iphone 13 cameras stand out with macro photography, cinematic video

© Provided by CNET iPhone 13 Pro models can take ultra closeup photos with a new macro mode. Apple

It's hard to get an edge in the smartphone photography market today, but Apple's is trying with a new cinematographic focus feature in the iPhone 13 and close-up macro photography ability in the iPhone 13 Pro.

At first blush, the new iPhones' cameras look the similar to what's offered on the iPhone 12 models from last year, with two cameras on the lower end models and three on the more expensive Pro phones. But improved camera features and core functionality make this year's models a substantial step up from 2020 iPhones, not just the years-old models that customers are more likely to upgrade from this year.

Apple's iPhone 13 will get an improved 12-megapixel camera with a better ultrawide lens and sensor, the company said Tuesday. In addition to portrait mode, computational photography, better image stabilization and a diagonal design for the rear lenses, the iPhone 13 will also come with a Cinematic mode to make cinema-style videos. The iPhone 13 Pro comes with three new rear cameras as well, which now all have night mode. 

The iPhone 13's dual-camera system gathers 46% more light with its wide aperture of f/1.6. According to Apple, it's the biggest sensor for the dual-camera system first introduced in the iPhone 12 Pro Max. 

Cinematic mode is the latest feature for the camera to record cinema-style videos and shoots in Dolby Vision HDR. When recording in the new mode, the camera will focus on the subject whether that subject is standing still or moving. The camera will then anticipate when a subject comes into the frame and transition its focus to guide the viewer's attention.

Along with being in the iPhone 13, the latest camera will make its way to the iPhone 13 Mini. Powering the iPhone 13 camera is its A15 Bionic chip. 

The iPhone 13 Pro also has a new triple-camera system with better lenses and sensors. A new 77mm telephoto lens comes with 3x optical zoom, which makes for a total 6x zoom. Its ultrawide camera has autofocus and an f/1.8 aperture for a 92% improvement in low light. Then there's the wide camera with its f/1.5 aperture. 

Those aren't enormous changes from 2020's iPhone 12, which came with wide and ultrawide cameras for lower-end models and added a telephoto camera on the higher end iPhone Pro models. But the new features and camera options could appeal much more to people with older iPhones, especially single-camera models. Significant camera improvements can be more noticeable than faster processors and better screens.

iphone 13 cameras stand out with macro photography, cinematic video

© Apple

Get even wider with the new iPhone 13 camera.

Cameras are crucial to smartphones, which is why newer models have multiple cameras and often a bump to accommodate better optics and image sensors. Photos and videos are how we catalog and share our lives, and features like better low-light performance and new lens perspectives can really help.

Apple revealed the camera at its iPhone 13 launch event on Tuesday.

Apple established a commanding lead in smartphone photography with its first iPhones but lost its edge as rivals like Samsung, Google and Huawei invested heavily in their own technology. Apple has kept competitive through steady improvements in camera hardware and, crucially, the accompanying software that processes several frames of raw data into a finished JPEG or HEIC photo file.

Though Apple has added wide angle and telephoto cameras to expand creative options, its generally conservative approach has meant iPhones haven't used pixel binning, which lets people take much higher resolution photos when the light is good, and "periscope" cameras that dramatically increase telephoto zoom factors.

Instead, Apple has worked on software features like portrait mode for flattering photos of people, better performance in dim lighting and its ProRaw photo format for more advanced photography.

See all of CNET's coverage from today's Apple event. 

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