iPhone 15 and 15 Pro Camera: Apple's next step in photography

Apple iPhone 14 Pro
(Image credit: iMore)

With September fast approaching, there's so much to get excited about in regards to the iPhone 15 lineup. While we don't know any specifics yet, one thing is for near certain: the new iPhone will have a better camera. Sometimes that's thanks to software features, other times, it's because Apple ripped out the cameras and replaced them with new ones. For the iPhone 15, it looks like we'll get a hardware overhaul.

That's assuming the rumors are true. We won't know anything for definite until Tim Cook graces Apple Park in September or October to reveal the next best iPhone.

Whether you're going to buy the iPhone 15 or the iPhone 15 Pro Max (Ultra), there's lots to look forward to. Here's everything we know about the cameras in the upcoming iPhones.

The iPhone's first periscope camera on the iPhone 15 Pro Max

Apple Periscope Camera Patent

(Image credit: Patently Apple)

Reports of Apple adding a periscope camera to the iPhone 15 Pro Max have been circulating for a good long while and analyst Ming-Chi Kuo went so far as to detail some of the specifications.

A periscope camera allows for improved zoom compared to what we already have on the iPhone 14 Pro Max. It does that by elongating the distance from the camera lens to the camera sensor by using a periscope, just like the one on a submarine.

If Apple was to increase the lens-to-sensor distance normally, it would have to make the iPhone 15 Pro Max comically thick. But by turning everything essentially on its side and using a periscope to reflect light, we get a periscope. And improved zoom as a result.

The feature is only expected to be used on the iPhone 15 Pro Max, however, with zoom possibly reaching 6x. Right now the iPhone 14 Pro Max can only manage a 3x zoom.

48-megapixel cameras for everyone, not just Pros

Apple iPhone 14

(Image credit: iMore)

When Apple announced the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max, one of the big upgrades was the switch from a 12-megapixel primary camera to a new 48-megapixel one. Now, that's thought to be moving down the lineup with the arrival of the iPhone 15.

If that's the case, everyone buying an iPhone 15 through to an iPhone 15 Pro Max will benefit from higher-resolution photos.

Apple's current 48-megapixel solution uses pixel binning to turn a 48-megapixel image into a 12-megapixel one. That ensures a crisper, more detailed image — especially in low-light situations. It also ensures that people don't have to deal with the 80MB+ photos that a pure 48-megapixel photo generates.

That alone would be a huge upgrade for iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus buyers — arguably a bigger one than the iPhone 15 Pro Max's rumored periscope camera, in fact.

A whole new Sony sensor for iPhone 15

Back of the iPhone 14 Pro in Space Black

(Image credit: Joe Wituschek)

48 megapixels or not, sometimes you just need a better-quality sensor to capture better-quality images. Apple is rumored to have tapped Sony for a brand-new sensor that will debut in the iPhone 15 lineup.

The new sensor is said to be a "state-of-the-art" affair that "roughly doubles the saturation signal level in each pixel compared with conventional sensors." That should result in better photos because the sensor can ensure a more accurate exposure in more challenging conditions — like on cloudy days, for example.

Sony has reportedly employed a brand-new semiconductor architecture "which places photodiodes and transistors in separate substrate layers, allowing the sensor to add more photodiodes to the dedicated layer."

Unfortunately, it isn't yet clear whether the new sensor will be available in all four new iPhone models, or if it will be kept back for the premium iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max models.

Upgraded Apple silicon coming to iPhone 15 Pro & iPhone 15 Pro Max

Apple A16 chip

(Image credit: Apple)

Just like 2022's iPhone 14 lineup, we expect Apple to only put its newest and fastest chips into the Pro iPhones this time around. That means that the A17 Bionic (assuming that's what it's called) will only ship in the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max.

As a result, the best iPhone for photographers is sure to be the iPhone 15 Pro Max thanks to its bigger screen, rumored periscope camera, and yes, upgraded silicon.

Better chips are generally accepted to make iPhones faster, but Apple also uses them to make new features possible as well. We can likely expect Apple to follow that method with the 2023 lineup, using its new chips to give the Pro iPhones photography capabilities that the non-Pro, and older iPhones, just can't match.

Right now, we don't yet know what those new features will be. But new photography and video features seem almost certain at this point, and they'll be powered by new Apple silicon.

USB-C for faster transfers

iPhone 11 charging port

(Image credit: Future)

It might not be a camera as such, but the move to USB-C with the iPhone 15 lineup could be a big improvement for people who transfer their photos via a cable. 

With Lightning limited to USB 2.0 speeds, the switch to USB-C could allow for faster transfers if Apple chooses to make it happen.

One rumor suggests that Apple will only bestow faster transfer speeds on the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max, however.

"My latest survey indicates all 2H23 new iPhones will abandon Lightning and change to USB-C, but only two high-end models (15 Pro & 15 Pro Max) will support the wired high-speed transfer, and the two standard ones (15 & 15 15 Plus) still support USB 2.0 same as Lightning," analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said in November 2022.

A photographer's dream

iPhones with cannon camera lenses

(Image credit: Future)

As smartphones continue to get better and better we're left with few differentiating features from one generation to the next, but cameras continue to be one area where we can expect progress. That's especially true with the iPhone 15.

If Apple follows through on what the rumors have been telling us we can expect big things from the 2023 iPhone lineup, no matter which model you choose to buy. The iPhone 15 Pro Max might capture the imagination, but don't sleep on that 48-megapixel upgrade for the non-Pro models. That alone could be well worth an upgrade if you're a big iPhone photographer, especially if you capture images in dimly lit environments.

Above all, now is a good time to take photos with an iPhone.

Will iPhone 15 have a better camera?

Absolutely. No matter which iPhone 15 model you choose, based on the current rumors, will have a better camera than the one you're currently using.

If you're buying an iPhone 15 or iPhone 15 Plus, that'll mean getting a 48-megapixel main camera with improved resolution and pixel binning. If you're going for iPhone 15 Pro Max, it'll be that periscope zoom camera. Choosing an iPhone 15 Pro? Look for that new Apple silicon to make new features possible and speed up existing ones.

Will iPhone 15 have four cameras?

That seems unlikely, or at least we haven't heard suggestions to that effect so far. In short, expect the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus to have two cameras and the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max to have three.

To that point, we expect Apple to ship the iPhone 15 models with main and ultra wide-angle cameras. Upgrade to the iPhone 15 Pro models and you'll get an extra one — the telephoto camera used for zoom shots.

Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.

Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.

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