It looks like Apple made iPhone 15 focal lengths a Trojan horse for photography?

Apple presentation screen showing 120mm lens next to iPhone 15 Pro Max black titanium
(Image credit: Apple)

With the launch of the new iPhone 15 and especially the iPhone 15 Pro Max we heard a lot about camera focal lengths. That makes sense – the phone has three different focal lengths and one of them (on the Pro Max model) is, finally, different. 

It took over 15 mins to order the new iPhone 15 Pro Max – seems they're a hit!

I did notice, though, that in all the example videos when we saw the user tapping on one of the preset focal lengths (represented on screen with x0.5, x1, x3, for example) iOS now flashes up an ELF (Equivalent Focal Length or Effective Focal Length, depending who you ask – I'll stick with EFL!).

Since the EFL in millimetres is a figure which is only an equivalency, and not a direct measurement of the phone's compact components, this is only about one thing – deliberately using a professional term. An accepted standard within the industry Apple is trying to align itself with. And that isn't other phones – which tend to market themselves in terms of magnification factors. That is creatives who understand lenses.

iPhone 15 Pro launch presentation screen (Image credit: Apple)

Now I winced at the moment in Apple's presentation when they suggested the phone was like having 7 lenses in your pocket, but the more I thought about it, the better this feels for photography as a whole. That Apple wants to present its cameras in these terms shows a respect for photography that sticking '8K' or '100x zoom' simply does not. And don't forget certain phone manufacturers aren't above automatically faking pictures of the moon!

iPhone 15 Pro cameras (Image credit: Apple)

There is a lot that you can be not unreasonably angered about – vague generalisations about computational photography and various other means of simulating bokeh which won't make the glass or the sensor physically bigger. Of that I have not undergone some kind of Damascene conversion or been entirely swept up in the Apple cult.

Instead what excites me is that so many more people are going to see EFL figures and if just 1% of them think a bit about what they mean, that'll be a lot more people starting to ask questions about photography with interchangeable lenses.

At different zoom settings the EFL is already visible in the iOS camera app zoom wheel. (Image credit: Future)

Actually, iOS already does this with the zoom wheel in the camera app. Tap and hold on a preset zoom and the wheel comes up – the EFL lengths are shown on the dial and light up yellow when it locks to a camera's preferred length. It looks like this is going to get more pervasive by appearing in the on-screen buttons reminding users about EFL (or at least making them wonder about "that number in mm") all the time. 

Specifically, the iPhone 15 Pro Max will offer Macro, 13mm, 24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 48mm and 120mm as presets.

iPhone 15 Pro demo screen showing choice of EFL

The 1x camera option will let users cycle through their chosen default 'lens' – this is where the EFL comes up. (Image credit: Apple)

The other new feature, introduced as Next Generation Portraits, is that Portraits will happen automatically. Afterward focus and depth control will come to life, and the depth is indicated in terms of ƒ-stop. This is on iPhone 15 as well as the Pro models.

Good stuff, Apple. Camera terminology is for everyone. Hopefully, this will break down a barrier to buying that first mirrorless for a few new photographers.

Thinking of getting an iPhone 15? Check our guide to the best camera phones to see if you're sure, and read my thoughts on the exciting (to me) news about iCloud

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Adam Juniper
Managing Editor

With over 20 years of expertise as a tech journalist, Adam brings a wealth of knowledge across a vast number of product categories, including timelapse cameras, home security cameras, NVR cameras, photography books, webcams, 3D printers and 3D scanners, borescopes, radar detectors… and, above all, drones. 

Adam is our resident expert on all aspects of camera drones and drone photography, from buying guides on the best choices for aerial photographers of all ability levels to the latest rules and regulations on piloting drones. 

He is the author of a number of books including The Complete Guide to Drones, The Smart Smart Home Handbook, 101 Tips for DSLR Video and The Drone Pilot's Handbook