iPhone 15 Pro Max: Potential problems and concerns

So we had the big Apple event last Tuesday, with a new flagship, the iPhone 15 Pro Max. In theory, a direct replacement for my iPhone 14 Pro Max. And, while I'd never recommend upgrading any phone every year since improvements are so small, there are several things to be concerned about in this year's iteration. (We cover the other new iPhones, plus other changes, in the PSC podcast, etc.)


Meh, I guess lighter is nicer, but it’s also just a thin shell, with an aluminium sub-shell fused to it. Plus, titanium may be light and strong but it also scratches much more easily than stainless steel (used in the 14 Pro series), so Apple is also coating most 15 Pro Maxes with a ​​PVD (Physical Vapour Deposition) coating - which will also scratch easily, as it did on some MacBooks in the past. (If you have to go titanium, then get the plain one without the coating.)

So... I'm not sure that going to titanium is a step forwards overall. Mind you, real users use cases on their phones, so maybe the exterior metal finish is irrelevant?

Long press Action button

Replacing the traditional mute switch, this is configurable. But only in that you can assign a function other than silencing the phone. It's tempting to assign it to Camera or similar, but you can only pick one function, and if something other than mute then you have no way of silencing the phone without looking. Plus the old switch was instant and you could check its status in the pocket with a finger. Now it takes a second to do the long press and you can only find its status, sight unseen, by activating it and looking on the display. For many people this won't be a step forwards.

Introducing a zoom gap

The telephoto in the iPhone 15 Pro Max is now 5x rather than 3x, thanks to a tetra-prism system and 3-axis sensor shift stabilisation. Which sounds 'better', and will be for snapping birds at the end of the garden. But I'm pretty sure there will be a zoom gap, so 3x and 4x zoom shots will be all digital, and thus significantly worse than on the previous 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max. I've ranted about this before, but 99% of shots you take in real life will be zoomed less than 5x. Look back in your own photo library. For me, it's 75% 1x, 20% 2x (easy on the 48MP iPhones, of course, with lossless 2x smart crops), and then 5% zoomed shots, typically 3x but occasionally digitally zoomed further, to 4x, for more pleasing framing.

Unless Apple pulls a software rabbit out of its hat (Google Pixel 7 Pro-style, fusing sensor results), 3x zoomed photos will be significantly less precise on the 15 Pro Max than on the older 14 Pro Max, if you look closely, and 4x photos dramatically worse (crop in or look at 1:1 and you should see artefacts of interpolation, a.k.a. making pixels up). 

(The standard 15 Pro stays with the 3x telephoto, which is a good call, I contend.)

Portrait (dis)proportions

Portrait photos will now be purely based on the main ('wide') camera, instead of using the telephoto, as on previous 'pro' iPhones. Longer focal lengths are better for portraits because they let you shoot a close-up photo of the subject despite standing several few feet away, yielding more realistic proportions than when using a 'wide' lens.

(yours truly snapped by my wife on the venerable iPhone 11 Pro in Portrait mode a couple of years ago)

I've had insanely good portrait results with the optical 2x, 2.5x and 3x telephotos lenses on the 11 Pro, 12 Pro Max and now 14 Pro Max iPhones, in turn, and it seems that the 15 Pro Max throws this capability out the window.


It's true that I said, back in 2022, that I wasn't going to upgrade to the iPhone 14 Pro Max because it wasn't enough of an upgrade over my 12 Pro Max, but I had the opportunity to snap one up second hand for a relatively small price 'delta' so I ended up with it anyway.

But this won't happen for the 15 Pro Max because in this case there are genuine functionality losses and concerns. Sorry, Apple. I think I'm waiting for the iPhone 16 Pro Max with four cameras: ultra-wide, 1x, 3x, and 6x. You heard it here first, and damn the cost!


Robin Ottawa said…
Yes, most people won't care about the zoom gap, but they're not your peeps! I use my 3x zoom p30 pro and am often happy that I don't have to go to 5x to get the best resolution - it would be too tightly framed.

Although I can get usable shots at 50x (ie meaning good enough to identify the bird or other animal), I am always aware that zoom gaps provide less resolution.


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