iPhone 14 Pro Max vs Sony Xperia 1 IV: does Android still have the best camera?

Apple's iPhone 14 Pro Max is a huge upgrade for Apple. How does it compare to Sony's pro performer, though?

Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max in silver colorway
(Image credit: Apple)

The iPhone 14 Pro Max features the best camera system in any iPhone to date. It's a huge upgrade, increasing the resolution from 12MP to 48MP as well as increasing the sensor size and the apertures – and that's before Apple works its computational photography magic on your shots. 

Sony's best Android phone flagship, the Xperia 1 IV, on paper looks more of a photographer's camera, though, with software that's much closer to a DSLR than Apple's Camera app. It's a monster of a smartphone camera system, offering its owner elite-tier photography and videography capabilities.

So, does the iPhone 14 Pro Max beat the Sony Xperia 1 IV's camera system? That's what this feature is designed to explore. Read on for the knowledge.

iPhone 14 Pro Max vs Sony Xperia 1 IV: price and availability 

The iPhone 14 Pro Max launched in September 2022 with pre-orders beginning 9 September and shipments from 16 September. As with the rest of the iPhone 14 range, prices have increased in the UK. The 128GB model is now £1,199, rising to £1,749 for the 1TB model. US customers will pay $1,099 for 128TB, rising to $1,599 for the maxed-out 1TB model.

The Xperia 1 IV is £1,299 in the UK and $1,599 in the US. UK customers were treated to a hefty price cut that took the price to nearer £1,000, but that promotion has ended and the price has gone back up again. The Xperia 1 IV launched in July 2022.

iPhone 14 Pro Max vs Sony Xperia 1 IV: key Sony specs

The Xperia has an unusually wide 21:9 aspect ratio (3840 x 1644) on its 6.5-inch, 120Hz OLED display and a very sober, slab-like design that makes us think of the obelisk from 2001: A Space Odyssey. But while it’s a perfectly nice phone, it’s really a camera with a phone attached to it, and the software is very reminiscent of Sony’s Alpha cameras. It’s capable of 4K 120fps recording on all three lenses, and the tile lens camera is capable of up to 20fps AF/EG in HDR. The telephoto lens has a true optical zoom of 85-125mm, equivalent to around 5x optical, object tracking to keep your subject in focus when shooting video, live streaming directly to compatible video services and real time Eye AF on all lenses for great portrait shots. The front camera is 12MP with a f/2.0 aperture and HDR.

Sony’s image sensors are larger than rivals for better low light performance, and that means the Xperia delivers sharper shots than you might expect from its 12MP image sensor. 

The cameras here are backed with a whopping 12GB of RAM and 256MB of storage, a Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor and Android 12. It’s a powerful device but it’s known to run hot during sustained shooting in warm weather.

iPhone 14 Pro Max vs Sony Xperia 1 IV: key Apple specs

The iPhone 14 Pro Max has a 6.7-inch always-on OLED with a resolution of 2,778 x 1,284 at 460ppi. It’s a ProMotion display with a 120Hz refresh rate, 2,000,000:1 contrast and max HDR brightness of 1,200 nits, and it has True Tone and P3 Wide Colour gamut.

The iPhone 14 Pro Max cameras are a significant upgrade over the iPhone 13 Pro Max. The main camera has been boosted from its previous, Sony-matching 12MP to a whopping 48MP, and that's a quad-pixel sensor that uses pixel binning to create “superpixels”, clusters of pixels that act as one to capture more light. That enables the iPhone to use four pixels to create a single pixel that delivers an effective resolution of 12MP – albeit 12MP with much more detail and sharpness than the iPhone 13 could manage. That 48MP resolution is also available for ProRAW shooting, enabling photographers to reframe their shots post-shoot without a significant loss in quality. The new iPhone also gets a redesigned LED flash that’s up to two times brighter and that adjusts itself according to the camera’s focal length.

Apertures for the iPhone 14 Pro Max are f/1.78 on the main camera, f/2.2 on the ultrawide and f/1.78 and f/2.8 on the 12MP 2x and 3x telephoto respectively.

For video there’s an improved Cinematic Mode that enables you to use 4K at 30fps, and there’s also 24fps to match moviemaking standards. And the new Action Mode promises gimbal-style tracking of action shots without an actual gimbal.

The iPhone 14 Pro Max is powered by Apple's A16 Bionic, a 6-core processor Apple says is 40% faster than the closest competition. The 5 GPU cores have 50% more memory bandwidth than before, and the high performance cores use 20% less power than in the A15.

iPhone 14 Pro Max vs Sony Xperia 1 IV: early verdict

These two flagships are very different kinds of phones for very different kinds of people, and that's particularly apparent when you use their camera apps: Sony is clearly thinking of photo and video pros and provides all the controls you'd expect from a Sony Alpha DSLR, while Apple relies much more on its computational photography to do the hard work on your behalf. That means to an extent the iPhone 14 Pro is a point-and-shoot with superpowers, whereas the Sony is one for pros who know exactly what they want and what settings they need to achieve it.

We're not going to pick a winner here because while we've extensively tested the Sony, we haven't had the chance to put the new iPhone 14 Pro Max through its paces. But on first impressions, we'd say that the Sony is a really good camera with a pretty good phone attached to it, but the iPhone – with its stock Camera app, at least – is a better option for those of us who want great results without having to put too much work in. It'll be interesting to see if a long term test confirms that impression, and what third party app developers come up with too.

Writer, musician and broadcaster Carrie Marshall has been covering technology since 1998 and is particularly interested in how tech can help us live our best lives. Her CV is a who’s who of magazines, newspapers, websites and radio programmes ranging from T3, Techradar and MacFormat to the BBC, Sunday Post and People’s Friend. Carrie has written thirteen books, ghost-wrote two more and co-wrote another seven books and a Radio 2 documentary series. When she’s not scribbling, she’s the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR (havrmusic.com (opens in new tab)).