Along with pumpkin spice everything and the return of football, it’s practically a September tradition that Apple introduces new iPhones. And so it is again in 2021, with a whole slew of new phones: the iPhone 13 mini, iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Pro, and iPhone 13 Pro Max.

I have a 256GB iPhone 12 Pro Max, and I’m getting ready to toss it aside (well, or trade it in at least) for the new iPhone 13 Pro Max for one very good reason: new cameras.

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In my day job as a car journalist, I’m constantly using my iPhone camera for photos and videos. I don’t even carry my big DSLR camera anymore—my iPhone has replaced all my other cameras. And because the new iPhone 13 Pro has a whole bunch of new camera tricks, it’s a must-have for me.

The Pro supports Telephoto Night Mode, Night Mode Portraits, and, most interestingly, Macro Photography on the ultra-wide Pro camera. It can focus at 2cm, and macro photos and videos are supported (including slow motion and time-lapse).

Basically, because I want the absolute best photos and videos (and I’m willing to pay for it), I’ll be going for the new iPhone 13 Pro Max just like I have for the new iPhone every year going back to the OG iPhone in 2007.

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But should you get the new iPhone? That’s a very personal choice, and a hard one to make. Here are my thoughts and my recommendation to you for a couple of different scenarios.

If you are the type of person who buys the Pro level iPhone but isn’t obsessed with having the latest and greatest:

  • If you have the iPhone 12 Pro, keep it for another year.
  • If you have an iPhone 11 Pro or older, it’s probably worth the upgrade.

If you have a regular iPhone and don’t need all the fancy Pro features:

  • If you have an iPhone 11 or 12, just keep it for another year.
  • If you have a phone older than the iPhone 11, it’s probably worth an upgrade.

If you must have the latest and greatest no matter what (like me):

  • You already know what you’re going to do, and iPhone preorders start this Friday.
Apple is emphasizing the low-light capabilities of the new iPhone 13 Pro camera, including sharing this stunning astrophotography photo as part of its marketing package.
Image: Apple

The biggest updates over the last two iPhone cycles have been 5G, camera updates, and, this year, a new 120Hz screen on the Pro phones. 5G is cool, but it’s not a game-changer (yet), and we’ll have to wait and see on the new screen until the reviews are out.

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The camera updates are significant if you take pictures a lot and really want the best quality possible. But iPhones have had deeply impressive photographic abilities for years. I know people with five-year-old iPhones that are still taking photos that they’re thrilled with, even though they don’t have night mode or telephoto lenses or any of the newfangled software-powered photo modes.

Phones and cameras have both gotten a lot better in the past few years, and a number of carriers are offering fantastic deals when upgrading this cycle.

If your phone is more than three years old, it’s worth the upgrade. And if you want the best camera possible, it’s also worth the upgrade. Other than that, this might be a year to sit out the iPhone upgrade cycle and buy a new iPad instead.

The new iPhone 13 Pro lineup.
Image: Apple