A 48-megapixel camera and the death of the infamous display notch may be two rumored stand-out features for the iPhone 14 Pro, yet I can’t help but think Apple’s next flagship phone is going to let me down.
That's not just because it’ll almost certainly be a phone very much on the side of evolution rather than revolution when it comes to next-gen tech and design, but something much more specific. And that’s the lack of any notable upgrades to the telephoto camera.
Now, it’s worth caveating all this, by noting that I’m basing my thoughts on the slew of iPhone 14 rumors we’ve heard thus far. Apple being Apple hasn't even hinted that a next-gen iPhone is in the works let alone shed any light on camera specs. But the rumor mill churns out enough tidbits of information to help phone watchers like myself build up a good idea of what the iPhone 14 Pro might have in terms of features and specs.
An A16 Bionic chipset and improved selfie camera also join the aforementioned rumors, but there’s not been a peep about an improved telephoto camera. So it’s looking like Apple will stick with the 12MP 3x optical zoom telephoto camera it put on the iPhone 13 Pro. If that’s the case, I’ll be a little sad.
Ever since switching from Android to my iPhone 13 Pro, I’ve been rather enamored with Apple’s phone. Its consistent experience easy outweighs the slightly dull feature set, and I find that the trio of rear cameras deliver photos that match or beat those of my other favorite phone: the Google Pixel 6 Pro.
However, I’ve recently been using the telephoto camera a lot more and it’s left me a little underwhelmed.
Zoom and gloom
I’m lucky enough to live in an area of East London where there are some decent outdoor spaces with ponds that are stuffed with waterfowl, as well as foxes and various rodents. These critters have me reaching from my closest camera, more often than not the iPhone 13 Pro. While I move lightly for a big guy, I still need to rely on zoom photography to get some good close ups of the urban-dwelling nature.
Recently when doing my bargain-basement David Attenborough-ing, I was trying to snap a photo of a heron. Attempting to get a decently detailed photo of what can be a rather shy bird meant I needed to use a zoom.
Annoyingly, the 3x zoom of the telephoto iPhone 13 Pro didn’t get me close enough; flipping to a digital zoom got me the range but the resultant shots looked more like water paintings than sharp photos. This became more frustrating still when said heron suddenly dived into a cluster of nearby reeds and emerged carrying a squealing rat.
In what was a captivating but mildly harrowing display of nature adapting to an city ecosystem, the heron then proceeded to dunk the rat in a nearby pond to drown it. After which it then swallow the rat in a series of jerky movements.
Naturally, I wanted to get this gruesome sight on video. But as much as I think the iPhone 13 Pro is the best camera phone when it comes to video, the lack of optical zoom range beyond 3x meant I had to rely on digital zooming that yielded a less-than-crisp result, as you can see below.
At a time when we have the Pixel 6 Pro offering a 4x optical zoom and the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra delivering 10x optical zooming, I feel the iPhone 13 Pro is falling behind; it looks like this will be the case with the iPhone 14 Pro.
Don’t get me wrong, the iPhone 13 Pro’s telephoto camera puts in some very good results, though sometimes I feel it can’t quite get me the shot I want that the extra range of the Pixel 6 Pro’s telephoto can deliver, let alone the zooming chops of the Galaxy S22 Ultra.
Granted, Apple could do some clever stuff with image signal processing and the rumored A16 Bionic to give the iPhone 14 Pro a telephoto upgrade. But without new hardware and a a bigger optical zoom, I’m ready for the iPhone 14 Pro to let me down on that front.
Ideally, I'd love to see Apple adopt a periscope camera for the iPhone 14 Pro. This is where the camera’s sensor is mounted sideways and prisms are used to direct light from the lens onto it, allowing for more and larger lenses and thus powerful photo magnification without making a device thicker. But this was only briefly tipped for the iPhone 14 range, then recently shot down; we currently expect to see a periscope camera in the iPhone 15 Pro Max another year down the road.
This is frustrating, as such zooming power would likely give the iPhone 14 Pro the scope to challenge the Galaxy S22 Ultra, and make it better for video work — at least the type of videos I like to capture. And it’s not like periscope cameras are anything hugely new, as 2020’s Oppo Find X2 Pro had a rather excellent 5x optical zoom; why it was scrapped in subsequent Find Pro phones is beyond me.
Apple has long championed the photography and video chops of its iPhones, and rightly so as they’ve impressed consistently generation to generation. But the photography performance of main and ultrawide cameras are so good now, it’s difficult to really notice massive differences between the iPhone 13 and iPhone 12 ranges, let alone stand head and shoulders apart from the best Android phones.
As such, I think it is on the telephoto front where Apple could do the most work and potentially blaze a trail for others to follow, especially if it nails zoomed-in video capture. And I really hope this becomes a focus for future phones cooked up by Cupertino. Otherwise, I may find that my current iPhone allegiance comes to an end.
Next: One of our staffers declares that the two apps he can't live without work better together. And we reckon the iPhone 14 Max could be phone of the year.