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We recently reported on the impressive photo’s taken at Lake Tahoe on the newly released iPhone 12 Pro. The pictures spoke volumes about the software and hardware updates Apple has given their latest series. To cement the value of the upgraded series here is a look at what the premium Pro Max phone has to offer in the camera department.

Avid photographer James Martin ditched his Canon and lens array and went to the Lost Coast exploring the scenery and testing the Pro Max for cnet. The resulting images of the coastal wilderness tell us everything we need to know about Apple’s new top-dog.

iPhone 12 Pro Max
An image was taken on the iPhone 12 Pro Max with the Telephoto lens. James Martin/CNET

The Lost Coast proved to be a worthy photography subject. It is a remote stretch of coastline with black sandy beaches and rocky shorelines.

The trail stretches 25-miles and is impossible to pass in places during high-tide. Add that to fact that the weather is unpredictable at best and you have a real test for you and your iPhone camera. The bluer skies captured were vibrant, and the phone fared well under the greyer skylines as well.

iPhone 12 Pro Max
Where mountains meet the sea at the black sand beaches on the remote Lost Coast. James Martin/CNET

The challenging terrain sports steep cliffs with jagged rocks along the Pacific Ocean shore. Some of the cliffs rise to over 4,000 feet. Here even with the sun dimly lighting from behind the clouds you can see the details of the rocks.

Lost Coast Trail
A challenging path along the rugged Lost Coast Trail. James Martin/CNET

Tide pools full of life are revealed at low tide. With tiny fish caught in them as well as sea anemones and different types of kelp. 

Pacific tide pools
Some kelp in the Pacific tide pools along the Lost Coast Trail in Mendocino County, California. James Martin/CNET

You can see the camera did a great job at capturing the details here. From the sand, spray, and water ripples to the star-shaped echinoderm.

A starfish in the sand
A starfish in the sand along the Lost Coast trail. The picture was taken on the iPhone 12 Pro Max with the wide lens. James Martin/CNET

James scrambled up to make camp at Randall Creek after hitting the first impassable tidal zone. When you hit an impassable coastal area you have no choice but to retreat to the open meadows. Being such a remote area there is very little around.

The rocky shore of the Lost Coast Trail
The tough hiking conditions along the rocky shore of the Lost Coast Trail. James Martin/CNET

You aren’t likely to bump into anyone and surprise surprise there is no cell phone service. Besides the grassy bluffs and mountain edges that fall dramatically into the sea, there are only a handful off-grid cabins and the Punta Gorda lighthouse to be seen.

The abandoned Punta Gorda Lighthouse.
Built in 1910, the abandoned Punta Gorda Lighthouse was made with materials delivered via a high line cable coming down the mountains to the shore. James Martin/CNET

There is something very desolate about the area. It is very secluded and quiet. Without a landmark to look at it feels lost in time and forgotten. The beaches are empty the skies dark and all that lingers are the massive pieces of driftwood.

Mattole Beach
Driftwood somewhere along Mattole Beach. James Martin/CNET

Low visibility testing

To get a decent photo in low-light conditions is always challenging. A camera functions by capturing the light reflected at it from objects within its surroundings. The darker the subject the more light is absorbed, leaving little to reflect for capture. The opposite holds true for lighter objects.

Night Mode
A handheld night time photo, taken without Night Mode, depicts the precise detail of which the iPhone 12 Pro Max is capable. James Martin/CNET

Apple’s new Night Mode has been improved and with the Pro Max, you can take low-light snaps without a tripod. You don’t need to use a flash to artificially light a scene. The processing makes the most of what is already available and is better at sharpening an image. It limits noise and refines the details.

You can see in the above example, the quality of details in the foreground and background with just headlamps and the last rays of the sun.

Non-Night Mode image
One more handheld non-Night Mode image taken with the iPhone 12 Pro Max wide lens. James Martin/CNET

Granted staying still for the 30-second exposure is tricky so some blur is to be expected. You might want to bring a tripod along if you intend to capture lots of low light shots. But take a look at the breathtaking handheld exposure James got of the stars in all their glory. Notice the differences and details of the rocks surrounding the lit-up-tent and the headlight beaming into the sky as the sun still glows faintly in the background.

California's Lost Coast
The mistycal starry sky and remote camp along California’s Lost Coast. James Martin/CNET

Sure it has a little blur to it being handheld but there is very little noise to the image. It was taken with the ultrawide lens after sunset, the detail is incredible without a DSLR. The waves have great depth and the shadows and highlights are still set apart even in the dusky environment.

The iPhone 12 Pro Max ultrawide lens
A non-Night Mode image from the iPhone 12 Pro Max ultrawide lens provides very crisp detail and of the waves in the very low light after sunset. James Martin/CNET

The low-visibility capabilities are even impressive in motion. This next image was shot in Night-mode over a 3-seconds exposure whilst they hiked. It is far blurrier because they were moving but it still turned out great. And demonstrates the low-light capabilities well.

Three-second Night Mode exposure.
A picture of the night hiking, taken with a hand held three-second Night Mode exposure while the hikers are moving. James Martin/CNET

You can see the texture in the rocks. The colors are pretty accurate and the contrast is spot on. Lit with a solitary headlamp the definition is unbelievable.

Wide lens nighttime image.
A wide lens nighttime image lit only by a headlamp. James Martin/CNET

The Pro Max wide lens

When comparing the wide-lens of the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max the latter has a 47% larger sensor. It works with larger pixels and the aperture is 1.6% faster. This gives it a big boost that equates to making it roughly 87% better in low-light.

Pacific Ocean
Mesmerising Pacific Ocean. James Martin/CNET

In this wide lens shot, there are crazy details, most of which are subtle and tonal. You can see the motion as the water runs back into the ocean, the marks left behind in the sand. There is a huge amount of definition in the sand itself. The sky is vividly reflected on the wet sandy surface. There is also detail in the white waves crashing. The details are rich and everything is very crisp.

Sharp detail in the sand.
Sharp detail in the sand and crashing waves. James Martin/CNET

The Pro Max is also better at achieving a bokeh effect, allowing you to selectively focus on a subject and blur the background. It is demonstrated well in the wide-lens shots.

The blurred foreground.
The blurred foreground of the larger sensor on the wide lens and deep detail in the distance. James Martin/CNET

The larger sensor size that the Pro Max model has been afforded allows it to get a better bokeh as does its faster lens action.

It gives even an unplanned shot a professional aesthetic. Distinguishing between image elements.  The larger sensors also capture more light and detail in their data.

Magnificent colors.
Magnificent colors of an abalone shell along the beach. James Martin/CNET

The 12 Pro Max has a 1.7um pixel capacity a step up from the Pro model which has a pixel size of 1.4um. Therefore the details are more intricate be they color, tone, or shadows versus highlights; they are very sharp. As demonstrated with the abalone shell. The larger sensor provides crisp, resolute details inside a narrow focal plane.

Mattole Beach
Kelp in the sand at Mattole Beach. James Martin/CNET

With the sea foam and stones, the wide-lens once again delivers rich textures.

The Lost Coast Trail
Waves crashing on the rocky shore along the Lost Coast Trail in northern California. James Martin/CNET
Wide lens of the iPhone 12 Pro Max
Dramatic view along the rugged shoreline of the Lost Coast Trail shot with the wide lens of the iPhone 12 Pro Max. James Martin/CNET

Dramatic view along the rugged shoreline of the Lost Coast Trail shot with the wide lens of the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

James Martin/CNET

Zoom range improvements

The Pro Max’s telephoto lens is 13mm larger than the iPhone 12 Pro. At 65mm it provides 2.5x optical zoom. The Pro at 57mm has a 2x optical zoom. There are a handful of smartphones on the market with a higher optical zoom but Apple is stepping in the right direction. The upgrade gives wide-angle vistas a significant improvement.

Split Rock at Black Sands Beach
Triumphantly crossing through Split Rock at Black Sands Beach at the end of the northernmost section of the Lost Coast Trail. James Martin/CNET

The extra zoom equals extra details. With a larger faster aperture lens the iPhone 12 Pro Max ($1099) is well worth the extra $100 price difference from the iPhone Pro($999). Professional photographers wouldn’t think twice about paying through the nose for the right lens.

Elephant Seals
Elephant Seals chilling along the beach. James Martin/CNET

The telephoto lens enabled James to get a good close up of the elephant seals lounging on the beach. There was signage warning against trying for a selfie.  adjacent to the Punta Gorda Lighthouse. They can be dangerous and weigh up to 4,500 pounds. The zooming kept them at a safe distance and still rendered a great shot.

 iPhone 12 Pro Max Telephoto lens
A 5X zoom image shot with the iPhone 12 Pro Max Telephoto lens. James Martin/CNET

You can see the clarity of texture capture with the telescopic lens in this photo of a bird in flight.

iPhone 12 Pro Max
A bird in flight captured on the iPhone 12 Pro Max using the Telephoto lens. James Martin/CNET

The Telephoto lens defines the backdrop of your photos. The distant rock and trees in this next photo highlight what it can do.

Big Flat Creek
A surfer heads towards the Big Flat Creek carying his board on his back. James Martin/CNET

Of course, a DSLR portrait lens will trump the 65mm of the Pro Max but it does allow for a tight zoom and portraits are better for it.

The Lost Coast Trail
Paul is having some rest along the Lost Coast Trail. James Martin/CNET

New processing tech

All three rear cameras benefit from Apple’s latest Smart HDR and Deep Fusion processing. As does the front-facing camera.

This allows you to manipulate photos in a pixel-by-pixel manner. You can achieve incredible finer details in Portrait Mode as you can see with the selfies taken.

Front-facing camera Portrait Mode
A front-facing camera Portrait Mode selfie capabilities tested on iPhone 12 Pro Max. James Martin/CNET

The crisp, high-data processing is also noticeable in the spray of the ocean, the grains of sand, and sunlight reflecting in this image. The Smart HDR 3 helps with the brightness and vibrancy of the sunset. 

 iPhone 12 Pro Max
Magical sunset along the coast. The picture was taken on iPhone 12 Pro Max with the Telephoto lens. James Martin/CNET

Gradients of colors and textures are far more apparent than any previous iPhone camera. Backgrounds are preserved, tones are distinct, and you can capture motion in the exposures. The mid-day portrait below highlights this with the ocean waves and the vibrancy of the sky above.

The Lost Coast Trail in Humboldt County
Paul overlooks the Pacific Ocean from a bluff along the Lost Coast Trail in Humboldt County. James Martin/CNET

It is pretty true-to-life in terms of white balance, the depth and clarity of the sea-foam below are remarkable beneath the setting sun.

The iPhone 12 Pro Max with the ultrawide lens
The tide rises at Mattole Beach along the Lost Coast. The picture was taken on the iPhone 12 Pro Max with the ultrawide lens. James Martin/CNET

ProRAW possibilities around the corner

The Pro Max is already proving a worthy iPhone upgrade for anyone who enjoys pocket photography. Compact and capable it is easy to see the benefits. With ProRAW file formatting still to come from Apple, the hardware and software are sure to complement one another further; taking the processing to higher heights.

iPhone 12 Pro Max
The Lost Coast looks out of this world with iPhone 12 Pro Max. James Martin/CNET
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