Low-Light Shootout

Apple iPhone Pro Max vs. Sony a7III

Low-light photography is all the rage now on smartphones. Better sensors and lenses combined with artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other 21st-century buzzwords allow smartphone cameras to actually see in the dark. But how good are they?

Low-light photography has been around for a long time, especially on professional-grade cameras that can hold the shutter open for extended periods of time allowing the sensor to gather as much light as possible.
With the overhauled and widely acclaimed camera system on the iPhone 13 Pro/Pro Max, I thought it would be a good time to see how it compares to a “real” camera.
Using the same tripod and lighting conditions, I captured my backyard with both an iPhone 13 Pro Max and a Sony a7III mirrorless camera.

Let’s start with the iPhone 13 Pro Max, 10-second “Night Mode” capture1

ISO 5000 26mm f/1.5 2.0″ HEIC

You can see there’s not a lot of light here. 10-seconds is a long time to shoot an image handheld, but on a tripod, it’s not nearly long enough.

iPhone 13 Pro Max, 30-second “Night Mode” capture 2

ISO 6400 26m f/1.5 10″ RAW

A lot more light here, almost looks like it’s daylight outside. While the image is visible and you can see details, there’s a lot of noise present and if you zoom in you can see some blurring from noise reduction.

Sony a7III 10-second exposure at f/1.8

ISO 5000 50mm f/1.8 10″ ARW

Much more clearer detail here and has that daylight look like the 30-second iPhone shot. The high ISO gives it a softer look and has some visible noise.

Sony a7III 30-second exposure

ISO 1250 50mm f/1.8 30″ ARW

The ultimate night shot, at 30 seconds the sensor has enough time to capture enough light it can reduce the ISO and crisp-up all the details.
Some might say, “This isn’t a fair fight!”, but if Apple is aiming to take on the prosumer camera market, they need to have benchmarks. This three year old camera shows just how far smartphone cameras still have to go to be competitive.

If you’re looking to get great photos in a dimly lit room, an iPhone with Night Mode will do the job.
If you want to create daylight out of near-pitch-black, get a tripod and a big camera that can suck in all the light available.

Check out my iPhone 13 Pro Max review here (coming soon)

  1. Apple uses several shorter photos at different exposures, stitched together to create a 10-second night mode photo.
  2. The shutter speed for this 30-second exposure is listed as 10″ in the EXIF data, probably denoting Apple’s use of three 10″ exposures blended together.