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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.