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The best iPhone for photography in 2021

The iPhone 11 range being splashed by water
(Image credit: Apple)

iPhones for photography have come on leaps and bounds. These days, you don’t need to carry around a clunky DSLR and a bunch of expensive lightboxes and extra lenses to capture amazing photos – all you need is your phone. Apple’s iPhone range contains some of the best phones on the market if you love photography, with triple-lens devices offering superb features for experts and novices alike.

If you want to buy the best iPhone for photography, though, you’re faced with a somewhat confusing array of phones to choose from. Apple currently sells seven models on its website, and if that wasn’t enough, you can get even more on third-party sites. So, which one has the best iPhone camera?

That’s where this article comes in. We’ve ranked all the best iPhones for photography to make things easy for you. From the highest-end blockbuster to humbler, more wallet-friendly models, if you want to know which iPhone is right for your photography needs, you’re in the right place.

We’ve included everything you need to know, including important specs and the latest prices. If you’re ready to buy, be sure to check out our round-up of all the best Apple deals as well as the best Apple Back to School offers. We also have pages for the best iPhone 12 deals and the best iPhone 11 deals, so you’re just a few clicks from a bargain.

The best iPhone for photography in 2021

The Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max range

(Image credit: Apple)

01. iPhone 12 Pro Max

The biggest Apple phone has the best iPhone camera overall

Specifications
Cameras: Ultra wide, wide and telephoto
Lens apertures: f/2.4 ultra wide), f/1.6 (wide), f/2.2 (telephoto)
Zoom: 2.5x optical zoom in, 2x optical zoom out, 12x digital zoom in
Screen size: 6.7-inch display
Reasons to buy
+All the best tech+Large screen for editing photos
Reasons to avoid
-Very expensive-Size can be unwieldy

In previous years, Apple reserved the best iPhone camera for not one but two phones, such as the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max. Now, that’s changed, and there’s only one contender when it comes to the best iPhone for photography: The iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Apple has squeezed all its best camera tech into its largest, most expensive phone. Compared to the smaller iPhone 12 Pro, you get an aperture of f/2.2 on the telephoto lens versus f/2.0, wider optical zoom range (5x compared to 4x), and higher digital zoom (12x against 10x). There’s also Apple’s sensor-shift optical image stabilisation, which stabilises the sensor itself rather than the lens to improve your photo quality.

The iPhone 11 range

(Image credit: Apple)

02. iPhone 11

A little older, but the best cheap iPhone camera

Specifications
Cameras: Ultra wide, wide
Lens apertures: f/2.4 (ultra wide), f/1.8 (wide)
Zoom: 2x optical zoom out, 5x digital zoom in
Screen size: 6.1-inch display
Reasons to buy
+Lots of fantastic features+Decent price
Reasons to avoid
-No telephoto lens-No LiDAR scanner

Saving money doesn’t have to mean you miss out on good cameras. Apple’s iPhone range has been packed with excellent lens tech for years now, and the iPhone 11 is no exception. If the eye-watering price of the iPhone 12 Pro Max is too much, the iPhone 11 is the best iPhone for photography on a budget.

You get two lenses – an ultra wide and a wide lens, with apertures of f/2.4 and f/1.8 respectively, plus a heap of Apple’s familiar features like Portrait mode, Focus Pixels, Smart HDR, optical image stabilisation, and more.

The iPhone 12 Pro

(Image credit: Apple)

03. iPhone 12 Pro

The best iPhone for photos in the dark

Specifications
Cameras: Ultra wide, wide, telephoto
Lens apertures: f/2.4 (ultra wide), f/1.6 (wide), f/2.0 (telephoto)
Zoom: 2x optical zoom in, 2x optical zoom out, 10x digital zoom in
Screen size: 6.1-inch display
Reasons to buy
+Top-notch specs+LiDAR scanner
Reasons to avoid
-Not quite the best-Expensive

The iPhone 12 Pro Max might be the all-out best iPhone for photography, but its smaller sibling, the iPhone 12 Pro, can go blow-for-blow with it in almost every area. If you want a superb iPhone camera while saving a little money, it’s the one to go for.

As we outlined in our entry for the iPhone 12 Pro Max, the 12 Pro is only marginally different in what it can do. Its zoom range is a little lower (4x against 5x) and its apertures vary slightly. But other than that, you get a brilliant photography setup, including beautiful night mode portraits enhanced by the device’s LiDAR scanner.

The iPhone 11 Pro Max

(Image credit: Apple)

04. iPhone 11 Pro Max

The best iPhone for video recording and slow motion

Specifications
Cameras: Ultra wide, wide, telephoto
Lens apertures: f/2.4 (ultra wide), f/1.8 (wide), f/2.0 (telephoto)
Zoom: 2x optical zoom in, 2x optical zoom out, 10x digital zoom in
Screen size: 6.5-inch display
Reasons to buy
+Triple-lens setup+Great video recording
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive-Not the latest hardware

After seeing the best iPhone for photography, the iPhone 12 Pro Max, scoring well in this article, it should come as no surprise to see the iPhone 11 Pro Max also high up the rankings. It was the first iPhone with a triple-lens system, so you get tons of control over shooting modes. It’s no slouch for video either, and can record video at 4K 60fps or 1080p 240fps slow motion.

The iPhone 11 Pro Max is no longer officially sold by Apple, but you can still get it for a good price elsewhere. See the prices above or check our Apple deals roundup to see if you can grab a bargain.

The iPhone 12 in purple

(Image credit: Apple)

05. iPhone 12

A great iPhone for photography with mass appeal

Specifications
Cameras: Ultra wide, wide
Lens apertures: f/2.4 (ultra wide), f/1.6 (wide)
Zoom: 2x optical zoom out, 5x digital zoom in
Screen size: 6.1-inch display
Reasons to buy
+Great balance of features+Dolby Vision HDR video
Reasons to avoid
-Only two lenses-No LiDAR scanner

Either phone in Apple’s iPhone 12 Pro range is a serious investment, and they’re not for everyone. The iPhone that is for everyone? The iPhone 12. That extends to its photography capabilities, which comprise all the features most people really need while keeping the price relatively affordable.

It’s a step up over the iPhone 11, with an f/1.6 aperture on the wide lens versus f/1.8, while its Smart HDR tech is improved, as is its ability to handle challenging lighting conditions with aplomb. Oh, and it supports Dolby Vision HDR video, which looks utterly stunning. It might not quite be the absolute best iPhone for photography, but it is an excellent device in its own right.

The iPhone 11 Pro range

(Image credit: Apple)

06. iPhone 11 Pro

One of the best iPhones for macro photography

Specifications
Cameras: Ultra wide, wide, telephoto
Lens apertures: f/2.4 (ultra wide), f/1.8 (wide), f/2.0 (telephoto)
Zoom: 2x optical zoom in, 2x optical zoom out, 10x digital zoom in
Screen size: 5.8-inch display
Reasons to buy
+Triple-lens camera array+Good price
Reasons to avoid
-Not the latest tech-No 5G capability

With each new iPhone release, it’s easy to assume the best iPhone for photography is simply the latest one. But that obscures the fact that even slightly older Apple phones, like the iPhone 11, possess some of the best iPhone cameras available.

Case in point: The iPhone 11 Pro has a triple lens system with excellent zoom, Portrait mode, Smart HDR, plus 4K video recording at 60fps. Despite all these top-notch features, it costs a fraction of the price of the iPhone 12 Pro (and even less if you get it refurbished). It’s a solid all-rounder that won’t break the bank.

The iPhone 12 mini range

(Image credit: Apple)

07. iPhone 12 mini

A great option if you don’t want a huge phone

Specifications
Cameras: Ultra wide, wide
Lens apertures: f/2.4 (ultra wide), f/1.6 (wide)
Zoom: 2x optical zoom out, 5x digital zoom in
Screen size: 5.4-inch display
Reasons to buy
+Latest upgrades and features+Great for small hands
Reasons to avoid
-No telephoto lens-Lacklustre battery life

If you’ve been reading this and wondering where all the smaller iPhones are, you’re in luck: The 5.4-inch iPhone 12 mini is an excellent device with some of the best iPhone cameras you can get. Because it’s part of the iPhone 12 range, it comes with all the same benefits of the iPhone 12, only shrunk down into a more palm-friendly format.

That makes it more portable than many entries in this article – especially the Pro Max variants – but also much more affordable. Whether you want a smaller iPhone for photography or are just looking to save some cash, it’s a great option.

The iPhone SE (2020) range

(Image credit: Apple)

08. iPhone SE (2020)

A super affordable shooter with some neat features

Specifications
Camera: Wide
Lens aperture: f/1.8
Zoom: 5x digital zoom
Screen size: 4.7-inch display
Reasons to buy
+Good performance+Very affordable
Reasons to avoid
-Only one lens-No full-screen display

Apple’s iPhones have long been characterised as premium and, some would say, overpriced. Apple sought to combat this perception with 2020’s iPhone SE, and that’s great news for photography fans. This cut-price phone offers a 12MP wide camera, Portrait mode, 4K video at 60fps, and much more.

However, it only has a single lens (wide angle, with no ultra wide or telephoto lens), so it can’t compete with the absolute best iPhones for photography. But if all you need is a rock-solid point-and-shoot iPhone at the cheapest price in the entire range, the iPhone SE holds its own.

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Alex Blake

Alex Blake is a freelance tech journalist who writes for Creative Bloq, TechRadar, Digital Trends, and others. Before going freelance he was commissioning editor at MacFormat magazine, focusing on the world of Apple products. His interests include web design, typography, and video games.