iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 14 Pro/Max: Should you upgrade to get 5x zoom?

It’s safe to say that the new iPhone 15 Pro Max is one of the best smartphones for photographers. But, how much better than last year’s iPhone 14 Pro/Max is it? And is it worth rushing out to spend your hard-earned cash on an upgrade? Can you save money by buying the older iPhone if you’re coming from an even older model? That’s what we’re attempting to find out with this iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 14 Pro/Max piece.

Here we’ll be taking a look at how the iPhone 15 Pro Max compares with last year’s iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max. The 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max shared exactly the same camera setup, so although we’ve used the smaller iPhone 14 Pro for our comparison here, it can also be applied to the larger iPhone 14 Pro Max. I’ll mention both throughout the comparison, where appropriate.

For the most part, specs between the two are very similar, with some small – but significant – upgrades coming to various aspects of the camera. There’s also been some changes made to the physical design and operation for the new iPhone too, which are worth thinking about.

Read on to find out more…

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 14 Pro/Max: Camera specs

Much of the camera specs between the iPhone 15 Pro Max and the iPhone 14 Pro Max are incredibly similar.

Both models have three lenses to choose from, with both having a 48MP “main” sensor which is 24mm f/1.78 equivalent. This is joined by a 12MP, 13mm f/2.2 equivalent lens for both the 15 Pro Max and the 14 Pro /Max.

Where the specifications divert is with the introduction of the new 5x lens for the iPhone 15 Pro Max. This is a 12MP 120mm f/2.8 equivalent, which compares to the 3x, 12MP 72mm f/2.8 equivalent you’ll find on the iPhone 14 Pro/Max.

Do you need a 5x zoom? Read our iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 15 Pro comparison.

Other hardware improvements for the camera come in the form of nano-scale coatings for the lenses, which are designed to reduce problems with ghosting and flare. The ultrawide lens also has a new anti-reflective coating which should help boost performance in low light too.

To look at them, the cameras seem the same on both the iPhone 15 Pro Max and the iPhone 14 Pro/Max

To look at them, the cameras seem the same on both the iPhone 15 Pro Max and the iPhone 14 Pro/Max. Image: Amy Davies

Software wise, we’ve got some notable differences or improvements for the iPhone 15 Pro Max model. Although both the new and old models have a 48 megapixel main sensor, the iPhone 15 Pro Max outputs images at a default of 24 megapixels.

Also new is Smart HDR 5 – one up from the Smart HDR 4 found on the iPhone 14 Pro/Max. This may make a small difference to exposure quality, so we’ll see how much we can spot the difference in a short while.

The main lens also now facilitates different lens shooting choices, with a 28mm (1.2x) and 35mm (1.5x) added to the existing 24mm (1x) and 48mm (2x) options. These all work by utilising the central area of the 48MP sensor, and it’s a nifty feature to be able to simply tap to change the focal length without having to crop after the fact.

Otherwise, much of the changes have been made to the general design – which we’ll cover later on.

iPhone 15 Pro vs iPhone 14 Pro: see how the old and new cameras compare.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 14 Pro/Max: General image quality

Image quality between the iPhone 15 Pro Max and the iPhone 14 Pro/Max are very similar – especially if you’re only looking at images on a phone screen. In some situations, the iPhone 15 Pro Max appears to create slightly darker exposures than its predecessor – at a guess this is due to the Smart HDR 5. You might prefer the brighter exposures of the older phone, but the darker ones are probably a bit more true to life.

In other situations, image quality is almost identical – but there is a bit more detail with the iPhone 15 Pro thanks to that higher resolution output. You can see this if you zoom in, and, it gives you some extra scope for cropping your images if you need to after the fact which can be helpful.

An image taken in good light by the iPhone 14 Pro

An image taken with the iPhone 14 Pro. Image: Amy Davies.

iPhone 14 Pro · f/1.78 · 1/7042s · 6.86mm · ISO80

Photo taken with iPhone 15 Pro

In this image shot with the iPhone 15 Pro Max, we can see that the overall exposure is a little darker. Image: Amy Davies

iPhone 15 Pro · f/1.78 · 1/9009s · 6.86mm · ISO80

An image shot with the iPhone 14 Pro. Image: Amy Davies

An image shot with the iPhone 14 Pro. Image: Amy Davies

An image shot with the iPhone 15 Pro Max – in this situation, image quality is almost identical, aside from the increase in resolution. Image: Amy Davies

An image shot with the iPhone 15 Pro Max – in this situation, image quality is almost identical, aside from the increase in resolution. Image: Amy Davies

On the whole, it’s hard to pick out massive differences between the iPhone 15 Pro Max and the iPhone 14 Pro Max for general image quality, so, if you’re expecting a bit improvement by upgrading, you’ll likely be disappointed. You’re more likely to spot a bigger difference if you’re coming from an older model, such as the iPhone 12 Pro or the iPhone 13 Pro.

Let’s see if we can find bigger differences by looking at specific situations.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 14 Pro/Max: Zoom

This is where you’ll find the biggest camera hardware difference between the iPhone 15 Pro Max and the iPhone 14 Pro series, and what you might be considering upgrading entirely for. With the new iPhone 15 Pro Max you get a 5x zoom lens, compared to the older 3x lens for the iPhone 14 Pro/Max.

We could argue all day about whether actually a 3x lens is a more sensible choice in most shooting conditions, but, if you want that extra reach, then the best way to get it is by investing in the new model.

iPhone 14 Pro at 3x zoom – its maximum (optically). Image: Amy Davies

iPhone 14 Pro at 3x zoom – its maximum (optically). Image: Amy Davies

iPhone 15 Pro Max at its 5x zoom – its maximum optically. Image: Amy Davies

iPhone 15 Pro Max at its 5x zoom – its maximum optically. Image: Amy Davies

In our comparison we can see how much closer you get with the 5x lens compared to the 3x lens, which can certainly come in useful in certain situations. Performance wise, both offer about the same in terms of levels of detail and overall exposure.

It’s worth also remembering that with the new iPhone 15 Pro Max, the amount of digital zoom is also extended. So you can go up to 25x with this model, compared to 15x with the iPhone 14 Pro/Max. It’s safe to say that at the full reach of that digital zoom – whether 15x or 25x – image quality drops significantly. But, if you really do want to get that much closer, the option is there.

iPhone 15 Pro Max at 5x zoom. Image: Amy Davies

iPhone 15 Pro Max at 5x zoom. Image: Amy Davies

iPhone 14 Pro at 5x digital zoom – the results are actually pretty good. Image: Amy Davies

iPhone 14 Pro at 5x digital zoom – the results are actually pretty good. Image: Amy Davies

If you want 5x zoom from your iPhone 14 Pro series camera, there is another option – you can shoot digitally. In good light, the results are actually decent, and compare reasonably well with the optical 5x you get from the iPhone 15 Pro. If 5x zoom is something you only intend to use infrequently, this perhaps shows us that you don’t necessarily need to rush to upgrade after all.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 14 Pro/Max: Macro

I wouldn’t particularly expect much of a difference between the iPhone 15 Pro Max and the iPhone 14 Pro/Max when it comes to Macro, as both have pretty much the same setup.

With both models, the mode will automatically activate should you bring the phone close to a subject. By doing so, the ultrawide angle lens will be activated, meaning you go down to 12 megapixels, even if you’re using the newer iPhone 15 Pro Max.

iPhone 14 Pro Macro mode. Image: Amy Davies

iPhone 14 Pro Macro mode. Image: Amy Davies

iPhone 15 Pro Max Macro mode. Image: Amy Davies

iPhone 15 Pro Max Macro mode. Image: Amy Davies

You can switch macro shooting off on either model if you think using the main sensor would be a better idea. If you’re not super close to the subject, this can work well, such as for flowers and the like. However, in our example here, we were almost touching the beads with the phone.

We can see that the detail resolved between the two is very similar, but the shadows seem to have been a bit more evened out with the newer iPhone 15 Pro Max, making it the slightly better performer (at a push).

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 14 Pro/Max: Low Light

For the most part, the iPhone 15 Pro Max should have relatively similar performance when Night mode is activated compared with the iPhone 14 Pro series. Although the main sensor now has a 24MP default output, this switches back to 12MP when low light is detected, so it’s quite difficult to see a huge difference between shots using the 1x lens.

iPhone 14 Pro Night Mode

iPhone 14 Pro Night Mode. Image: Amy Davies.

iPhone 14 Pro · f/1.78 · 1/15s · 6.86mm · ISO2000

iPhone 15 Pro Night Mode

iPhone 15 Pro Night Mode. Photo credit: Amy Davies.

iPhone 15 Pro · f/1.78 · 1/9s · 6.86mm · ISO1600

There’s a touch more detail with the iPhone 15 Pro Max in our test shots here, but the difference is relatively minimal and probably not something which would be quite so overtly obvious in isolation. Despite the promises of an improvement to night mode with the ultrawide, I’d say they’re about the same – albeit both being pretty good.

iPhone 14 Pro Night Mode, 3x. Image: Amy Davies

iPhone 14 Pro Night Mode, 3x. Image: Amy Davies

iPhone 15 Pro Max Night Mode – you can zoom up to 5x optically with this model. Image: Amy Davies

iPhone 15 Pro Max Night Mode – you can zoom up to 5x optically with this model. Image: Amy Davies

The big difference again comes with zoom, with the new iPhone 15 Pro Max allowing you to get closer to the action with its 5x zoom lens. This performs relatively well in low light – so if you’re regularly zooming in such conditions, it could be worth considering the upgrade.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 14 Pro/Max: Portraits and Selfies

With both the iPhone 15 Pro Max and the iPhone 14 Pro series you get a dedicated portrait mode, but there are some key differences to take note of here.

Particularly interesting is the new Automatic portrait mode, which has been added only to the iPhone 15 Pro series. With it, the iPhone 15 Pro Max will recognise that you’re pointing it at a human, dog or cat and capture all the required detail to transform an image into a blurred-background portrait, even when shooting in the standard Photo mode.

You can now also change the focus point after the fact with portraits, but this is something that has been rolled out with iOS 17, so anybody with an iPhone 13 Pro or later can also do this – so long as your images have been shot in the dedicated portrait mode.

iPhone 14 Pro Portrait mode (3x)

With the iPhone 14 Pro/Max, the maximum shooting distance is 3x. Image: Amy Davies

iPhone 14 Pro · f/2.8 · 1/455s · 9mm · ISO32

The iPhone 15 Pro Max gets you closer to the subject with a 5x zoom option, with a slightly nicer blur to the background too. Image: Amy Davies

The iPhone 15 Pro Max gets you closer to the subject with a 5x zoom option, with a slightly nicer blur to the background too. Image: Amy Davies

In terms of image quality, the main difference here is that with the iPhone 15 Pro Max you can shoot at 5x, rather than the 3x maximum that the iPhone 14 Pro / Max offers. This gets you closer to your portrait subjects, and also the default amount of blur appears to be greater.

Overall, the photos taken with the iPhone 15 Pro Max are ever so slightly better, with a more balanced overall exposure and a tiny improvement in the drop off between subject and background.

iPhone 14 Pro Night Portrait mode

iPhone 14 Pro Night Portrait. Image: Amy Davies.

iPhone 14 Pro · f/1.78 · 1/26s · 6.86mm · ISO2000

iPhone 15 Pro Night Portrait mode

iPhone 15 Pro Night Mode – there’s a lot more detail on display here around the face and shoes. Image: Amy Davies.

iPhone 15 Pro · f/1.78 · 1/15s · 6.86mm · ISO2000

You can also blend Night Mode and Portrait together, and here there’s a notable improvement for the iPhone 15 Pro Max, with significantly more detail shown in the 1x option compared with the iPhone 14 Pro series camera. Again, you can get closer, but neither the 3x or 5x options are particularly impressive when the light is low – so we’d probably recommend avoiding those.

iPhone 14 Pro Selfie

iPhone 14 Pro Selfie. Image: Amy Davies.

iPhone 14 Pro · f/1.9 · 1/447s · 2.69mm · ISO25

iPhone 15 Pro Selfie

iPhone 15 Pro Max selfie – there’s not a lot to separate out the two here. Image: Amy Davies.

iPhone 15 Pro · f/1.9 · 1/447s · 2.69mm · ISO25

The selfie cameras between the iPhone 15 Pro Max and iPhone 14 Pro series models are the same, so again, we see very similar results here. In fact, they’re almost identical. With the iPhone 15 Pro Max, it has the same automatic portrait recognition, so you can choose to turn the background blurry (or remove the blur) after the fact too – so that’s a nice new feature.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 14 Pro/Max: Video

For the most part, video specifications between the iPhone 15 Pro Max and the iPhone 14 Pro/Max have stayed roughly the same. Both give you shooting options up to 4K 60fps, and both have a variety of shooting modes which includes Slo-Mo, Cinematic, Action and ProRes.

One new addition to think about is Log Video recording, which may appeal to some advanced video users, but is unlikely to be of importance to most average consumers.

Of course, the other difference comes from the extra zoom ability – so again, if you’ve found yourself wanting to shoot videos a bit closer, you now have that opportunity thanks to the 5x lens, otherwise quality is roughly the same as before.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 14 Pro/Max: Screen and Design

If you’re coming from an iPhone 14 Pro Max, there’s a couple of design tweaks to take note of. The overall size here is 159.9 x 76.7 x 8.25mm, making it ever so slightly smaller (albeit marginally thicker) than the iPhone 14 Pro Max’s dimensions of 160.7 x 77.6 x 7.85mm. The newer iPhone 15 Pro Max is also slightly lighter, at 221g, compared to 240g for the iPhone 14 Pro Max – this is down to the new Titanium material, which is lighter than Stainless Steel as used before.

The iPhone 15 Pro Max is significantly larger than the iPhone 14 Pro.

The iPhone 15 Pro Max is significantly larger than the iPhone 14 Pro. Image: Amy Davies

Perhaps you’ve got an iPhone 14 Pro. In which case, you’ll be making quite a big step up in terms of body size. The iPhone 14 Pro measures in at 147.5 x 71.5x 7.85mm, and weighs the same as the iPhone 15 Pro Max at 221g.

The iPhone 15 Pro Max has a thinner bezel than the iPhone 14 Pro series.

The iPhone 15 Pro Max has a thinner bezel than the iPhone 14 Pro series. Image: Amy Davies

How that translates into screen sizes is that you’ve got a 6.7” (2796 x 1290 pixels) device for either the iPhone 15 Pro Max or the iPhone 14 Pro Max, while the iPhone 14 Pro has a 6.1” (2556 x 1179 pixels) device. A new feature here is slightly thinner bezels around the iPhone 15 Pro Max, so there’s a marginally better screen to display ratio with the newer models.

All three of these models have a Ceramic Shield for the screen, which should withstand scratches quite well. The back is glass in either case, with some finding the newer iPhone 15 Pro models to be weaker than their predecessors – it’s not something we’ve experienced, but we also haven’t subjected any of the phones to extreme bending or smashing off the floor either. All models are IP68 water resistant.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 14 Pro/Max: Charging, battery life and storage

For the iPhone 15 Pro series, Apple finally relented and added USB-C charging to the design. This means you can use your existing cables from other tech (such as a MacBook or a camera for example) as well as the one supplied in the box. For the iPhone 14 Pro series, you’ll still be using Apple’s own Lightning charger. Aside from the benefit of sharing cables between devices, the new USB-C also delivers faster transfer speeds when the phone is plugged into your computer – which may be particularly of interest if you’re into vlogging for example.

iPhone 15 Pro Max USB-C Port

The iPhone 15 Pro Max now has a USB-C port, at last. Image: Amy Davies

Neither of the models come with a charging plug in the box, so although you’ll get a cable you’ll need something of your own to plug it into. Both of the phones can also do wireless charging or Fast Charging, but again, you’ll need compatible devices that you pay for separately to do that.

In terms of storage, the lowest you can get for the iPhone 15 Pro Max is 256GB, whereas the iPhone 14 Pro or Pro Max can be bought with 128GB – giving it a cheaper starting price. All models can also be bought in variants going up to 1TB, with 256GB and 512GB in between.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 14 Pro/Max: Price

Both the iPhone 15 Pro Max and the iPhone 14 Pro Max were priced at a starting price of $1199 / £1199 at launch. However, the iPhone 15 Pro Max has a higher minimum storage (256GB vs 128GB), so you actually get more for your money with the newer model. Last year’s iPhone 14 Pro started at $1099/£1099, again with 128GB. So for only $100/£100 more you get a bigger screen and more storage with the newer model.

The top price for the iPhone 15 Pro Max, 1TB version, is $1,599/£1,599, which again compares well with the launch price of the iPhone 14 Pro Max, which would have set you back $1,749/£1,749 at launch. There are also prices in between.

The newer iPhone 15 Pro Max won’t set you back any more than the older iPhone 14 Pro/Max at the moment. Image: Amy Davies

The newer iPhone 15 Pro Max won’t set you back any more than the older iPhone 14 Pro/Max at the moment. Image: Amy Davies

As soon as the new Pro models are launched, Apple immediately stops selling the older models directly. You can of course pick them up from third-party retailers however, though they seem to either be more expensive, or very similarly priced to this year’s models – meaning it would make little sense to buy one. That said, with limited availability for the newer models, we might be seeing some fluid pricing here that could do down once the iPhone 15 Pro series becomes more readily available.

Another option is to look at the second hand market. Here you can pick up the iPhone 14 Pro Max and the iPhone 14 Pro for about 25% less than the as-new prices. Considering that these used models can’t be any more than a year old at this point, it’s a good way to save cash on still excellent tech.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 14 Pro/Max: Verdict

Some people upgrade their iPhone every year, regardless of whether the new one brings any major improvements. Over the last few generations of iPhone releases, most new versions have been an incremental upgrade rather than a major overhaul.

It’s therefore not surprising to see pretty much the same here when it comes to the iPhone 15 Pro Max vs the iPhone 14 Pro/Max.

There are some notable improvements, such as the longer zoom, USB-C charging, 24MP output and automatic portrait recognition. Each of these are fairly small, but arguably add up to quite a decent improvement over the last model.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 14 Pro

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 14 Pro – which one do you prefer? Image: Amy Davies

That said, overall image quality isn’t hugely improved. The biggest advances seem to be in night portraits, which, if you don’t shoot those all that often might not make much of a difference to your purchasing decision. The 5x zoom is nice to have, but again, you could easily argue that a 3x zoom is more useful in most situations. If you do want that 5x zoom and you’re coming from the smaller iPhone 14 Pro, you’ll need to ask yourself whether you’re happy with the larger, more unwieldy phone too – don’t forget you could always opt for the iPhone 15 Pro and use 5x zoom digitally instead. We have also compared the iPhone 15 Pro and the iPhone 14 Pro against each other if you need more information on that.

Once again, it’s difficult to give a definitive answer in these pieces. The iPhone 15 Pro Max is certainly “better” than the iPhone 14 Pro/Max, but, if you’re happy with what you’ve already got you shouldn’t necessarily feel compelled to rush out to upgrade.

Have you ordered one?

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