Improve Your iPhone’s Digital Zoom With This App

Improve Your iPhone’s Digital Zoom With This App

Any iPhone can take a great picture. If you want to zoom in, though, you need to go Pro. Since the iPhone 7 Plus, Apple has reserved the telephoto zoom lens for its more expensive devices. Its “standard” iPhones must use a digital zoom to move in closer to a subject, which results in a reduced quality image. At least, when you use your iPhone as Apple intended.

I’ve talked about this problem before, but, as a refresher, here is the complete list of iPhones with a telephoto lens:

  • iPhone 7/7 Plus (2x zoom)
  • iPhone 8/8 Plus (2x zoom)
  • iPhone X (2x zoom)
  • iPhone XS/XS Max (2x zoom)
  • iPhone 11 Pro/11 Pro Max (2x zoom)
  • iPhone 12 Pro/12 Pro Max (2.5x zoom)
  • iPhone 13 Pro/13 Pro Max (3x zoom)
  • iPhone 14 Pro/14 Pro Max (3x zoom)

Those iPhones have a second or third camera dedicated to optical zooming. All others do not. When you’re “zooming” on an iPhone 14, for example, you’re really just digitally zooming — cropping the image to make the subject seem closer. But here’s the kicker: Sometimes even when you choose to use the zoom camera on a Pro iPhone, iOS decides to digitally zoom anyway. If the system thinks the lighting isn’t good enough for the telephoto lens, for example, it’ll just crop the main lens instead. This is also the process it uses for 2x zoom on the 13 Pro and 14 Pro Max, but since the sensor is large enough, it generally results in a decent quality digital zoom.

Digital zooming isn’t bad by definition. It’s a bit deceitful on Apple’s part to say you’re “zooming” when you’re really not (in fact, all iPhone camera lenses are fixed at their respective focal lengths, so you can’t really mechanically “zoom” at all), but digitally zooming absolutely has its place. With ever advancing technology, smartphones can take a digital zoom and fill in the gaps, adding details that wouldn’t be captured by the hardware alone.

It’s that type of digital processing that empowers some smartphones to take wild zoom shots. The Galaxy S23 Ultra, for example, can take a “Super Resolution Zoom” of up to 100x. (For context, my 14 Pro Max goes up to 15x zoom.) The S23 Ultra’s 200MP camera is certainly pulling its weight there, but it’s the combination of hardware and software that makes such a feat possible.

Halide can make digital zoom great on any iPhone

While Apple doesn’t have the best digital zoom built into iOS, you can improve your zoom without their help. Halide, a pro camera app, recently introduced “Neural Telephoto,” a feature that uses machine learning to enhance digital zoom on iPhones without telephoto lenses, giving users with a 1x zoom access to a high-quality 2x zoom. It’s the same tech behind the company’s macro mode, which uses AI to capture close-ups with enhanced detail.

Not only is this feature great for anyone without a Pro iPhone, it’s great for anyone with a faulty telephoto lens — like the one on my previous iPhone, which forced me to choose a digital zoom if I wanted to get close. With Halide, at least my digital zoom would’ve been higher quality.

By default, the app spits out two versions of the image for you: a JPEG with enhanced digital zoom, and a full RAW file with no digital zoom. You can tinker with the settings, but this default mode ensures you always have access to the full image from the 1x zoom whenever you want to try digital zoom, too.

I’d love to see push this tech even Halide further. Why not increase the enhanced digital zoom beyond 2x, especially for Pro iPhones? The 14 Pro’s 48MP sensor isn’t nearly as large as the S23 Ultra’s 200MP, but what if we could make that 15x digital zoom even better?

Halide, like many pro camera apps, has moved to a subscription-based pricing model. If you bought the app outright in the past, you still have access to it for free now.


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