iPhone 15 Pro review - why it's worth it for mobile photographers

iphone 15 pro review
iPhone 15 Pro reviewSimon Cocks

A word of warning, the current demand for the iPhone 15 Pro models is very high, so while you'll find it listed at Amazon, John Lewis, Currys and other retailers, it's only intermittently in stock.

We know all too well how strong the urge is to upgrade your phone, especially in September each year when Apple sends its latest models out into the world. If you’re a committed iPhone user, it can feel like your current handset is suddenly obsolete. But before we go further into this review we want to remind you that that’s not the case.

Those of you reading this with an iPhone 13 Pro, iPhone 14 or 14 Pro should be confident that you’ve got a great model that’s built to last. We don’t think it’s urgent for you to upgrade right now, especially as iOS 17 adds a few handy features to those phones. If, however, you’re coming from an older iPhone like the 11 Pro or 12 Pro, it’s understandable that you’re looking at the newest launches.

We’re happy to report that there are noticeable upgrades present in the newest pro-level iPhone 15 models, although those looking for value should highly consider the standard iPhone 15 or iPhone 15 Plus as this is the most “pro” the main lineup has been in years.

Set on a Pro? Well, you’re in for some real changes. For its 2023 refresh, Apple has introduced a new lighter material, an upgraded camera system (especially if you go for the bigger Pro Max), a customisable “action button” and graphics updates for gamers – and yes, the long-rumoured switch to USB-C was true.

We’ve been hands-on with the iPhone 15 Pro models (both the 15 Pro and the 15 Pro Max) for over a week now, and what follows are our main thoughts on using the two phones.

iphone 15 pro review
Simon Cocks

iPhone 15 Pro key specs

  • Screen size: 6.1-inch for iPhone 15 Pro; 6.7-inch for iPhone 15 Pro Max

  • Resolution: 2556 x 1179 pixels for iPhone 15 Pro; 2796 x 1290 pixels for iPhone 15 Pro Max

  • Operating system: iOS 17

  • Processor: A17 Pro

  • Cameras: 48MP main, 12MP ultra-wide, 12MP 2x telephoto, 12MP front-facing, 12MP 3x telephoto (this is replaced by a 12MP 5x telephoto on the iPhone 15 Pro Max)

  • Battery life: Up to 23 hours for iPhone 15 Pro; Up to 29 hours for iPhone 15 Pro Max

  • Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB for iPhone 15 Pro; 256GB, 512GB, 1TB for iPhone 15 Pro Max

  • Weight: 187g for iPhone 15 Pro; 221g for iPhone 15 Pro Max

  • Water resistance: Yes, IP68

  • Micro SD card slot: No

iPhone 15 Pro design

The key difference when it comes to the iPhone 15 Pro in direct comparison to not only its predecessor but also previous Pro models is weight. Specifically, how little there is. Apple is right, these are the “the lightest Pro models ever”, and although this will be barely noticeable if you’re coming from the 11 Pro, it’s definitely something you’ll feel if you’ve come from a 13 Pro or 14 Pro, which are 17g and 19g heavier than the 15 Pro respectively.

Apple lowered the weight by using titanium in the construction of the handsets. This helps with strength too, although some recent tests suggest that because it has more tensile strength than previous aluminium designs, the back glass (on the Pro Max) may not withstand as much pressure. This probably isn't as big of a deal as the internet makes it seem, and it's still incredibly strong and sturdy. Basically, don’t bend your phone.

We’re fans of another noticeable design change, which is that the phone now has slightly contoured edges to make it feel more comfortable when you’re holding it without a case. And, yes, the matte finish means it’s less slippery than Google Pixel options like the Pixel 7 or 7 Pro. However, we’d still recommend everyone put their phone in a case to keep it protected, as there’s really no other way to keep the corners and all that glass safe from accidental drops or bumps. We recommend options from Mous, CASETiFY and Tech 21.

iphone 15 pro review
Simon Cocks

The other major alteration is to something that’s been present ever since the first iPhone was announced way back in 2007 by Steve Jobs: the mute toggle. It’s been replaced by the “action button” on the Pro models. We love how this works, especially as our phone’s been on silent forever – it’s so much more helpful to program this button to open the camera, turn on the torch or fire up a handy shortcut to a frequently used app. This could have even more functionality if Apple allows us to set different “actions” for a single press, long press or double press in the future, so we look forward to seeing how it evolves.

When it comes to colours, you’re going to have to settle for neutral tones here. You’re picking between black titanium, blue titanium, natural titanium and white titanium. Pro users don’t get the lovely pastel shades of the regular iPhone 15, and we totally understand why some might see that as a little bland, especially as the white and natural look similar. The reason for this is likely that it’s challenging to colour the titanium in an effective way. For what it’s worth, we like the subtle looks of both our blue titanium 15 Pro and natural titanium 15 Pro Max review units.

iphone 15 pro review
Simon Cocks

iPhone 15 Pro camera

Arguably, Apple hasn’t changed quite as much with its camera system on the 15 Pro series as it has with the more affordable iPhone 15 models. These retain a 48-megapixel (MP) sensor, which is something you got in last year’s high-end iPhones, but there are still improvements.

It performs better in low light, has a bit less lens flare, “next-gen” portraits and the ability to pick different focal lengths. Those last two are pretty noticeable, and what we think will make the most difference to mobile photographers. It’s also worth mentioning that Apple introduced a longer 5x zoom that’s only in the bigger iPhone 15 Pro Max (more on the below) so you have to pay more if that’s a feature that’s important to you.

iphone 15 pro review
Simon Cocks

The new default 24MP output from the main sensor is fantastic, as is the option to shoot a high-res 48MP shot in good lighting conditions. We also like that you can pick between a few different focal lengths (24mm, 28mm and 35mm). This isn’t quite the same as a simple zoom, with Apple applying some computational photography magic to these shots. So far, we’ve found all these results come out looking terrific, and other than an improved night mode, we haven’t noticed a massive change to the ultra-wide or the 3x zoom on the main 15 Pro.

The “next-gen” portraits are worth it, though. We can’t tell you how many times we’d have liked to take a portrait mode shot with background blur to emulate pro lenses, but we forgot to switch to portrait mode. Now the cameras capture depth information automatically, so you can transform any picture of a person, cat or dog into a portrait after you’ve taken it. We’re already finding this super useful.

And, while this isn’t a dedicated review of the pricier iPhone 15 Pro Max, we’ve been using that model too and think zoom fans should consider it for the extra reach available with its 5x “tetraprism” zoom – it’s a clever design to stuff a longer 120mm equivalent lens into a phone, and it lets in a lot of light. We’ve found the results to be crisp and detailed, and its f2.8 aperture offers real background blur without portrait mode. We can see a lot of photographers going for this model just for the capable extra camera.

Below, we’ve included a gallery of photo samples from the iPhone 15 Pro camera system (including some 5x zoom shots from the bigger iPhone 15 Pro Max). These are all straight from the camera, with no re-touching or editing.

iPhone 15 Pro display

At a glance, you’re not going to notice much of a difference between this iPhone’s display and the one on the iPhone 14 Pro, as both models have an excellent 6.1-inch OLED screen. They share the same refresh rate (120Hz), the same always-on capabilities, the same excellent colours and a maximum of 2,000 nits of peak brightness in outdoor conditions. The only very minor difference that you might notice is that the Pro handset has tiny edges around the display, but these are otherwise very similar panels.

While the iPhone 15 brought a notable display addition in the “Dynamic Island” feature, that was already something available on the Pro model from 2022. Of course, if you’re upgrading from an older phone, this is going to feel new, and it’s a feature we find more useful than some reviewers give it credit for. It was recently invaluable when notifying us of our gate on a recent flight, for keeping tabs on our pasta timer and controlling our currently playing podcast at the same time. Overall, despite its silly name, we love that it serves up notifications and status information without us having to go digging through apps.

iphone 15 pro review
Simon Cocks

There are no changes to “Face ID” but that’s understandable as it’s already far ahead of what’s offered by the competition. Yes, it’s the reason why you can’t get a tiny pinhole camera design on iPhones, but we’d take the extra security of proper 3D face recognition biometrics over that any day. There’s a reason why no Android offers comparable tech that works for not only unlocking your device but also confirming mobile payments and granting entry into banking apps.

iPhone 15 Pro performance and battery life

If you found yourself watching Apple’s presentation and wondering what a 3-nanometre chip is and whether it makes a difference, we’re here to let you know that you don’t need to worry or get lost in the jargon.

The key thing to know is that Apple has further improved the processing power with this generation but that they’re already highly impressive and it’s been a long time since anyone has had a real issue with the power and efficiency of any iPhone. The A17 Pro chip in the iPhone 15 and 15 Pro Max will continue to be fast and smart for many years, too.

Throughout our initial tests, we’re appearing to get the kind of battery life Apple is promising. The company never states official battery capacities, instead saying you’ll get “all-day” battery life with normal use, and that’s holding up after our first week or so with the iPhone 15 Pro. Of course, we’ll be monitoring this and updating this review if we notice any change, but we think for most people other than the most intensive power users, this will be a great battery for watching videos, taking a load of photos, hopping on FaceTime calls, sending messages and dealing with emails every day.

iphone 15 pro review
Simon Cocks

Where this phone does differ from previous models is with its gaming performance. It enjoys a big graphics upgrade and Apple boasts that console games can now be ported over to the iPhone with ease. We got a chance to play Resident Evil Village and were impressed with the realism and smoothness in the gameplay of the horror game.

The Pro iPhones now have hardware-accelerated ray-tracing, which should make them real competitors for gaming, as long as there are enough titles available for fans to play. It’s been revealed that Resident Evil 4, Assassin's Creed Mirage and Death Stranding are all headed to iOS to play on the 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max.

iPhone 15 Pro connectivity and charging

For some (yes, including us), the addition of USB-C is the biggest and most welcome change coming to all iPhone 15 models. We know Android diehards are rolling their eyes right now, but this change finally brings Apple’s smartphones in line with the rest of the industry and opens up compatibility with a huge number of chargers and accessories. That massive versatility is going to make these iPhones more useful for loads of users.

Audiophiles can connect high-end wired headphones for reference-grade listening by using either a small USB-C to 3.5mm adapter or a hi-fi USB-C DAB like the Astell & Kern HC3. Photographers and videographers can offload their shots and footage using a USB-C hub or a USB-C to SD card reader while finding the iPhone 15 and 15 Pro Max support recording ProRes video directly to an external storage drive. With the Pro models, you’ll get faster data transfer speeds too, so you won’t have trouble moving large files over from a USB-C flash drive.

iphone 15 pro review
Simon Cocks

And that’s before even talking about charging, and how much more convenient it is to have one cable that works across all your devices. You’re not stuck with Apple-approved options for charging and can use quality USB-C cables for refuelling, as well as USB-C power banks with a built-in plug. Gamers will be able to connect to the Backbone One mobile gaming controller, making it much easier to play console titles on the phone. You’ll be able to recharge another iPhone, a wireless earbuds case or an Apple Watch directly from your phone’s battery too, when using the appropriate cable.

iPhone 15 Pro drawbacks

There aren’t many downsides that have become apparent during our testing of the iPhone 15 and 15 Pro Max. Of course, we’d always love to see a more substantial increase in battery life, so those hoping for more longevity than a day’s use will be disappointed. While we love the action button, we’d also love to see even more functionality and customisation through future software upgrades, including perhaps different functions in different focus modes, or different controls for a single press, long press or double press.

It’s also a shame that this iPhone appears to be slightly less durable than its predecessor, but we think you’ll be safe if you keep it in a case and don’t forcefully bend your phone. We’ve not done that in the last decade of smartphone use, so we do think it’s pretty unlikely you’ll be breaking this handset in normal use. The only other thing we’d mention is that, even if these iPhones have a welcome price cut compared to last year’s lineup, they’re still pricey compared to certain Android rivals. If you’re tempted to consider the switch, you can get a lot of the same features in the Pixel lineup, and Google is set to unveil its latest models soon. Patience is a virtue.

iphone 15 pro review
Simon Cocks

iPhone 15 Pro verdict

While we’d still encourage owners of the iPhone 13 Pro and 14 Pro that now isn’t quite the right time to trade in their working devices and upgrade, if you’ve got an older iPhone that’s on its last legs or you’ve been tolerating that cracked screen on your 11 Pro for just a little too long, then the changes in the iPhone 15 Pro make for a substantial improvement that you’ll notice.

Thanks to the addition of the USB-C port, the smart action button, the neat camera upgrades, the lighter design and a better chip, this is a fantastic phone for mobile gamers and keen photographers.

These models also cost you less than it would set you back to have upgraded to the iPhone 14 Pro models last year, making for a worthwhile saving. The iPhone 15 Pro now starts from £999 for 128GB of storage, a notable £100 cheaper than the 14 Pro was at launch. However, Apple did get rid of the lowest storage tier for the 15 Pro Max, as it now starts at 256GB for £1,199, matching the price of the 14 Pro Max in 2022.

If you’re a big fan of zooming into your photos, then the 15 Pro Max is a brilliant upgrade for its 5x lens. We’re not sure it’s something that everyone will use, but it’ll be great for certain travel and landscape shots. We’d struggle to criticise this latest batch of iPhones, although those hoping for a battery increase may be a little disappointed. Overall, the iPhone 15 Pro is a great upgrade for those coming from an older model but will feel incremental if you’re coming from last year’s iPhone.

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