Jimmie's Guide to Using the iPhone Camera

Ever since I heard rumors about the iPhone 15 having a 5x Zoom, I figured that I would pretty much have to buy it. I managed to wait until a few months after the release, and then did so.
 After using the device for a few weeks, I find that it is an extraordinary piece of software and hardware engineering. This prompted me to do some research on how to understand and use all the features and write this article.
 Here's some tidbits:

You can access the camera quickly by briefly pressing and holding the camera icon on the bottom right or by simply swiping left from the right side.

While in the "Photo" mode, holding the shutter button takes a video for as long as you hold it.

While in the "Photo" mode, swiping the shutter button to the left takes a burst of shots.

The little yellow rectangle is the focus point. You can touch any area of the screen to change this focus point.

The little image of the sun next to the yellow rectangle can be swiped up or down to lighten or darken the image. (This means you can quickly "stop down" like you would on an SLR camera.)

You can select a Live Photo picture and turn it into a "Long Exposure" shot!

The iPhone 15 will take pictures in ridiculously low light situations.

You can take pictures from 0.5x to 5x. The 35mm equivalent is 13mm to 120mm!

It'll do 10x "Digital Zoom" all day long, with almost the clarity of the Optical Zoom.

Most of the pictures and screenshots taken in this article were made on the iPhone 15, (iOS version 17.1) unless otherwise specified.
 Many of these tips will work with any iPhone using iOS 17 or later. My iPhone 12 can do most of the things shown in this article, except "Camera Customization". (But it can't touch the Low light mode or the clarity of the zoom of the iPhone 15!)

Accessing the Camera

I have always placed the camera icon on the upper right of my "Home" screen. I could access the camera only after I had opened the phone from the "Lock" screen. But I have discovered (only recently!) that the camera can be accessed directly from the Lock screen. Yes. The camera icon has been there since day one. But maybe I'm a little slow. . .

Press and briefly hold the camera icon on the lower right. Release after you feel the slight "haptic" vibration. NOTE: This also works for the Flashlight symbol on the lower left. You won't get the haptic feedback if you have turned haptics off in Settings.

Place your finger on the right edge and swipe left.

And, no, this does not bypass the Unlock settings. Once you are through with the camera, the iPhone returns to the Lock Screen. That's probably why you can't add other shourtcut icons to the Lock Screen.

Some Camera Settings to Consider before Using

Here are some camera settings to consider when using an iPhone camera. This is under Settings. . .Camera. (For whatever reason, Apple has chosen to not put Settings in alphabetical order! You'll find "Camera" in a group of 4 items about 2/3 the way down in "Settings": Music/Photos/Camera/Game Center.)
Selected Camera Settings:

Record Video

First entry: 1080p HD at 30 fps

(This is the default). For videos of high action, 1080p HD at 60 fps (Frames per second) might be better. 4K choices might be a bit of overkill.

Enhanced Stabilization: ON

HDR video: Your Call

Some say that OFF might be better, because not everybody has an HDR display.
 NOTE:You can't toggle HDR on or off for photos.

Lock White Balance: ON

This applies to videos. When OFF, the iPhone tends to change the Color Balance ("Warm", "Neutral", "Cool") as the scene changes while panning, resulting in sudden change in appearance.

I just took the defaults for "Record Slo-mo", and "Record Cinematic").


Camera Capture: High Efficiency

This is considered to be best. Actually, when I look at the iPhone "folders" by ways of a connected Windows PC, they still show as "JPG" files, even though "Most Compatible" was not checked.

Photo Mode: 24 MP

Might as well milk the incredible resolution the iPhome 15 has!

ProRAW and Resolution Control and Apple ProRes": Your call.

These settings, along with a 48MP resolution, are for the pros who want to do a lot of post process edits.

Preserve Settings

Under this category, you can select whether or not to keep certain settings when you close and reopen the Camera app. NOTE: When you change the exposure level (described below), this seems to stay whether or not you have toggled it on of off, in "Preserve Settings"


Your Call

But, this is a new feature. It has a broken horizontal line in the middle of the picture. It lines up and turns yellow when the iPhone is level.

Photographic Styles

You can set these while using the Camera itself. This is described below.

Main Camera

The "Main Camera" is the 1x lens. While using the camera, if you repeatedly press the 1x lens, it will change to 24 mm (1x), 28 mm (1.2x), or 35 mm (1.5x). This setting allows you to decide which of these you what to be available. You can also choose which of these focal lengths to use as the default lens.

Prioritize Faster Shooting


When ON, it can "adapt" image quality when the shutter is rapidly pressed. But apparently this slightly degrades all other pictures.

Macro Control

If on, you can choose to not have the camera go to "Macro" mode when you get close to a subject. This is explained below.

Using the Camera ("Photo" mode)

Shutter button:

Just tapping the button takes a picture, as expected. Note that you can use either of the two left volume buttons on the phone's left side as an alternate shutter button!

Video option: Pressing and holding the shutter button takes a video for as long as you hold it! Release the shutter button to stop. (That is, you don't have to switch to "Video".)

Burst option: Swiping shutter button to left takes a "burst" set of pictures for as long as you hold your finger down. This takes a bit of practice. If you press too long before you start moving to the left, you will just start a video. If you swipe and release too fast, it will just take a very short burst. The key is to press and swipe "fast" but then you can hold your finger down while it is to the left of the shutter, then release when desired.

Lens Selection

The available lenses are shown at the bottom of the viewing screen.
iPhone 15 PRO MAX has 0.5x, 1x, 2x, and 5x lenses

The "SLR camera" equivalent is:
  0.5x: 13mm
  1x: 24mm (can also be 28mm and 35mm - Just tap the "1x" to change)
  2x: 48mm
  5x: 120mm
 You can select any of these lenses for a true "optical" zoom.

Press and hold any of these lens numbers: A semicircle appears above the numbers. Swipe this semicircle to change the zoom factor smoothly from 0.5x upward.
According to an Apple expert, changing between 0.5x to 5x is a true "optical" zoom. 3.5x on the scale is said to be as sharp as any of the discrete numbers like 0,5x, 1x, 2x, or 5x. However going past 5x is said to be a "Digital" zoom. The semicircular scale will allow up to 25x! Digital zoom has always been considered to be inferior to optical zoom.
But Digital zoom ain't what it used to be on prior iPhones! I have some pictures below taken at 10x, and they are remarkably sharp!

Here's a sample of four zoom levels, shown here mainly to give you an idea about the available lenses. Shown here is 1x, 2x, and 5x - the standard zooms available on the iPhone 15 (except for the wide angle 0.5x). The last picture is 10x. As you can see it is just as sharp as the 3 "optical" zooms.
 Do note that these pictures are low resolution - like most internet images - so that the page will load faster. Nonetheless they still look decently sharp. Right below these 4 images is a zoomed in crop of the 10x picture.

zoom zoom
zoom zoom

The (amazing) Zoom Capability of iPhone 15:
The iPhone 15 (Pro MAX) has the new "5x" optical lens. This of course greatly increases the optical zoom, compared to iPhone 13/14 at 3x, and iPhone 12 at 2x.
But it increases the "Digital" zoom as well!
 The first of the two pictures below is a zoomed in crop of the 10x picture above, taken with the iPhone 15. I had the device in a tripod when taking the 4 images above, so I stuck my iPhone 12 in the tripod and took a picture at 10x with it. That's the bottom picture. In the top picture, the braided line is clear, and you can even see cobwebs in the image. In the bottom picture, the braided line is blurred, and you can't see the cobwebs.
 Note that this is at 24MP resolution, not the 48MP resolution that is available for the iPhone 15.
 When I look at "Properties" of these two pictures on my Windows PC, I note that, under "Details", Digital Zoom shows to be 2.28 for the iPhone 15 picture, and 5.58 for the iPhone 12. The meaning of that is the iPhone 15, with its 5x optical lens, only has to zoom about 2 times to get to 10x, whereas the iPhone 12, with its 2x optical lens, has to zoom a bit over 5 times.
 Note that the maximum digital zoom for the iPhone 15 is 25x, and the maximum digital zoom for the the iPhone 12 is 10x. I'm guessing that the maximum digital zoom for these instruments is 5 times the biggest optical lens. I checked this, and indeed the iPhone 12 (2x lens) maximum digital zoom is 10x. And iPhone 13 and 14 (3x lens) have a maximum digital zoom of 15x. And the iPhone 15 (with its 5x lens) is good for 25x.


Using the Camera (cont'd)

Focus Region and Brightness Adjust


While using the camera (both for photos or videos), you will notice that a little yellow rectangle appears briefly. This rectangle is showing you which portion of the image the iPhone has selected to focus on; This will be the focus "distance". If, for example, the selected portion of the image is about 5 feet away, then all objects approximately 5 feet away will be in the sharpest focus. People or objects that are closer or further than this may not necessarily be in as sharp.
 But you can select another area simply by touching it on the screen. The yellow rectangle will re-appear briefly in the newly selected area. For example, if you are trying to photograph a bird in a tree, and the iPhone has perhaps selected some leaves in the foreground, simply touch the bird. The rectangle will appear over the bird, and it will now appear sharper.
 The camera will also use this portion of the image to "meter" the available light. It will try to optimize the brightness based on what's inside this area. So, if this region is darker than the rest of the image, it might over expose the rest of the image in order to make this region look its best.
 Note that you can adjust this: see the next paragraph.

This yellow rectangle also has a brightness/darkness adjust. It's the side with the "sun" in the middle. Simply touch to the right of this line (or above the line if you have the phone turned sideways) and slide your finger up or down to lighten or darken the exposure.
 Notice that the "sun" is now slightly below the center of the rectangle in this screen shot.
This is how you can "stop down"! Stopping down can dramatically improve and add contrast to your images, particularly those taken outdoors. Please see my "Landscape Photography Tips" link on the front page of the Wrackline Blog for several examples of this technique. I think you'll find "stopping down" to be the best trick you will have encountered for improving your landscape photos!


The iPhone "Camera Level" option.
 The yellow line in the above image on the left is the optional "Level". It helps to prevent "Tilted Horizon" photos. The level line turns yellow when the iPhone is level, and at other times it is a broken white line, as shown in the above image on the right. Note: These lines are usually very faint. I have enhanced them in these images.

Stopping Down with the iPhone

not stopped down

 Here are two pictures taken from a flight in October 2018 (with an iPhone 7!)
  This picture on the left was not corrected. The exposure was determined by the iphone itself. The iphone (as well as most SLR cameras), tends to take pictures on the bright side.

 In the picture on the right, I have darkened the image by sliding the "sun" down on the brightness/darkness line. Using the "sliding sun on the yellow rectangle" method does not let you control how much you can "stop down" (darken) like you do with an SLR camera, where you can select "stop down -1/3", or "stop down -2/3" and the like. (But there is a camera option where you CAN adjust the "stopping down" actual value, discussed later under "Quick Access to camera Options" below)
 But the effect is just as dramatic! (And you can do it in "real time" while taking a picture.) This image has much more contrast between the light and dark areas.

stopped down

Why all this business about "Stopping Down"?
 This mainly applies to taking outdoor scenic pictures - although sometimes it helps on certain indoor pictures as well. I discuss all this at great length in my separate article "Photography Made Simple". Just select the "Back" button at the top of this article to go to my Home Page. Then Select Photography Made Simple, under "Photography, Gardening, Home Building, and Miscellaneous".
 Here's an excerpt taken from that article, showing the dramatic improvement you can get by simply stopping down. (Pictures taken with my Canon SLR, with the Canon 15-85mm lens. The location was Cape Lookout, Oregon.)

This picture was taken with no "exposure compensation". i.e., not "stopped down".
ISO 100, AV 7.1, TV 1/100

Not stopped down

This picture was taken "stopped down 2/3". That is, two "notches". Note that this gives you almost the same effect as using a polarizing filter!
Note too that we have taken the opportunity to improve the shot by moving the horizon up, since the sand and grasses were of more interest.
ISO 100, AV 7.1, TV 1/160

Stopped down

"Locking" the Exposure and the Focus


If you touch a given area and perhaps brightened or darkened the image a bit, the iPhone will use these settings as long as you hold it relatively still. But if you move the iPhone around, it will soon select another area - the yellow rectangle will briefly re-appear, and the device will change the focus distance and/or the brightness level.
 You may want this, or you may not!
 If you are taking a picture of a scene outdoors, and you want to darken it a bit to make it more dramatic ("stop down"), you may want the iPhone to keep it that way while you snap various portions of the scene. To do this, touch an area and hold your finger on it for a second or two. The words "AE/AF Lock" will appear on the top of the screen. Now adjust the brightness by sliding the "sun" up or down. The setting will remain even if you move to other areas.
 "AE" = "Automatic Esposure" (brightness and darkness)
 "AF" = "Automatic Focus"
 To cancel AE/AF Lock, touch another area.

 Additional note: If you are taking landscape pictures, where most of the scene is far away, you can quickly adjust the brightness/darkness by merely tapping various portions of the scene. The yellow rectangle will follow.
  If you select the sky or other bright area, the entire image will be darkened. Why is it darkened if you select a bright area, you might ask. It's because the iPhone camera is setting the exposure level as if the entire image is that bright. It's "metering" the light based on what is inside the yellow rectangle.
 Note that the focus distance will change as well, but it won't matter if most of the scene is further than, say, 20 feet away.
  If you select some trees or another darker area, the entire image will be brightened.

Night Mode Icon

The iPhone 15 can take pictures inside a darkroom! Well, OK, maybe not, but it will take excellent pictures in low light. However, when the light gets even lower, the device switches to "Night Mode". At this time, a yellow icon appears on the upper left. It will indicate the number of seconds the shutter will remain on once pressed.
 If you want to override the Night Mode, just touch the yellow icon.
 The iPhone is exceptionally able to maintain the image stabilization even during these longer exposures! You can usually get away with not using a tripod. But the device does remind you to "Hold still" during the exposure - so do your part!
 Note that this is a screenshot taken with the iphone (by pressing the On/Off button and the Volume Up button at the same time). That's why the image looks blurry. The iPhone doesn't use image stabilization during screenshots.


Below, on the left side, is the actual picture taken of the dried flowers shown in the screenshot above. This picture was indeed taken in "night mode" with a 2 second shutter opening, handheld (no tripod). There was no flash used!
 "Big deal", you might say. "That looks like a pretty bright scene."
It's not! Look at the image on the right. That's how dark it was. The room-darkening shade was closed on the single window in the room. No lights were on. The bottle with the dried flowers was placed under my corner desk. You can just barely see it in this image.
 My SLR camera, with the "fastest" lens I have (f2.8), told me it wanted 20 seconds to take that picture. This of course would require a tripod.
 This remarkable capability is due in part to the main lens being f1.78. That's a "fast" lens! Also, the device uses Lidar scanning to establish a very fast focus time.

night night

Using "Live Photo" to Achieve a Long Exposure Blur

You have probably seen photos of waterfalls, creeks, or waves that have been taken with a long exposure time. The gentle blurring effect is quite pleasing. To achieve this effect with an SLR camera, you would have to set it up with a tripod and hold the shutter down for a few seconds.
 You can get this same effect by simply taking a "Live Photo" on the iPhone. (A "Live" photo is actually a 3 second miniature movie)

The steps:

Take a Live Photo of a scene with motion.

Then open up the Live Photo in your Photos album.

Touch "Live" on the image. You will see 5 choices.

Select "Long Exposure". The device will combine all the individual images in the Live Photo sequence.


Here is one of the still pictures that were in the 3 second "Live photo movie".

And here is the result of selecting "Long Exposure" on the Live Photo.

live live

The Macro Feature


When you are composing a picture, you may have noticed a little yellow flower on the lower left when you get closer to the subject. This is iPhone Macro Mode. The device has switched to the 0.5 lens, which doubles as its Macro lens.
 You will notice that the scene shifts slightly when the iPhone makes this switch to the Macro Mode. If you want to stop this switching, tap the yellow flower.

Quick Access Camera Options

After one of the most recent iOS releases, I whined that it required extra steps to toggle the flash "on" (from "auto"). Prior to the new release, I could simply tap the Flash Icon (lightning bolt on upper left). After the update, I had to tap the Up Arrow, and then the Flash Options icon appeared below the photo subject area. Only then could I toggle the flash behavior, by tapping the Flash Icon.
 However, in doing all this research on the iPhone camera, I discovered:

There's a LOT of other options that become available when you tap the Up Arrow!

You can simply swipe up (rather than tap the Up Arrow) to access the Camera Options below the picture.


While composing a picture, you can tap the Up Arrow on the top, or simply swipe up to access the Quick Camera Options.
 When you are finished setting the option, you can leave the options showing, or swipe down to dismiss them. (So in both cases, you are swiping in the direction of the arrows.)

Here's what they look like after swiping up. There are seven sets of options:

Flash on/off/auto

Night duration (only displays during low light)

Live on/off/auto

Camera Customization (Standard, High Contrast, etc). iPhone 13 or newer only.

Aspect Ratio

Exposure +/-

Filters (Swipe the line of options left to see the Filters icon)


A note on these Options:
 All of these options appear to stay, even if you close the camera and close the phone, using the right side button. There is a "Preserve Settings" section under Settings. . . Camera. I assume that they were intended to make one or more of the options "stay" every time you use the camera. But it appears that the options persist anyway. Each of the options leaves an icon at either the top left or the top right of the screen, while using the camera, to remind you that they have been customized.

Flash: The Flash lightning bolt turns yellow if you set Flash to ON.

Night Mode: If you turn it off, its icon does not show (e.g.: "2s", "3s"), but the Flash lightning bolt may show yellow in low light.

Live Photo: The circle on the right will show to be crossed out if it is OFF.

Camera Customization: The icon shows on the upper right if you have selected something other than"Standard"

Exposure +/-: The icon shows the choice on the upper left, as a line with a number above it, such as "-0.3" or "+0.3"

Filters: If you have selected a filter, the 3 circle filter icon shows on the upper right.

 You can turn the flash on in situations where you might want a bit of "flash fill", even though the scene might be too light for the flash to go off in "Auto" mode.

 Turn "Live Photo" off, to stop the device from automatically taking Live photos when it detects motion during the photo. Live photos are mini-movies of about 3 seconds each, and take up more storage than stills.

 The "customize" button will allow you to add some custom effects to your photos. I have examples of each customization choice further down.

options options options

Night Mode Slider
 With the slider in the center, the duration of the shutter exposure is determined by the amount of light.

Slider all the way to the right results in the maximum exposure time.

OFF disables Night Mode. The flash will likely be used, it it is set to "Auto".

options options options

Exposure Slider
 This allows you to have more control on how much darker or lighter you want the exposure to be.
 In the above description of "Stopping Down", you use the yellow rectangle slider to darken or lighten the image. It is quick, and immediately available while you are composing shots. But you can't control the consistency of it. The Exposure Slider allows you to take several pictures with the same amount of exposure control.

Here we have darkened the exposure. We have "stopped down".

A setting of -0.3 is the same as "Stopped down -1/3" on an SLR. This brings out the contrast on bright landscapes.

A setting of -0.7 is the same as "Stopped down -2/3" on an SLR. This adds even more contrast - good for very bright days.

And yes, darkening this image did NOT necessarily improve this shot! (I was just showing the darkening effect.)

While the Quick Access Camera Controls are showing, you can see the amount of exposure adjustment on the slider. But if you dismiss the Controls, the iPhone displays the exposure change on the upper left of the image. This way, you won't forget to reset the exposure and suddenly begin to take a bunch of dark pictures later on.

options options options

Camera Customization

NOTE: These are low resolution and reduced in size. The differences between these choices are MUCH more pronounced at full resolution.


Rich Contrast


custom custom custom

Camera Customization (cont'd)


custom custom

Camera Filters


Vivid Warm

filters filters filters

Camera Filters (cont'd)
 Vivid Cool


Dramatic Warm

filters filters filters

Camera Filters (cont'd)
 Dramatic Cool



filters filters filters

Camera Filters (cont'd)

Difference between Camera Customization and Camera Filters

The Camera Customization choices ("Standard", "Rich Contrast", etc) change the way the picture is actually taken. The customization cannot be undone if you attempt to edit the picture later (although of course you can partially change the effect, perhaps by lightening or darkening the image.)

The Filter choices ("Original", "Vivid", etc) can actually be removed when you select the photo after it has been taken. You simply select "Edit", go the Filters section, and change the picture to "Original". As a matter of fact, the Filters are all available when you select any photo and select "Edit". You can add or remove any of the filters at any time.


For "Camera Customization":
The customization choice named "Rich Contrast" does a great job in improving a photo by improving the contrast. I would note, however, that Stopping Down also does a fine job as well.
 Here's a sample of "Rich Contrast" (on the left) and "Exposure level stopped down 0.7" on the right. (This is the same as stopping down -2/3 on an SLR camera.

zoom zoom

Another Example of the Incredible iPhone 15 10x Zoom

Here is a shot of the "Three Capes Rocks" seen from the other side of Netarts Bay here on the Oregon Coast. It was taken at 2x.


And here are the same rocks taken at 10x. Handheld. No tripod!


Your iPhone Needs an Appropriate Case!

We all know that an unadorned iPhone is incredibly slick; holding one is much like trying to hold an oiled ice cube! So I typically buy some sort of case that I can GRIP.
 My personal favorite is Urban Armor Gear, in particular their "Monarch Series" Ruggedized cases. The image shows these cases on my iPhone 6, iPhone 7, iPhone 12 Pro, and the iPhone 15 Pro Max.

The iPhone 6 is red, and the iPhone 7 is Silver. The iPhone 12 case is "Mallard" color, and the iPhone 15 case sports their new color - "Kelvar Element Green".

The backside has leather accents underneath metal trim, and the sides are rubber, while the four corners (along with the multilayer construction) provide excellent protection against drops.

What I like also is that the extensions for the volume buttons and the sleep/wake button are very responsive; you feel like you are pressing the actual button itself.

These cases makes the iPhone a substantial, easy-to-grip device that won't be as likely to be blown out of your hands by the shrieking Pacific winds while you are trying to shoot a video of the wave action! (And it looks cool, too).


Ordering links

(As always, the Wracklineblog is completely ad-free!
But if you purchase through the Amazon links on this site, this helps support me, with no increase in price to you.) Note that, although these three items are not "Prime", they do still have free Prime delivery.

And here's the Urban Armor Gear iPhone case. I have used these cases since iPhone 7.
 This is one for iPhone 14 PRO, in "Monarch" style, and "Carbon Fiber" color (other colors available)

And here's the Urban Armor Gear iPhone case for iPhone 15 PRO MAX.
 It is also Monarch style, Carbon Fiber color. But do check out their new "Kelvar Element Green"!

Case Case

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