Apple isn’t the first manufacturer to put two cameras on their phone (LG, HTC and Huawei all beat them to it), but Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus is the first to really make a splash. But what’s the advantage of this shiny new two-camera setup? Let’s have a look.
The Camera Specs
The iPhone 7 Plus has two 12 megapixel cameras, side by side. The first is a wide-angle camera similar to the camera that has always been on iPhones. It’s got a lens with an aperture of f/1.8 and a focal length that’s equivalent to about 28mm on a full frame camera. If you’ve ever used an iPhone’s camera or smartphone camera in general, it will feel pretty familiar.
The difference is in the second camera. It’s got a lens with an aperture of f/2.8 and a full frame equivalent focal length of about 56mm. This means things will appear twice as large when shot with this camera as they do with the wide-angle camera—roughly how things look with your eyes. You can see that in the comparison shots below which were taken a few seconds apart from the same spot.
There’s one other difference between the two cameras: the wide-angle camera has optical image stabilization, while the telephoto one doesn’t.
Using the Two Cameras
Using the two cameras is easy. Open your iPhone’s camera app. If you’re in any mode except Portrait, you’ll see a 1x button at the bottom. Tap it to switch to the telephoto camera.
When to Use Each Camera
Both cameras have different uses. The wide-angle camera should probably still be your go-to. Unless you’ve a reason to use the telephoto camera, the wide-angle camera has a few advantages: it has a faster aperture, optical image stabilization, and a wider angle (which makes it more forgiving to use).
The wider aperture means that more light gets let in so your iPhone can use a faster shutter speed. The optical image stabilization keeps your photos sharp even when the shutter speed drops lower than you’d want. Finally, the wider angle means that any camera shake from your hands will have much less effect on the image. Combined, these mean that, especially in low light, you’ll get better pictures from the wide-angle camera.
The telephoto camera’s advantage is that it can zoom in further while still taking full resolution images. If you want to get closer, you don’t have to crop the photo. This is great for when you can’t get any nearer with your feet like when you’re doing touristy things, watching sports from the sidelines, or trying to get a photo of a skittish dog. As long as the light is good, the advantages of the wide-angle camera won’t really come into play.
Finally, there’s also the iPhone’s new “Portrait Mode”, which uses both cameras together—it’s technically in beta, but works well the vast majority of the time. The telephoto camera is used to take the main photo while the wide-angle camera is used to build a depth map of the scene. This means your iPhone can selectively blur different areas and make it look like it was taken using a DSLR, an effect that until now you needed to use an app like Photoshop to achieve. You can see an example in the image above.
The iPhone 7 Plus is undoubtedly a step forward for smartphone cameras. Although you should probably default to the wide-angle camera, the telephoto is really useful in certain circumstances when you can’t physically get closer, or want to use Portrait mode.