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New iPhone camera features and limitations detailed by Apple executives

iPhone 15 Pro Max Telephoto camera

The iPhone 15 lineup has several new camera features, but third-party apps will be needed for maximum creative control. Two Apple executives explain the decision process behind the updates.

Apple's philosophy behind the iPhone camera and the app that controls it is simple — get out of the way. The company has designed its app and camera functionality to remain uncluttered and straightforward while providing just enough control for enthusiasts.

Two Apple executives detail the thoughts behind iPhone 15 camera features and the camera app in an interview with PetaPixel. Jon McCormack, Vice President of Camera Software Engineering, and Maxime Veron, Senior Director of iPhone Product Marketing, provide some insight.

"It really is, in my mind, all about allowing people to go chase their vision and this goes from the harried parent of a toddler where their vision is, 'can I get my kid in frame as they take their first step' all the way through to a pro or a creative who has got a very specific artistic vision in mind and want to get there as quickly as possible," McCormack says. "Behind the big red button the thing you're worrying about is the frame and the moment because honestly, that's the most inspiring part of any photograph or any video."

Most iPhone users just want great photos and videos with a button press, without all the fuss of individual settings. More is available in the app and settings but doesn't take up precious viewfinder space.

Distinctions between photo and video

The iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max have multiple focal lengths users can choose by tapping the 1x button in the camera app. This selection isn't just a simple crop but something designed with neural networks controlling many aspects at capture to optimize for that setting.

iPhone Camera app Cinematic Video controls
iPhone Camera app Cinematic Video controls

Focal length selection is limited to photo modes and won't show up in video. This is due to the nature of photo processing versus video.

"When you're shooting [photos], we gather a bunch of data to let you keep shooting and then sort of keep processing in the background, so we have more time and this is just something we can't do in video," McCormack explains.

The executive also details how exposure is chosen when filming with ProRes Log.

"We go for a middle-ground exposure," McCormack says. "When you go into log, there's no tone mapping so you can have much more precise control over what your exposure is."

ProRes and external SSD

Speaking of ProRes video, videographers can use the USB 3.0 speeds to shoot ProRes directly to an external SSD. However, there are some limitations to this.

Apple only allows direct recording to an external SSD when using ProRes. Other formats will record directly to the iPhone's storage and will require transfer off later or a lengthy iCloud sync.

The 4K 60Hz ProRes video setting is only available when external storage is connected.

24MP is the new 12MP

Apple set 24MP HEIF as the new default camera output for multiple reasons. Not only is it an efficient file size, but it offers more control while processing images.

High resolution and contrast from the 48MP sensor
High resolution and contrast from the 48MP sensor

"You get a little bit more dynamic range in the 24-megapixel photos," McCormack explains. "Because when shooting at 24-megapixels, we shoot 12 high and 12 low — we actually shoot multiple of those — and we pick and then merge."

When shooting a 48MP image, the iPhone has to rely on an extended dynamic range algorithm instead, providing less exposure data. So, the dynamic range should be wider in 24MP images.

Third-party apps for the enthusiasts

Apple's approach to building the Camera app keeps the UI simple and distraction-free. Users can open the app, tap the shutter, and know they are getting the best photo at that moment without hassle.

"Our approach to computational photography and videography is really, really unique," Veron adds. "For the vast majority of our customers, we just aim to process everything in the background so that the process is invisible and out of the way so that people can take great photos and videos and capture beautiful, true-to-life moments in one click."

Anyone who wants more control, like a focus slider or video waveform, can look to third-party apps. Apple expects anyone looking for more control or settings have a solution in the App Store.