Apple announced the iPhone 13 lineup last week and pre-orders were available this past Friday. From my first iPhone 3GS in 2009 I’ve been on the off-cycle, buying Apple’s “s” model and keeping it for two years each time. I didn’t buy the hot new designs (iPhone 4, 5, 6, 7) but the next iteration that included refinements and larger leaps in performance, cameras, and battery life, among other innovations. That changed with the release of the iPhone X in 2017 which not only brought me a brand new design for the first time, but also lasted for three years instead of two. When I purchased my iPhone 12 Pro last year I made another change: I joined Apple’s iPhone Upgrade program which allows me to get the new iPhone every year.
While year-to-year improvements are not always huge, Apple has made some nice refinements to the iPhone line. As mentioned in my post about the new lineup, the overall design is the same, but the Pro models receive significant upgrades to their cameras, screens, and batteries.
My iPhone 12 Pro was my first with an ultra wide camera and I’ve used it pretty extensively, though it does have a noticeably dimmer image than the wide lens. The version on the 13 Pro should be much brighter, with an aperture comparable to the wide lens (f/1.8 vs f/1.5 on the wide; lower = more light). That will be great in low-light scenarios since should less often result in blurry or noisy images. The wide angle (regular) camera has an incredibly minor 1/10 f stop boost in light sensitivity to the lens, but uses a larger sensor that helps it pull in 2x the light. The telephoto now features 3x magnification instead of 2x, which should be really helpful. It loses some light sensitivity in doing so (f/2.0 to f/2.8), making it worse than last year’s ultra wide, but we’ll have to see if the sensor can make up for it.
The wide lens also gains sensor shift stabilization which physically moves the sensor to stabilize the image. This feature debuted on last year’s iPhone 12 Pro Max but has now trickled down to all models including the base iPhone 13. It will make videos more stable than the software implementation on the iPhone 12, which will be nice.
The final headlining camera feature that I’m excited about is macro mode. The ultra wide lens has autofocus for the first time and it’s been used to also provide macro shots. It feels kind of odd that the widest lens on the camera is the one that also does close-ups, but that’s the way it is. My phone won’t replace my DSLR for macro but it will be nice to have on the go when I want to get a close up and don’t have my DSLR with me. It also supports macro video and slow-mo, which makes for some dramatic productions. Ooh.
While Apple never talks about internal lens reflections, they are a real problem on the iPhone 12. Many of my night photos show orbs and halos from lights in the scene reflecting into the lens. It happens because the lenses are so small. I’m hoping the giant new camera bump and larger lenses produce fewer internal reflections so more of my night shots are usable.
Since its introduction in 2007 the iPhone (and all iOS devices) have had incredibly fluid and responsive interfaces. Scrolling has always been smooth but the introduction of ProMotion on the iPad Pro in 2017 made it absolutely delightful. The screen feels as if it is connected directly to your finger, matching your movements perfectly. Four long years later it finally arrives on the iPhone and I’m so very excited. I love ProMotion on my iPads and I’ve never noticed a significant battery hit. Despite my love for it I do admit that it is totally a luxury feature. It doesn’t do anything extra for me; it just looks and feels amazing.
The extra battery life will be nice, but I charge my phone every night and haven’t had any issues making it through a day with my iPhone 12 Pro. I won’t use ProRes because I’m not a fancy videographer. I might use Cinematic Mode on occasion as a neat effect but I don’t see myself using that frequently. Photographic Styles are neat, but I don’t know if I’ll use those either.
I’m excited for the features in the iPhone 13 Pro, but which one did I get? Since Apple continues to limit its good colors to its non-Pro line, I’m left with a choice of silver/whiteish, almost black, gold, or a lighter-but-not-better version of the blue iPhone 12 Pro that I have now. I decided to go back to basics and get the silver model with the hope that it will trigger fond memories of my white iPhone 4s. I don’t think the white is quite as bright but it might be enough for me to be happy. I got the same 256 GB size that I have now since I still have about 25% of my storage left right now.
I’m super excited to be on the iPhone Upgrade program, but one thing I hadn’t considered were the incidentals that come with every yearly upgrade. Changes in design, even minor ones, require new accessories. The smaller notch requires a different glass screen cover. The ginormous camera bump and slightly relocated buttons require a new case. Also, because the iPhone 12 was released later than usual last year (October), I technically haven’t met my 12 month obligation to upgrade. No problem though, Apple will happily take my twelfth payment in exchange for a pre-order. Cha. Ching.
These aren’t terrible, but they are added costs I hadn’t considered. On the bright side, Apple’s silicone and leather cases are so closely priced (within $10 of each other) that I bought a nice tan leather case for my 13 Pro. It felt like a deal but I think that’s more of a reflection on how expensive Apple’s silicone cases have become at $49 a pop.
My new white-ish iPhone 13 Pro arrives on Friday. I expect to spend part of the night scrolling up and down, marveling at the smoothness.