When you want to magnify subjects in photography, digital zoom can introduce unwanted image noise. Your iPhone, however, may offer “optical zoom” in some form or another, which can solve this problem. But do you know how to use it?

Does Your iPhone Have Optical Zoom?

Take a look at the back of your iPhone and you’ll probably see more than one lens. All iPhones have a basic wide-angle lens, which has a 35mm focal length equivalent of about 26mm. This is great for capturing a slightly wider field of view than what you can see with the human eye.

You may also have a telephoto (zoom) lens or an ultra-wide. Some iPhones, particularly the iPhone Pro models, have all three lenses. While “optical zoom” is usually used within the context of “zooming in” on a subject, any increase in focal length that uses optics (rather than software, or digital zoom) is considered “optical zoom.”


For example, the iPhone 13 only has a wide (26mm equivalent) and an ultra-wide (13mm equivalent). Moving from the perspective of the ultra-wide to the wide is an equivalent optical zoom of 2x since you are doubling the focal length using optics alone.

Learning to use optical zoom can help ensure that your images are the best possible quality they can be. Apple also lets you go beyond the point of optical zoom, which uses software to “stretch” the image. This often introduces unwanted noise and grain which you might want to avoid.

Using Optical Zoom

It’s really easy to ensure you’re always using optical zoom when shooting with your iPhone camera.

Launch the camera app in portrait orientation, with the shutter button at the bottom of the screen. Just above the shutter button where it says “Photo” to indicate the mode you’re currently using you should see some numbers, for example, 3, 1x, and .5.

iPhone Camera Zoom Toggle

Tapping on these numbers will cycle through the various focal lengths available to you. Tapping on the “.5” option will always ensure you’re using the ultra-wide lens at its native focal length, and the same goes for wide (1) and telephoto (2 or 3).

This ensures the best possible quality and won’t introduce digital zoom that may negatively affect image quality.

You Can Zoom Digitally, Too

If you drag these numbers with your finger you will reveal a dial that lets you gradually increase zoom level. You can use this to capture in-between focal lengths (using some software help) but also to go well beyond the maximum zoom level of your longest lens. You can also pinch to zoom, as you would a webpage or photo.

iPhone Camera Zoom Wheel

On an iPhone 13 Pro, this extends to 15x zoom (or 15 times the focal length of the standard wide lens). The reach is impressive, but image quality takes a serious dip too. Digital zoom is fun to play with, but it’s a bad choice if you’re trying to take a picture you want to print or use elsewhere.

Regardless of whether you have an old iPhone or the latest model, your smartphone is an excellent camera. Learn more about getting the most out of your iPhone camera.

RELATED: How to Use the iPhone Camera App: The Ultimate Guide

Profile Photo for Tim Brookes Tim Brookes
Tim Brookes is a technology writer with more than a decade of experience. He's invested in the Apple ecosystem, with experience covering Macs, iPhones, and iPads for publications like Zapier and MakeUseOf.
Read Full Bio »