iPhone 7 Plus: Optical Zoom v Digital Zoom

Perhaps the most touted feature of the iPhone 7 Plus is the dual lens camera. At the launch of the iPhone 7, the first image of the phone that came up on that huge screen was the back of the iPhone 7 Plus showing off the two lenses. The 12-megapixel camera with a 4 mm wide angle lens and a 6 mm telephoto lens for mechanical zoom was promoted more emphatically than perhaps any other feature of the phone. It was perhaps in response to the awesome camera on the S7/S7 Edge/Note 7 from Samsung which is, by comparison still pretty good. However, Apple didn’t tell us about the details of how the camera worked, at least not entirely. And you may find that Apple’s idea of the best photo your camera can take differs very much from your own.

Picture quality will always remain subjective. Some people still prefer polaroids and others prefer the old silver nitrate film. However there are some quantifiable aspects to how good a photo looks. For instance, most people will agree that blowing up pixels reduces picture quality and mechanical zoom or optical zoom will result in a better picture than digital zoom. Also, input from two lenses will generally bring out a better and more detailed picture. But Apple disagrees with what you think would be the general consensus both time.

Sometimes Apple Prefers Digital Zoom Over Optical Zoom

There are times when using the optical zoom feature will give you an objectively bad picture. This is usually applied to low light conditions. If you’re trying to snap a photo of a dog in your neighbourhood and he’s sitting under the shade of a tree or if you’re trying to snap a picture of anything at night, iOS 10 will choose which zoom better serves your purpose. If the optical zoom takes a blurry or a poorly lit photo, iOS will blow up the pixels and use digital zoom instead.

2x at Digital Zoom
2x at Digital Zoom

According to MacWorld, even between 1x and 2x, the bias is towards digital zoom. It may be the best camera in the business but it probably doesn’t use its second lens to its full potential.

2x at Optical Zoom
2x at Optical Zoom

Also, the iPhone 7 Plus uses just the wide angle lens when at 1x zoom. Instead of taking input from both lenses, the 7 Plus sticks with its primary camera. This is because the 6.6 mm telephoto lens has a smaller aperture of f/2.8. The wide angle lens camera with the f/1.8 aperture will deliver much brighter and better photos if it doesn’t have a mix of data from the other lens.

Boy the telephoto lens is looking pretty useless right now.