A closer look at the iPhone 14 Pro from a landscape photography perspective

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While smartphones can’t compete with my Sony A7R III for landscape photography, they’re an excellent tool for testing and documenting compositions. And when it comes to landscape videos, the iPhone has been my primary camera for several years now. It’s just that good. 

When filming landscapes, secondary considerations like audio, stabilisation, battery levels, storage limits and dynamic range aren’t even a consideration now. In the field, I can be confident that my iPhone will handle those tasks without skipping a beat.

That peace of mind lets me fully focus on taking portfolio photos. And after I’ve got the shot, I can hold up my iPhone, tap to focus and expose and capture a quality clip with ease.

So with the launch of the iPhone 14 Pro, I wanted to examine a few key improvements and put them in context for what they’ll mean for your landscape photography and videos. First, I’ll start with the main wide camera, then look at the ultra-wide and then finally, complain(!) about the telephoto.

iPhone 14 Pro camera system (source: Apple)
iPhone 14 Pro camera system (source: Apple)

1) Wider field of view from 26mm to 24mm

While this may seem like a minor tweak, this change may have the largest impact on how I capture and frame images with my iPhone. Since the first generation in 2007, every iPhone camera has had fixed focal lengths. And for the past few years, the main camera has had a fixed 26mm focal length.

Yet as landscape photographers, we often opt for wider angles to showcase broad vistas and emphasise striking foregrounds, like rushing water and lush ferns.

While all iPhone models have had an ultra wide 13mm camera for some time, I’ve found that particular camera to be too wide. Often the corners appear distorted, warped and unsharp, not to mention the smaller sensor and narrow aperture struggle in the low light of sunrise and sunset. (That changes this year—see section 4 below.)

This year, however, the main lens on the iPhone 14 Pro is expanding from 26mm to 24mm. 

While that additional 2mm might not seem like much, it moves the focal length closer to my wide-angle sweet spot of around 20mm. (In fact, most of my river and forest shots are taken with my 24-70mm lens, not my 16-35mm.)

And, as an added bonus for handled landscape videos, the move to the wider field of view will deliver less camera shake. The less telephoto the lens, the less noticeable shake in the clips.

2.  Bigger sensor, less noise - from 1/1.65” to 1/1.3”

This upgrade is the big one.

Main wide camera technical specifications (source: Apple)
Main wide camera technical specifications (source: Apple)

For the past year, I’ve been shooting with the iPhone 13 Mini, which had a main sensor of 1/1.9”. It’s what I’ve shot my past three landscape photography highlights videos with. And I’ve found it’s held up well, particularly in darker forest scenes where light is hard to come by.

Landscape image shot on the iPhone 14 Pro (source: Apple)
Landscape image shot on the iPhone 14 Pro (source: Apple)

The main camera on the iPhone 13 Pro had an even larger 1/1.65” sensor, but the new iPhone 14 Pro goes even further, expanding the main sensor to 1/1.3”.

With this size increase also comes a 4x megapixel increase from 12MP to 48MP. However, images will be binned down to 12MP—grouping four pixels into one ‘quad pixel’ to help boost light capture and reduce noise—by default unless you’re shooting in ProRaw. (The 48MP ProRaw images take up a whopping 80MB of storage per photo.)

Overall, the sensor is 65% larger than last year, which should mean it delivers less noise and sharper scenes.

3. Brighter aperture from F/6.9 to F/6.2 (Full-frame equiv.)

The aperture on the iPhone 14 Pro main camera is dropping to f/1.78. (On the iPhone 13 Pro, it was f/1.5.)

Wait, isn’t that a bad thing?

Yes, if the sensor size was left unchanged. But with the (big) jump in sensor size, it’s important we factor in the full-frame equivalent aperture. To calculate this, we simply multiply the stated aperture by the relevant crop factor—that is, how the sensor size compares to a 35mm full-frame sensor. 

On the iPhone 13 Pro, the crop factor was 4.6x and the aperture was f/1.5, giving an equivalent aperture of f/6.9.

On the iPhone 14 Pro, the crop factor improves to 3.5x and the aperture is f/1.78, giving an equivalent aperture of f/6.2.

Brighter apertures and more light are generally welcome. However, this shift does have one drawback for landscape photographers: Depth of field.

In landscape photography, we often want the majority of the frame to be in focus. While wider apertures like f/2.8 look great for portraits, out in nature, I often set the aperture on my Sony A7R III to f/8 or f/11. 

So with the shift to f/6.2, you’ll need to be more mindful of where you focus in the frame each time you take a shot or film a video clip.

4. An ultra wide that's ultra good: Bigger sensor, brighter aperture

Last year, the Pro models gained a significant aperture boost to their 13mm ultra wide angle camera, widening from f/2.4 to f/1.8. However, the sensor size remained unchanged.

Main ultra wide camera technical specifications (source: Apple)
Main ultra wide camera technical specifications (source: Apple)

This year, the ultra wide sensor is expanding from 1/3.4” to 1/2.55”. And while this new sensor is still smaller than the main (24mm) sensor, it’s almost double the area of the previous generation. 

When we calculate equivalent apertures, this new ultra wide camera delivers a brighter f/13.6 than last year’s f/15.7. (On my iPhone 13 Mini, the ultra-wide equivalent aperture is a dim f/20. To compensate for such a narrow aperture, the phone has to boost the ISO, resulting in mushy, grainy clips—particularly during wide-angle seascape shoots at dawn and dusk when light is hard to come by.) 

What does this improvement mean for landscape photographers? 

It means the time has arrived when the ultra-wide angle camera is now a genuinely useful tool. You’ll be able to frame up and test compositions on the fly with high fidelity before unpacking your dedicated camera and tripod. And you’ll be able to show behind-the-scenes clips of colourful skies 10 minutes before sunrise—and not have to deal with garishly noisy clips.

Other tidbits...

  • The 3x telephoto camera remains unchanged: There are no upgrades to either the telephoto lens or sensor size. This means we’re still left with a tiny 1/3.4” sensor behind a narrow f/2.8 aperture—which equates to a paltry f/23.8 on a full-frame camera. Perhaps next year, with the rumoured periscope-style lens, the telephoto camera will receive the love it’s so lacked.

  • The Photonic Engine: From Deep Fusion to this year’s Dynamic Island, Apple loves to market its features like no other. But beyond the fancy name, the new image processing pipeline—which merges pixels from multiple images before compression—promises to deliver an additional 2x low light performance across all three cameras.

  • 48MP ProRaw files: With the much larger sensor in the wide camera, you can now capture high-resolution photos using ProRaw. While I’ll still likely default to 12MP for most of my shots, I’m eager to see the 48MP shots up close in Lightroom and see just how much detail the sensor can render.

  • Selfie camera improvements: The front-facing (‘TrueDepth’) selfie camera sees its aperture increase from f/2.2 to f/1.9. Plus, it’s also gaining autofocus for the first time. With the brighter lens, shallower depth of field and autofocus, it looks set to be a decent upgrade for photographers who vlog and document their trips.

About the author: Mitch Green is a Melbourne based travel and landscape photographer. He can be found via his website, through Instagram, or down by the beach at 5am waiting for sunrise. This post originally appeared here.

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