The embargo dropped for reviews of Apple’s outlier phones that — on paper — are an easier sell than its two 6.1-inch models. Let’s start with the 12 Mini, which is simplest to describe: it’s a regular iPhone 12, but smaller, so you get easier handling but also shorter battery life. That seems to be consistent among reviewers, many of whom loved it despite the compromises of the smaller body.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max, though, is a mixed bag. Again, on paper, its tradeoffs are supposed to be straightforward: you have to deal with a phone so large that it becomes dangerous to operate after taking some medications, but that is the price — along with over one thousand dollars — you pay for getting a noticeably better camera system. But that does not necessarily materialize in the real world.
Among those who have posted reviews so far, Marques Brownlee and Raymond Wong of Input — which uses the most irritating format for this review that I can imagine — did not notice any significant difference between the 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max, even in the dark. But Nilay Patel of the Verge and Julian Chokkattu of Wired found the Max to be a huge improvement, while Austin Mann saw differences in some types of image but not others. As some Apple representatives said in an interview with PetaPixel today, the iPhone photography pipeline has more to do with the total combination of sensor, lens, processor, and software than it does any one part. Perhaps it is inevitable that the improvements are there, but not so groundbreaking; perhaps the camera system is more about using the technology stack for more faithful reproduction than it is about blowing your mind with detail captured in the distance at night.
I am most excited about seeing the full potential of RAW images from these sensors combined with computational photography in the new ProRAW format, coming in a software update. I think that has the potential to reveal some of the biggest differences in noise, colour accuracy, and overall quality, without as much post-processing getting in the way.