Apple Explains Why iPhone 15 Pro Max is Limited to 5x Optical Zoom

In an interview with Numerama's Nicolas Lellouche, Apple's VP of camera software engineering Jon McCormack explained why the iPhone 15 Pro Max's tetraprism lens system is limited to 5x optical zoom, instead of 10x like on Samsung's Galaxy S23 Ultra. The interview is in French, so quotes below are computer translated.

iPhone 15 Pro Max 5x Optical Zoom Limit Feature 1
Apple says the Telephoto lens on the iPhone 15 Pro Max features the company's most advanced camera stabilization system yet, with a combination of optical image stabilization and an autofocus 3D sensor-shift module. McCormack said the iPhone's 5x zoom lens can be stabilized "incredibly well" compared to a 10x lens.

"The 5x zoom is something that we can stabilize incredibly well," McCormack said in the interview. "If you look at the 10x zoom, unless you have the steadiest hands in the world or a tripod, it's really difficult to use."

Apple's senior director of iPhone product marketing Maxime Veron, who was also interviewed, added that the iPhone 15 Pro Max's 5x lens opens at ƒ/2.8, allowing for "excellent light management." By comparison, the Galaxy S23 Ultra's 10x lens has a ƒ/4.9 aperture. A lower aperture allows for more light to be captured by the camera's sensor, which can be especially beneficial for Night mode photos.

5x optical zoom is exclusive to the iPhone 15 Pro Max, with the iPhone 15 Pro remaining limited to 3x optical zoom. It has been rumored that Apple plans to expand the tetraprism lens system to both iPhone 16 Pro models next year.

McCormack and Veron discuss the latest camera innovations on all iPhone 15 models in more detail in the Numerama interview. The devices launch Friday.

Related Roundup: iPhone 15 Pro

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Top Rated Comments

alexandr Avatar
11 months ago
I would be more curious to find out why 5x zoom is limited to the iPhone 15 Pro Max :D
Score: 79 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Bigkool2inSC Avatar
11 months ago
he left out......."and.. we have to save something for the 16 Pro Max.. so there's that.."
Score: 47 Votes (Like | Disagree)
MathersMahmood Avatar
11 months ago
Don’t find it difficult on my S23 Ultra at all. That’s weird.
Score: 29 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Dulcimer Avatar
11 months ago
Reminder that the term “optical zoom” is incorrect as the iPhone does not actually zoom in.

It has a 5x prime lens that it switches to when necessary. All the “zoom” levels between the 3 prime lenses are just cropping of the sensor area from one of the cameras. This means that trying to take, for instance, a 3x photo on an iPhone 15 Pro Max will result in worse image quality than on an iPhone 15 Pro since it has to use smaller sensor area of main 1x camera to take the picture.
Score: 29 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Two Appleseeds Avatar
11 months ago
Proceeds to implement 10x zoom on the 17 Ultra
Score: 23 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Dave245 Avatar
11 months ago
Sorry but even as an Apple fan, I have to call BS on that. The 10x optical zoom is perfectly usable on the S23 Ultra I have used it myself. It’s only when going to the 100X that it can be very unstable and you simply tap the stabilisation window.
Score: 23 Votes (Like | Disagree)