Unlocking Photography Potential: Introducing the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s Tetraprism-Based Periscope Camera

Boosted by Apple’s “tetraprism” technology, the iPhone 15 Pro Max introduces a new and impressive feature: a 5x telephoto camera. This innovation is expected to greatly enhance the photography experience for those who purchase the $1,199 smartphone. Periscope camera designs, which are becoming increasingly popular among flagship phones, are responsible for this remarkable addition.

New iPhone 15 Pro Leak

If you’re not familiar with periscope cameras, allow us to shed some light on the subject. In simple terms, a periscope camera utilizes clever engineering to accommodate a bulky telephoto lens within a compact smartphone body. This design lets users capture photos of distant subjects, such as mountains or musicians. Periscope cameras play a crucial role in gradually replicating the framing capabilities of conventional cameras’ zoom lenses.

It’s no secret that cameras are one of the most important features in smartphones, evident from the considerable attention manufacturers give to showcasing their new capabilities during launch events. This is further demonstrated by the multitude of lenses that now adorn the rear of these new smartphone models. Taking photos and videos is a vital and personally significant use of our phones.

During its iPhone 15 launch event, Apple announced the introduction of this new camera technology. While the iPhone 15, 15 Plus, and 15 Pro all received camera improvements compared to their 2022 counterparts, it is only the iPhone 15 Pro Max that benefits from the new tetraprism-based periscope design.

Now, let’s investigate why Apple incorporated a periscope camera into iPhones. The primary reason is to provide iPhone users with better photography options. Additionally, Apple wanted to catch up to its competition in this aspect.

A 5x optical zoom, equivalent to a 120mm lens on a conventional full-frame DSLR or mirrorless camera, offers significant advantages in various situations. Telephoto cameras are useful for capturing images of subjects farther away, like children playing at a playground or Taylor Swift performing on stage. Nature and landscape photography can also greatly benefit from improved telephoto reach.

In comparison to other smartphones, the iPhone 14 Pro falls short in terms of telephoto photography. While it does include a 3x zoom telephoto lens (equivalent to a 77mm lens on a DSLR camera), it is outperformed by the 5x camera on Google’s Pixel 7 Pro and the even more impressive 10x camera.

On the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra. While the iPhone has been competitive and gaining market share, its telephoto photography has been identified as an area for improvement.

Now, let’s explore how periscope cameras work. The primary challenge with telephoto cameras is their requirement for physically longer lens assemblies. Overcoming these limitations in optics, physics, and engineering is no easy feat.

Periscope cameras, also called folded cameras, tackle this challenge by positioning much of the necessary length horizontally within the phone’s body. The external lens resembles a regular phone camera, but behind it lies a prism or mirror that deflects light by 90 degrees. An Apple patent in 2016 illustrates the two options for a “folded telephoto camera lens system.”

Prisms are transparent angled blocks made of glass or plastic used in optical equipment, such as binoculars or SLR cameras’ pentaprisms in viewfinders, for decades. High-quality prisms have minimal impact on image quality.

Apple has taken a unique approach compared to other periscope cameras in the Android market. Its tetraprism design reflects light not once but four times. This allows Apple to place the image sensor on the same plane as the other camera sensors. Accommodating the electronic components surrounding the sensor, such as the image stabilization system developed by Apple to counteract handshake or camera movement, is likely easier with this setup.

Currently, periscope cameras offer 5x zoom, equivalent to a focal length of approximately 120mm on a traditional camera. However, Google’s Pixel 7 Pro leverages only the central pixels on a high-resolution image sensor to achieve 10x zoom, roughly 240mm, without using digital magnification tricks.

Now, let’s consider how periscope cameras compare to traditional cameras. While periscope cameras offer better zoom capabilities, it’s important to manage expectations. They cannot match the capabilities of serious photographers using traditional cameras with moderate telephoto lenses.

Let alone those equipped with expensive and cumbersome super telephoto lenses costing $13,000 and weighing 7 pounds, making them difficult to carry in a backpack.

In my experience, the 5x and 10x modes on the Pixel 7 Pro have proven useful for bird identification but haven’t yielded particularly impressive photos.

The primary limitation stems from the relatively small image sensors in periscope cameras, which struggle in low-light conditions. Larger sensors provide higher image quality, but they also increase costs and require larger, more expensive lens assemblies.

It’s worth noting that no test photos of Apple’s new 5x camera have been released yet, making it difficult to evaluate its performance regarding image stabilization.

Low-light capabilities, lens flare suppression, and other optical aspects.

One drawback of periscope cameras is that they can displace the usefulness of medium-telephoto cameras. However, Samsung’s Galaxy S23 Ultra addresses this issue by including not only a 10x periscope camera but also a conventional 3x camera.

Similarly, higher-resolution image sensors, like those found in the Pixel 7 and iPhone 14 Pro, offer 2x modes to provide compensation.

In a rare twist, Sony’s Xperia 1 V phone boasts a true zoom ranging from 3.5x to 5.2x.

The larger main camera sensor in the iPhone 15 Pro also plays a role in mitigating this trade-off. Both iPhone 15 Pro models will be able to shoot in designated 24mm, 28mm, 35mm, and 48mm modes. With periscope cameras and these additional features, flagship smartphones are gradually closing the gap between themselves and the zoom flexibility offered by traditional cameras.

To explore the new capabilities of the iPhone 15 lineup, take a look at the accompanying photos in our gallery. The iPhone 15 series has arrived, so let’s discover what these phones can do.

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