The iPhone 15 Pro Max’s biggest camera upgrade has it playing zoom catch up with the competition, but it arguably surpasses all the best camera phones in overall quality. There’s a larger main sensor for the 48MP camera, which now shoots 24MP photos by default but the Pro Max also lets you choose from 48MP HEIF (to save space) or ProRAW for more creative control).

The main camera also gives you three shooting options: 24mm, 28mm and 25mm, and you can pick which one by tapping the 1x button to toggle between them. In addition, the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s camera is smart enough to sense depth info, so you don’t have to engage portrait mode to take a portrait of a person or pet. You can also change the focus point of your shot after the fact.

Let’s start with the zoom. A new tetraprism lens on the iPhone 15 Pro Max achieves a 5x optical zoom, which is a big jump up from the 3x on the previous model and the regular iPhone 15 Pro. You also get a max of 25x digital zoom, up from 15x on the iPhone 14 Pro Max.

In our side-by-side testing with the Galaxy S23 Ultra, the iPhone 15 Pro Max delivered a sharper and warmer picture at 5x. But at 25x digital zoom, the iPhone’s shot has more noise and less definition than Samsung’s.

It was a similar story with this photo of an FDNY boat. At 5x, the iPhone 15 Pro Max offers the crispest details both in the boat and in the surrounding water.

But at 25x zoom, the iPhone falls behind both the Pixel 7 Pro and especially the Galaxy S23 Ultra. Check out the ‘Never Forget’ text on the Marine FDNY sign.

What impresses me the most is the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s night mode performance, as you’ll see in these comparison shots. First up, we took this photo of some Halloween decorations indoors. The 15 Pro Max delivers the most definition in the skull and the text on the book spines below. And the TV lacks a proper black in the iPhone shot, while there’s a cloudier cast in the Pixel and Samsung pics.

In this photo next to a pool, the iPhone 15 Pro Max delivers a sharper and more vibrant looking volleyball, and the concrete looks brighter, too.

So what about portraits. I give the edge to the Pixel 7 Pro in this photo taken in Little Island park with the New York City skyline in the background. My face and blue shirt pop more.

However, the iPhone 15 Pro Max wins with this selfie portrait versus the Galaxy S23 Ultra. Samsung’s phone smoothed over my fact too much, while you can really make out my eyes and individual strands of hair in the iPhone’s pic. This could be due to Apple’s improved Smart HDR tech for better dynamic range.

The iPhone 15 Pro Max takes a deliciously colorful photo of this fruit tart. I give the nod to the Pixel 7 Pro because the Blueberries have a bit more detail, but the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s shot is too oversaturated.

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