The iPhone 14 Pro is expected to break with Apple tradition in a big way, and we’re not just talking about the notch’s disappearance: the flagship’s main camera is expected to finally make the jump from 12MP to 48MP resolution.
Is this a such a huge deal? After all, the Nokia 808 PureView had a 41MP sensor when it was released in 2012, and there have been countless Android phones from Huawei, Xiaomi, and Samsung that have come out with high-megapixel cameras in recent years.
However, it would be a significant change for Apple fans for two reasons. For starters, since the iPhone 6S in 2015, iPhones have been built around 12MP sensors.
But why would Apple risk such a significant change to its flagship phone camera now?
There are a few possible explanations, but none of them have anything to do with photography. The increase to 48MP would reflect recent trends in mirrorless cameras, which are increasingly balancing traditional photographic demands with exciting new image-making possibilities.
The timing is certainly logical — the only question now is what Apple intends to do with the extra pixels.
More megapixels equates to smaller pixels, and smaller pixels equate to weaker image signals with higher overall noise. Because the noise from the higher resolution would most likely obscure any additional detail gained from the lower resolution, lower megapixel sensors were the obvious choice.
This is why the iPhone has relied on a 12MP camera sensor for so long.
So, what has changed to compel Apple to reconsider? For starters, processing advances for high-megapixel sensors have been made. ‘Pixel-binning,’ which treats four adjacent pixels on a sensor as one large pixel, has advanced to the point where it is now used by full-frame cameras such as the Leica M11. In the case of the M11, you have the option of taking photos at 60MP, 36MP, or 18MP.
Shifting the focus
The most obvious solution for the extra pixels is 8K video recording.
The iPhone 13 Pro already shoots in 4K/60p, but 8K video requires at least a 33MP sensor, so this is one area where the iPhone 14’s resolution riches could be used.
Better late than never
Apple’s belated move to a 48MP camera on the iPhone 14 would be typical of the company. The company rarely introduces new technology first, preferring to refine things over time and then present them as ‘breakthrough’ features.
While the upgrade from a 12MP camera would be noteworthy, it isn’t as significant as it once was. Many photographers would argue that it isn’t particularly useful for still photography, and that the specifications of a phone camera (with the possible exception of sensor size) are now far less important than its software processing.
Despite often having ‘inferior’ hardware to its Android competitors, the iPhone has excelled in this area. So we’re excited to see what the iPhone 14 does with its rumored high-megapixel sensor, as well as if it adds any new software features to the likes of Photographic Styles and Cinematic Mode.
What’s more important, however, could be what Apple does with the iPhone 14’s other cameras, and the non-photographic tricks that 48MP sensor can help it pull off in the video and AR/VR realms.