iPhone 12 Pro Series vs. iPhone 11 Pro Series: Which Should You Buy?

The iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro are two similar devices in Apple’s lineup,…

The iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro are two similar devices in Apple’s lineup, but which should you buy? From a visual standpoint, both phones have comparable build quality, size, and feature sets. But under the hood, the iPhone 12 Pro series brings notable upgrades in performance and camera quality alongside a new design on the outside.

In this comparison, we’ll break down all the differences between the iPhone 12 Pro series and the iPhone 11 Pro series to help you determine which device is best for you.

Design: Similar, But Different

The most noticeable design change between these two generations of iPhones is the flattened sides on the 12 Pro series. Unlike previous iPhone models, the entire iPhone 12 lineup reverted to the flattened sides of the iPhone 4 and 5 generation of devices.

The metal sides on both generations are made of stainless steel (much like the beautiful iPhone 4 and 4S), but Apple added a much better polish on the iPhone 12 series, making the stainless steel rails almost like a mirror. This means they’ll look excellent when clean but will inevitably be more prone to fingerprints and smudges.

Colors of iPhone 12 Pro

The iPhone 11 Pro series were the first iPhone to adopt the frosted glass finish, and that finish returns on the iPhone 12 Pro models as well; the frosted back means you’re going to encounter fewer fingerprints and smudges on the back of your phone.

This frosted glass finish is present on all four iPhone 11 and 12 Pro models; the only difference between the two generations is the color choices. On the iPhone 11 series, you’re getting Silver, Space Gray, Gold, and Midnight Green, whereas the iPhone 12 Pro series is available in Silver, Graphite, Gold, and Pacific Blue.

iPhone 11 Pro in its four available colors

Overall, these devices are similar in many ways, and it comes down to preference and color choices. However, if you want a better feeling phone, the iPhone 11 Pro series feels much more ergonomic with its curved corners and rounded sides. The iPhone 12 Pro series has a more refined design, which offers better protection thanks to its boxy structure.

Display: Equally Excellent

iphone 11 pro max

The iPhone 11 Pro is equipped with a 5.8-inch, 1125×2436 Super Retina XDR display, which supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision and has a peak brightness of 1200 nits. Similarly, the 11 Pro Max has a 6.5-inch Super Retina XDR display, which supports the same media outputs and peak brightness.

On the iPhone 12 Pro, you’ll find a slightly larger 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR display, with the same peak brightness and display features as the iPhone 11 Pro. The iPhone 12 Pro Max has the same capabilities as the 12 Pro but at a larger 6.7-inch size.

The 12 Pro series also has Apple’s new Ceramic Shield, which is a coating on top of the glass that helps with better drop protection. However, it has little to no improvement over scratch resistance.

iPhone 12 Series Ceramic Shield

There isn’t much difference between the 11 Pro series and the 12 Pro series in display quality. All these devices provide excellent resolution and quality. Being OLEDs, they offer high contrast ratios and true blacks. Apple also kept the 12 Pro series at 60hz, so you won’t be missing out on a higher refresh rate if you opt for the 11 Pro series.

Overall, if display quality is important to you, you will be satisfied with either generation of iPhone. The more significant change can be observed when you compare the iPhone 11 to the iPhone 12 and 12 mini. That said, if you want to have the largest display Apple has to offer, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the winner in that department.

Camera Systems: The Bigger the Better

Onto the cameras; this is where you will find the bulk of differences between the four iPhone models. But in short, if you are a serious photographer and videographer that wants the best Apple has to offer, then the 12 Pro Max is your clear choice. For everyone else, you may as well get the iPhone 11 Pro or 11 Pro Max.

If you want an in-depth look at the iPhone 11 series and 12 series cameras, you can read our breakdown of the best iPhone camera system.

Camera Similarities and Differences

Regardless of which iPhone model or generation you choose, you’re going to be getting the same ultrawide and selfie camera. There is little to no difference in terms of quality between these two cameras. This holds even further for the iPhone 12 Pro, which shares the same telephoto camera as the 11 Pro series.

When it comes to recording video, all four iPhones can record 4K video at up to 60 frames per second with all of their cameras.

The iPhone 12 Pro series can shoot ProRAW images and record Dolby Vision HDR video. The 12 Pro series also has a new LiDAR sensor, which allows for better depth-mapping and more accurate Portrait mode. With the 12 Pro Max, you’re getting a larger sensor, sensor-shift stabilization, and an upgraded 2.5x telephoto lens.

A closeup showing the three rear camera on the Pacific Blue version of the iPhone 12 Pro Max

ProRAW enables both the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max to capture images in a new image format that combines both the iPhone’s image processing and the information of RAW photo files to create a more detailed photo. This is great for people who like to tweak the colors and detail of their images without losing quality, but the iPhone 11 Pro’s image quality is sufficient, and you can take regular RAW photos using third-party apps like VSCO or Halide.

Dolby Vision HDR video allows you to capture a wider dynamic range, which can result in better color accuracy and detail. This is great for video editors who want to have deeper control of their footage, but this new video format isn’t necessary for most people.

About the iPhone 12 Pro Max

The 12 Pro Max has the best set of cameras ever put on an iPhone, and that comes down to its larger main sensor, ProRAW technology, and its sensor-shift capabilities.

The iPhone 12 Pro Max has three cameras on the back; the main wide-angle, telephoto, and ultrawide. Compared to the iPhone 11 Pro and the 12 Pro, the main wide-angle camera on the 12 Pro Max has a larger sensor, which means it can pick up on more light and perform much better in low light. The larger sensor also means you’re going to get a more natural depth of field (blurry background) straight from the regular shooting modes than Portrait mode, which can mess up edge detection on subjects.

The iPhone 12 Pro’s main selling point with this larger sensor is its sensor-shift abilities. Sensor-shift or IBIS (in-body image stabilization), is commonly found in big DSLR or cine cameras, but being in a device as compact as the iPhone means that you’ll be able to capture incredibly smooth video with this model.

iPhone camera sensor

About the iPhone 12 Pro iPhone 11 Pro Cameras

When we compare the iPhone 11 Pro series to the iPhone 12 Pro, the only difference is the faster f/1.6 aperture on the main wide-angle camera compared to f/1.8 on the 11 Pro models. Otherwise, the hardware is relatively similar.

The faster aperture means you’ll be able to capture slightly better photos and videos at night, but it’s not a big enough reason to upgrade to the 12 Pro over the 11 Pro series.

Overall, the iPhone 12 Pro Max offers the most powerful and versatile camera experience out of the four iPhones. While the iPhone 12 Pro follows in its footsteps, there isn’t a big enough reason to pick the 12 Pro over the iPhone 11 Pro series. If you want the best iPhone camera, get the iPhone 12 Pro Max otherwise, you’re going to be just as satisfied picking up the iPhone 11 Pro or 11 Pro Max.

Performance and Battery Life: Should You Futureproof?

With the iPhone 12 Pro series, you’re going to get double the base storage at 128GB compared to 64GB on the iPhone 11 Pro models. You’re also going to be getting two more gigabytes of RAM on the newer models, which can keep the phone’s performance feeling fresh down the line.

When comparing the A14 Bionic to the iPhone 11 Pro’s A13, there isn’t much to say in terms of performance because you’re getting industry-leading performance regardless. The main reason you should pick Apple’s 12 Pro series in this instance is its longevity. Apple will inevitably support its newer phone for longer, and this is important when you’re going to be dishing out over $1000 for a new phone.

Apple's A14 chipset

The iPhone 12 Pro series is also 5G-enabled, and this further makes these phones more ideal than their predecessors because you’ll be able to connect to faster data if you so choose.

Battery Life

When it comes to battery life, you should expect similar battery life in both generations. You should note that the iPhone 12 Pro series has slightly smaller battery capacities than the iPhone 11 Pro models.

Overall, the smaller batteries shouldn’t affect the battery life too much as the A14 Bionic is more power-efficient than its predecessor. If you care about battery life, you should opt for bigger phones (iPhone 11 and 12 Pro Max) compared to the standard sizes.

Which iPhone Should You Buy?

iPhone 12 Pro/Max Back in Pacific Blue

When it comes down to it, each device has its strengths and weaknesses, and it depends on what you’re looking to get out of your handset. If you want the best iPhone out right now, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is a clear choice, and you will have to pay accordingly ($1,099 from Apple). But, if you’re looking to get the best value iPhone, the iPhone 11 Pro Max is an excellent choice, going for around $700–900 on eBay, brand new.

We recommend the iPhone 12 Pro Max to people who want the best iPhone but specifically to users who need a device that has a versatile camera array and the largest screen on any iPhone. If you want a smaller device that still supports Apple’s latest pro-level features, the iPhone 12 Pro is also another great option.

The iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max offer the best value. You can pick up these devices even cheaper if you opt for a refurbished model. Overall, the 11 Pro series offers many of the newer 12 Pro series perks, including features like the Retina XDR displays, telephoto cameras, and a relatively powerful chipset that still holds up in performance today.

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