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iPhone 13 Pro live test, How to shoot in Macro Mode (hint: It Just Works…)

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Above: Photo / Apple

”It Just Works” is the basic how-to for the new Macro-Mode on iPhone 13 Pro

Steve Jobs was famous for repeatedly using this line to describe in product demos how something was so intuitive that no user manual would ever be needed. While this phrase has also often been used to try to help Apple accountable when something doesn’t “just work” it is a core design principal and an important part of the legacy of Steve Jobs, up until the current day.

The new iPhone 13 Pro (we are using an iPhone 13 Pro Max for photos and testing) has so many new features that it can be overwhelming to try and absorb, at first. Fortunately this one is almost completely intuitive to learn to use, if not obvious.

A short history of what the heck macro photography is

I will never forget when I was first taught about macro lenses and learned how to shoot extreme close ups. I was working with a professional camera operator (as a music video director) and I wanted to do a close up that would be so close as to be considered a macro shot.

Novice that I was at the time, I assumed that you could just keep pushing the camera closer and closer and focus on the tiny area desired, with no further ado. When my operator told me we would need a special “macro” lens adaptor (that we had not ordered as part of our kit), I felt a bit foolish and knew I would need to bone up on the macro ins-and-outs for the future shoots.

For traditional photography and film shooting there are macro lenses and adaptors that can enable super-close-up shots. These can be simple and relatively cheap or more elaborate and expensive for traditional film cameras and digital DSLRs. There have also always been lens attachments that can be used with an iPhone to get some macro capabilities.

Now, with the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max you have a built-in software enhanced macro capability that “just works”. Currently this feature is not supported on the iPhone 13 (regular) or mini.

Above: Photo / Lynxotic

Real world test shows some extreme possibilities that beg for more

As with many of the new camera features in iOS15, when using an iPhone 13 Pro, the macro mode is built-in and needs only be triggered by your behavior.

To shoot your first macro photo follow these steps:

  1. Open the camera app and choose either photo or video (not cinematic or portrait
  2. Move the phone closer to the object that you want to shoot a macro photo of. When you get close enough you should see a “jump-cut” indicating that you have automatically switched to macro mode due to the untra-close object in frame have been detected by the software. The macro range appears to be 14cm to 6cm according to specs.
  3. Move camera into position (you might be almost touching the object if you want an ultra-macro-look) so that the object is in focus and shoot.

Above: Photo / Lynxotic

Above: Photo / Lynxotic

Some considerations: With large professional macro lenses, which are “slow”, extra light would be required to get the proper exposure. This is less true with the “computational photography” hybrid on the iPhone 13 Pro, but light conditions, as always, will impact the photo quality, a lot.

In particular, with a huge phone so close to the subject of the photo it is sometimes difficult to avoid shadows cast on the object being shot by the phone itself. It is also a somewhat surreal feeling, at first, to be shooting an object that you are almost touching with the lens.

Our live real world experiments (shown in the various photos above and below) are using every possible combination of lens and the automated software to see just how extreme the results can be. In a word, the answer is; very.

The future of computational and software manipulated imagery production using iPhone and iOS

Anyone who had initially learned about photo techniques based on the “real world” environment of glass, steel and celluloid will no doubt at times feel confusion, anxiety or even a sense of loss when confronted with software, AI and machine learning based computational photography.

And, yes, purists have commented and complained about the various trade-offs when images are produced with software manipulation during the shooting process.

But, as results here show, most of us will feel a sense of exhilaration at the visual and artistic potentials that are becoming possible – all using a device that is, pretty much always, “in your pocket”.

While a multi-thousand dollar high end professional lens, using optical grade, painstakingly engineered glass (usually from Germany), can be used to produce world class image quality, now and in 100 years, the benefits of computational hybrid photography techniques are already going in a whole new direction.

An important, and nearly infinite, benefit is that these enhancements are being improved, both through human based code improvements, and even more so, by machine learning and AI on a continual basis.

As we’ve discussed in previous articles, the fact that these improvements are inevitable and will potentially even accelerate, “while you sleep” is a mind-blowing concept that spills into all aspects of future potential for iPhone photo techniques.

The trade off is large, if you want to turn off these “artificial” enhancements, you will have to wait for macro mode (or use current work arounds) and then switch off night-mode and personalized filters and other beautifying add-ons in order to get a more “natural” or realistic look.

Apple, meanwhile, is 100% all-in with the idea of making iPhone photography intuitive and as beautiful as possible, even if, in some cases the “beauty” is enhanced beyond reality (!).

The photos and degree of magnification possible with macro mode on an iPhone 13 Pro, as seen in these rough test photos, is almost surreal. So much so that it’s easy to imagine that, not long in the future, a medical grade microscope could be possible. One that “just works”, of course, and usable by anyone, anywhere and all on a device that’s already in your pocket.

Pro 12MP camera system: Telephoto, Wide, and Ultra Wide cameras

  • Telephoto: ƒ/2.8 aperture
  • Wide: ƒ/1.5 aperture
  • Ultra Wide: ƒ/1.8 aperture and 120° field of view
  • 3x optical zoom in, 2x optical zoom out; 6x optical zoom range
  • Digital zoom up to 15x
  • Night mode portraits enabled by LiDAR Scanner
  • Portrait mode with advanced bokeh and Depth Control
  • Portrait Lighting with six effects (Natural, Studio, Contour, Stage, Stage Mono, High‑Key Mono)
  • Dual optical image stabilization (Telephoto and Wide)
  • Sensor‑shift optical image stabilization (Wide)
  • Six‑element lens (Telephoto and Ultra Wide); seven‑element lens (Wide)
  • True Tone flash with Slow Sync
  • Panorama (up to 63MP)
  • Sapphire crystal lens cover
  • 100% Focus Pixels (Wide)
  • Night mode
  • Deep Fusion
  • Smart HDR 4
  • Photographic Styles
  • Macro photography
  • Apple ProRAW
  • Wide color capture for photos and Live Photos
  • Lens correction (Ultra Wide)
  • Advanced red‑eye correction
  • Photo geotagging
  • Auto image stabilization
  • Burst mode
  • Image formats captured: HEIF and JPEG

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