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iPhone 12 Pro Max: Apple magic at its best

EXPERTS call it computational photography but watching the iPhone 12 Pro Max turn a night scene into a photograph or video is more like magic.

With a larger sensor, the wide camera sucks in an incredible amount of light so even the details of the clouds above the almost black water can be seen.

We put the phone to the test with a few conditions. No tripods, no editing, just the power of the phone's three rear cameras and Apple software wizardry.

And that's the beauty of the top of the range phone. You don't have to spend hours editing to get a good photo or video.

Of course, enthusiasts will, and the results will be even better, especially when Apple's ProRAW upgrade comes out later this year.

But is the iPhone 12 Pro Max a big enough leap on what was available in the 11 Pro Max?
Yes and no.

We would have loved to have seen more optical zoom. The camera defaults to a setting of up to 2.5 times but takes good images at 5 times also.

The top rated phone for cameras on DXOMARK, the Huawei Mate 40 Pro offers a 10 times and 3 times optical zoom combination.

It scored at 136 v 130 for the Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max.

The  Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, which scored 126 on DXOMARK, boasts four times optical zoom and a hybrid zoom of 10 times.

Another miss with new iPhone is that is doesn't have a 120 times per second refresh rate on the screen, something the top Android phones have.



That said, the 6.7 inch screen, Apple's biggest yet, is stunning with 1200 nit brightness, vivid but natural looking colours and the blackest of blacks.

The Super Retina XDR display is the first thing you will appreciate as you scroll through emails, surf the web, read long articles, or a book, and watch your favourite streaming shows.

It's beautiful to work with for hours upon hours and ideal for someone who uses their phone like a computer on the go.

The next thing that we loved is the new design.

The phone is only slightly taller than last year's model, but slightly thinner and has smart straight edges which are wrapped in surgical grade stainless steel.

With a tougher ceramic shield shell, we used the phone for a couple of weeks without any case without getting the slightest scratch. But we weren't game to go beyond that and soon bought a case to protect the beautiful Pacific Blue shell.

iPhone 12 Pro Max cameras put to the test.
iPhone 12 Pro Max cameras put to the test.



  SO HOW GOOD ARE THE CAMERAS?

The iPhone 12 Pro Max has three rear cameras - a wide, ultra-wide and new 65mm telephoto lens as well as a selfie camera.

Night mode comes to both the wide and ultra-wide camera, while LiDAR technology allows for night mode portraits.
What is particularly impressive is the way the cameras adjust for huge ranges of lights.

That means when you take a picture of your dog on the beach, in harsh light, you can see the detail in the clouds. Normally, such backgrounds would be blown out.

The video above doesn't really do the camera justice as it loses quite a bit of detail when rendered through our servers and looks decidedly lighter than the original.

At night, the wide camera pulls in 27% more light meaning even better photos than what you could do with the very good iPhone 11 Pro Max.

On the Max version, the sensor is 47% larger on the wide camera while a new OIS stabilises the sensor. The system makes 5000 micro-adjustments per second for night mode shots and steady video.

iPhone 12 Pro Max cameras put to the test.
iPhone 12 Pro Max cameras put to the test.



We took photos and videos of boats in very dark conditions and the amount of detail and sharpness of the handheld shots was incredible.

Viewed on a 27 inch iMac, you can see the noise, but on a phone or iPad it is barely noticeable.

Apple describes the cameras as having 5 times optical zoom range - starting at the 0.5 ultra-wide camera through to the 2.5 optical zoom.

It says the new ƒ/1.6 aperture wide camera combined with big 1.7μm pixels delivers 87 percent improved image quality for both photos and videos.

In night mode, even with lights behind your subjects, the camera manages to pick up better contrast and focus well on faces to provide an image that you would think had been taken by a professional photographer.

Deep Fusion, which uses machine learning on the neural engine for pixel by pixel processing, is now available on all the cameras.

Another technology which makes for the Apple magic is Smart HDR 3 which understands scenes to adjust for different parts of the photo.

Portrait mode has also been improved for better glass and hair segmentation.

iPhone 12 Pro Max cameras put to the test.
iPhone 12 Pro Max cameras put to the test.


WHAT ABOUT VIDEO?

Some of the biggest leaps have been in the video department.

The iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max are also the first to record in Dolby Vision. The 10-bit HDR video captures 60 times more colour, now up to 700 million.

For professionals, it means the Pro Max is good enough that you could not only use it for you B-roll footage but your A-roll as well.

When using a tripod, you can also do night mode time lapses.

iPhone can also edit encoded Dolby Vision videos right on your device as well as share it to compatible devices.

When using a tripod, you can also do night mode time lapses.


SO SHOULD YOU BUY ONE?

If you're upgrading from the iPhone 11 Pro Max, unless you're after some of the above features, you're not going to notice a huge leap.

But if you're phone is a couple of years old, you love your photography or just being creative, want 5G, a super fast phone with a great display and monster battery life, and like a bigger phone then the iPhone 12 Pro Max won't disappoint.

Prices range from $1849 to $2369 outright. Plans start at just over $50 a month for the phone itself for 36 months.