iPhone 13 vs. iPhone XR Camera: How good is the new iPhone?

The comparison between the iPhone 13 and the iPhone XR camera is more apt than you might think, especially in an era when people spend more time on their phones. Yes, the iPhone XR came out way back in 2018, but there are probably a lot more iPhone XR models on the market than you'd think given the cost of the phone and Apple's extensive software support that makes it more attractive to stick with your existing device.
I know this because my wife is carrying the iPhone XR she bought in the spring of 2019. Now that we have two years of installments in our rearview mirror, only now will she want to upgrade to Apple's new iPhone 13.
Most of the benefits of upgrading from the iPhone XR to the iPhone 13 should be obvious, even if you haven't touched Apple's latest phone yet. From the iPhone XR's A12 bionic chip to the A15 Bionic chip, you get three generations of performance and power management improvements. The iPhone 13 is more durable than the iPhone XR, and its IP68 water rating means the phone can survive up to half an hour in water up to six meters deep, compared to just one meter for the iPhone XR. The new iPhone has a brighter screen and a larger battery.
But we're most interested in the two phones' cameras -- not just their specs. Since the XR's debut, Apple has introduced three iPhones to improve the camera's hardware and software. We're interested in seeing how this translates into the final image.

Before we delve into the iPhone 13 vs. iPhone XR camera showdown, let's consider the camera hardware available to iPhone XR owners and how the camera hardware Apple offers for the iPhone 13 has evolved over the years. For this comparison, we'll take the standard iPhone 13, which has the same screen size as the iPhone XR, at 6.1 inches, and costs only slightly more than the original iPhone cost when it debuted ($799 versus $749). You can compare the same camera with the $699 iPhone 13 Mini because it has the same Settings as the larger iPhone 13.
The iPhone XR is Apple's last flagship phone with a single camera. There is only one lens on the back -- a 12-megapixel camera with an F /1.8 aperture. The camera offers portrait mode functionality and smart HDR functionality that provides highlights even when shadows enter the lens. But you can't find night mode (it doesn't come until the iPhone 11), let alone switch to ultra-wide-angle mode.
In addition, Apple has been steadily improving the light received by its camera lens since the release of the iPhone XR. Initially, Apple enabled computational photography in night mode, but starting with the iPhone 12, Apple switched to a 7-element design and f/1.6 aperture to improve low-light photography. The iPhone 13 goes further: The latest iPhone has a larger sensor and absorbs 47% more light from its main camera than the iPhone 12. You can imagine how that compares to the iPhone XR three years ago. The ultra-wide-angle lens on the iPhone 13 also captures four times more scenes than its predecessor -- not a problem for the iPhone XR and its only wide-angle camera.
It's also worth noting that the iPhone 13 supports photographic styles, which gives you more manual control over whether your photos are more vibrant, richer, cooler, or warmer. Since this is an option on the iPhone XR, we kept the comparison between the iPhone 13 and the iPhone XR camera in standard mode. So, given the changes in aperture and sensor size over the years, we expect the iPhone 13 to take better indoor and low-light photos before it takes a single photo. Outdoor shots should be fairly comparable, but we think three more years of smart photography on the iPhone 13 could lead to better portrait shots.

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