iPhone 15 Pro Max: New camera to end unrealistic photography on iPhone, leaving Samsung in the dust?

By now you’ve probably come across at least one news story about the rumored periscope zoom camera that Apple’s (supposedly) getting ready for the new iPhone. After debuting on Android in 2019 via the Huawei P30 Pro, the modern version of a periscope zoom lens is now expected to finally make it to the iPhone 15 Pro Max, and possibly the smaller iPhone 15 Pro too.While we don’t know exactly how much more capable than the 3x zoom lens on the iPhone 14 Pro the new periscope shooter will be, there seems to be a surprising or even “shocking” (by Apple standards) development related to the primary, more important camera on iPhone 15 Pro Max (and iPhone 15 Pro, we’d hope).

Believe it or not (and I certainly find it hard to believe), reputable tipster Ice Universe is now telling us that iPhone 15 Pro Max will use a sensor with “specifications… close to 1-inch – that’s for sure!”. Ice is a smartphone camera fanatic who does his research, which might give this surprising leak of information some added credibility.

Still, there are a few unturned stones around the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s “close to 1-inch” camera, which I can (at least) try to shuffle around if not turn. Apparently, we’re talking about an unreleased Sony sensor that was once supposed to bless Sony’s own Xperia Pro-II – a phone that was never released.

And apparently, this sensor is about 2x more expensive than the 50MP IMX989 in the Xiaomi 13 Ultra, which is a “full” 1-inch type sensor. And apparently (as per an older report) Apple might finally address some of the biggest problems with the iPhone’s questionable image processing.

And apparently I’ll try to make sense of all the random information to give you an idea of what might be coming to iPhone 15 Pro Max or/and iPhone 16 Ultra. If the rumors are true.

Close to 1-inch primary camera (possibly) coming to iPhone 15 Pro Max: Apple finally willing to fight Android on a hardware level?

We first heard about the Sony IMX903 image sensor all the way back in September of 2022, and not in relation to any iPhone but to the unreleased “Sony Xperia Pro-II”, which is still… unreleased. Back then, the 2022 Weibo leak mentioned a “1-inch IMX 903” sensor, which is now the exact camera tipped to come to iPhone 15 Pro Max.

So, where does the whole “close to 1-inch versus 1-inch” thing come from? Well, that likely has to do with Sony, which was the first company to develop a 1-inch type sensor for a modern phone, and the second (after Sharp) to use it in a phone that you can buy – the Sony Xperia Pro-I. The thing is that this very phone made news for having a modified version of the 20MP 1-inch sensor found in the Sony RX100 VII compact camera, making use of just about 90% of the actual sensor area.This might explain why Ice Universe claims iPhone 15 Pro Max has “close” to 1-inch primary camera sensor, or 1/1.14 if we must be concrete. If true (mind the “if”), this means Apple will use (you guessed it…) about 90% of the sensor area, identical to what Sony did with Xperia Pro-I. Of course, not utilizing the full power of anything doesn’t sound very Apple, which is why I’d remain cautiously optimistic here.

As of now, there are a few possible outcomes to this whole iPhone 15 Pro Max primary camera situation:

  • Apple will indeed use about 90% of a 1-inch sensor, namely the IMX 903, making the primary camera on iPhone 15 Pro Max 1/1.14-inch big, which would indicate that the “full 1-inch sensor” might be utilized in the rumored iPhone 16 Ultra next year, giving Apple time to optimze the sensor for maximum performance but also set the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro Max apart (the former is now expected to get the same 48MP camera as iPhone 14 Pro)

  • The rumors are false, and Apple will keep it conservative, giving iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max the same 1/1.28 48MP sensor from iPhone 14 Pro

  • The “near 1-inch” IMX 903 camera is indeed coming to iPhone but to next year’s iPhone 16 (Ultra) – quite nicely fitting for the first “Ultra” iPhone (if this one’s a thing)

1-inch camera sensors are now becoming the norm on premium Android flagships but that’s not the (only) thing Apple needs to fix the iPhone camera

Clearly, large image sensors and particularly the 1-inch IMX 989 (co-developed by Sony and Xiaomi) are all the rage in the world of Android right now. The latest premium flagships from Xiaomi, Oppo, and Vivo all utilize the same 1-inch camera, while others like the Honor Magic 5 Pro are pretty close at 1/1.12 inches.

In fact, even Google is now expected to join the big image sensor club with the 1/1.12-inch Samsung GN2 – although pretty large in surface area, this is the same camera used in the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra from 2021. If it all pans out, the Pixel 8 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max might end up using almost identically large primary camera sensors – one made by Samsung and the other one by Sony.

Apple’s primary camera sensors size has been growing steadily; a 1-inch sensor is the logical move for 2023/2024

  • iPhone 15 Pro: 48MP, IMX903, 1/1.14-inch (exclusive to iPhone 15 Pro Max?)
  • iPhone 14 Pro: 48MP, IMX803, 1/1.28-inch
  • iPhone 13 Pro: 12MP, IMX703, 1/1.63-inch
  • iPhone 12 Pro: 12MP, IMX603, 1/1.78-inch
  • iPhone 11 Pro: 12MP, IMX503, 1/2.55-inch

As you can see, contrary to the general belief and Cupertino’s “slow innovation” strategy, Apple’s also no stranger to frequent upgrades to the primary image sensors on Pro iPhones. Compared to iPhone 11 Pro, the primary camera used in iPhone 14 Pro comes with a far larger sensor.

But is this “near 1-inch camera sensor” that’s supposedly coming to iPhone 15 Pro Max going to change Apple’s approach to photography forever or turn out to be just a regular hardware upgrade?

Luckily, a rumor/leak from a few months back claims that the new Sony sensor(s) on iPhone 15 Pro should help Apple’s flagship achieve better image processing and HDR, which (to me) is a much more needed upgrade.

As someone who looks at countless camera samples and comparisons (all the time), I can safely say that the current state of the iPhone’s image processing (photo and video) is in dire need of improvement that brings it up to date with the likes of the Xiaomi 13 Ultra, which now takes photos and videos that resemble these of a “real camera”.

With or without a 1-inch sensor, the iPhone 15 Pro Max camera will need major changes to compete with the best of the best (Xiaomi 13 Ultra)

Once again, Apple’s next primary camera is going to be custom developed by Sony (for Apple) and remain exclusive to the new iPhone. What’s interesting is that if the rumors pan out, the iPhone 15 Pro Max would leave the Galaxy S23 Ultra (1/1.3) farther behind when it comes to primary camera sensor size, which is unusual. What’s even more unusual is that the supposed 1/1.14 primary camera sensor that’s supposedly coming to the new iPhone would be only about 10% smaller than the IMX 989 used in the Xiaomi 13 Ultra (probably the best camera phone right now).

Of course we shouldn’t forget that the other major camera upgrade that’s supposedly coming to iPhone 15 Pro/Max is a zoom camera with a longer optical range. Current rumors are pointing towards a 5-6x optical zoom lens, and if this and the whole “near 1-inch camera sensor” thing pan out, then iPhone 15 Pro/Max would be one of Apple’s biggest camera upgrades in recent history.

Of course, I won’t get tired of repeating (although I sort of am) that the weaknesses of Apple’s cameras don’t quite boil down to “poor hardware” but rather dated image processing, which caters to photography and videography that looks good only on your Instagram feed but quickly falls apart when compared to a true camera phone.

So, whether we’re getting a 1-inch of “close to 1-inch” camera and advanced optical zoom on iPhone 15 Pro/Max, Apple needs to try harder to challenge the likes of the Galaxy S23 Ultra and Xiaomi 13 Pro. Let alone win.