Why iPhone Ships With Ultra Wide Lens

When Apple unveiled the iPhone 11, it introduce a new lens, the ultra wide lens which is the first for its kind. Why Apple did not slap a telephoto lens? Find out why. Posted by erwinkarim on 11:55 AM, February 2, 2021 Last updated on 3:50 PM, February 2, 2021 Filed in: ultrawide, iphone,

Making ultra wide is a higher technical hurdle than making telephotos lens and artistically, it gets better photos than telephone lens. It is more apparent on small sensor cameras like phone cameras than on full size camera like DSLRs.

Technical challenges

iphone 12 ultra wide lens exploded view
iPhone 12 7-element ultra wide lens.

First, the technical challenges. One would think that if you slap a few lens and you’ll get an ultra wide right? Wrong! The problem with ultra wide lens or any lens construction is making a sharp, color consistent picture and it’s get harder the wider you go. You going to have issues like distortion, color fringing, chromatic aberration, focus breathing and many more.

picture discussing chromatic aberration
Example of chromatic aberration. Issues when trying to bend light into a single point. Different wavelengths of light (represents different colors) bends at different angles. The bigger the bend (pulling light from a wide angle), the bigger this issue will be.

This video by Potato Jet is discussing why cine lenses are far far more expensive than photography lens. It is relevant in our discussion because that phone lens is not only going to take pictures, but also videos which complicate lens design.

So you have to make an ultra wide lens that is sharp edge to edge, does not shift colors especially at the edges, and when you focus, the picture stays the same. That’s is a tall order, and you have to fit in a space that’s around your thumbnail and cost less than $50. The ultra wide lens is measured to be 13-mm equivalent in a 35mm camera, but according to some sites, it is measured as 14mm. Making a 13mm lens is equivalent of putting a man on the moon. Nikon did it once in the 1970s and the feat is never repeated because it is that difficult to make an ultrawide lens.

nikon 13mm f/5.6 lens
Nikon holy grail 13mm lens. It is consider a holy grail lens and Apple miniaturize it to be in an iPhone. Imaging having this kind of power in your pocket.

Artistically better

Ultra wide lens provide a far more interesting picture than a telephoto lens. And it is also harder to take. The point of ultra wide lens is not to get everything in, but to get closer to your subject. Most use of telephoto lens is to get close up or portraiture shots. In ultra wide, you can have exaggerated photos that will make it more interesting. Here some of samples:-

All of the photos are billboard shots since Apple does not provide any on the web

Ken Rockwell has an excellent article on how to use an ultra wide lens. It’s all about artistically distorting the image, keeping the lines interesting and ensure that the image “grabs” you.


For me, putting an ultra wide is a bigger deal than another telephoto. It is harder to make than a telephoto lens and artistically, makes a better picture.


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