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Thursday, June 20, 2024

iPhone 16 Cameras: Longer Zooms and Bigger Sensors. Here Are All the Rumors to Know

We don’t expect to see the iPhone 16 and 16 Pro until September but there’s already plenty of rumors around what Apple has in store for its next generation of superphones. From larger display sizes to new processors, the next iPhones could pack a suite of upgrades. But, as a professional photographer, it’s the cameras I’m most excited about.

Apple has always packed the iPhone with some of the best cameras you can get in a smartphone and the iPhone 15 Pro Max, with its 5x optical zoom, remains one of the best camera phones money can buy right now.

Read more: Best iPhone to Buy in 2024

But competition is fierce, particularly in the photography arena, so Apple will be looking for ways to keep the phone’s photo-taking skills top notch. So let’s dive into what the rumor mill has been saying about the cameras on the iPhone 16 range. 

A new physical camera button 

The iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max brought a new “Action” button to the outer edge of the phone which allows you to customize it to perform various actions like launching the camera or taking a voice memo. 

Action button on the iPhone 15 Pro Max Action button on the iPhone 15 Pro Max

The iPhone 15 Pro’s Action button will possibly be joined by a new physical camera button.

Nelson Aguilar/CNET

But MacRumors suggests that an additional button will appear on the next model, aimed specifically at photographers. The button will act as a camera shutter, with multiple levels of sensitivity allowing for a half press for focusing and a full press for taking an image. Rumors also suggest the button will recognise swipe gestures, with left or right swipes letting you zoom in or out. 

While the volume buttons have been able to activate the camera shutter for some time, this new button would bring deeper camera controls and allow you to operate the iPhone more like a compact digital camera. 

Better zoom for all Pro models

According to Apple analyst Ming Chi Kuo, the base iPhone 16 Pro will be equipped with a 5x optical zoom lens. This was something only found on the larger iPhone 15 Pro Max so it’d be good to see the same zoom level offered in a smaller, more pocket-friendly package. 

Hand holding an iPhone and Samsung phone Hand holding an iPhone and Samsung phone

The S23 and S24 Ultra’s 10x zoom may get some competition.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

But it’s possible that both phones will get an upgrade, with some earlier rumors suggesting the iPhone 16 Pro Max will get a “super telephoto” lens offering zoom levels beyond the current 5x range. While this would be a welcome addition to sports or wildlife photographers who rely on long zoom levels, these rumors circulated in summer of last year — before we even saw the launch of the iPhone 15. So take them with a hefty pinch of salt. 

A larger image sensor

According to a MacRumors story, covering claims from Weibo user Digital Chat Station, the iPhone 16 Pro’s main camera could have a larger image sensor. This would apparently be 1/1.14 inches in size, making it bigger than the 1/1.28-inch sensor found on the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max. 

A larger sensor captures more light and image information allowing for better details, dynamic range and improved low light performance so it’d be great to see such a large size increase. And it’d be smart for Apple to up its game here as phones like the Xiaomi 14 Ultra are already using even larger image sensors of 1/0.98-inches (known as 1-inch type) for their main cameras.

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The Xiaomi 14 Ultra’s larger image sensor makes it a photography powerhouse. 

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

Higher-resolution ultrawide cameras

The iPhones’ ultrawide cameras have felt a little neglected in the past few generations, with the resolution remaining at 12 megapixels since the iPhone 11. But a report from noted analyst Jeff Pu, seen by 9to5Mac, says the ultrawide cameras on both the iPhone 16 Pro and Pro Max will get a significant bump up to 48 megapixels. 

Vertical camera arrangement

Various rumors and leaked renders suggest that the base iPhone 16 and 16 Plus models will have a vertical camera layout, rather than in the diagonal form seen on the iPhone 15. It’d make the design look more similar to the iPhone 12, but there’s a bigger reason this may happen beyond simple aesthetics. 

A vertical camera layout like this would allow the phones to more easily shoot spatial video, using information from both cameras to create a 3D-like effect. It’d make sense, as Apple brought spatial video shooting to the iPhone 15 Pro range, but not to the base iPhone 15 models, likely due to the camera layout. 

Apple Vision Pro AR/VR headset Apple Vision Pro AR/VR headset

Spatial videos could be viewed properly on the Apple Vision Pro headset.

Josh Goldman/CNET

While spatial videos look just like regular 2D videos when played on your iPhone, they’re designed to give a 3D effect when viewed on Apple’s Vision Pro headset

Other things we want to see

Apple’s WWDC event takes place June 10 where the company is expected to take the wraps off iOS 18. AI is predicted to be a big part of the new software and it’s highly likely that AI skills will extend to the camera. The iPhone’s camera already uses AI to varying degrees in its computational photography, skin tone reproduction, depth mapping and even down to the auto settings it uses when taking an image. 

But deeper AI would allow for better scene recognition — and therefore better use of settings and processing to take nicer-looking images. I’ve also been impressed at the AI object removal seen on the Google Pixel range and it’s possible we’ll see similar AI-based editing tools on the next iPhone. 

Speaking of editing, it’s possible Apple may introduce more ways to edit video on the phone, in particular when shooting using Log on the 15 Pro and Pro Max. Log video is designed to look flat and gray when shot as it gives a better base for editing and adding color and contrast back in later. 

iphone-15-prores-log-video-tutorial-4 iphone-15-prores-log-video-tutorial-4

iPhone footage recorded in the Log color space has to be edited on computers or the iPad. It would be good to see more options for processing this footage on the iPhone itself.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

Right now you have to transfer that footage to an iPad or computer to edit your Log videos in software like BlackMagic’s DaVinci Resolve, so it’d be good to see Apple introduce more ways to process Log footage on the phone. Perhaps even to introduce its own range of “LUTs” — presets used to quickly apply color and contrast to videos — into the iPhone’s edit tools. 

Editors’ note: CNET is using an AI engine to help create some stories. For more, see this post.

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