Apple has officially revealed the iPhone 15 series. No surprises there, really, it was an inevitability that I've been blogging about all day long during the 12 September 'Wonderlust' event. What I didn't think would be so inevitable, however, is that Apple would drop a camera-shaped bomb so significant that it'll have its competitors wondering how to compete.
But that's exactly what I believe the Cupertino company has gone and done with the iPhone 15 Pro Max. The largest and priciest of all the iPhone 15 models is also the one (and only one) that introduces the most intelligently implemented optical zoom camera in a phone that I've ever seen. It's genius for a number of reasons.
1. 5x in a small package
Say it along with me: "tetra-prism optical telephoto" and "3D sensor shift module". But wait, that's not just marketing nonsense. So let me break it down. The first part relates to the 5x optical zoom lens in the iPhone 15 Pro Max. Such a focal length, which equates to 120mm, typically would require physical distance to focus an image, which would result in a physically large unit too big to fit into a phone.
Here's where the "tetra-prism" part comes into play: tetra, meaning four, means that Apple is bouncing the light four times in a more confined space, to provide the required full distance that a 120mm equivalent lens would otherwise need. The result? A smaller unit that can fit into a phone.
2. A super-wide aperture
But more impressive than that is the aperture value it comes equipped with. It's an f/2.8 lens, meaning a physically large opening that's ideal for naturally pronouncing background blur, but also allowing more light in to permit faster shutter speeds that are ideal for capturing sharp images – especially in low-light conditions.
Consider this: the Google Pixel 7 Pro has a 5x zoom but f/3.5 aperture (so two-thirds of a stop slower), while the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra and its 10x zoom has an f/4.9 aperture (so one-and-two-thirds of a stop slower).
3. 3D sensor-shift stabilisation
I'm already impressed, despite not having used the iPhone 15 Pro Max just yet. But I can't wait to, as the second part of the equation is equally impressive: the 3D sensor shift module. In reality this is like an optical image stabilisation system on steroids, as the full plate on which the lens sits can move in multiple directions to counter all manner of movement and should be especially good for ultra-smooth video capture and ensuring the sharpest of stills.
Apple says it's the first ever of its kind. I suspect there are some caveats to that in the way its system is designed, as the gimbal-style system I've used in the Vivo X70 Pro, for example, is mighty impressive. If Apple can bring that kind of ease-of-use to smoothness and stabilisation I'm certain people will notice it immediately. It's a great touch.
4. Consistent iPhone 15 features
So those are the three big 'wows' from the iPhone 15 Pro Max's camera that I think will see it sit streets ahead of other optical zoom cameras in the best phones out there. There's more than just that, though, as like the rest of the iPhone 15 range, the main camera system also sounds like a bit of a photography beast. I'm not going to oversell the resolution factor, as the best Android phones have gone well beyond 48-megapixel options before now, but there's a lot of sense in Apple's multi-pixel use for output.
All iPhone 15 models have a 48-megapixel main camera, using a larger-than-typical sensor size. All models output at 24-megapixels by default by harnessing multiple 'pixels' to produce the best dynamic range and sharpness. Not brand new, no, but as these sensors aren't excessively resolute, it sounds like a potential sweet spot for quality results. I'll have to wait and see how T3's iPhone 15 reviews turn out over the coming weeks and months.
5. The price is right
I was fully expecting the iPhone 15 Pro Max to go off the charts when it came to pricing. There was rumour that the asking price might surprise you (for the wrong reasons rather than right ones!). As it turns out, however, there's no year-on-year change to pricing. Given the current landscape, and the addition of bold new features such as this 5x zoom and a new Titanium material finish, that's a fairly big statement in my view.
No, I'm not saying the iPhone 15 Pro Max is cheap by any measure. But at £799 / $1,199 / AUD$1,499 there's a lot of phone here for a sum that many believed would be considerably higher this year. With a decent trade-in offer, I'd be tempted to switch an older Pro Max model for the 15 Pro Max to get hold of this sensational new photography setup...