These amazing iPhone macros make me wish Samsung took macro photography more seriously

Apple had a significant lead in mobile photography capabilities – not so long ago that if you liked taking pictures with your phone, you more or less had to buy an iPhone. Of course, this is less true than ever, as phones like the Pixel 6 and Galaxy S22 Ultra create images that will give any iPhone a run for its money. Today, however, Apple has announced the results of a photography competition that shows that it still has the clear edge in at least one lane: macro photography.

The iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max’s ultra-wide cameras act as macro sliders with a minimum focal length of just two centimeters – that is, they can take clear pictures of things as close as two centimeters away from their lenses. To celebrate this capability (and generate some pressure on the cheap), Apple announced a macro photography competition in January.

The rules were pretty straightforward: Take a macro photo with an iPhone 13 Pro or 13 Pro Max and send it to Apple. No additional hardware like add-on lenses could be used, but images could be edited no matter what their creators wanted – although Apple required photographers to submit the original, unedited version as well. I have to say, the results are very impressive.


Hidden Gem by Jirasak Panpiansin. Image: Apple

Like most of the features it’s about, Apple has not invented mobile macro photography. Android phones have been doing this for years now; OnePlus 7T took macro shots with its wide-angle camera in 2019. But the macro shooting capabilities of most Android phones, if they have any at all (look at you, Pixel 6), are turned on for spec sheets – often with unwanted macro cameras taking grainy images in low resolution. It is not a hard and fast rule; some phones from manufacturers like Oppo take outrageous macros that can see details as small as the subpixels of a smartwatch screen. But this is an extraordinary case, and the pictures are not of very high quality – they are just very, very close.

A super macro image of an Apple Watch screen. Taken on Oppo Find X3 Pro.

And yet, Samsung, which is by far the dominant maker of Android phones sold in the United States, seems relatively uninterested in macro photography. That is not to say that its phones can not take macro pictures; on the contrary, many Samsung phones have dedicated macro cameras. The Galaxy A53, for example, has such a camera – it happens to be a fixed focus on the five megapixel piece of crud that takes pictures like this in broad daylight:


And here again, a photo shot on the iPhone 13 Pro:


The Cave by Marco Colletta. Image: Apple

I’m aware that this is not a fair comparison – the iPhone 13 Pro costs more than double what the A53 does. But even Samsung’s flagship phones like the Galaxy S22 Ultra, which like the latest iPhones use its ultra-wide camera to take macro photos, tend to fall pretty flat.

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Ultra-wide macro photo shot on Galaxy S22 Ultra.

It is natural that if we asked an army of photographers equipped with the Galaxy S22 Ultras to take the most beautiful close-ups they could (as Apple did with the iPhone 13 Pro), we would get some very compelling photos – after all, these iPhone pictures are hardly average smartphone pictures when it comes to composition and editing. Still, the details and clarity shown in the winning shots are not something you can convincingly add later in software like Lightroom. These pictures that come from a phone, even a premium, are truly incredible.


Sea Glass by Guido Cassanelli. Image: Apple

If you’ve looked around in the Galaxy S22 Ultra’s camera app, you may have noticed that it does not have a macro mode. It’s not that it can not take macro pictures – its ultra-wide camera is perfectly capable – it’s just that the capability is not highlighted anywhere. To do so, either turn on the Focus Enhancer feature (denoted by an obscure viewfinder icon with two overlapping circles) or manually switch to the ultra-wide camera. But the results, again, are just not very impressive.

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Ultra-wide macro photo shot on Galaxy S22 Ultra.

The Android / iOS photography rivalry is tighter than it has ever been, but macro images are an arena where Android has a significant amount of room to make up. Given its economies of scale and its ubiquitous phones, I think Samsung is uniquely positioned to move the ball forward.


Honeycomb by Tom Reeves. Image: Apple

I would love it if Samsung would start prioritizing macro photography more in its advanced phones. I’m not asking for dedicated macro cameras – especially not bad ones – but I would like to be able to take pictures like the ones Apple is promoting without, you know, buying an iPhone.

You can see all the winning photos from Apple’s macro competition here.

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