This article was first featured in Yahoo Finance Tech, a weekly newsletter highlighting our original content on the industry. Get it sent directly to your inbox every Wednesday by 4 p.m. ET. Subscribe
Apple (AAPL) has officially announced its iPhone 13. The company’s latest and greatest smartphone comes with notable improvements including a faster A15 Bionic chip, larger battery capacity, and a ProMotion screen with refresh rates as high as 120 times per second for the Pro models.
While those are welcome features, they’re not the kind of innovations that would inspire consumers to drop hundreds of dollars on a new smartphone. That responsibility falls to the major upgrades Apple made to the iPhone 13 line’s cameras.
Every new iPhone needs a catchy improvement to get customers primed to spend their money. Last year, Apple’s focus on 5G connectivity powered record iPhone revenue in the iPhone 12’s first full quarter of sales to the tune of $65.6 billion compared to $55.9 billion in the same quarter the prior year. That boost came even though you don’t even need a 5G connection to use most apps.
Now Apple hopes to replicate that success by touting the iPhone 13’s sweet camera. And based on the changes the tech giant announced this week, it might just work.
Consumers want great smartphone cameras
Smartphones have a handful of must-have features. We’re talking bright, colorful displays; long-lasting batteries; and top-notch performance. Camera quality is also key.
Smartphone cameras have all but relegated point-and-shoot digital cameras to the dustbin of history, and they’re moving in on high-quality digital cameras and video cameras, too. The ability to pull your phone from your pocket or purse and snap off crisp shots of everything from sporting events to family gatherings to your puppy has made smartphone cameras indispensable.
And the rise of photo- and video-sharing apps like Instagram (FB) and TikTok has only made those cameras all the more important to younger consumers.
The iPhone 13 and 13 Pro could have the best smartphone cameras yet
So what’s Apple doing with the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro that makes their cameras stand out so much? Lots of things.
Out of the gate, the iPhone 13 gets a larger sensor for its wide-angle lens. The larger the sensor, the more light a camera can capture — meaning better overall image quality. A greater amount of available light also allows for better low-light image quality, so shots you take in darker settings will look far cleaner with reduced noise and blurring.
Apple says the iPhone 13’s wide-angle sensor pulls in 47% more light than the prior generation of iPhones. The wide-angle sensor also gets Apple’s sensor shift camera technology, which moves the camera’s sensor rather than its lens to stabilize your shot and help you capture crisper shots in both daylight and low light. That feature was previously only available on the iPhone 12 Pro Max.
The ultra-wide angle camera also gets a new sensor that Apple says helps capture more detail in dark areas of photos and videos, but the company doesn’t specify exactly how much more detail it captures.
Then there’s the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max. Both phones get completely revamped telephoto, ultra-wide angle, and wide-angle cameras. The telephoto lenses on both phones now offer 3x zoom compared to last year’s iPhone 12 Pro, which had a 2x zoom and the 12 Pro Max, which had a 2.5x zoom. The better the optical zoom, the more you can zoom in on a subject without losing any clarity.
The improved wide-angle cameras on the iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max can capture 2.2x more light than the iPhone 12 Pro and 1.5x more than the iPhone 12 Pro Max, for better low-light photography. What’s more, the Pros now have better ultra-wide angle lenses that capture 92% more light and feature autofocus, which means they can be used for macro photography.
Macro photography allows you to capture images of minute details, whether that’s the grain in a wooden table, the veins of a leaf, or the lumps and bumps in a freshly baked cookie.
Finally, Apple added a new Cinematic video mode that simulates rack focus, a technique where you quickly change the focal point in a video. The camera can do this automatically or manually.
Apple has strong competition
Apple isn’t the only company offering all of these features, though. Samsung and Google (GOOG, GOOGL) have similarly made the cameras on their smartphones a centerpiece of marketing, with Samsung improving its phones’ zoom capabilities and Google focusing on low-light photography.
But Apple is clearly trying to make the case that it and it alone is the best when it comes to making smartphone cameras that can make high-end standalone cameras obsolete. It even ran an ad during its unveiling that essentially said as much.
With so many improvements and a ton of marketing hype, the iPhone 13’s cameras are clearly the main reason for consumers to snag them. Even with the 13 and 13 Pro line getting more than an hour of extra battery life, it’s the cameras that will matter most to customers, especially those who are amateur photographers or have young children.
The new iPhones don’t hit the market until Sept. 24, which means there’s still time to see if Apple can live up to the lofty expectations it has set for the phones’ capabilities. But if they’re as good as Apple claims, these phones’ cameras will make the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro an easy sell for prospective buyers.
Daniel Howley is tech editor at Yahoo Finance.
Got a tip? Email Daniel Howley at firstname.lastname@example.org over via encrypted mail at email@example.com, and follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.