Do iPhones have optical zoom?

Do iPhones have optical zoom?

Black iPhone 7 Plus - iPhones optical zoom
Do iPhones have optical zoom?

The digital zoom in smartphones may never compete with the quality of the optical zoom. But you don’t have to worry about the quality of a zoomed-in photo. If you’re planning to buy an iPhone or switching to a newer model like the iPhone 11, there’s good news. Now, do iPhones have optical zoom?

Yes, but not all of them. The iPhone 7, and the other models before it, have digital zoom. Only the iPhones with dual cameras—starting with the iPhone 7 plus—have up to 2x optical zoom. Apple made this possible by adding a powerful second camera, the Telephoto camera. Although, zooming beyond the 2x limit will switch back the camera to using digital zoom. 

As for the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max, each has a total of 4x optical zoom—courtesy of their Telephoto lens’ 2x optical zoom in and Ultra-Wide lens’ 2x optical zoom out. Besides the powerful total of 4x optical zoom, the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max have definitely have a lot to offer. 

The gods of Apple have been hearing their fans’ prayers—and they have taken action. In this article, we’ll discuss the optical zoom feature of the iPhone and many more.

Digital zoom Vs Optical zoom 

Smartphone with optical lens. - iPhones optical zoom
Optical zoom works like when we lean closer to get a better view of an object.

It’s easier to understand the optical zoom’s dynamics by looking at this illustration. The digital zoom is like placing a magnifying glass in front of your eyes. By doing this, you can get a closer view of a small object far from you. Well, you get a closer view, alright—but the quality is still subpar.

On the other hand, the optical zoom is similar to when you lean forward into the small object. Since your eyes are closer to the object, the details of the object are also clearer and crisper. And that’s how an optical zoom works.

How does the optical zoom in iPhones work?

Guy taking photo of greenery and skies. - iPhones optical zoom
It’s not at the level of DSLR cameras’ optical zoom, but for smartphones, it’s already a winner!

When you use the digital zoom on your smartphones, the built-in camera software is only doing the legwork. Just like the example we mentioned above, the software is only giving you a closer view of the pixels that the sensors captured, instead of moving closer to capture more details of the subject. 

The optical zoom in iPhones, however, works by physically moving the smaller lens closer to a far-off subject for a better view. The result is a higher quality image compared to the digital zoom. 

Meanwhile, in iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max, their three cameras are actually sharing data with each other. That means when you’re zooming in using the Telephoto lens and then zooming out using the Ultra Wide lens, you’re still capturing with the same settings—focus, color, and quality. 

The optical zoom in iPhone: How good is it? 

Rose Gold iPhone 7 Plus.  - iPhones optical zoom
Is the optical zoom a worthy feature of the iPhone 7 Plus and other models?

Unlike the other smartphones in the marketplace, the second camera’s (the Telephoto lens) main purpose is to optically zoom into a subject. So, being the pioneer of Apple’s multi-camera iPhones, it’s only fair to look back at the iPhone 7 Plus for quality. Besides, it is in the iPhone 7 Plus that users had the pleasure of using portrait mode for the first time. 

Now, take note that we’re talking about quality and not distance. Compared to the images captured using iPhone 7’s 2x or even 5x digital zoom, the ones were taken using the iPhone 7 Plus’s 2x optical zoom still have better quality. The latter definitely captured more details, bringing out more accuracy in the photo’s subject. 

Therefore, knowing the iPhone 7 Plus’s performance and with the recent advanced improvements in the latest iPhones’ camera(s),  it’s safe to say that the optical zoom in iPhone is indeed good. You can say that it makes up for the lackluster quality in its digital zoom. 

How to use the optical zoom in iPhone 8 Plus and later models

  1. Launch your camera app. 
  2. Choose the Photo, Square, or Panorama (Pano) option.
  3. To zoom in, tap on the white circular button with 1x at the bottom of the screen. 
  4. To zoom out or return to 1x optical zoom, just tap the 2x button.

The other perks of multi-camera systems

Black iPhone 11 Pro and Mint iPhone 11
Multi-camera systems are not only good at providing an alternative to authentic optical zoom.

Besides the high-quality optical zoom, multi-cam systems on smartphones can also do the following: 

Enhance the details of the image.

And it’s all thanks to a second monochrome sensor, which main job is to take photos and record videos in full resolution. Together with the first monochrome camera, they are unstoppable at producing a sharp, very fine final photo. To make sure you get a clear photo without only relying on iPhone’s built-in camera, you can get an iPhone camera lens kit, which includes a 22x telephoto lens. It can make your photos sharper and clearer if you choose the right shutter speed.

Provide you with a better estimation of depth.

That means the smartphone is smarter at figuring out how far two objects are from each other. The result is that you can easily take portraits with sharpened, focused subjects, and blurred backgrounds. You can also get a clip-on macro lens if you’re taking photos of smaller objects or living things.

Give you wider angles and more scenes.

With iPhone’s Ultra Wide camera, for instance, you can get more data as you capture a photo, even if you’re not using it. This is because the UW camera is still active even if you’re using the Wide camera. As a result, you can always edit your photo later to get the wide-angle version of it. Just go to your Photos app, edit a photo, and then tap crop. You can see the “extra images” beyond the crop marks!

On the other hand, if you have an older iPhone, you can just buy a clip-on wide-angle lens.

iPhone 12: What to look forward after the iPhone 11 Pro Max

Black iPhone 11 Pro Max.
Are you already pining for the iPhone 12?

The optical zoom has been the cherry on top of the multi-camera iPhone models. The iPhone 11 Pro Max, especially, is the most revered for its three cameras. It is the most advanced and expensive iPhone so far, too. Now, even though it’s still too early to speculate about iPhone 12, some have already predicted its sweet features.

Based on the features of the iPhone 11 models, it’s clear that Apple finally joined the bandwagon of ultra wide cameras and low-light mode. And from that, speculators are guessing that the iPhone 12 might have some bigger presents to unbox for the fans as well. 

Rumor has it that the iPhone 12 might have a non-existent notch (topping off the raindrop-shaped notch of Android smartphones) because they’re placing the two front cameras on the top bezel! Moreover, it might also have 5G and another new camera—the time of flight sensor. This is apparently a camera that accurately measures distances, producing better photos with bokeh backgrounds. 

Other related questions about iPhone optical zoom

Is it better to zoom or crop a photo? 

Both zooming and cropping can reduce the quality of a photo. Remember, you’re taking data from the photo, so the resolution is reduced as well if you crop an image or zoom in before capturing a photo. However, cropping is the lesser evil of the two, especially if you only have a digital zoom on your iPhone. 

What are the best lenses for the iPhone? 

If you’re looking for lenses, make sure to choose the ones that have hoods. These will help you avoid unnecessary glare when taking sunny photos but without compromising the amount of light that should enter your camera. You should also look for ones that have independent attachment systems, so you won’t have to buy special phone cases—just to mount the lens. It would also help if the lens comes with a kit that includes a mini tripod. 

Why can’t smartphones have more than 3x optical zoom? 

Cross section of black iPhone camera.
It’s either bulky smartphones or ultra-thin and small sensors.

It’s just not plausible for smartphones’ slim bodies to contain zoom lenses. If the manufacturers would force it, the result would be a bulkier device, so the right-sized lens and sensor can fit. To compensate, mobile companies have instead turned to multi-camera systems. With a second camera that’s only dedicated to capturing photos at long focal lengths, users can still take detailed and sharp zoomed-in photos.


The latest iPhone models after iPhone 7 Plus have indeed pleased fanboys and pro photographers with the optical zoom feature. And although it’s not as good as DSLR camera’s optical zoom yet, it’s still a hundred times better than having a smartphone that can only digitally zoom. So, if you’re buying an iPhone for the first time or switching to a newer model, you can start considering any of the dual-camera iPhones such as the iPhone 7 Plus.