Apple's iPhone 15 Ultra (a.k.a. iPhone 15 Pro Max) won't arrive until this fall if Apple sticks to its typical schedule, but even this far in advance we have no shortage of leaks and rumors.
This week the oft-accurate Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo once again weighed in on the camera in the iPhone 15, saying that only the "highest-end new iPhone 15" will feature a periscope camera. That's the folded lens design used by Android manufacturers like Google and Samsung to produce a 5x or even 10x optical zoom in the body of a smartphone, as opposed to the 3x optical zoom in the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max.
(5/5)But my latest survey indicates only one/highest-end new iPhone 16 model in 2H24 will have the periscope camera, not the two models the market expected. Therefore, the contribution of the periscope camera to the demand for lens upgrades may be lower than the market consensusJanuary 31, 2023
This matches up with what we've heard from Kuo previously, but he went on to say that this will carry over to the iPhone 16 as well with only the iPhone 16 Ultra or Pro Max offering a true telephoto lens. This becomes a little more interesting as it seems to indicate that Apple is looking to create a greater divide between the iPhone models.
Spot the difference in the iPhones
The iPhone 14 and 14 Plus showed us a taste of that last year with the non-Pro iPhones lacking both the A16 Bionic chipset and the new Dynamic Island of the Pro models. Previously the telephoto lens and ProMotion displays were the primary differentiators for the Pro iPhones.
Prior to the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max, there were also some differences in the camera systems between the two Pro models, but we were thrilled when Apple reduced that to just battery and display size, the two features that have to diverge. Apple stuck with this on the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max, but the glory days may come to an end this year.
This could help to explain why Apple is at least considering changing the name of the larger iPhone model this year. The marketing spin will be that the iPhone 15 Pro Max isn't getting a price hike, the iPhone 15 Ultra is a brand new higher-end product like the Apple Watch Ultra that naturally costs a bit more.
Do you need a periscope zoom lens?
If these rumors hold up the big question for iPhone buyers this fall is going to be whether it's worth it to pay up for the iPhone 15 Ultra. I covered why you need a telephoto lens on a phone previously and if you are interested you should take a look at the samples in that article to see the difference a true telephoto lens makes.
Now if you rarely capture photos or video with your phone or you are only ever taking selfies it's all going to be pretty irrelevant, but you would be shocked by how often a telephoto lens can make a difference even in a simple portrait shot.
So do you need a periscope zoom lens on your phone? Absolutely not. There are probably some shots you'll miss without it, but depending on your usage it might not be many. I happen to like wildlife photography and have two kids in lots of sports and the ability to capture either of those scenarios without having to bring along my actual camera and a big telephoto lens remains magical.
I think the more crucial point is that Apple needs a periscope zoom lens. When the iPhone 15 Ultra (or whatever Apple calls it) launches, it will have been nearly four years since Samsung debuted its first periscope zoom lens in the Galaxy S20 Ultra. The iPhone needs a periscope zoom lens to keep competing for the title of the best phone camera in 2023.
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Sean Riley has been covering tech professionally for over a decade now. Most of that time was as a freelancer covering varied topics including phones, wearables, tablets, smart home devices, laptops, AR, VR, mobile payments, fintech, and more. Sean is the resident mobile expert at Laptop Mag, specializing in phones and wearables, you'll find plenty of news, reviews, how-to, and opinion pieces on these subjects from him here. But Laptop Mag has also proven a perfect fit for that broad range of interests with reviews and news on the latest laptops, VR games, and computer accessories along with coverage on everything from NFTs to cybersecurity and more.