iPhone SE vs. iPhone 13 Pro Photo Test: It’s Surprisingly Close

apples iPhone 13 Pro And the Pro Max both have some of the best cameras ever seen on a phone. With 4K video recording, an ultra-wide and 3x telephoto lens, they’re the two most expensive iPhones in Apple’s lineup. Can take amazing pictures. But, like many of its photographic features such as Deep Fusion Switch to other iPhone models – including the latest $429 for iPhone SEIs there a big difference in cameras between iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone SE? After all, both iPhones include Apple’s A15 Bionic chip, which powers Apple’s computational imaging tools like Smart HDR.

Although the iPhone SE has one rear camera compared to three on the iPhone 13 Pro, these phones have a lot in common than you might think just by looking at the obvious hardware differences. I spent a week comparing these two phones to capture landscapes, selfies, portraits, low-light photos, and 4K video. Obviously, due to the price and design differences, you’re unlikely to choose between these phones based solely on their cameras, but it’s still fun to see how they compare.

Watch the video on this page for a comprehensive side-by-side comparison of photos taken from the two iPhones, with more details on zoom capabilities, macro images, and video samples.

iphone SE iphone 13 pro

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Landscape and HDR look great on both iPhones

In perfect lighting conditions, it’s hard for any modern phone to take a bad photo. But looking at the significantly newer iPhone 13 Pro, I was surprised that the iPhone SE produces photos so close to those of the more expensive phone. They both have Smart HDR on board and both do a great job of balancing shadows and bringing out detail. While the dynamic range of the iPhone SE’s sensor isn’t as good as a more expensive phone in more challenging lighting conditions, the difference isn’t as significant as the price difference might lead you to believe.

The iPhone 13 Pro also has a larger image sensor than the iPhone SE in the main wide camera, which means you can get a more shallow depth of field in some shots. Take a look at the image below, where I focused on the fence post in the foreground to give you an idea of ​​how each phone renders the wallpaper.


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Both phones also have photographic patterns, which are a preset that is applied to photos before the photo is taken. It is important to note that this is not a filter because it identifies and applies local adjustments. I left out the standard (default) mode for all the photos for a basic comparison, and was hard pressed to tell the difference between the two phones photos. But in some situations, especially photos of flowers or really colorful things, I found SE liked to add a more saturated touch to photos.

Deep Fusion helps older iPhone SEs keep up

Both phones also use Deep Fusion, an image processing technology designed to help improve detail and clarity in medium to low-light shots. While there’s no way to know when Deep Fusion is activated, the cheaper SE often produces photos that look about as good as the 13 Pro in terms of sharpness and detail when shooting in medium-light conditions (or indoors).


Low light shot (without night mode) taken on both phones. With enough ambient light, the SE produces a good shot at low magnification.

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The 2022 iPhone SE is much better at displaying details in medium to low light conditions than the SE from 2020, which uses the same hardware but with a different image processing pipeline.

Where the newer iPhone SE falls into true low-light conditions is because it doesn’t have a night mode like the iPhone 13 Pro. You’ll notice that shots taken at night, without much ambient light, will look muddy and noisy, as the phone can’t take a shot with a longer exposure. Watch some real night mode samples in the video on this page. The iPhone SE is the only iPhone currently on sale that doesn’t come with a night mode and it seems like a big omission, especially when compared to the mid-range Android phones. All Pixel phones have night mode, including the similarly priced Pixel 5A, and the recently released Samsung Galaxy A53 has its own version of the night mode on board.

Portrait mode is a clear win for the iPhone 13 Pro

The 13 Pro lets you use either the wide-angle or the 3x-telephoto camera to frame your photos, while the SE has only one perspective from its lens. I find 3x perspective more satisfying for faces than the same photo on the wide camera. Edge detection isn’t as strong on the SE because it properly blurs or cuts out some details that the 13 Pro identifies, like sunglasses placed on someone’s head.


Now you see sunglasses, now you don’t.

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There is another obvious advantage that the 13 Pro has over the less expensive phone. It allows you to take portrait mode photos of almost anything you want, from pets to flowers. Since the SE only has one lens on the back, it is unable to take pictures of anything but people. You’ll see this sign that says “No one detected” if you try to take a portrait picture of any non-human subject.

The flagship Apple phone also allows you to shoot in ProRaw format for the greatest flexibility and latitude for editing your photos. The wide-angle camera on the 13 Pro also supports autofocus, which means you can get close to your subject and play with your macro photography.

While the iPhone 13 Pro has some obvious hardware advantages like a larger sensor, extra focal lengths, and Night Mode, I’m still amazed that the iPhone SE can hold its own in so many categories. Watch the full comparison in the video on this page.