I'm going to make this brief. Of the four models in the iPhone 12 lineup, the iPhone 12 Pro looks like the top value if you're serious about photography and video. The 12 Pro's LiDAR sensor, Night Portrait mode, and telephoto lens aren't available on the lower-cost models, and will be worth the extra $150 (using the 128GB models' pricing) for those whom their iPhone is a camera first and foremost.
There are four very similar models in the iPhone 12 lineup: the iPhone 12 mini (starts at $699 for 64GB), the iPhone 12 (starts at $799 for 64GB), the iPhone 12 Pro (starts at $999 for 128GB) and the iPhone 12 Pro Max (starts at $1,099 for 128GB). This short piece will give you a quick sketch of how the iPhone 12 Pro differs from the iPhone 12 and why we've designated it as our Editors' Choice. We've wrapped a deeper discussion of all four models into our main iPhone 12 review because they have so much in common. That's where you can read in depth about all the iPhone 12 features. The 12 mini and 12 Pro Max, available for pre-order on November 6th, are expected to arrive shortly and will also receive shorter reviews like this one.The iPhone 12 Pro comes in four matte colors.
Pro Camera Power
The iPhone 12 Pro is the same size as the iPhone 12 (0.29 by 5.78 by 2.82 inches, 6.66 ounces), with a very similar 6.1-inch OLED screen. Apple says it's brighter, but honestly, I'm not able to see the difference. The two phones are indistinguishable from the front, but you can tell them apart from the back because they have different camera modules and different body materials. The 12 Pro has a matte back in four low-key colors, with a shiny stainless-steel band around the edge.There's a shiny stainless steel band around the edge.
Most of the 12 Pro's components and features are the same as the iPhone 12's. It uses the same Apple A14 processor, albeit with 6GB RAM rather than 4GB, and starting at 128GB of storage rather than 64GB. The extra storage speaks to the Pro's position as a photographer's and videographer's phone; raw photos and 4K videos take up a lot of space, and 12 Pro shooters would use up 64GB very quickly.
On the back, where the iPhone 12 has 12-megapixel wide and ultra-wide cameras, the 12 Pro adds a 12-megapixel telephoto camera with 2x zoom lens. Both the 12 and 12 Pro have 12-megapixel front cameras.
In marketing materials this year, Apple has decided to use words the way nobody else in the phone industry does, but we're going to push back. The company is counting its "zoom" from the 0.5x of its wide-angle camera, claiming the Pro is capable of "4x zoom." That's not the way most people understand zoom. The wide-angle camera is not the default, and in the camera app, the three Photo settings are still displayed as 0.5x, 1x, and 2x.
That extra 2x (not 4x, Apple, not 4x) camera makes an obvious difference, as you can see below: zoom images are sharper, as you'd expect from using optical rather than digital zoom.At 2x zoom, the iPhone 12 Pro (upper right) finds detail in the bricks that the iPhone 12 and 11 (bottom) can't.
The 2x zoom is still only 2x. The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra has an even more intense true 5x optical zoom, which looks better when you're shooting at 5x or 10x (which is 2x digital zoom on the 5x optical.) That can be a niche need, but it also can result in some dramatic street and distance photography from a greater range than the iPhone allows for.
The iPhone/Galaxy Note equation is complicated by the two phones' different approaches to camera apps. The Galaxy Note has pro photo and video modes built into its camera app which more easily let casual users tweak aperture, shutter speed, and even which microphone the video camera uses.
Apple's approach relies more heavily on add-on apps, but the iOS platform has a better set of third-party camera apps, and those camera app features come to iOS first. The pro camera apps on iOS tend to be more powerful, but also harder to use than Samsung's simplified pro mode. That said, I think professional creatives have voted with their wallets, and most of them are on iOS.
The iPhone 12 Pro's true photo chops shine in Night Mode, where the LiDAR scanner speeds up autofocus and enables Night Portrait Mode. While the iPhone 11 Pro can match the 12 Pro's telephoto lens, the older phone still can't really compete in low light. My iPhone 12 Pro Night Portrait shots had an entirely different texture than my standard Night mode shots—smoother, softer, dreamier. They're gorgeous.The iPhone 12 Pro's Night Portrait mode (right) gives pictures a dreamy feel.
The 12 Pro also has some standout photo and video features that, as a casual photographer, are a little more than I need, but pro photographers will appreciate. The phone supports Apple's new ProRAW mode, which lets photo enthusiasts peel away the layers of Apple's photo processing and reapply them one by one, or alter each layer to their taste. The Pro also has better Dolby Vision support, capturing Dolby Vision HDR video at 60 frames per second where the iPhone 12 only captures it at 30fps (though it can capture non-Dolby Vision videos at 60). For more on the iPhone 12 line's camera capabilities, check out Which is the Best iPhone 12 for Photographers? written by our camera expert, Jim Fisher.
Pro, But Still iPhone 12
Beyond the camera, though, there aren't too many differences between iPhone 12 and the 12 Pro. They benchmark the same, running the same software. They have the same-sized batteries, the same charging, the same (very good) networking capabilities and call quality. Take a look at the iPhone 12 review for all the details, especially the network comparisons.The iPhone 12 family, from left: iPhone 12 Pro Max, 12 Pro, 12, and 12 mini
The price difference between the iPhone 12 and the 12 Pro isn't actually $799 versus $999, because the former only has 64GB of storage for $799. Boost the iPhone 12 to 128GB and you'll pay $849, so the difference for the 12 Pro's superior photos is really just $150. The bigger issue for me, really, is that in 2020, I've grown skeptical of $1,000 phones all around.
I hate that I'm recommending a phone I haven't handled yet (but will soon), but that instinct worked out with the iPad Air, so here's goes: the best iPhones this year are going to be the iPhone 12 mini (for most people) and this one, the iPhone 12 Pro (for camera buffs). With so many common components, and a huge number of iPhone owners preferring the smaller size of the 6/7/8 phones, the $699 iPhone 12 mini really feels like the mainstream winner this year. Meanwhile, the 12 Pro's 2x zoom does fall short of the 12 Pro Max's 2.5x, but it still fits extreme camera power into a reasonably sized body at a slightly lower price, earning it our Editors' Choice award.
Apple iPhone 12 Pro
The Bottom Line
If you're a serious creative who doesn't want a huge phone, the iPhone 12 Pro packs superior imaging and video capability into a reasonably sized, beautifully designed body.
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Specs
|Operating System||iOS 14|
|Dimensions||5.78 by 2.82 by .29 inches|
|Screen Size||6.1 inches|
|Screen Resolution||2,532 by 1,170 pixels|
|Camera Resolution (Rear; Front-Facing)||12MP, 12MP, 12MP; 12MP|
|Battery Life (As Tested)||12 hours 22 minutes|
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