I’ve been using the iPhone 15 Pro Max for 5 months, and in this blog, I will share my thoughts on this device from a camera and a creative workflow perspective.
I’m a photographer, not a tech reviewer, so don’t expect to see details benchmark scores or opinions on video game performance and screen refresh rates. For reference, the device I’m reviewing is a 512 GB iPhone 15 Pro Max, and I was shooting on the native camera app.
Why I upgraded to the iPhone 15 Pro Max
I was happy with my 14 Pro and really didn’t want to upgrade, however, I wanted the bigger screen, the USB-C and the 120mm telephoto lens, so I ended up handing over £1400 and hoping for the best. At the time, I travelled with my iPad Pro as well as my MacBook, and I figured the USB-C connection would allow me to use the iPhone to backup on the road and ditch an extra device.
Furthermore, I figured the extra LOG capability would allow this to be my vlogging camera thus saving carrying one more device. Finally, I love telephoto focal lengths, so the 120mm 5x lens was very appealing.
What’s good about the iPhone 15 Pro Max?
The phone is overall lighter and easier to hold. It feels less slippery and gives you a bit more confidence. However, I would still suggest using a rubber or silicone case for photography. The screen is very bright even in harsh daylight, and the new action button makes opening the camera app a breeze.
I would say this feature alone has saved me from missing a few photos (when it works). The USB-C is a great addition and easily allows certain devices to be plugged in however, it’s not all perfect, as I will describe later in the blog.
The main 24mm camera is as good as ever, and personally, I don’t see any meaningful difference between this and the 14 Pro. The 12mm ultra-wide is great, and the 120mm telephoto adds some really cool compositional possibilities.
Personally, I used the 120mm the most. The ultra-wide and telephoto do see a degradation in image quality, but not to the point where it’s bad. Still very usable, in my opinion.
Finally, the standout feature is still the video quality, regardless of which lens you use. The autofocus is spot on, the colours are good, and you have plenty of room for some grading. The stabilisation is also impressive, considering it’s a mix of optical and digital.
Neutral aspects of the iPhone 15 Pro Max
The LOG feature is a great addition for those who wish to colour grade and get the most dynamic range. However, it comes at a huge cost. You can only record LOG while recording in Pro Res HQ. This means huge file sizes and even my 512 GB model can’t record more than 45 minutes or so at a push.
Of course, you can plug in external drives and record directly onto an SSD or a memory card. However, the whole point of using the phone is the compact size. As soon as you start adding accessories, you lose that.
Despite the marketing talk, this camera only has 3 physical lenses. The main 1x lens is then split into crop options designed to simulate focal lengths such as 28mm and 35mm. You also have a 2x option which is a 50mm ish focal length however, it’s not an actual lens but a 2x crop on the 24mm focal length.
Of course, you have that 40mp sensor to give you the cropping ability, however, it’s still a crop, and the loss of quality is evident.
Although this phone is touted to be more durable, I already managed to put a giant scratch on the screen. No idea how, as generally I’m very careful.
The bad things about the iPhone 15 Pro Max
It’s not all good news, and there are some fundamental issues that make this phone not suitable as a main camera. The first major issue is all the bugs throughout the user experience. 1 in every 5 attempts to open the camera using the action button resulted in a freeze and the camera app not working. This was frustrating because I missed a few shots. Also, there was no clear way to get it working again other than to close the camera app and try again.
Yesterday I was out shooting with this phone all day, and it felt like the more I used it for filming, the more it got overloaded or ran out of RAM. The phone got warm, and everything slowed down. It seems like the phone is fine when you grab a few clips here and there however, as soon as you use it like a camera, it slows down.
Although it has a USB-C port, not all devices are supported, and the files app is full of bugs. For example, one day, it would not recognise my Sandisk SSD or Sony CFExpress card. The next day it would. There is no clear pattern of when it would recognise a drive and when it would ignore it. File transfers are equally frustrating, with the Files app crashing halfway through a file transfer.
Finally, if you’ve been shooting all day, chances are you have a lot of files to copy over. If you’re on a Mac, this is easy, just connect the phone using a cable and launch the Image Capture app. However, if you’re on an iPad, this becomes a huge pain in the arse because you can’t directly connect the phone to the iPad and let it copy the files over.
You can try Airdrop, which is great for one or two clips however is useless for anything bigger. You can try copying the footage from the photos app to an external drive, but good luck if it works without crashing. This isn’t all the time, but it happens enough times that it becomes a make-or-break issue I think.
To summarise, the iPhone 15 Pro Max is a great phone and a very capable camera however, there are many bugs that need to be ironed out before it can become a useful tool. I think the bugs will go away with time however, given it’s already been out for nearly half a year, I feel it should have been done sooner.
If you are considering this phone solely for the cameras, I would personally suggest picking up a DJI Pocket 3 for video and a Fuji XT30 for photos. Combined, they will cost roughly the same as this phone and give you much better results.
However, if you’re in the market for a new phone, then this is a solid option, especially given the USB-C, which I feel will only get more reliable with time.