Editor’s take: I’ve long been a proponent of standalone digital cameras. They somewhat force you to think about your shots and are flexible with regards to lens choice, but most importantly, the quality of images they turn out is far better than what you can get from a smartphone camera. Or at least, that used to be the case.

The folks from pro camera app maker Halide recently got their hands on Apple’s new iPhone 12 Pro Max and were so impressed with its camera array that they decided to dedicate an entire post to the topic. The conclusion? It’s really freaking good.

A couple of key elements stand out when looking at the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s camera system. For starters, it uses a 47 percent larger image sensor with larger pixels to increase the amount of light gathered from the wide-angle camera. That wide-angle shooter features a fast f/1.6 aperture lens and also benefits from a new stabilization system that works at the sensor level rather than on the lens.

In normal (daylight) shooting conditions with Apple’s own camera app, which combines multiple photos into one and adds in noise reduction, you likely aren’t going to see a huge improvement in images shot on the 12 Pro Max versus, say, last year’s iPhone. Strip back the multi-exposure and noise reduction magic (which negatively impacts image quality in many scenarios) and the camera’s true appeal makes itself known.

Shooting in RAW (through the Halide app), the team saw dramatic improvements in image quality compared to what the standard Apple camera app spits out. This is especially evident in low-light environments where details pop. With Apple’s stock camera app, comparable shots were smudgy and lost lots of detail.

The new sensor shift is also a big deal, allowing the team to nail handheld shots at “ridiculous exposure times.”

“It would be impossible to get a shot like this on the iPhone 12, 11 Pro, or heck, the high-end digital cameras I have lying around the studio. This is very cool stuff.”

Worth mentioning is that all of Halide’s samples were taken handheld to replicate real-world scenarios.

All things considered, Halide views the iPhone 12 Pro Max as a huge leap forward in iPhone camera quality. But if you’re going to get the most out of it, you really need to shoot in RAW.

“It achieves images previously only seen in dedicated cameras, with sensors four times its size. It allows photographers to get steady and well exposed shots in conditions that weren’t imaginable a year ago. It captures low-light shots beyond anything we’ve seen on an iPhone. By a lot.”

I’d recommend checking out Halide’s post on the subject as it has full, uncompressed image samples that better illustrate the quality you can expect when shooting in RAW.

Masthead credit: NYC Russ, Halide