You don’t always 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 a lens with macro capability, either for magnification, close-focusing, or both.

For those who would like to give it a go, but 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 These tended to be fairly low in quality, fiddly to use and, since they were usually specific to a phone model, were out of date as soon as you upgraded your device.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. It’s even become a key selling point for many.

If macro photography is of interest to you, and you’re thinking of upgrading your smartphone, consider some of those listed here. These are all high-end smartphones with a price-tag to match, but cheaper deals can be found by skipping back a generation (or two), [check that the older versions offer macro first].

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 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.

Most phones have the option to switch off the macro focusing for each shot if you prefer to use the standard lens – but you will probably need to move further 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 15 Pro

iPhone 15 Pro
The iPhone 15 Pro uses a titanium chassis and a glass back. Picture credit: Amy Davies

Amateur Photographer verdict

The iPhone 15 Pro’s macro mode produces good results that are finely detailed
  • Can shoot in raw format while in Macro mode
  • 3x lens system and zooming options
  • High price
  • From $1060 / £1,099

The iPhone 15 Pro, much like 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; provided the subject isn’t too small it can work well enough.

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 two generations to the iPhone 13 Pro/Max is an 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 15 Pro review

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, Photo: Amy Davies
Image credit: Amy Davies

Amateur Photographer verdict

The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is an excellent choice for photographers overall – its macro capabilities also impress
  • Four lenses
  • 200MP sensor
  • Very high price
  • Only a gentle upgrade from predecessor
  • Can’t combine macro shooting with raw format shooting
  • From $999 / £1,249

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. It can be switched off when not wanted for use, 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 8 Pro

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

Amateur Photographer verdict

Close-up shooting with the Google Pixel 8 Pro yields some very detailed and impressive results
  • Three high-resolution sensors
  • Google’s computational magic
  • Can shoot in raw when shooting macro
  • Higher price than predecessor
  • From $839 / £849

Macro functionality was new for the Google Pixel range, introduced for the first time with the 7 Pro. The Pixel 8 Pro maintains its a triple-lens array, with a standard, ultra-wide and telephoto (5x) option. The main sensor is 50 megapixels (output at 12.5MP). The significant improvement for our purposes is that the ultra-wide for the Pixel 8 Pro is f/1.95 with 48MP sensor, and  the telephoto 48MP.

As with most macro-capable smartphones, the Pixel 8 Pro will automatically detect when attempting to focus close to a subject, and switch to macro mode. With it enabled, you can focus as close as 3cm. This can be overridden when not wanted for 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, can record in raw format when using macro mode since this is accessible in the standard Photo setting. There is now a Pro mode – the first for a Pixel phone – for control of exposure, shutter speed, and white balance.

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 8 Pro review

OnePlus 11

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

Amateur Photographer verdict

The OnePlus 11 is fantastic value for money while not sacrificing too much in way of image quality.
  • Good price for a flagship
  • No option to quickly switch off macro mode
  • Can’t use macro focusing when shooting in raw format
  • From $699 / £729

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.

The OnePlus is another that detects when it is close to a subject and adjusts to macro functionality automatically. The unfortunate difference here is that you cannot quickly switch the option off for each shot when not wanted. 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<br>detailed results. Image credit: Amy Davies

The OnePlus 11 does have a Pro mode, which gives 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

Xiaomi 13 Pro, Amy Davies
Xiaomi 13 Pro, Photo Amy Davies

Amateur Photographer verdict

With an ultra wide lens that allows you to get as close as 5cm to the subject, but with a completely different angle of view, the Xiaomi 13 Pro is one to consider for macro.
  • ‘Floating’ zoom lens designed for macro work
  • Three 50MP sensors
  • High price
  • Oversaturated images in some circumstances
  • Hard to find in some markets – such as the US
  • £1,099

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 working with the automatic mode, you can switch off macro focusing with a tap of a button if it doesn’t feel right for the situation – or simply switch back to the 1x lens if 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 by switching 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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