Is the iPhone 7 Plus dual-camera system worth getting the larger iPhone?

By , Sep 8, 2016

iPhone 7 plus camera lenses

In previous years, the slight camera upgrade in the Plus model, never was a strong enough differentiator for me to upgrade the size of my iPhone. After all, 4.7 inch is the right size for me. Anything bigger and I’d need a man purse to carry it around.

Rumors leading up to the unveiling of the new iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus made it sound like the dual camera module on the larger device was going to be a big deal. For many, including yours truly, doubt started settling in. But after watching the event and going though Apple’s website, I’m not sure the iPhone 7 Plus dual-lens camera system is actually worth it. Explanation:

Getting things out of the way

Before I explain my reasoning here, I must say that if you’re looking for a larger iPhone, of course the iPhone 7 Plus is still better for you than the iPhone 7. Likewise, if you don’t really care about the size difference between both models and want the best possible iPhone you can get, then again, the iPhone 7 Plus is a no brainer.

Doubt arises if like me you prefer the smaller-size iPhone. I do want the best iPhone I can get, but not if it’s going to get in the way of my daily routine (ie. walking around town wearing shorts).

The differences between the two camera systems

Looking at the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus tech specs really tells all about the differences between both devices in terms of cameras.

iPhone 7

  • 12MP camera
  • ƒ/1.8 aperture
  • Digital zoom up to 5x

iPhone 7 Plus

  • 12MP wide-angle and telephoto cameras
  • Wide-angle: ƒ/1.8 aperture
  • Telephoto: ƒ/2.8 aperture
  • Optical zoom at 2x; digital zoom up to 10x

That 12MP wide-angle camera on the iPhone 7 Plus is actually the same as the one on the iPhone 7, per Apple’s website, and Phil Schiller himself who said so on stage. It’s also the same aperture.

The only hardware difference then remains in the telephoto lens, which allows for a 2x optical zoom, and up to 10x digital zoom. In contrast, the iPhone 7 can only to a digital zoom at 5x.

Coming “later this year” as a software update is the iPhone 7 Plus new Portrait mode in the Camera app, which allows you to create depth of field in your photos. It’s important to note that this depth-of-field effect, also known as bokeh, is software-based, rather than created by the camera’s optics as it is on a DSLR. Not a big deal in the end, but still worth mentioning in my opinion.

Summing up, here is all the iPhone 7 Plus can do that the iPhone 7 can’t:

  • Optical zoom at 2x (no optical zoom on iPhone 7)
  • Digital zoom at 10x (only 5x digital zoom on iPhone 7)
  • Software-generated depth of field (not available at all on iPhone 7)

Is a better zoom and depth of field worth the bigger iPhone?

And that is the main question you should ask yourself if you’re on the fence about getting the iPhone 7 Plus for its better camera system.

Is better and sharper zooming capability a big deal to you? Is the depth-of-field effect, which let me remind you will come “later this year” as a software update, worth the extra money and the extra bulk in your pocket?

Of course I would love to have those two features on my iPhone, especially the new Portrait mode and its beautiful software-enhanced depth of field. But just like Optical Image Stabilization in the iPhone 6 Plus wasn’t enough to make me get a bigger iPhone at the time, these two features won’t be either. Instead, I will be patient and hope that next year’s iPhone, or maybe the one after that will bring these features to the smaller model.

In the meanwhile, I’ll avoid zooming in on photos and will continue using this awesome app to create fake depth of field in my photos when I’m going for this effect.

What about you? What will you do?

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  • n0ahcruz3

    Absolutely.. Lol

  • Omar D. Plumey

    So it is possible that older phones like the 6s can get this software update to allow Portrait mode?

    • Xee

      No. As it needs 2 lenses and the software to create the 3D map. Only the iPhone 7 Plus can do it.

    • Mr.Coolfreak

      no, only 7 plus will get this update

  • Virus

    Does the 7 Plus have 3GB of RAM while 7 only has 2?

    • Mike M. Powell


    • Xee

      Not confirmed yet.

    • triggerhappypunk

      geekbench reports that the 7 also has 3GB of RAM.

      • Mr.Coolfreak


  • Mike M. Powell

    tbh for me yes, i hated the plus models cuz its so weird holding, ive gotten used to the 6 size. idk maybe i’ll grow on it. but the camera is the biggest thing that caught my eye. I didnt care bout it until they previewed the exclusive feature for it coming later as an upgrade. Only cuz i’ve gotten into photography with my friends as a side hobby, and i wanna catch up xD

    • hushera

      I hear ya man, but don’t let such software trick fool you. In my opinion nothing can replace an optical lens effects. I would ask your friends to know the difference between digital zoom and optical zoom. Wish you the best 🙂

      • Mike M. Powell

        Right doe n Thanks man 🙂

  • Xee

    If you prefer a big screen then definitely yes!

    • Abhijeet Gupta

      Better battery life on bigger models as well

      • Rowan09

        Exactly and that to me is the biggest reason. According to the numbers though they seem pretty close in battery performance this time around.

      • Abhijeet Gupta

        I would still go for the plus <3

  • AlphaPoppy

    Honestly the Plus is the best value for your buck. Larger (much better) battery, better camera, better screen quality

  • They left a lot on the table for this camera.. I’m thinking there’s some more features no yet ready to be unveiled till 10.1 and beyond.. This camera should be able to do 3D images on top of the zoom feature.

    • That’s actually highly unlikely. To do 3D images you need both cameras to be the relatively the same. Having one camera a 2x zoom of the other would create all sorts of challenges.

      The only way this may be possible is to set the other camera to be a 2x digital zoom but this would require you to shoot farther back. The problem with having both cameras so close together is that the farther back you are from your subject matter the less pronounced the 3D effect becomes which ruins the effect by necessity.

      I’m sure someone will try to make an app or a jailbreak that does this, but I doubt Apple will since it would likely be gimmicky at best and downright poor quality at worst.

      • Gotcha, just seems like the cameras are unfinished.. like there’s more to them but they couldn’t say yet what they are going to add. Maybe I was just reading to much into it.

      • Depending on what API tools Apple gives us I could see some people doing some really cool things with these cameras. For instance, just because 3D images wouldn’t work well doesn’t mean that the phone can’t still build on the fly relief maps of what you’re looking at (which it actually does in the new depth of field mode). Augmented reality games for instance could get a huge boost out of this as they could determine depth now and allow a virtual pet to move behind furniture in your house for instance.

        One thing talking about the 3D images that could be cool would be to use their new depth of field camera tech to create layered parallax effects. If Apple already knows how to separate out the foreground subject matter from the background imagine taking the background layer and auto filling in image data similar to how pixelmator or photoshop do and then blurring it and overlaying the foreground subject onto it. I think it could be cool to tilt your phone back and forth and see multiple layers of parallax between the popups, icons, foreground and background layers of the phone.

        I could also see two cameras being used to achieve even faster and more accurate focusing in some cases. If you’re on a 1x zoom the more powerful camera could analyze the scene in more detail and tell the other camera how to better focus for instance.

        Anyways, that’s just some off the top dreaming, and obviously I don’t know what Apple has planned and it’s unlikely we’ll see anything major from developers until Apple decides to release robust APIs to tap into these new technologies or until the dual camera system appears on both models of phones, but I’d agree. I think there is a lot to explore here and I hope that Apple is just getting stated 😉

  • Bugs Bunnay


  • Dao Sasone

    I thought the dual camera was one for looking at my wife and the other at my girlfriend.

  • As stated by the article, the depth of field effect on the iPhone 7 Plus is achieved through a software means, and not through the camera optics. While this doesn’t mean that we can just install an app or tweak to enable “portrait mode” on the iPhone 7 or even 6S, it does mean that the exact same effect can be done in post-processing with tools like Photoshop using photos taken with any camera, including the iPhone 7.

    • There are actually apps today in the app store that do this effect like you state. The difference is that they (and photoshop) need a user to specify what parts of the photo are background or foreground.

      The cool thing with this system is that it can automatically build a relief map of the image and do the edit with a crazy amount of precision. In some of the sample shots for instance you can see single strands of hair in crystal clarity over a blurred distant background. Not only that, the images they showed on screen seem to indicate that this effect can be achieved at realtime so that you can see what your photo would look like as you take it.

      • Yep, it’s pretty cool 🙂
        I guess the difference is convenience. The dual iSight system gives a live preview of everything and acts automatically and quickly the instant you take the shot. For other devices, it will take some manual effort on part of the user, which will take longer and might not work as well as the 7 Plus’ auto system.

  • Eliijah Moss

    I understand that this bokeh effect is software related, but you can’t tell me that you don’t get at least some type of awww from looking at these photos. Even if these were edited, they are still DSLR quality photos.

    • Agreed. Like I said, the fact that it’s software-powered doesn’t take away from the fact it’s a really cool feature

      • I just had a thought. Imagine if Apple took these pictures, and after isolating the foreground subject removed it from the background and did a content aware fill similar to photoshop or pixelmator and then overlaid the subject again on top but as a separate layer. This way you could tilt your phone and get some subtle parallax going on between the person and their background.

        Personally I think that would look awesome especially as a wallpaper considering there is already a parallax effect there.

      • Eliijah Moss

        I thought that’s what they do. At least from the keynote, it takes several layers of the photo and renders them accordingly to the background. I don’t know though.

      • I guess they could do that, although I’m sure that’s something they would have demo’d on stage. Maybe next year?

  • nova voter

    I’m having the same exact internal argument as this article, and I think I’ve reached the same conclusion. Ditching the 6+ for the 7.

  • Adan

    Did I hear GIMMICK?

  • nonchalont

    I think so. I would want the plus size ….I like my iphone bbw.

  • hushera

    Great article! I totally agree with you. Excellent points! Keep it up sir

  • Dwight Linden

    Apple is really lagging in technology these days. The features being promoted in the 7 Plus are shadows of the camera abilities already available in the HTC, Huawei and LG dual-sensor phones. Samsung’s pending dual-sensor flagship will be similar (as well as being their 3rd generation water-resistant flagship… with wireless charging).
    Amusing that you have to manually switch between the 2 image sensors on the 7 plus and have to wait months to get the next release of the SW in order to get the bokeh effect.
    The Huawei Honor8 and P9 provide much better camera ability (as do other similar dual-sensor phones) because they are running 12MP color and 12MP panchromatic (Black & White) sensors, which then fuse the images together. The panchromatic sensors offer much better low light sensitivity, wide dynamic range, and several other imaging benefits. (Not to mention they already offer the bokeh effect from day 1).
    Apple’s “cutting edge” technology has turned into “also ran” features which are no longer first-to-market … and not the best version of these new features.
    I can’t wait till these dual-sensor cameras running color and panchromatic sensors are able to provide 9X resolution on still photos and videos in post-processing in the cloud as early as 2017 (something which Apple’s incremental approach to photo improvement with variable dual sensors will not allow)

    • tariq

      You’re right. Apple is way behind. That’s why I have Samsung 7 Edge. BUT you gotta understand, Apple just doesn’t care about what other phoned are or do or anything. They just do what they want and release how they want it. Example, they just don’t want earphone jack, they moved on without caring about peoples opinions or anything. And there’s something about that ‘_not caring’ that attracts nany people. And those people will always be loyal customers to Apple, those people are not trying to have “best specs” they just want Apple specs, that’s just good enough for them.

  • tariq

    Why is the Plus the better phone? I just don’t think its fair for people who prefer smaller phones.