Is it better to zoom or crop an iPhone photo?

Is it better to zoom or crop an iPhone photo?

Zoomed in photo of tower with blurred background. - zoom or crop an iPhone photo
Is it better to zoom or crop an iPhone photo?

The existence of great smartphone cameras, such as the one on iPhone 11 Pro, does not always guarantee flawless photography moments. Sometimes, you might capture a subject that’s too small that you’re tempted to crop or zoom in to give it the focus it deserves. Should you zoom or crop an iPhone photo?

vector of Big Ben Tower in London. - zoom or crop an iPhone photo
Cropping is the better option than zooming in.

Cropping a photo on your iPhone is better than zooming in before capturing it. That is because your iPhone, especially if it’s one of the models before the iPhone 7 Plus, uses digital zoom. This produces a lesser quality output compared to optical zoom. 

Confused if you should zoom or crop an iPhone photo? Try moving closer to it first if you can. If you’re really far from the subject, it’s better to crop it after taking the photo using an editing tool such as Adobe Photoshop. 

Although, take note that both zooming in and cropping reduce the quality of a photo. So, if you’re choosing to walk the less evil path of cropping a photo, don’t overdo it!

Why does zooming reduce the quality of an iPhone photo?

Whether you decided to zoom or crop an iPhone photo, you’re still diminishing the quality of that photo either why. But we will be delving deeper into why zooming in is worse than cropping by comparing digital zoom and optical zoom. 

Digital zoom

Girl in ponytail taking photo of blue sky using iPad. - zoom or crop an iPhone photo
Digital zoom is an artificial zoom.

First, if you zoom in a subject using your iPhone, you’re doing a digital zoom. It uses the smartphone’s built-in software to crop the rest of the photo and not its camera’s lens. After that, the software enlarges the zoomed part of the photo back to the original size. This disrupts the pixel layout, which in turn affects the resolution. The result is a blurred, pixelated photo.

Related: Do iPhones have optical zoom?

Optical zoom

DSLR capturing a photo of zoomed in night lights - zoom or crop an iPhone photo
Optical zoom is way better!

Compared to zooming in using a DSLR camera, which is called optical zoom, the lens does all the hard work. Through its adjustable focal length, it physically moves in closer to make the subject appear closer, too. And since it’s not megapixel-dependent, an optical zoom retains the same resolution and sharpness in your photo. 

How do you make a zoomed picture clear on iPhone?

zoomed in photo of colored pencils.
Sharpen your photo like a pencil tip.

Digitally zoomed-in photos are not top-notch in quality, but you can sharpen them, at least. We recommend using the free editing tool, Adobe Photoshop Express. 

  1. Open the app. 
  2. Upload the photo by tapping “Select Photo”.
  3. Click the button shaped like a pencil. 
  4. Tap the pixelated circle button and click Sharpen. 
  5. Move the slider upwards to increase your photo’s sharpness.
  6. Click Save. 

Tip: Use clip-on lenses

Since iPhone cameras are very limited when it comes to zooming, you can alleviate this by getting clip-on lenses. Using these, zooming in on your subjects will be less necessary.

Get a clip-on macro lens if you love taking photos of tiny objects like insects or coins. You can get a clip-on telephoto lens if you like taking pictures of subjects from far distances. If you don’t like close-up selfies or your portrait subjects feel uncomfortable with getting closet o the camera, a telephoto lens will help you. If you like taking snapshots of landscapes and greenery, then invest in a clip-on wide-angle lens for your iPhone. If you need all of the three lenses, you can buy them all in an iPhone camera lens kit.

What is the telephoto lens on the iPhone?

dual camera iPhone 8 Plus.
The telephoto lens has more tricks in its sleeve.

The telephoto lens is preset to 2x optical zoom, which means it gets more details from a subject if you tap it and not just crop the zoomed area. The telephoto lens also allows your subject to fill the screen better by making the distance between it and its background smaller. By using the telephoto lens, there is also lesser distortion when you take close-up pictures. 

While any distance beyond the telephoto lens’ 2x zoom instantly turns to digital zoom, the telephoto lens does give you better options than zooming in a photo. This is especially true if you just need the focus to be on a certain subject. You don’t need to zoom in or crop if you can just blur the background, right? The telephoto lens is good at taking photos with blurred backgrounds since it captures portraits effectively.

In older models before iPhone 7 Plus, there is no telephoto lens. All the models after the iPhone 7 Plus have a telephoto lens. The iPhone 8 Plus, especially, has a dual camera that allows you to use the telephoto lens without using the portrait mode. 

Zooming in on iPhone 8 Plus and later

iPhone 8 plus taking photo of small toys.
In Apple’s later iPhone models, you can have optical zoom and digital zoom.

In the iPhone 8 Plus and later models, you can’t use the photographic zoom in portrait mode. However, besides the telephoto lens, the optical zoom, 5x to 10x digital zoom, and optical image stabilization, you can also have quad-LED True Tone flash and Portrait Lighting. 

  • 2x optical zoom – By using this, you can make your subject appear closer without sacrificing the quality.
  • 10x digital zoom – Beyond the 2x optical zoom, the camera switches to digital zoom. Although, the quality is still lower than the one produced by the optical zoom. 
  • Optical image stabilization – This is a feature on the camera that prevents blurry photos due to shaky hands or moving subjects.
  • Quad-LED True Tone flash with slow sync – A combination of flash and slow shutter speed, illuminating your subject and capturing the details in the background for enough detail. 
  • Portrait Lighting – An artificial lighting effect that’s similar to when your portrait is being taken in the studio. 

How to zoom in 

  1. Open your Camera app. 
  2. To zoom in, tap the circular 1x button and swipe to the left. To go back to the original size, just swipe to the right. 
  3. In the camera’s Photo and Square option, you can zoom up to 10x. You can only zoom up to 2x in the Pano option. 

iPhone 11 Pro’s zooming and cropping capabilities

multi-camera system of iPhone 11 Pro.
Cropping and zooming is no problem for iPhone 11 Pro’s camera.

When it comes to zooming and cropping, you can expect better things from the iPhone 11 Pro. That’s because of the added Ultra-Wide camera.

You see, this new addition is a 12 mp camera with a 120-degree field of view, allowing you to capture even wider shots. Just think of it as a “zooming out” camera in case you want to take a group photo in a smaller space. The Ultra-Wide camera is your guy for those types of cases— you don’t even need to take a few steps back just to include everyone in the group photo. 

Did you know that even if you don’t use the Ultra-Wide camera, your iPhone still saves the data it captured when you took a normal picture? That means if you crop a photo, you can actually see that the photo extends beyond the crop marks. That’s because the iOS saved the Ultra Wide version of your photo or video—even if you didn’t use the Ultra-Wide camera to capture the photo or record it the clip!

The additional parts of your photo are always available, in case you want a broader version. Simply tap edit and you can already tweak it into an Ultra Wide version.

Best cropping tool on iOS: Cut Paste Photos Pro


If you want a no-nonsense tool for cropping a photo and more, we suggest you use Cut Paste Photos Pro. Besides cropping, you can also perform other editing actions like rotating, flipping, or resizing a photo. You can even change the shape of a photo into a shape like circle, heart, star, etc. 

Don’t like to allot storage space for an app like Photoshop? If you need a tool to cut the subject out of a photo, you can do that on Cut Paste as well. No need to open Photoshop on your desktop and use a mouse. You can do that by just using your finger through the freehand cutting tool on Cut Paste. 

Cut Paste Photos Pro is available on iOS; but if you’re an Android user, we recommend another great app by Mafooly Apps, zShot. It’s an all-in-one editor—you can edit photos, create slideshows, make collages, scan documents, and edit videos. 

Get it on Google Play

Related questions about zooming and cropping

Can you zoom infinitely on your iPhone?

In the Camera app, you can’t zoom more than 5x or 10x. However, in the Photos app, you can try this certain trick. Just open the picture and then rotate it in all directions. After that, rotate it back to its original angle and you can infinitely zoom in. 

What iPhone models have optical zooms? 

  • iPhone 7 Plus
  • iPhone 8 Plus
  • iPhone X
  • iPhone XS
  • iPhone XS Max
  • iPhone 11 
  • iPhone 11 Pro
  • iPhone 11 Pro Max


Digital zooming might never get better than optical zooming. However, with the few tricks we’ve listed here, it shouldn’t be hard for you to adjust and get the results you want. Just remember the best zooming tool, as well— your legs! If you can, move in closer to capture that subject without compromising the quality.