Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max Review
What We Love. There are so many things to love about the iPhone 11 Pro Max’s camera feature. This smartphone may not be a considerable step up from the iPhone XS Max in terms of phone capabilities and performance, but when it comes to its cameras, this latest iPhone offers an incredible upgrade, boasting a triple camera system with a fresh new interface that’s easy and seamless to use, an impressive ultrawide lens, a night mode that’s a pretty great first early version of an already promising new feature, and an optical image stabilization that’s much improved from the X series – not to mention, several video shooting capabilities. And, did we mention that it’s got a staggeringly long battery life? But are the cameras on the iPhone 11 Pro Max good enough alternatives to a regular camera? The phone will hardly get your full-frame camera a run for its money. However, it’s certainly surpassed many of the point-and-shoots and micro four thirds out there, and might even equal some APS-Cs on the market.
What We’d Change. Switching cameras on the iPhone 11 Pro Max isn’t as smooth as we had hoped. Currently, zooming in from ultrawide to wide to telephoto – whether you’re using Apple’s zoom dial or doing that old two-finger zooming – and back results in weird and very obvious jumps as you’re switching cameras. This is definitely disappointing especially since the iPhone XS Max, which this reviewer owned before the iPhone 11 series were rolled out, switches smoothly between its wide and telephoto cameras. In addition, while the new ultrawide angle camera is certainly sharp, it’s noticeably softer than the unbelievably sharp wide 26mm camera, especially in low lighting situations. Additionally, that dynamic range could still use a bit of a boost – this phone’s cameras still leaves us wanting when it comes to capturing scenes with lots of shadows and highlights.
Pick This Up If… you need a great yet compact camera alternative that takes impressive stills and excellent videos, but you’re not photography-savvy. The iPhone 11 Pro Max’s triple-camera system will get you all those great shots, without you having to figure out things like aperture, shutter speed, ISO and camera menus. In other words, it simplifies things, so you can take home plenty of stunning photos and videos without working hard for them.
14mm | F/2.4 | 1/1700 | ISO 20
Purist photographers may scoff at the idea of relying heavily on your camera phone for your photography needs, but the fact of the matter is, camera phones have come a long way from their humble beginnings. Many of them, like Huawei’s legendary line, boast amazing features that take undeniably breathtaking images and up to 4K videos – all without the hassle of buying and switching lenses, or having to figure out complicated camera menus.
The reality here is that these camera smartphones are taking photography away from the privileged few and bringing it back to the masses, and the new iPhone 11 Pro Max is certainly helping that cause. While the iPhone XS Max that came before it was already an impressive camera phone in its own right, this latest installment from Apple takes things to a whole new level.
The iPhone 11 Pro Max may not bring lot of improvements when it comes to its smartphone functionalities. However, when it comes to its cameras, there’s more than enough to get excited about. In fact, its triple-camera system is really the only reason why this reviewer upgraded, despite previously owning an iPhone XS Max.
Of course, we all know that Apple is a genius when it comes to marketing their products, so we had to take this phone out in the field to see how it measures up… more specifically, in the lush rolling and rainy hills of Ireland where we also got to test out its weather-proofing (sometimes, not on purpose) and that legendary battery life that has everyone talking.
Besides the Joby GorillaPod tripod and Joby Smartphone mount we used on occasion, we mostly shot our photos and videos on the iPhone 11 Pro Max handheld. For protection, we put the phone in a Presidio Pro iPhone 11 Pro Max Case from Speck.
- Triple 12MP Ultra Wide, Wide, and Telephoto cameras
- A13 Bionic chip
- Splash, water and dust resistant, operation to as low as -4 degrees Fahrenheit \ -20 degrees Celsius
- 4K recording at 24fps, 30 fps, or 60 fps, 1080p recording at 30 fps or 60 fps, HEVC and H.264 format
- Body weighs approximately 7.97 ounces (226 grams)
- 6.5‑inch (diagonal) all‑screen OLED Multi‑Touch display, 2688‑by‑1242-pixel resolution at 458 ppi, 2,000,000:1 contrast ratio
- Built-in rechargeable lithium-ion battery
- Dual Sim (nano‑SIM and eSIM)
WHAT'S IN THE BOX
- iPhone 11 Pro Max
- EarPods with Lightning Connector
- USB-C to Lightning Cable
- USB-C Power Adapter
BUILD QUALITY & DESIGN
The iPhone 11 Pro Max, made of stainless steel and glass design, is supposed to boast the toughest glass on any smartphone ever. At least, that’s what Apple has promised, even reinforcing its durability by treating the front and back glass with dual ion-exchange. So, naturally, we weren’t so worried when we accidentally dropped this on a cobbled street in Dublin – on our very first day no less as we were taking our luggage out of the cab.
Unfortunately, from that single drop, our iPhone got minor scratches on the screen – we didn’t put a screen protector on for reasons we won’t get into here. That part wasn’t that big of a deal, however. The thing that really bothered us was that the front element on one of the cameras came slightly loose, so there’s that tiniest movement when you’re lightly touching it with your finger. Of course, we’re not sure if this was actually caused by that one drop. However, we didn’t notice it before the drop so we assumed it was. Thankfully, we’re covered by AppleCare+ so we’ll get it fixed as soon as we find the time.
14mm | F/2.4 | 1/60 | ISO 200
Good thing that it seems to be properly splash and water resistant. This reviewer got her iPhone XS Max wet a while back, and its audio stopped working. Our iPhone 11 Pro Max, on the other hand, survived light drizzles and heavy downpours in Ireland, and it didn’t even bat an eye. We didn’t get a chance to test it underwater, but Apple says that this is water resistant down to 4 meters for up to 30 minutes, and we’re confident it will deliver.
We only wish it was drop resistant as well.
For some reason, it was harder to take photos and shoot videos with the iPhone 11 Pro Max, which is saying something as we’re used to our iPhone XS Max and the iPhone 7 Plus before that. Both the iPhone 11 Pro Max and the iPhone XS Max have 6.5-inch displays; however, the former is slightly heavier at 7.97oz. Still, that means it’s only 0.63oz heavier than the latter, which shouldn’t account for much, least of all when you’re taking photos.
When shooting with this camera – especially if you’re not used to the bigger models – you should consider getting a pop socket attached to your case. Trust us, those pop sockets will make your digital life easier not just for taking photos and videos, but also for almost everything else you’ll use your phone for.
Other than that, this iPhone is easy to shoot with, what with the camera icon easily accessible on the bottom right corner so you can use the camera app without unlocking your phone. Plus, most of the shooting settings you’ll need are literally at your fingertips as soon as you open that camera app.
The only thing that’s missing here are the video shooting formats. For some reason, Apple doesn’t let you switch from one video format to another in the camera app. You’d have to exit the app, go to the Camera section in Settings and choose your video format there. This isn’t a problem if you typically stick to one format when shooting videos, but it is inconvenient when you have to change frame rates for 4K and slow-motion videos.
MENUS & DISPLAYS
The menu and display, however, are much improved this time around. As far as the screen, the iPhone 11 Pro Max boasts a Super Retina XDR display with 2688 x 1242 resolution and an HDR display feature with 1,200 nits of brightness. For shooting purposes, Apple has given the camera app display a wider field of view so you can see what’s happening beyond your frame. This feature may not really affect the quality of your image, but it does offer a nicely immersive shooting experience.
Like the display, the menu has received a few additions and changes as well. The usual shooting settings are now lined up below the frame, their icons set in gray circles above the shutter button, in an effort to make the interface look cleaner. These settings also now include the still image format selection so you can decide whether you want to shoot in square, 4:3 or 16:9, as well as the Night Mode feature that lets you select how many seconds you’ll expose your shot for. Depending on the amount of light available in each frame, the iPhone decides the maximum time you can open the shutter for, anywhere from 1 to 10 seconds, and you can decide how long you’ll expose for based on what’s available. Note that when there’s enough light, the iPhone will make this feature unavailable.
The zoom dial above the shooting settings have also changed, now with lines instead of dots and the focal lengths listed for those folks who want to be accurate.
There are also a few fresh features you’ll find extremely useful. When you’re in Photo mode, instead of simply clicking on the shutter button, you can drag it to the left for burst shooting. You can also shoot a short video clip while in Photo mode by using the QuickTake feature where you simply hold the shutter button like you would in Snapchat.
26mm | F/1.8 | 1/4600 | ISO 32
When you’re in Video mode, a shutter button will appear as soon as you hit that record button. This button will let you take photos while shooting your videos at the same time. These photos are pretty good, as it’s not like you’re taking screenshots of your video. We don’t know how Apple implements this, but it does seem like the phone simultaneously takes a photo on the same camera you’re shooting the video with without disturbing the video itself. Just bear in mind that these photos will be in 16:9 panoramic format so you might have to do some light editing later on, or step back a little if you plan on cropping them down to 4:3 later on.
SPEED & AF PERFORMANCE
30mm | F/1.8 | 1/3200 | ISO 32
The iPhone 11 Pro Max must use incredibly powerful AI technologies for its AF system, as it’s uncannily accurate in detecting, tracking and locking down on the right subjects. In fact, its Face Detection feature doesn’t just work on humans, but on our furry friends as well. What’s more, it also works well in low light situations, so it’s really hard to miss the right focus with this phone’s camera.
You might lose a bit of focus when you’re panning too quickly, but the cameras on this phone will get that focus back quickly as soon as you stop or slow down, and smoothly, we might add. You won’t get erratic focusing with this camera, which makes it ideal for videos.
26mm | F/1.8 | 1/115 | ISO 125
That is, unless you’re too close to your subject. It doesn’t look like Apple has specified these cameras minimum focusing distances in their specs so you’ll just have to gauge that on your own. We didn’t measure either, but rest assured you can get pretty close for some decent macro shots.
16mm | F/2.4 | 1/250 | ISO 20
It’s also pretty good at keeping your subjects in focus, even when they’re moving rather fast. We haven’t tested this camera on very fast-moving subjects and on sports, but it was able to keep up with the farm animals we met in Ireland, which is frankly good enough proof for us.
14mm | F/2.4 | 1/290 | ISO 20
Metering has never been the iPhone’s strongest suit. That is, when there’s amazing or good enough lighting, the cameras’ meter work beautifully, resulting in amazingly vibrant images that are incredibly well exposed. However, when it comes to low lighting situations or high-contrast scenes, the iPhone 11 Pro Max could be better.
14mm | F/2.4 | 1/1250 | ISO 20
In high-contrast situations specifically where there’s a lot of highlights and a lot of shadows, its cameras tend to compensate by underexposing, so you end up with well-exposed highlights but dark, unflattering shadows. Considering that the dynamic range on this camera isn’t all that impressive either, you won’t recover a lot of details in the shadows in post.
Luckily, Apple’s exposure compensation feature, which is easy to use, will let you adjust for a more even exposure. Simply press on the part of the frame you’d like to meter off of (or focus on), and drag that tiny little sun icon up or down to get the exposure ideal for you.
STILL IMAGE QUALITY
The iPhone 11 Pro Max is a triple-lens camera system (or a triple-camera system if you consider) so in interchangeable camera system terms, you’re essentially getting three lenses in a single camera – all without having to physically change lenses – so we’ll talk about each camera individually, especially that new ultrawide angle one.
26mm | F/1.8 | 1/60 | ISO 125
Needless to say, the performance on these cameras are impressive, considering you’re only working with a 12MP sensor. Leading them is, of course, Apple’s trusty 26mm wide angle lens with an incredible f/1.8 aperture. This lens is not only undeniably fast, but it’s also super sharp, surprisingly sharp in fact, and delivers excellent color reproduction.
26mm | F/1.8 | 1/10 | ISO 500
26mm | F/1.8 | 1/2 | ISO 1250
26mm | F/1.8 | 1/8 | ISO 2500
It also delivers the cleanest images of the bunch – we haven’t see a lot of chromatic aberrations and vignetting from this camera. We did see some ghosting and flare, but very minimal. It also offers the best low light performance out of the three, with less noise and sharper details than the ultrawide angle camera.
14mm | F/2.4 | 1/950 | ISO 20
New to the iPhone this year is the 13mm ultrawide angle lens with f/2.4 aperture and a field of view of 120-degrees, and it’s a pretty impressive addition. We were pretty excited about this new addition when Apple first introduced it at the Apple event, and we loved the images as we saw them on the iPhone display during testing. We even loved that exaggerated distortion it produced and utilized it to our advantage as much as possible, as it only made our images more epic-looking.
14mm | F/2.4 | 1/60 | ISO 250
14mm | F/2.4 | 1/20 | ISO 1600
14mm | F/2.4 | 1/25 | ISO 800
Unfortunately, the photos aren’t as up to snuff as we would have liked, viewing them on a larger screen. They are definitely softer than the images we took with the wide-angle camera, especially around the corners. Not only that, but this camera is also more prone to chromatic aberrations, ghosting and flare – though there’s not much vignetting there, which is good. In addition, its low light and ISO performance is also middling, with lots of noise and over-softening to make up for it.
14mm | F/2.4 | 1/290 | ISO 20
14mm | F/2.4 | 1/540 | ISO 20
That said, when you’ve got great lighting – blue skies and sunshine, this camera really delivers. It still won’t be as sharp as the wide-angle camera, but you’ll get crisp vibrant images with amazing color reproduction.
52mm | F/2 | 1/180 | ISO 20
52mm | F/2 | 1/1000 | ISO 20
On to the 52mm f/2.0 telephoto lens. This lens at its widest is plenty sharp as well, though don’t expect it to be as sharp as the other two, especially past that 52mm focal length. Nearing 60mm, and that sharpness drops further. You’ll also spot some chromatic fringing, if you’ve got more experienced eyes, though they won’t be noticeable if you’re a regular onlooker. There’s no vignetting to be found, however.
132mm | F/2 | 1/950 | ISO 20
186mm | F/2 | 1/2800 | ISO 20
We love that it offers 2x optical zoom and up to 10x digital zoom, which should cover you for most of your telephoto needs. However, the image quality does degrade considerably, especially when you’re using that digital zoom. Not that you shouldn’t utilize this feature, as it’s extremely useful for recording memories, but those photos are probably going to be for yours and your family’s eyes only.
30mm | F/2.2 | 1/80 | ISO 100
Apple doesn’t seem all that concerned with the iPhone 11 Pro Max’s front-facing camera, though we do know, from our tests, that it’s a 23mm f/2.2 camera that’s plenty sharp as well. We’d say that it sits between the wide-angle and the ultra-wide in terms of sharpness, and we haven’t seen any signs of vignetting. However, it doesn’t have much for minimizing ghosting and flare – though you can definitely use that for your advantage, like we did.
This camera supports all the video formats and frame rates the phone offers – except for the 240fps Slo-mo – so you can take what Apple has coined “slofie,” which really just means slow-motion selfies. A nifty feature here though is that it automatically zooms out when you rotate it horizontally, for those essential group selfies.
Bear in mind that at default, the iPhone 11 Pro Max will shoot in HEIF or High Efficiency format/HEVC. This reduces the file size of your photos and videos. However, you can switch it to Most Compatible, which uses the JPEG/H.264 formats, if you’d like. Simply go to Settings > Camera > Format to change it.
As far as battery life, get ready to be blown away. Apple promised that this iPhone will boast the most dramatic leap in battery life ever, with 5 more hours of battery life, and up to 50% charge in only 30 minutes. And, they’ve delivered. We shot a lot of images with this smartphone – not to mention, a crap ton of videos – and it lasted us practically the entire day. At times, we’d shoot for half a day, and still have enough juice left over for watching a couple of episode 40-minute episodes on Netflix.
14mm | F/2.4 | 1/25 | ISO 1000
It’s hard to talk about ISO performance when you’ve got zero control over it. Basically, the iPhone 11 Pro Max has the ISO settings on auto, and has total control over determining what ISO is best for a particular scene. The good thing here though is that it’s pretty good at finding that ideal minimum aperture you can get away with to keep those noise levels down.
14mm | F/2.4 | 1/25 | ISO 1250
Its noise handling is a different matter entirely. Although you can use the Night Mode feature, the phone doesn’t always make that available, especially if it thinks that there’s plenty of light to work with. So, the phone ends up using a higher ISO instead, which increases the noise than if it just let you use Night Mode at a lower ISO. And, to compensate for the amount of noise, the phone tends to over-smooth a lot.
Although it technically offers the same video shooting capabilities as the iPhone XS Max – more specifically, it offers the same shooting options (4K at 24 fps, 30 fps or 60 fps; at 30 fps or 60 fps; and 720p at 30 fps), Apple has given the iPhone 11 Pro Max a boost in features. Namely, it got an extended dynamic range for up to 60fps, incredible image stabilization, and QuıckTake video with subject tracking, to start.
We love that cinematic stabilization most of all, which works extremely well. Of course, you still have to do the usual duck or slow walk when you’re walking around while shooting to really stabilize it, especially when you’re shooting at ultrawide angle, which doesn’t get the additional optical image stabilization. Nevertheless, it’s pretty effective, and we love how it looks when you’re on telephoto.
As with still images, the AF performance in video is pretty smooth and seamless. Like we mentioned before, the AF system the iPhone 11 Pro Max is using is pretty intuitive, and that Face detection and tracking is top-notch. You’ll get beautifully focused videos with this camera, even if your subject is moving fairly fast or when you’re sort of dollying in a moving vehicle.
Another new feature in the iPhone 11 series that the other iPhone models didn’t have is video editing. While our iPhone XS Max only let us cut videos, leaving it to iMovie to do some basic editing, the iPhone 11 models will let you cut, edit, slap filters and even straighten your videos.
That’s right; there’s no more excuse for you to have crooked horizon lines in your videos. In fact, there’s no more excuse for you to post badly exposed videos, as this video editing feature will let you adjust settings like exposure, shadow, contrast, sharpness and vibrance. You can get creative as well with things like tint and vignette. It’ll even let you adjust the noise level.
Mind you, it isn’t going to be the same as using Premiere Pro. However, it will be more than good enough for folks who mostly shoot with their iPhones.
Transferring your images and videos from your iPhone 11 Pro Max to your computer or to another iPhone is easy as pie with Apple’s AirDrop feature. However, this does get tricky if you’ve got 100 or more files to transfer. Your phone will slow down considerably, trying to process all those files before the transfer.
If you’ve got a lot of images to transfer, you’re better off using the Photos app on your computer. It’s a considerably more seamless process, and it will let you export your files in their original version.
PROS & CONS
- Super sharp at wide angle
- Excellent performance and color reproduction in good lighting situations
- Cleaner camera interface
- Much improved night performance
- Much improved image stabilization
- Plenty of video shooting options
- Great video editing features
- Improved photo editing features
- New shooting capabilities
- Not quite as sharp at ultrawide
- Transitioning between lenses not smooth
- Lots of noise in low light
- Handling not as good as iPhone XS Max
The iPhone 11 Pro Max may not offer much in improvement as far as its smartphone functionalities, but Apple took most of its focus on this iPhone’s cameras. The iPhone 11 Pro Max boasts a triple-camera system that gives not just experienced photographers, but also casual shooters and hobbyists access to not only a number of camera features, but also essentially three impressive lenses in one compact body that’s easy to use and will slip in whatever pocket you have handy.
It’s no match to a full-frame camera and a great lens, but the iPhone 11 Pro Max certainly outmatches many of the point-and-shoots and micro four thirds on the market right now, not to mention a few APS-C cameras. The cameras are pretty impressive, with the wide-angle camera leading the charge in image quality and overall performance. And, it’s feature rich as well, with a number of nifty features and shortcuts that make shooting with it seamless so you can focus more on your creative process.
If you’re just a casual shooter who needs a camera for things like travel, events and blogging, you honestly don’t need to invest in a separate camera. You simply need to upgrade your phone. If you’re a full-frame or APS-C shooter, a powerful second camera like this can’t hurt, especially if you need one that you can use on-the-go.
Visitors of Steves can visit the stores below for real-time pricing and availability. You can also find hot, soon to expire online offers on a variety of cameras and accessories at our very own Camera Deals page.