When you want to enlarge subjects in your photo, digital zoom can introduce unwanted image noise. However, your iPhone may offer “optical zoom” in one form or another, which can solve this problem. But do you know how to use it?
Does your iPhone have optical zoom?
Take a look at the back of your iPhone and you will probably see more than one lens. All iPhones have a basic wide-angle lens, which has a focal length of 35 mm equivalent to about 26 mm. This is ideal for capturing a slightly wider field of view than can be seen with the human eye.
You can also have a telephoto (zoom) or one ultra large angular . Some iPhones, particularly the iPhone Pro models, have all three lenses. While “optical zoom” is generally used in the context of “zooming in” on a subject, any increase in focal length that uses optics (rather than software or digital zoom) is considered “optical zoom.”
For example, the iPhone 13 only has one wide (equivalent to 26mm) and one ultra-wide (equivalent to 13mm). Going from ultra-wide to wide-angle perspective is a 2x equivalent optical zoom, as you’re doubling the focal length using just the optics.
Learning to use optical zoom can help ensure that your images are of the best possible quality. Apple also allows you to go beyond the optical zoom point, which uses software to “stretch” the image . This often introduces unwanted noise and grain that you may want to avoid.
Using the optical zoom
It’s really easy to make sure you’re always using optical zoom when shooting with your iPhone’s camera.
Launch the camera app in portrait orientation, with the shutter button at the bottom of the screen. Just above the shutter button, where it says “Photo” to indicate the mode you are currently using, you should see some numbers, for example 3, 1x and .5.
Tapping these numbers will cycle through the various focal lengths available to you. Tapping the “.5” option will always ensure that you are using the ultra-wide lens at its native focal length, and the same is true for wide angle (1) and telephoto (2 or 3).
This ensures the best possible quality and will not introduce digital zoom that could adversely affect image quality.
You can also zoom digitally
Dragging these numbers with your finger will reveal a dial that allows you to gradually increase the zoom level. You can use this to capture intermediate focal lengths (using some software help) but also to go well beyond the maximum zoom level of your longest lens. You can also pinch to zoom, just like you would on a web page or photo.
On an iPhone 13 Pro, this is extended to a 15x zoom (or 15 times the focal length of the standard wide lens). The range is impressive, but the image quality suffers as well. Digital zoom is fun to play with, but it’s a poor choice if you’re trying to take a photo that you want to print or use elsewhere.
Regardless of whether you have an old iPhone or the latest model, your smartphone is an excellent camera. Learn more about how to get the most out of your iPhone’s camera .