The new iPhone 12, 12 mini, 12 Pro, and 12 Pro Max may seem like minor updates to the iPhone 11 lineup, but there are quite a few features that make them worth the upgrade. Apple has done a good job of highlighting all of those features, but some didn't get all of the love they deserved.
Most of the features highlighted below apply to all four iPhone 12 models, but some are exclusive to the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max, which house better technology than their standard counterparts. In some cases, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the only iPhone that has a certain feature. So if you were wondering which iPhone 12 to buy, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the one if you want it all.
Until the late-2020 models came out, Apple's IP68 rating (under IEC standard 60529) for dust and water resistance only rated the iPhone up to a depth of four meters (or 13 feet) for up to 30 minutes. While the IP68 rating has stayed the same on the iPhone 12, 12 mini, 12 Pro, and 12 Pro Max, the maximum depth rose to six meters (almost 20 feet) during the same time period.
Two meters may not sound like much, but it can make or break your iPhone if you accidentally drop your iPhone in a swimming pool, lake, or even the ocean. Apple doesn't recommend swimming with or intentionally dunking your iPhone underwater (even though tests show it can handle it just fine), and its warranties don't cover water damage, so you're on your own if you decide to scuba dive in shallow waters or shoot time-lapse underwater videos. Chlorine and saltwater can ruin the iPhone's finish, so that's always a risk you take as well.
Since the 12 Pro models have lidar scanners, sensors that no other iPhone models have, they can determine the distance away from you and items in front of your rear camera system more accurately. The lidar scans the environment with short bursts of laser pulses, creating a depth map that the Measure app can use to help determine distances, heights, widths, and other measurements more precisely. Because of that, Apple has built-in a people-detector into the Measure app that lets you instantly get a person's height whether they're standing or seated.
All of the new iPhones can shoot videos in HDR with Dolby Vision. I'm sure you all know what HDR means (high-dynamic range) and how it works for photos, and it works very much the same way for videos. Bringing that to the iPhone is a feat in itself. But Apple went a step further with Dolby Vision, a mastering and delivery format that gives you more control over color grading each frame — right from the Photos app (and other compatible editing apps).
For more information on what HDR with Dolby Vision is and what it means for your video recordings, check out our full explainer.
In all four models, there is 5G support. So if you have the right carrier and are in the right spot, you can get faster speeds and less latency in the U.S. There are some important things to note about it, though. For example, you can't use 5G if you have two active cellular plans at the same time. For another, if you can use 5G, iOS will only use it when it thinks it's necessary, so you could be using LTE even if it says 5G in the status bar. You can change your settings to use 5G always, but that could drain your battery.
On the iPhone 11 lineup, Night mode only works on the wide-angle lens on the rear camera system, but the iPhone 12, 12 mini, 12 Pro, and 12 Pro Max can use Night mode on the ultra-wide and TrueDepth cameras, not just the standard wide.
Night mode is a great way to get a better-exposed image in low-light conditions, but it was always limited to the Photo shooting mode. Now, the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max can use it in Portrait mode too, and we have the lidar scanner to thank for that. The lidar sensor can help Camera autofocus faster in darkly lit environments, and the depth map it creates can help gauge the distance to your subject better. That all means that Portrait mode can finally use it.
While it would be awesome if Night mode worked with videos, it works with the next best thing — time-lapse photography. And unlike with Portrait mode, Night mode Time-lapse works on the whole iPhone 12 lineup, not just the Pro models. So you can put your iPhone on a tripod, open Time-lapse mode, then start shooting in dimly lit places.
On the 12 models, Night mode works with every lens, so you can shoot time-lapses using the wide, telephoto, or ultra-wide cameras. The exposure time will vary depending on how long the time-lapse is and how dark your environment and subject is. The frame rate is decided by iOS, depending on how long you shoot, and the speed of the time-lapse will also vary based on the frame rate.
You probably already figured this out knowing that the TrueDepth camera works with Night mode now, but that TrueDepth camera is your selfie cam, and that means Night mode selfies. And it works in Photo mode whether you use the wide view or standard view.
The whole iPhone 12 lineup comes equipped with MagSafe, a circular magnetic array under the rear glass, which lets you connect MagSafe-compatible accessories. For wireless charging, it helps maximize the charging time by ensuring the charger is aligned perfectly each time. As for other accessories, you can attach magnetic wallets, magnetic mounts, magnetic cold shoes, and more. Connecting accessories has never been easier on the iPhone.
You could shoot in RAW before with third-party apps, but the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max up the ante with Apple ProRAW. According to Apple's Senior Manager of Camera Software Engineering, it "provides many of the benefits of [Apple's] multi-frame image processing and computational photography, like Deep Fusion and Smart HDR, and combines them with the depth and flexibility of a raw format."
So think of ProRAW as a deep image file that has multiple layers, such as exposures, highlights, dynamic range, channels, tone maps, white balance, sharpening, etc. That means many of Apple's computational choices that happen in the CPU, GPU, ISP, and Neural Engine can be adjusted after the fact by you manually. Edits can be done in the Photos app or compatible photo-editing software.
Before, whenever you would FaceTime, your video would max out at 720p resolution over all connections, but on all of the new iPhone 12 models, it maxes out at 1080p HD resolution. However, you'll only get FaceTime HD (1080p) resolution if you're using Wi-Fi or a 5G cellular connection — it will not work on 4G or LTE networks.
While most iPhone 12 models keep the same optical and digital zoom range that the iPhone 11 lineup had, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is a different story. It has a better telephoto lens (65 mm / ƒ/2.2) than the 12 Pro (52 mm / ƒ/2.0), and it has a bigger and better image sensor that's 47% larger at 1.7 µm pixels. That all means more zoom.
- 5x optical zoom range (1x more than before).
- Video record at 7 times digital zoom (1x more than before).
- Video record at 2.5x time zoom (0.5x more than before).
- Take photos at 2.5x time zoom (0.5x more than before).
- Take photos at 12x digital zoom (2x more than before).
The iPhone 12, 12 mini, and 12 Pro all have optical image stabilization (OIS) for each lens besides the ultra-wide on the 12 Pro, but the iPhone 12 Pro Max uses sensor-shift OIS. On the other models, the lenses are stabilized, but not on the 12 Pro Max. Instead, the sensor is stabilized, which is common in full-size DSLRs and mirrorless cameras.
That means all of the lenses are stabilized from one point, but the sensor makes the adjustments. And it can make up to 5,000 micro adjustments per second, according to Apple. That makes it possible to expose images at up to two seconds with Night mode by hand only (you could do more if you're still enough, but it won't look as good as on a tripod).
From what we said before in our iPhone 12 Pro Max overview, it helps "control motion better while maintaining sharpness since a sensor is not as heavy as a lens. It aids in canceling low- and high-frequency disturbances, such as hand movements and car vibrations."
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