According to MySmartPrice, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is not using its telephoto camera in night mode. Instead, the device applies a 2.5x digital zoom taken using the main rear-facing camera. MySmartPrice identified this discrepancy from EXIF data, which confirmed that night mode shots were taken with a 26 mm equivalent standard lens, rather than the 65 mm equivalent telephoto one.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max does use its 12 MP telephoto camera in good lighting conditions, but its f/2.2 aperture is considerably narrower than the f/1.6 aperture of the main 12 MP sensor. The latter also has a 1.7 µm pixel width to a 1.0 µm width of the telephoto lens. Hence, it seems that Apple is prioritising the main camera for its superior light sensitivity over the telephoto camera. Apple has been practising this approach for years, as the iPhone 11 Pro Max uses the same camera trickery for zoom shots at night, too.
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