How (and why) to use the 2x lens when shooting panoramas on the iPhone 7 Plus

Okay, so you already know that the iPhone 7 Plus has two lenses: the smartphone-ubiquitous 28mm wide-angle and a new, 56mm “telephoto.” The 2x zoom of the telephoto is great for portraits, especially with the phone’s bokeh-simulating “Portrait” mode. It also helps out anytime you need to zoom in past 2x, by reducing the amount of digital zoom you need compared to phones that only have a wide angle lens.

But there’s another great feature of that telephoto lens: shooting panoramas. There is nothing hidden about accessing this feature — I just never thought to look for it until now. Maybe this is old news to you, and if so, it’s totally fine if you want to stop reading right now. But if this is new news to you (which, I guess, is just news) then hear me out, because you should almost always be using the telephoto lens when you shoot panoramas.

Here’s why: The telephoto lens has a narrower field of view compared to the wide angle (duh). In panoramic mode, this means you need to pan farther to capture the same total field of view compared to using the wide angle. Along the way, you’ll be picking up more detail and resolution. Take a look at the photos below. In original form, the first was 21 megapixels, while the second pushed 30.

iphone-7-plus-panorama-1

iphone-7-plus-panorama-2

The top photo is a standard, wide-angle panoramic shot (although the panoramic effect is mild, because the field of view of the lens was already so wide). The image on the bottom was shot with the telephoto lens.

Now, I don’t think the difference between 30 and 21 megapixels really matters, and these numbers will vary, anyway, depending on the length of your panorama. But the telephoto shot just looks much better. It has less distortion, more detail, and a more pronounced panoramic effect.

This isn’t surprising. As landscape photographers who work with DSLRs or mirrorless cameras can attest, the preference is always for a longer lens when shooting panoramic images. With a long lens, you need to to shoot more photos to capture the same area, but this is how you end up with more detail in the final image. That we now have this capability on a smartphone is pretty cool.

I should caution, though, that it won’t always make your panoramas better. If you’re shooting something tall, like trees, and are too close to fit their full height in the frame, you’ll need to switch back to the wide angle. (You could also shoot multiple panoramic “rows” with the telephoto lens and stitch them together in post, but I’m guessing most smartphone photographers won’t want to bother with that.)

Hopefully this was news to at least one person out there!

-Daven

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