iPhone 13 killer upgrade just leaked — and Galaxy S21 should be worried

iPhone 12 Pro Max cameras
(Image credit: Future)

The iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max are the best camera phones around based on our testing, but they fall behind Samsung's flagships in one important area: zoom. 

According to a new rumor, Apple is getting ready to include a “folded” periscope camera in the iPhone 13. That means we could well see an explosion in the quality of zoomed photos from now on.

The rumor comes from sources speaking to Korean site ETNews. Apparently Apple is now looking for suppliers of “folded cameras” to boost the power of its existing optical zoom lenses. 

Folded cameras effectively use a periscope like structure to refract light through a prism to a lens and image sensor stacked horizontally. Normal zoom lenses tend to vertically stack a lens and image sensor. Using a folded lens could help reduce the rear camera bulge as well. 

It’s not a new idea, by any stretch, since big companies like Huawei and Samsung have used a periscope-esque designs to boost their optical zoom capabilities, but without increasing the size of their phones.

Currently optical zoom for Apple phones is only available on the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max, which offer a respective 2x and 2.5x optical zoom. By boosting optical zoom capabilities Apple can massively improve the quality of photos by increasing magnification without having to enlarge a static digital image – as is the case with digital zoom.

Zoom is also something Apple has begun falling behind on. The Samsung Galaxy S20 and Galaxy 20 Ultra offer 3x and 4x optical zoom, respectively, and current rumors state that the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra will include an additional telephoto lens with 10x optical zoom. In other words, Apple needs to get on this now if it wants to continue to position itself as the leader in smartphone photography.

Increasing optical zoom isn’t the only way zoomed photos can be improved. The Google Pixel 3's Super Res Zoom has already shown that post-capture image processing can do wonders on magnified shots – especially when paired with a telephoto lens. 

Of course, optical zoom comes with its own share of problems, especially if you zoom too far in. Anyone with a Galaxy S20 or Samsung Galaxy Note 20 will know that the further you zoom, the harder it is to keep everything steady.

The only question now is which iPhone 13 models will get this new lens? The iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max seem like a lock, since they already have telephoto lenses and are primarily marketed on their photography capabilities. But will the iPhone 13 or iPhone 13 mini? ETNews claims Apple will be pushing to add a third lens to the base model, but we’re going to have to wait and see.

Tom Pritchard
UK Phones Editor

Tom is the Tom's Guide's UK Phones Editor, tackling the latest smartphone news and vocally expressing his opinions about upcoming features or changes. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining about how terrible his Smart TV is.