Halide’s All-iPhones Macro Mode Is a Big Deal for Accessibility

How close is close enough?

Key Takeaways

  • Halide 2.5 adds a software macro mode to any recent iPhone.
  • The iPhone 13 Pro’s camera can focus down to less than an inch, which is a great boon for accessibility.
  • The iPhone has a built-in magnifier app.
iPhone 13 Pro zoom in on rear camera

Apple

The iPhone 13 Pro’s camera has a macro mode, which means you can focus on subjects less than an inch away from the lens. That’s neat for trick photos, but it’s even neater for helping people to read. If only it wasn’t exclusive to the iPhone 13 Pro. 

Halide is probably the best iPhone camera app that isn’t built into the iPhone. And every year when Apple announces new camera features, Halide’s developers build in support, and often bring similar features to older models. This year, the app adds a macro mode to all iPhones that have a Neural Engine. That is, any iPhone from 2017 onwards. It’s not as good as having a dedicated macro lens on a camera, but it’s pretty great. And for purposes of reading small text, it’s just as effective.

"This ability to take a macro or wide-angle view of objects of interest has helped me identify multiple kinds of insects that I couldn't see at first," Katherine Brown of parenting app company Spyic, told Lifewire via email. 

"It also came in handy for finding coins buried in my garden. Halide's macro camera mode works great when paired with VoiceOver, and I've found it useful when identifying plants in the garden and small details in drawings." 

Macro

First, a brief, close-up look at macro photography. There are two ways to fill your frame with a tiny object. One is to use a powerful telephoto lens to essentially magnify the object from afar. The other is to get up really close to the object, and fill the frame that way. The problem with the second method is that most camera lenses won’t focus that close. You can try it with your phone right now. Try to take a photo closer than a hand’s breadth, and you’ll only see blur. 

Photo of red flower taken with an iPhone 13 Pro

Apple

The iPhone 13 Pro has a macro lens on one of its cameras, which is what lets it get as close as two centimeters while still being able to focus. This enables some nice gimmicky closeup photography of flower petals and so on, but it has other uses. 

Close Up and Accessibility

The iPhone has a magnifier built in, designed to help you read small text, or anything else you have trouble seeing. Triple-press the iPhone’s sleep/wake button to switch it on. 

On all iPhones other than the 13 Pro, this app uses a digital zoom, i.e. it just crops the center of the camera view, and enlarges it. There’s usually a sweet spot where the text is big enough to read, and after that the digital magnification breaks down to a blurred mess, or the high magnification factor also magnifies your hand’s trembles to the point you can’t read anything. 

"Halide's macro camera mode works great when paired with VoiceOver..."

This feature is super handy, whether or not you have impaired vision, old eyes, or anything else. I use it to read the labels on the backs of power adapters, which are printed so small that I swear they’re impossible for anyone but an eagle to read. And eagle’s cannot read. So nobody on the planet. 

Unless they have a magnifier. The other neat feature of the magnifier is you can use the LED flashlight to illuminate the text. 

Halide Macro

Halide’s Macro mode works like this magnifier app, only much better. It can’t do anything about the non-macro lenses on your phone, so it zooms instead, and uses the iPhone’s incredible image-processing capabilities to clean up the result until it looks not only readable, but great. 

You use it like this: First, engage manual focus mode. Then, tap the Macro button. The camera performs a live digital zoom, essentially a live crop, and gives a nice on-screen slider/wheel to adjust focus. Then, when you snap the picture, Halide takes a moment to process the result. The effect is startling. 

Now, this is meant for shooting close up pictures, but it is also a lot better than the built-in magnifier for clarity. I’ve included a couple of screenshots, one using the magnifier, and one using Halide. See if you can work out which is which.

iPhone 13 Pro magnifier vs Halide camera zoom
iPhone 13 Pro magnifier (left) vs Halide camera zoom (middle and right).

Lifewire / Charlie Sorrel

In this case, I further pinched-to-zoom on the Halide image to bring it closer to the final size of the Magnifier image, because the Magnifier has a truly impressive maximum zoom level (which is too blurred to ever use), whereas Halide maxes out at 3x. But even here, the difference is quite literally clear. 

As we see, Apple’s product focus is on the iPhone cameras, but it’s not just there to improve your Instagrams and selfies. We asked one half of the Halide development team if they had designed the app with this use in mind.

"We haven’t found any unconventional use cases outside of photographs, and a lot of very tiny things," says Sebastiaan de With, co-developer of Halide. Quite.

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