iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 15 Pro: Do you need a 5x zoom?

Apple’s introduction of the new iPhone 15 Pro series naturally puts both the iPhone 15 Pro Max and the iPhone 15 Pro squarely in our best smartphones for photographers list.

For the past couple of generations, Apple has used the same camera setup in both the smaller and larger devices, leaving photographers to debate whether or not they need a larger screen only. However, for the iPhone 15 Pro series, although most of the camera specifications are indeed different, the smaller iPhone 15 Pro has a 3x zoom lens, while the iPhone 15 Pro Max has a 5x zoom lens.

Close up of iPhone 15 Pro Max and iPhone 15 Pro cameras side by side

Both the iPhone 15 Pro and the iPhone 15 Pro Max have three lenses. Credit: Amy Davies.

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At first glance, it might seem like “longer is better”, but you could also argue that 3x (72mm) equivalent is more useful or practical than 5x (120mm). Still, it gives photographers something to think about.

As well as the screen differences, there’s also differences when it comes to power consumption and storage options too. For the bigger smartphone, you’ll pay a premium to get it – but is it worth it? That’s what this comparison piece aims to find out…

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 15 Pro: Camera specs

Both the iPhone 15 Pro Max and the iPhone 15 Pro have a triple lens setup, with two out of the three lenses shared between the two.

So that means with either device you get a “main” 48MP sensor with a 24mm (equivalent) f/1.78 lens, plus a 12MP ultrawide lens, which is 13mm (equivalent) f/2.2. The selfie camera is also the same on both devices, being a 12MP sensor with AF.

Close up of iPhone 15 Pro Max and iPhone 15 Pro cameras side by side

The third lens of the iPhone 15 Pro is a 3x zoom, while the 15 Pro Max has a 5x zoom. Credit: Amy Davies.

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The difference is seen in the third lens. The iPhone 15 Pro has 12MP 3x telephoto lens, which is 72mm equivalent and f/2.8, while the iPhone 15 Pro Max has a 12MP 5x telephoto lens, which is 120mm equivalent and f/2.8. Apple does not disclose how big the sensors are, so it’s not clear if there’s a difference in sensor size.

With both phones, you get the same camera apps and shooting modes, including Night Mode, Next Gen Portraits, Macro and the ability to shoot in ProRAW format. You also get the same video capabilities between two, with the maximum frame rate and resolution being 4K at 60fps.

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

As we’d expect, image quality between the two models is generally about the same in most scenarios – with the only differences being obvious in the zoom (see next section).

Photo taken with iPhone 15 Pro Max

An image shot with the iPhone 15 Pro Max – can you spot the difference between this and the following shot? Photo credit: Amy Davies.

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

Photo taken with iPhone 15 Pro

The iPhone 15 Pro and the iPhone 15 Pro Max produce almost identical images. Photo credit: Amy Davies.

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

Both produce images which are bright and punchy without being overly or unrealistically vibrant, while exposures are on the whole well balanced.

Macro photography is the same between both models, as both automatically switch to the same ultrawide lens to shoot close-ups. The only real difference seen in video quality is that you can get a little bit closer with the iPhone 15 Pro Max – which is covered in our section on zoom.

There are some more observable differences to low light and portraits however, so I’ll comment on those separately.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 15 Pro: zoom

This is really the only major difference between the two models in terms of the camera and as such is where you might make your purchasing decision.

Photo taken with iPhone 15 Pro 1x zoom

An image shown at 1x to help show how far you can zoom in with either device in the following comparisons.

iPhone 15 Pro · f/1.78 · 1/5814s · 6.86mm · ISO80

iPhone 15 Pro 3x lens

A picture taken with the 3x zoom lens of the iPhone 15 Pro is shown here. Photo credit: Amy Davies.

iPhone 15 Pro · f/2.8 · 1/1130s · 9mm · ISO25

The maximum optical zoom you’ll get from the iPhone 15 Pro is 3x, which can be seen above.

iPhone 15 Pro Max 5x optical zoom

The iPhone 15 Pro Max has a 5x optical zoom lens. Photo credit: Amy Davies.

iPhone 15 Pro Max · f/2.8 · 1/2212s · 15.66mm · ISO50

Meanwhile, you’ll get 5x optical zoom from the iPhone 15 Pro Max, which is shown above here. As you can see from the latter shot, you do get significantly closer. Whether that’s a good thing is down to personal preferences – some might argue that 72mm is a much more sensible choice than 120mm, allowing you to get a bit closer without being over the top.

However, if you regularly find yourself frustrated with a limited zoom, then you might feel you’ll be missing out if you go for the smartphone with a 3x zoom only. However, it’s important to remember that with the iPhone 15 Pro, you can still have 5x – only it’ll be digital.

iPhone 15 Pro 5x Digital zoom

An image shot with the iPhone 15 Pro at 5x zoom (digital). Photo credit: Amy Davies.

iPhone 15 Pro · f/2.8 · 1/943s · 9mm · ISO25

Interestingly, the digital zoom here isn’t too bad at all – in fact there’s not a huge amount of difference in the detail shown, so if you’re shooting in good light it’s a very viable option. One more note about digital zoom – with the iPhone 15 Pro Max you get 25x, but the iPhone 15 Pro tops out at 15x. Neither are options you’ll likely to want to use with any regularity – both give smudgy and poor results, but, again, if for some reason you want that longer length, it’s something to consider.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 15 Pro: low light

Again, in most scenarios – such as when using the 1x lens, both the iPhone 15 Pro and its bigger sibling the iPhone 15 Pro Max put in an almost identical performance, exactly as we’d expect.

Photo taken with the iPhone 15 Pro in low light at 3x optical zoom

The iPhone 15 Pro in low light at 3x optical zoom. Photo credit: Amy Davies.

iPhone 15 Pro · f/2.8 · 1/1s · 9mm · ISO400

Photo taken with the iPhone 15 Pro Max in low light at 5x optical zoom

The iPhone 15 Pro Max in low light at 5x optical zoom. Photo credit: Amy Davies.

iPhone 15 Pro Max · f/2.8 · 1/7s · 15.66mm · ISO1250

However, there is a noticeable difference when using the 5x optical lens of the iPhone 15 Pro Max and trying to recreate the same using digital zoom with the iPhone 15 Pro. With the former, you get usable results with a decent amount of detail – with the latter, it’s a lot more smudgy and probably not something you’d want to rely on with any regularity.

iPhone 15 Pro 5x Night digital zoom

Here we can see, there’s a noticeable drop in quality when attempting to shoot in low light with the 5x digital zoom of the iPhone 15 Pro. Photo credit: Amy Davies.

iPhone 15 Pro · f/2.8 · 1/2s · 9mm · ISO640

This might not be a massive deal breaker to most people, however, if you have a penchant for low-light shooting, and want to shoot closer to a subject – it’s perhaps worth thinking about.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 15 Pro: portraits

With the portrait mode on either phone, you can shoot at 1x or 2x, and either 3x for the 15 Pro, or 5x for the Pro Max. This latter option gets you quite a bit closer to your portrait subjects, and again, is arguably just a bit too close for most portrait type subjects – but just as equally, others might prefer that longer focal length.

A portrait shot at 3x with the iPhone 15 Pro

A portrait shot at 3x with the iPhone 15 Pro. Photo credit: Amy Davies.

iPhone 15 Pro · f/2.8 · 1/381s · 9mm · ISO25

A portrait shot at 5x with the iPhone 15 Pro Max

A portrait shot at 5x with the iPhone 15 Pro Max. Photo credit: Amy Davies.

iPhone 15 Pro Max · f/2.8 · 1/616s · 15.66mm · ISO50

In our pictures, we can see that in terms of quality, both are probably about the same. There’s a decent amount of detail, while the drop off to the out-of-focus areas is fairly smooth and natural. With the 5x option for the iPhone 15 Pro Max, the default blur is more blurred than the 3x option – a good recreation of how a longer focal length lens would work. However, it’s also possible to adjust the amount of blur with the shorter focal length lens too – since it’s a digital approximation.

When it comes to Night portraits, again, you can get closer with the iPhone 15 Pro Max. However, portraits shot at either 3x or 5x in low light are pretty poor from both models, so we wouldn’t recommend doing that anyway.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 15 Pro: screen and design

Aside from the zoom lenses, the screen size is probably the biggest differences between the Pro and Pro Max models. The smaller iPhone 15 Pro features a 6.1” Super Retina XDR OLED display, with 2556 x 1179 pixels at 460ppi.

Meanwhile, the larger iPhone 15 Pro Max has a 6.7” Super Retina XDR OLED display, with 2796 x 1290 pixels at 460ppi.

The smaller iPhone 15 Pro side by side with the iPhone 15 Pro Max, which has a larger screen

The larger screen of the iPhone 15 Pro Max is seen here on the right. Credit: Amy Davies.

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Both feature the “Always on” display function, both have a 120Hz refresh rate, and both models feature a Ceramic Shield front – which Apple claims to be tougher than any other smartphone on the market.

Design wise, both are pretty much the same, with the Max essentially just being a larger version of the Pro. Both feature IP68 waterproofing, and both are made from the new Titanium material (the last generations of iPhone were made from stainless steel). Both are also available in the same range of colours – Natural, Blue, Black or White.

The iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max in Black Titanium (left) and Natural Titanium (right)

The iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max in Black Titanium (left) and Natural Titanium (right). Credit: Amy Davies.

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iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 15 Pro: battery life and storage

Some differences can be seen between the two devices when thinking about storage options and battery power.

The iPhone 15 Pro Max storage options start at 256GB, rising up to 1TB, with a 512GB version in the middle. By contrast, with the iPhone 15 Pro, you can get a 128GB version, as well as the 256GB, 512GB and 1TB options. This means you can opt for a cheaper device with the iPhone 15 Pro if you want to. 128GB is probably ample storage for most, especially if you’ve got your iPhone connected to online storage services, such as iCloud.

The larger iPhone 15 Pro Max has a longer battery life than the smaller iPhone 15 Pro

The larger iPhone 15 Pro Max has a longer battery life than the smaller iPhone 15 Pro. Credit: Amy Davies.

E-M10MarkIV · f/8 · 1/60s · 28mm · ISO500

As a bigger device, the iPhone 15 Pro Max has a larger battery. Although Apple doesn’t say how big the batteries are, they do give a quoted battery life of 29 hours for the Pro Max and 23 hours for the Pro (for video streaming), so if you crave that extra life span, the larger model might be the better option for you.

In real-world usage, both smartphones usually last at least a full day unless you’re using very power intensive applications, or doing things such as recording 4K video for long periods of time.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 15 Pro: price

If you’re on a strict budget, you’re probably not buying an iPhone. However, if you want the cheapest model, then it’s the smaller iPhone 15 Pro you will need to go for.

The 128GB version will set you back $999/£999, rising up to $1,499/£1,499 for the 1TB version and price points in between. For the iPhone 15 Pro Max, the minimum spend is $1199/£1199 – but – you do get 256GB for that, so you might consider that to be better value for money. The maximum price for the iPhone 15 Pro Max is $1,599/£1,599 for the 1TB version.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 15 Pro: verdict

So – after all that shooting, what’s the conclusion? As ever, it’s kind of an “it depends” answer.

First of all, it’s safe to say that overall, both models offer an excellent camera setup. Generally, in most scenarios, image quality is almost exactly the same.

Therefore, it might come down to which size of phone you’d prefer. Do you like a more pocket-friendly device, or do you want one which gives your photos and videos space to breathe? Neither is right or wrong, it’s just down to personal choice.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 15 Pro

It’s hard to choose between the iPhone 15 Pro and the iPhone 15 Pro Max. Credit: Amy Davies.

E-M10MarkIV · f/8 · 1/60s · 31mm · ISO800

It’s also worth repeating that there are some small differences in image quality, but that mainly depends on the kind of thing you like to do. The longer zoom performs better in low light, and gets you closer to portrait subjects. Whether you need either option is of course debatable.

Then there’s price. There’s obviously no denying that both are expensive, but the iPhone 15 Pro Max has a base price which is $200/£200 more than the iPhone 15 Pro – if you want to save cash, then it’s perhaps the best way to go.

Overall, there’s no real “winner” here, as largely it will come down to your own personal preferences and budgets – which one do you like best?

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