Sometimes you don’t need specialist equipment for close-ups; modern smartphones are very capable when it comes to macro photography, says Amy Davies

Shooting macro can often require specialist equipment. Even a basic camera set-up will generally require you to have a lens with macro capability, either in terms of magnification or close-focusing (or both).

For those who would like to give it a go, but would prefer not to invest in a niche bit of kit, there’s always the option of using your smartphone. Not long ago, clip-on macro lenses and loupes for smartphones were available to buy.

These tended to be fairly low in quality, fiddly to use and, since they were usually specific to a phone model, quickly went out of date as soon as you upgraded your device. In recent years, flagships and even mid-range phones have come equipped with macro functionality directly in camera, and it’s even become a key selling point for many.

If macro is a favourite subject of yours and you’re thinking of upgrading your smartphone, you should consider some of those listed here. These are all high-end smartphones with a price-tag to match, but you can pick up cheaper deals by skipping back a generation (or two), though you might want to check that the older versions offer macro.

How does smartphone macro work?

Generally speaking, most smartphones utilise the ultra-wide-angle camera for macro work. The phone will detect when you’re attempting to take a close-up picture and automatically switch to macro mode, in most cases.

With the iPhone 14 Pro, for example, this gives you the ability to focus as close as 2cm from the subject. The phone will then crop in to give the same angle of view as if you were shooting with the standard 1x lens, for a more natural appearance. Since you’re switching to a different sensor and lens, there are some situations where image quality may suffer – such as in low light.

With most phones, you have the option to switch off the macro focusing for each shot if you’d prefer to use the standard lens – but you will probably need to move a little further away from the subject to achieve focus.

There are exceptions to using the ultra-wide lens, such as the Xiaomi 13 Pro, which also uses its telephoto lens for macro. Some smartphones have dedicated macro camera units, but in practice we’ve usually found these to be fairly poor performers, particularly when they’re low resolution – some are just 2 megapixels.

Best smartphones for macro at a glance:

Continue reading to find out how we tested the smartphones and why we chose these models:

iPhone 14 Pro

  • From $1060 / £1,099
iPhone 14 Pro Review

iPhone 14 Pro.

The iPhone 14 Pro features a triple-lens array, comprising standard, ultra-wide and telephoto (3x) lenses. The main lens has 48 megapixels (standard output thanks to pixel binning is 12 megapixels), while the two additional lenses have 12MP sensors. If you prefer a larger phone, the iPhone 14 Pro Max has exactly the same camera array as the non-Max version. A non-Pro version of the iPhone 14 (and previous generation) is available, but they do not have macro functionality.

Apple is now in its second generation of smartphones with macro capability. The mode enables you to get super-close to the subject by automatically switching to the ultra-wide-angle camera. You can record both video and still images with the iPhone’s macro mode, and you can also shoot in Apple’s ProRAW format when it is engaged too.

If you’re finding image quality to be low – such as if light levels are poor – you can switch off the macro focusing and switch back to using the standard camera. You can still get fairly close with the standard camera, so if the subject isn’t particularly small it can still work fairly well.

macro smartphones photo of bight pink flower

Being able to get as close as 2cm leads to some interesting compositions. Image credit: Amy Davies

Another method with the iPhone is to switch to Portrait mode to create a shallow-depth-of-field effect. Again, this will work best with subjects which aren’t super-small, but perhaps are still typical macro-type subjects, such as larger flowers. Note there’s no macro focusing capability in this mode, nor can you shoot in raw format.

If you fancy the idea of an iPhone with macro focusing but want to save a bit of cash, skipping back a generation to the iPhone 13 Pro/Max is a sensible idea. You might also want to look into the second-hand market as there are some great deals to be had.

Read our full iPhone 14 Pro review

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra

  • From $999 / £1,249
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, Photo: Amy Davies

Image credit: Amy Davies

Samsung’s latest flagship model is likely the best smartphone for photographers right now, with its overall capability excellent in many regards. It features four different lenses, including a main camera unit with a 200-megapixel sensor, plus an ultra-wide lens and two telephoto options (3x and 10x). Macro capability has been a function on the Ultra series for a couple of generations, going back to the S21 Ultra.

Again, that means that if you want to save a bit of cash, looking for older models – or picking one up second-hand – is a good way of getting a bargain. You can also pick up the non-Ultra versions of the S23/S22 series (S23/S22 and S23+/S22+) and still benefit from macro functionality at a cheaper price.

The S23 Ultra’s macro mode (named Focus Enhancer) also works by automatically detecting when you are close to a subject and switching to using the ultra-wide-angle lens. You can record both stills and video when macro focusing is activated. You can switch it off if you don’t want to use it, such as in poor lighting conditions, again stepping back a little to ensure proper focus. It’s not possible to combine macro shooting with raw format shooting, which is only available in the phone’s ‘Pro’ modes, but you can record with the ultra-wide lens in raw format and then crop later.

close up of letter beads

There’s lots of detail captured by Samsung’s ‘Focus Enhancer’. Image credit: Amy Davies

It’s also worth noting that while you can take advantage of that super-high-resolution sensor and shoot at either 50MP or 200MP, you can’t combine this with macro focusing since it works with the 12MP ultra-wide camera. A portrait mode is available which can be used for macro-type subjects which aren’t too small as you won’t be able to get super-close to the subject.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra review

Google Pixel 7 Pro

  • From $839 / £849
Google Pixel 7 Pro features an updated design, as well as an updated camera system, photo: Joshua Waller / AP

Google Pixel 7 Pro features an updated design, as well as an updated camera system. Image credit: Joshua Waller

Macro functionality is new for the Google Pixel series, being introduced for the first time with the 7 Pro. Although this means that you can’t go back a generation to save on cash, the Pixel 7 Pro is more favourably priced than some of the other models in this list in the first place.

The Pixel 7 Pro includes a triple-lens array, with a standard, ultra-wide and telephoto (5x) option. The main sensor is 50 megapixels (output at 12.5MP), while the ultra-wide is 12MP and the telephoto 48MP. Note, the standard two-lens Pixel 7 does not include a macro function, despite having the ultra-wide-angle lens.

As with most macro-capable smartphones, the Pixel 7 Pro will automatically detect when you are attempting to focus close to a subject and switch to macro mode. With it enabled, you can focus as close as 3cm. You can override this if you don’t want to use it in certain conditions, but again, you won’t be able to focus as closely.

close up macro smartphone photo of brown leaves with water droplets

The macro performance of the Pixel 7 Pro is good for a mid-range phone. Image credit: Amy Davies

You can shoot both video and stills when close-focusing, and as a bonus, you can record in raw format when using macro mode since this is accessible in the standard Photo setting. There is no Pro mode available with the Pixel phones – just like the iPhone – but you can make adjustments to exposure and white balance should you feel it necessary.

Portrait mode is available, and again, can be useful for creating shallow-depth-of-field images of macro-type subjects in certain conditions. Again this will work best with subjects that aren’t particularly small.

Read our full Google Pixel 7 Pro review

OnePlus 11

  • From $699 / £729
OnePlus 11 in hand showing cameras

OnePlus 11 in hand showing cameras. Image credit: Amy Davies

OnePlus has made a bit of a name for itself creating flagship-type smartphones at mid-range prices, and the latest headline device is no different. The OnePlus 11 includes a triple-lens array, created in collaboration with Hasselblad. You get a standard, an ultra-wide and a telephoto lens. The main sensor has 50MP, while the ultra-wide-angle, which is used for macro shooting, has 48MP.

Here again, the OnePlus will detect when it is close to a subject and adjust to macro functionality automatically. However, the difference here is that you cannot quickly switch the option off for each shot if you don’t want to use it. The best way to come out of it is to step back from the subject and let the phone work out that it should remove macro mode. You do have the option to switch off Auto macro in the settings, which is another way of deactivating it, albeit not as quickly as a simple tap on the screen.

detailed close up macro of a frozen puddle with bubbles trapped

Macro focusing with the OnePlus 11 provides some nicely
detailed results. Image credit: Amy Davies

The OnePlus 11 does have a Pro mode, which gives you access to raw-format shooting, but you won’t be able to use macro focusing here. You can switch to using the ultra-wide-angle lens and then crop after the fact if you wish to as a workaround.

With the OnePlus 11, a Portrait mode is supposed to replicate the look of Hasselblad lenses. While we probably wouldn’t go that far, it can be useful, as with the others, for producing macro-type shots with a shallow depth of field.

Read our full OnePlus 11 review

Xiaomi 13 Pro

  • £1,099
Xiaomi 13 Pro, Amy Davies

Xiaomi 13 Pro, Photo Amy Davies

Xiaomi’s latest flagship, the 13 Pro, has lenses which are co-engineered with Leica. You get a 50MP, 1inch main sensor/lens, as well as an ultra-wide-angle and a zoom lens (50MP). When the phone detects that you are close to a subject, it will automatically switch to the ultra-wide camera and record in close-focusing mode.

However, the Xiaomi is unusual in that it also has a ‘floating’ zoom lens which is designed for macro work. This lens element moves backwards for close-up focusing, moving forward again for portraits and other non-close-up subjects.

For better results, it’s wise to manually select the zoom lens when working with macro subjects for a more aesthetically pleasing angle of view. The close focusing distance here is 10cm, but since the focal length is longer than the other smartphones, you’ll still be able to create similarly frame-filling shots. If you are working with the automatic mode, you can switch off macro focusing with a tap of a button if you don’t feel it’s right for the situation – or simply switch back to the 1x lens if you’re using it that way. There’s also an option to switch on ‘Super Macro’ which lets you get closer to the subject for even finer detail.

using telephoto lens on smartphones for macro close up of leaf

Using the telephoto lens for macro focusing arguably gives a nicer overall effect. Image credit: Amy Davies

If you switch to the 50MP resolution mode, you lose the ability to close focus. You can shoot in raw format if you switch to the Pro mode, but again, losing the ability to close focus. You also can’t use anything other than the main 1x lens in Pro mode, so the option of using the wide-angle lens and cropping is removed.

Read our full Xiaomi 13 Pro review

8 Tips for shooting macro with your smartphone

To get the most from your smartphone when shooting macro, give these tips a try to boost your shots

1. Know when to switch it off

Sometimes, the dedicated macro mode can do a worse job than leaving the standard lens to it. If you don’t need to get super-close, switch it off and see how the main sensor copes first.

2. Shoot raw if you can

For maximum flexibility, shooting in raw (+JPEG/HEIF simultaneously, usually) gives you scope to edit your smartphone macro shots after the fact, or by using apps such as Snapseed. Not all smartphones offer the ability to shoot raw and macro at the same time.

3. Experiment with digital filters

Most smartphones include some inbuilt digital filters. Try experimenting with black & white and macro, for example.

4. Adjust exposure

Even smartphones without full manual control give you some degree of tweaking. Using the onscreen slider to add some positive exposure compensation can brighten up close-up subjects to good effect.

5. Turn your phone upside down

To get super-close to some subjects, a rotation of the smartphone – so the screen is upside down – can provide a better angle. It’s a simple tip, but it’s easy to fail to realise the difference it makes.

6. Use a smartphone tripod

To remove the risk of shake, you could use a phone tripod, or a smartphone adapter for your existing tripod. You could also utilise the smartphone’s self-timer (usually 3 seconds or 10 seconds) so that you’re not touching the phone at the point of capture.

7. Portable LED lights

Another potential accessory you might to use is portable LED lights to illuminate the scene, especially for very close-up scenes. This will help to produce clearer, sharper details, especially in situations where light is low in the first place.

See the best camera phone accessories.

8. Use the telephoto lens

If your smartphone doesn’t have a dedicated macro lens/capability, but it does have a zoom lens, try using that to recreate the appearance of close-ups.

See more tips for shooting macro on smartphones.

See our smartphone reviews and find more tips for smartphone photography below:

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