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Mastering the iPhone 15 Pro camera: Here's what Apple's marketing terms actually mean

The iPhone 15 Pro is packed with high-end camera features aimed at professional photographers and videographers. Here's the breakdown of what's new.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor
The cameras that Apple have used in the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max are packed with advanced features.
Jason Hiner/ZDNET

Apple put a lot of its focus on the professional camera features in the new iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max during this week's launch event.

In fact, Apple dropped so many concepts, terms, and acronyms in such a short space of time that it might have left your head spinning. 

Also: Everything Apple just announced: iPhone 15, Apple Watch Ultra 2, AirPods

Fear not, as now we have time to breathe, we can go back over these features and explain their significance.

Let's start with the information dump in this one slide:

Let's begin by deciphering the camera jargon in this one slide!

Focal length is a shorthand for explaining how wide an image the camera lens will capture. The smaller the number, the wider the capture. 

Technically here, the lens isn't a 24 millimeter lens, but a 24 millimeter-equivalent lens, but we will overlook that.

2.44 µm (micron) is the size of the pixels capturing the light in the sensor, and quad-pixel refers to how four pixels are grouped to act as a larger 2.44 micron pixel. 

Also: Every iPhone 15 model compared: The key differences you should know

Each 2×2 grouping of pixels is assigned a single color, and four of these pixel bundles are then grouped together in two green bundles and one blue and red bundle. Green gets more pixels because the human eye is the most sensitive to that color.

100% focus pixels means all the pixels are used for the purposes of focusing the image. In the past, only some of the pixels were used, but using all the pixels is now common in high-end sensors.

Aperture refers to how much light is let onto the sensor by the lens, and is measured in f-stop numbers. The lower this number, the more light the lens lets in.

OIS stands for Optical Image Stabilization, which is a technique where the lens or sensor is shifted in order to compensate for the movement of the camera while the shot is being taken.

Other terms dropped during the event were RAW and ProRAW.  

RAW can be thought of as a digital negative (remember film negatives?), which is a file format that saves the raw data captured by the sensor without processing it or converting it into a file, such as a JPG. RAW files are bigger and contain more detail, but require editing before being printed or posted on social media. 

ProRAW is an Apple file format that uses the industry standard digital negative (DNG) file format to allow the file to be edited in high-end editing tools, such as Adobe Lightroom. 

Also: What is ProRes and why does Apple keep mentioning it?

Another heavily used term was optical zoom, which is a technique where the image is magnified by the lens itself, as opposed to digital zoom, which merely crops in on the image, and as a result loses detail.  

There's also HDR, which stands for High Dynamic Range photography. This is a technique that combines several images into a single image to get more detail in the highlights (bright areas) and shadows (dark areas). 

Macro photography is where you get in close to the subject -- such as flowers or insects -- to take close-up shots.

Also: A17 Pro deep dive: A look at Apple's new iPhone 15 Pro chip

Now, let's move onto video -- and the first thing I need to explain is ProRes

Apple talks a lot about ProRes because it's a video codec (short for encoder/decoder, or sometimes compressor/decompressor) developed by Apple. ProRes, which dates back to 2007, is special because, while it compresses the video -- and this compression will invariably result in the loss of some image detail (this is often referred to as "lossy") -- this lost image detail is not visually noticeable.

To put that another way, ProRes is a visually lossless, lossy video compression format.

The downside of ProRes is that file sizes are huge, but it does make editing much easier and better.

To mitigate the huge storage needs that ProRes puts on videographers, the iPhone 15 Pro supports recording to external drives -- such as the Samsung T7 SSD -- which means that you're not limited to the storage space you have available on the iPhone. 

Two other bits of jargon sprinkled into the coverage of the camera were Log encoding and LUTs

Log encoding is a profile that records video with a flat, muted color profile to capture and maintain more details in highlights and shadows. The iPhone 15 Pro is the first smartphone to support ACES, the Academy Color Encoding System.

Also: iPhone 15 Pro vs. iPhone 14 Pro: Which model is best to buy?

The downside is that this format needs to be edited before use, and one of the editing steps it to apply a LUT, or Look Up Table, which is a file that contains information to remap and transform the flat footage into video that has color and contrast, which can then be further edited to match whatever style is desired.

Editing video that's formatted in Log -- and working with LUTs -- requires professional tools, such as Adobe Premier Pro.

I hope this rundown helps those of you who were confused by some of the terminology used, and perhaps it's even encouraged you to be a little more creative -- or technical -- in your photography or videography.

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