A 'Proper' Apple Smart Camera Would Be Sweet

But it'll never happen

Key Takeaways

  • Yongnuo’s new interchangeable-lens camera is powered by Android.
  • An Apple camera, powered-by iOS and with an M1 chip inside, could be amazing.
  • The iPhone is already one of the world’s most popular cameras.
Yongnuo's interchangable lens camera.


Yongnuo has made an Android-powered camera, complete with big sensor and a grown-up lens. What if Apple did the same, with an iOS-powered camera?

Smartphones have tiny lenses, and even tinier sensors, making them inferior to almost any purpose-made camera. But they have a secret weapon. There’s a computer inside. In the case of the iPhone, that computer is absurdly powerful, and has a whole section of its chip dedicated to photography. Imagine, then, what Apple could do with that power inside a regular mirrorless camera.

"Apple has firmly established itself as the brand of choice for high-end artists and creators, and moving into high-end photography would only reinforce this. They have the product design and UX skills to make an incredibly sleek, easy-to-use product, and their whole device ecosystem is heavy on the gorgeous displays that would make these photos pop," Devon Fata of Pixoul told Lifewire via email.

The Camera

First, let’s set out the kind of camera we’re talking about. The body would be around the same size as an iPhone, only thicker to accommodate a bigger sensor (the larger the sensor, the further away from it the lens has to be), physical shutter, and lens mount. It would have some buttons and dials, and of course a gorgeous retina touch-screen on the back.

This camera would have either a zoom lens or interchangeable lenses.

So far, it’s like any other mirrorless camera available today. But then you put one of Apple’s A-series iPhone and iPad chips in there, with its neural engine, and image processing hardware. And you add 5G connectivity for sharing photos, storage for your iCloud Photo Library, and an app store for photo-editing apps or plugins.

The Rongnuo interchangable lens camera.


The Benefits

The immediate practical benefits are obvious. First off, you’d never need to hook it up to a computer to import your photos—they’d just show up in your library, like pictures you snap with your iPhone. Then, you’d be able to share them to Instagram or wherever—try that with a regular camera. And all photos would be location-tagged, faces would be recognized, and so on.

That’s neat, but it’s not that hard to do all of this just by importing your photos into your iPhone. Some cameras even have companion apps to make this transfer semi-automatic, and to stamp the GPS coordinates from your iPhone onto the photos while they are still inside the camera.

What we really want to see is how Apple might apply the power of its incredible iPhone capture technology to more capable hardware.

Computational Photography

The smaller the sensor, the worse the image it can produce. Bigger sensors have more pixels, and/or bigger pixels, and can collect more light. The iPhone, and any other camera phone, does a lot of work to turn the data from these tiny sensors into very good photos.

The display on the Yongnuo interchangable lens camera.


At the beginning, it was all about getting a decent image. But now, these computer/camera hybrids enable neat tricks like portrait mode (blurring the background), various night modes, real-time panorama stitching, and a neat HDR trick that takes several images at different exposure levels, and combines them so that shadows have detail, while bright skies remain blue, and not burned out to white.

"I do think this would be a niche product, but the benefits to photographers—professional and amateur alike—are numerous," Christen Costa, CEO of Gadget Review, told Lifewire via email. "You can take pictures at a much higher resolution, potentially store more of them, take time-lapse photos, long videos, etc. You'll also have the aid of things like focus correction on a smart camera."

With a better camera, these software tricks could be incredible. Night mode would be able to create much more detailed photos, free of the artifacts that show up when you zoom in and take a close look. The famous "sweater mode," which combines several exposures to create a more detailed, higher-resolution photo, could generate incredibly detailed images.

An Apple camera could be amazing, but it will never happen.

"That would be some very opinionated camera," technology journalist Andrea Nepori told Lifewire via Twitter. "And of course the market size is so small that Apple wouldn’t have any incentive to do anything like that, like, ever."

The point being, Apple doesn’t need to make a niche product like this, because it already makes one of the most popular cameras in the world—the iPhone. And people seem happy enough with that.

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