 series is the ability to see “outside the frame” when you’re shooting in the normal camera mode – when using the 1x lens. The app uses data from the 0.5x app to show you what’s going on at either side of the frame, helping you to capture the decisive moment or make adjustments to your composition as necessary.

You’ll also see a little arrow which you can tap to reveal a few more complex settings options which appear at the bottom of the screen once pressed. There’s the option to adjust flash not just from Auto or Off but also to Always On as well, the same for Live Photos (which you can select to be off, on or Auto), the ability to choose a different aspect ratio (your choices are 4:3, which is the default, Square – 1:1 – or 16:9, a manual adjustment of exposure compensation, a Timer (choose between 3s and 10s – or off), and some digital filters.

New for the iPhone 13 is Photographic Styles, which can be activated at the point of capture and are different from the digital filters in that they are more subtle. The options here are Standard (no Style applied), Rich Contrast, Vibrant, Warm and Cool. You can also modify each of the styles by adjusting Tone and Warmth too.




Apple iPhone 13

Note that if you have a Photographic Style selected, you’ll now see an icon (it looks like three squares stacked up) in the top right hand corner of the screen – you can now tap this to change Style or remove it altogether, and it serves as a handy reminder that you have one activated (so you don’t accidentally end up shooting all your pictures in “Cool” for example).

Night mode made its debut on the iPhone series a couple of generations ago, and it also appears for the iPhone 13, but as before it’s not a selectable mode. Rather, it will start to operate if the phone detects that there’s not enough light in the scene. You’ll know that it’s working as you’ll see a small moon icon appear at the top of the screen.

This mode essentially shoots a series of short exposures then merges them together for a better result. The length of time the phone shoots for will depend on exactly how dark it is, but you can also take control over this length of time by pressing the small arrow at the top of the screen and pressing the night mode icon – note this will not appear if light is bright.

There are several other shooting modes you can use. They are accessed by swiping left or right from the main Photo mode – or you can tap the words as they appear at the bottom of the screen. Video modes are found on the left of Photo mode – so you’ve got straight Video, the new Cinematic mode, Slo-Mo and Time-Lapse. On the right of Photo mode, you’ve got Portrait and Pano.

Video mode is pretty self-explanatory, but it gives you the option to record in either 4K or HD at frame rates between 24 and 60fps. It should be noted that you can also record video while in Photo mode if you hold down the shutter release button – but it will record in whatever frame rate and resolution you’ve previously been working in.




Apple iPhone 13

In Video mode you can use either the 1x or 0.5x lens, and as with the Photo mode you can tap around the screen to change AF point and adjust exposure. You can also switch the flash on, off or Auto (it will activate as a continuous light).

You can choose to record in Dolby HDR, which will produce more vibrant images – but you’ll only be able to view the HDR when looking at your videos on a compatible device (such as the iPhone itself). You can choose to switch off Dolby HDR if you prefer – or if you want to save space – which you’ll need to do from the main settings menu.

Cinematic mode is a new mode which has appeared for the iPhone 13 series. With this, you can create shallow depth of field effect for video, a function which has been seen on Android phones for a while, but it is a first for iPhone. You can adjust the f number (or rather the AI simulation of it), to create a very shallow effect.

Although primarily intended for videos of people, it can also be used for pretty much any subject – it works best with things that have a very strongly defined outline though. It’s worth noting that in Cinematic mode, Video is shot at Full HD, rather than 4K.

Slo-Mo is pretty self-explanatory, giving you the option to record slow motion in either 240fps or 120fps at HD. You can use either the 0.5x or the 1x lens and switch on continuous lighting if you are in a dark environment. You can also adjust exposure in this mode.

Time-Lapse also does what it says in its name, giving you the option to record several stills in succession and merge them together to create a time-lapse movie. Again the 0.5x or 1x camera can be used, and exposure can be adjusted. To use this, you tap the record button and tap it again when you’ve recorded as many images as you like. You can leave this running for as long as you want – but if you’re recording for a long time, it’s recommended that you place the phone on a steady surface, or use a tripod.




Apple iPhone 13

To go back to the Stills modes, you have Portrait mode, which like Cinematic mode creates a shallow depth field of effect. This is not a new mode, so if you’ve used any of the recent iPhones you’ll already likely be familiar with it. Again here you can use it for any subject you like, not just people, but again it will work best with subjects that have nicely defined outlines.

You can adjust the simulated aperture, and there are also a number of different “lighting” options available, which are selected at the bottom of the screen. These are Natural Light (the default option), Studio Light, Contour Light, Stage Light, Stage Light Mono and High Key Light Mono. Although these are captured at the point of capture, you can also add or remove them after the fact in playback too. Also in Portrait mode you can adjust exposure, add a timer, add a digital filter and switch on the flash.

Again, Pano mode is pretty self-explanatory, and you can use it to create an ultra-wide angle image by simply sweeping your phone across the scene in front of you – it will be merged together by the phone.

Additional settings changes can be made by heading out of the camera app and into the main / overall Settings section of your phone. Here you’ll find options – among others – such as the ability to switch on a grid for composition, the option to preserve the last settings you’ve used (rather than have them reset every time you close and relaunch the camera app), and apply lens correction.

A number of editing options are available after you’ve taken your shots directly from the Photos app on your iPhone. You can perform simple edits such as cropping or rotating, as well as apply more extensive edits such as adjusting Contrast, Shadows, Highlights, Saturation and more besides.

If you’ve been shooting Live Photos, you’ll also have additional editing options, such as the ability to choose a different frame from the accompanying video or create long-exposure type effects by merging together the various shots in the video.

Image Quality

On the whole, the iPhone 13 is capable of producing some excellent images, particularly when shooting in favourable conditions where the light is good. It’s clear from shooting with both that the iPhone 13 Pro is more adept at low light, but the iPhone 13 still produces some nicely exposed, reasonably clean and detailed images when using the Night mode that certainly stand up well when viewing them on the phone screen.

In good light, the iPhone 13 produces images which are nicely saturated and contain plenty of observable detail. When viewed at large sizes on a computer screen, there is some loss of detail, but considering most people won’t be doing that, that’s unlikely to be too much of a concern.

Portrait Mode puts in a good performance, particularly when the subject has a clearly defined outline. As the iPhone 13 doesn’t have a telephoto lens, the portrait shots it takes are environmental – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Similarly, Cinematic mode produces good videos which display a convincing shallow depth of field effect and is certainly good to experiment with.

You’ve got two lenses to use with the iPhone 13. It’s the standard/wide-angle lens that puts in the best performance in all conditions, with the ultra-wide doing well most of the time, but struggling a little in very low light conditions. If you’re somebody that is frequently recording in low light, it’s advised that you look towards the iPhone 13 Pro for a better performing model in these situations.

Photographic Styles are an interesting addition, giving you scope to choose a Style that you like most – or to change it depending on the subject you’re photographing. Being able to use these at the point of capture saves time in editing later on, but it would be nice to be able to alter these after the fact, or shoot in raw format to give even better scope – again the latter is something you can do with the iPhone 13 Pro.

On the whole, video is also nicely captured. Dolby HDR produces good results, but you need to have a compatible device (such as the phone itself) to really get the most from playback. Being able to record in 4K is a benefit, but if you want to save space you might opt to shoot in Full HD, which is likely to be good enough for most ordinary situations.

Focal Range

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Ultra-Wide

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Standard

Macro

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Night Mode

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Flash

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Flash Off

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Flash On

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Flash Off

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Flash On

Portrait Mode

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Photo Styles

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Standard

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Rich Contrast

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Vibrant

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Warm

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Cool

Sample Images

This is a selection of sample images from the Apple iPhone 13 camera, which were all taken using the 12 megapixel JPEG setting. The thumbnails below link to the full-sized versions, which have not been altered in any way.

Sample Movies & Video

This is a sample movie at the quality setting of 3840×2160 pixels at 60 frames per second. Please note that this 20 second movie is 133Mb in size.

This is a sample movie at the quality setting of 3840×2160 pixels at 30 frames per second. Please note that this 18 second movie is 57.5Mb in size.

This is a sample movie at the quality setting of 3840×2160 pixels at 24 frames per second. Please note that this 18 second movie is 46.2Mb in size.

This is a sample movie at the quality setting of 1920×1080 pixels at 60 frames per second. Please note that this 19 second movie is 31.1Mb in size.

This is a sample movie at the quality setting of 1920×1080 pixels at 30 frames per second. Please note that this 18 second movie is 19.7Mb in size.

This is a sample Cinematic movie at the quality setting of 1920×1080 pixels at 30 frames per second. Please note that this 16 second movie is 27.7Mb in size.

This is a sample Slow Motion movie at the quality setting of 1920×1080 pixels. Please note that this 5 second movie is 33.6Mb in size.

Product Images

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Conclusion

Overall the iPhone 13 produces some excellent results, but there are a number of caveats to consider when thinking about whether or not to purchase one.

If you already have an iPhone 12, this latest version is such a gentle evolution that it’s perhaps not entirely worth upgrading unless you have a strong desire to have the latest model. If you have an iPhone 11 or older than it’s more of a jump and arguably therefore worth it. Indeed, if you want to save cash, you could choose to buy the iPhone 12 instead as it’s still widely available, including on Apple’s website.

Additionally, if your main concern when buying a phone is the quality of the onboard camera, it’s worth investing a little more and opting for the more advanced iPhone 13 Pro. Although it will set you back an additional £170 to get the more expensive version, you get an extra lens, the ability to shoot in raw format, better low light capability, ProRes video recording and a better processor – so arguably it’s the more expensive phone which represents better value for money.

If budget is tighter however but you still want one of the newest iPhones and something which takes good pictures in most situations, the iPhone 13 represents a pretty decent buy.

Pictures are bright and punchy, with plenty of detail if you’re only examining shots on the phone screen in most cases. Night mode has its limitations, especially when shooting with the ultra wide-angle, but if you’re not trying to capture shots in super dark conditions very often this is unlikely to be a deal-breaker. As is usually the case, we’d like to see a more advanced native camera app (or mode), but as you can download an almost infinite number of apps to do that job for you, again it’s not a huge problem if you crave it.

To sum up, the iPhone 13 is a decent mid-range
offering, and for an iPhone it’s available at a reasonable price. The
cash-strapped among you may choose to opt for the iPhone 12 instead, especially
as it’s still available to buy, while those who can save up a bit longer or
free up a bit of extra budget will be well-served by the iPhone 13 Pro.

4 stars

Ratings (out of 5)
Design 4.5
Features 4
Ease-of-use 4
Image quality 4
Value for money 4.5

Main Rivals

Listed below are some of the rivals of the Apple iPhone 13.

The Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max is billed as the ultimate iPhone for photographers, boasting a larger sensor for the main camera, a 2.5x zoom lens and a much bigger screen and overall size than the standard Pro version. With prices starting at around £$1099, is this really the best iPhone for photography? Read our in-depth iPhone 12 Pro Max review now, complete with full-size sample photos and videos…

The Apple iPhone 12 Pro is one of four new iPhones released for 2020, joining the Mini, Pro Max, and the standard model. With prices starting at around £$999, is this the best iPhone for photographers? Read our in-depth iPhone 12 Pro review now, complete with full-size sample photos and videos…

The Pixel 4a 5G is the first Google smartphone with 5G connectivity, but what does it offer the keen photographer? Find out now by reading our in-depth Google Pixel 4a 5G review, complete with full-size sample photos and videos..

The Pixel 5 is Google’s flagship smartphone for 2020, yet it’s priced at just £599 / $699. Does it offer similar performance and features to other, much more expensive range-topping handsets? Read our in-depth Google Pixel 5 review to find out if what it offers photographers, complete with full-size sample photos and videos.

The OnePlus 9 Pro is the latest flagship smartphone for 2021 from OnePlus. Find out if this is the best smartphone for photographers and videographers by reading our in-depth OnePlus 9 Pro review, complete with full-size sample photos and videos.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra is Samsung’s new flagship smartphone for 2021. Featuring a quad-camera setup with 108 megapixels and a 10x optical zoom, 8K video recording, a 5000mAH battery and 5G connectivity, is this the ultimate smartphone for keen photographers? Find out now by reading our expert Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review, complete with full-size sample photos and videos…

The Sony Xperia 1 III is a new flagship smartphone for 2021 that has a lot to offer keen photographers and videographers. This includes 20fps burst shooting, real-time AF tracking and real time eye AF for humans and animals, 16mm, 24mm, 70mm and 105mm focal lengths, and advanced Photo Pro and Cinema Pro apps. Read our in-depth Sony Xperia 1 III review, complete with full-size sample photos and videos, to find out if this new smartphone can justify its £1199 / $1299 price-tag…

The Sony Xperia 5 III is a new mid-range smartphone that inherits a lot of the core features from the flagship Xperia 1 III model, in a smaller and more affordable form factor. Read our in-depth Sony Xperia 5 III review, complete with full-size sample photos and videos…

You’ve probably never heard of Vivo before, but that shouldn’t put you off the new X51 5G, one of the best smartphones for photography that we’ve ever reviewed. What makes the Vivo X5 5G so special for both stills and video? Find out now by reading our in-depth review…

Review Roundup

Reviews of the Apple iPhone 13 from around the web.

The iPhone 13 isn’t a game changer for Apple’s series of smartphones, but it’s an important iteration that offers better battery life, a better processor and an upgraded camera setup than iPhones that have gone before it. If you’re looking for a fast and capable smartphone, and don’t need the extra features of the pricier Pro model, this is a top choice.

Read the full review »

The iPhone 13 is a minor upgrade to last year’s brilliant iPhone 12, with an improved camera, larger storage longer battery life and a small price cut.

Read the full review »

Following an extended period using the phone, however, the iPhone 13 does feel like a meaningful release. Probably not for those who invested last year, but certainly for those who have been hanging onto an iPhone XS, X or older.

Read the full review »

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