This Is the New iPhone's Coolest (And Most Controversial) Feature

The iPhone 13 Pro has a number of exclusive features over the regular iPhone 13. The coolest: macrophotography.

taking a photo with iphone 13
Tucker Bowe

The biggest reason to buy the iPhone 13 Pro (or iPhone 13 Pro Max) instead of the iPhone 13 (or iPhone 13 mini) is its camera(s). Not only does it have three lenses instead of two, but the cameras and sensors are significantly better, so the "Pro" line can take noticeably better photos and videos.

Additionally, the iPhone 13 Pro can do a number of things that the regular iPhone 13 just can't. It can take night mode photos with all three of its cameras, and shoot night mode photos in portrait mode. It will be able to capture ProRes video (aka higher-resolution with more dynamic range) when Apple rolls out a software update to enable that. But the coolest thing, in my opinion, is that the iPhone 13 Pro can take macro photos.

dog paws
A few close up shots of a sleeping puppy’s paws.
Tucker Bowe

The way macro photography works on the iPhone 13 Pro is that when you get close to a subject — like real close, within a few inches — the camera automatically switches from the wide camera to the ultra-wide camera. During this switch, it keeps the subject in focus and in the same general frame, so you can get a really detailed an up-close photo.

And it's this transition that has spawned the controversy, because you can't turn it off even if you want to. It can be especially irritating in the farthest reaches of the macro zone, where the iPhone 13 Pro's wide camera does a great, if not better job. Worse, if you're shooting video — yes, macro mode works with video too — your clip will include an awkward lens transition to macro mid-video which will appear in playback. Nobody actually wants that.

orange rose
A close-up image of a hybrid tea rose from a neighbor’s garden.
Tucker Bowe

Also, when transitioning into macro mode, sometimes the subject doesn't appear in focus, with the camera focusing on whatever was just behind the subject instead. You can fix this fairly simply — just tap on the screen to manually switch the focus within macro mode. You can also just move away from the subject, get the iPhone out of macro mode, and then get closer again to try to get the right subject in focus.

This all raised a bit of ire early in the iPhone 13 Pro's review and release cycle, but the good news is that it's changing. Since the iPhone 13 Pro has been released (and presumably a product of frustrated feedback), Apple has announced it will roll out a new setting "this fall" via a software update that will allow you to turn off automatic switching. And that's only going to be a good thing for smartphone shooters.

garden spider
This is a black-and-yellow garden spider. It’s not poisonous — famous last words — but it was difficult capturing a macro photo because the web and spider kept moving in the breeze.
Tucker Bowe

But for all its annoyance when you don't want it, the transition to macro mode can be mesmerizing when you actually do want to trigger it. When you get real close to a subject, you can see the transition from the wide camera to the ultra-wide camera — there's a quick blur and you can see the frame change slightly — and suddenly you have a whole different photo.

The best part of macro mode is that it gives you a whole new photographic world to explore with a mobile camera. I enjoyed traveling around my house and nearby parks looking for interesting plants and bugs to try and shoot up close personal. However, shooting macro on the iPhone 13 Pro does take patience and practice, especially if you're trying to shoot a live or moving subject. It's not always perfect, but it is almost always fun.

strawberry
Getting up close and personal with a strawberry.
Tucker Bowe

milkwood bugs
These are milkweed bugs (which live on milkweed plants). The macro was difficult to capture because the bugs were moving, which you can tell because the leaf is actually the subject in focus.
Tucker Bowe
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