Fans of the iPhone might have to wait until 2023 for a truly good zoom camera

IPhones have a solid reputation for photographic prowess, and each new iteration adds to that tradition. However, one area where Apple’s high-priced phones have fallen behind Android rivals is zoom performance. That stumbling block may soon be a thing of the past. According to TFI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo (via MacRumors), Apple is preparing for a huge upgrade by providing iPhones with a periscope-style telephoto zoom camera.

There is no shortage of high-end phone buyers who believe iPhones need to improve their zoom capabilities. Consider the iPhone 13 Pro Max, which only has 3x optical zoom in and 15x digital zoom out. On paper, flagships from Samsung, Huawei, and Xiaomi completely outperform Apple’s latest and finest. The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has a 10x lossless optical zoom that can be increased to 100x using cropping and digital zooming. The Huawei P40 Pro+ offers 10x optical zoom as well, while the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra boasts a 120x digital zoom range.

However, eager fans will have to wait a little longer before seeing a periscope-style telephoto camera on an iPhone. According to Kuo, periscope cameras will first arrive on iPhones in 2023, with the iPhone 15 Pro Max being the most likely candidate for the upgrade. But, before that, Kuo expects that the iPhone 14 Pro two will upgrade to a 48-megapixel camera, up from the 12-megapixel sensor on the iPhone 12 four.

What’s the big deal about a periscope camera?

Periscope telephoto camera mechanism.

Oppo was the first to demonstrate periscope camera technology in 2017, but Huawei beat it to the market with the release of its P30 Pro flagship in 2019 that included 5x optical zoom. Smartphones, unlike standalone cameras, are tiny, which means there isn’t much room for lens elements to rotate vertically and provide a greater zoom range.

Periscope-style cameras, also known as folded lens camera systems, use an L-shaped tunnel system in which the telephoto camera sensor is positioned at a right angle to the other cameras, which are positioned directly behind the lens. A folded lens system bends light at a 90-degree angle by passing it through a tunnel of moving lens elements before it falls on the sensor.

The thickness of the camera bump increases, but the trade-off is well worth it. Higher optical zoom output is a lifesaver for those who enjoy long-range photography. Kuo doesn’t go into specifics regarding Apple’s periscope camera plan, but it’s safe to infer that the company will aim for a least of 4x lossless optical zoom output on the iPhone 15 series – enough to make a difference.