Apple announced on Tuesday that the iPhone 15 Pro is receiving an upgraded main camera, providing users with increased shooting flexibility. However, the more significant photography enhancement is found in the iPhone 15 Pro Max, featuring a new 5x telephoto camera designed to improve long-distance photography, such as capturing wildlife, scenic landscapes, or action shots of kids playing sports.
During Apple’s iPhone launch event, Greg “Joz” Joswiak, the company’s marketing chief, highlighted the enhanced photographic capabilities of both the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max, likening them to having “the equivalent of seven camera lenses in their pocket.” This development underscores the ongoing expansion of smartphone photography, emulating the versatility of traditional camera zoom lenses, a noteworthy accomplishment given the compact size of smartphones. However, it’s worth noting that the broadest range of options is typically available in higher-priced flagship phones.
The camera hardware of the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max is largely similar, featuring a 48-megapixel wide-angle main camera and a 12-megapixel ultrawide camera. The main camera offers flexibility with three focal length options: the native 24mm (1x), tighter 28mm (1.2x), and 35mm (1.5x) framing, all at a new 24-megapixel resolution. Additionally, a 2x mode allows for 12-megapixel shots at a 48mm focal length.
The ultrawide camera boasts a 13mm focal length (0.5x) and can switch to a macro mode for close-up photography. These features account for six of the seven available camera options, with the seventh being the telephoto lens, where the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max differ.
The iPhone 15 Pro is equipped with a 3x telephoto camera, equivalent to 77mm, matching the specs of the iPhone 14 Pro models. In contrast, the iPhone 15 Pro Max introduces a 5x telephoto camera with new image stabilization technology, offering a focal length equivalent to 120mm. Both cameras capture images at 12 megapixels by default.
Given the intense competition in the smartphone market, particularly in camera technology, these improvements ensure that Apple remains competitive with Android phone rivals like Samsung and Google. However, it falls slightly short of the 10x camera capabilities offered by some Android counterparts.
For both iPhone models, the 48-megapixel main camera takes center stage, serving as the primary choice for most photography scenarios. Its larger sensor size enhances low-light performance and color reproduction. The wide f1.8 aperture lens contributes to improved image quality, particularly in dim lighting conditions, and creates pleasing background blur (bokeh). Apple has also enhanced this camera with second-generation image stabilization, mitigating the impact of shaky hands or camera movement during video recording.
Leveraging the larger camera size and Apple’s computational photography capabilities, users can capture photos with varying focal lengths of 24mm, 28mm, or 35mm, with the option to set a default preference.
Apple emphasizes that the iPhone 15 Pro Max boasts seven camera lenses: macro, 13mm, 24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 48mm, and 120mm. On the other hand, the iPhone 15 Pro offers a 77mm telephoto lens instead of the 120mm, but the rest of the camera options remain consistent.
The iPhone 15 Pro Max employs a “tetraprism” to bend light four times before reaching the sensor, a unique approach compared to “periscope” camera designs used by other manufacturers. This innovative design addresses the challenge of accommodating large telephoto optics within the confines of a smartphone. Historically, larger iPhone models have featured improved camera equipment, while smaller versions maintained similar camera capabilities. However, the iPhone 15 Pro Max breaks from this pattern, delivering distinctive camera enhancements.
Apple has doubled the default photo size of its main camera from 12 megapixels on previous iPhones to 24 megapixels. Furthermore, users can now capture 48-megapixel photos in the HEIC format, expanding options beyond the previous requirement of using Apple’s ProRaw format, a feature that may cater more to photo enthusiasts than casual users.
Additionally, Apple has introduced new lens coatings to reduce lens flare issues, a common problem in smartphone photography, particularly when shooting in the direction of the sun or bright light sources.
The iPhone 15 Pro also features an improved portrait mode designed for faster performance and enhanced low-light capabilities. It stores depth-map information in photos, allowing users to switch between portrait and non-portrait modes after capturing an image.
For serious videographers, the Pro models offer significant upgrades, including the ability to record video to external storage devices via USB-C. This feature facilitates shooting in Apple’s high-end ProRes format at 4K resolution and 60 frames per second, a notable improvement from the previous 30fps limit. The inclusion of external storage support will be especially appreciated due to the large file sizes associated with ProRes.
Furthermore, Apple introduces support for a log format for color recording, a feature favored by professional users for color grading. This addition enables iPhone 15 Pro models to align with the Academy Color Encoding System.
The developments in the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s camera technology and video capabilities have garnered excitement among content creators, with some anticipating enhanced creative possibilities.
In summary, Apple’s latest iPhone offerings, the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max, bring notable improvements in camera technology, including enhanced flexibility, larger photo sizes, reduced lens flare, and expanded video recording capabilities. These advancements ensure that Apple remains competitive in the rapidly evolving smartphone photography and videography landscape.