When you pick up an iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X, XS, XS Max, or iPhone 11 or iPhone 11 Pro, you're also getting a great multi-camera system to take photographs with and shoot video. By default, you'll use with the iPhone's 12-megapixel wide-angle f/1.8 lens in Photo mode, but you can also amp up the magnification and take photos with the new 56mm-equivalent "telephoto" lens — either in the Camera app, or in a variety of great third-party apps.
NOTE: Though many (myself included) have argued that this system is closer in comparison to a normal or portrait lens than a true telephoto, I understand Apple's intentions here: Because they're marketing the lens in conjunction with a 2x feature, it may seem more appropriate to call it "tele" than "normal" or "portrait" to the average user — especially considering that Apple also uses it with its "Portrait" feature that utilizes both lenses. For that reason, I'm referring to the lens as Apple names it — tele, or telephoto — even though I don't necessarily agree with that branding.
What iPhone models have the telephoto lens?
Apple currently builds three iPhone models that have the multi-camera system:
- iPhone 7 Plus (f/2.8 telephoto lens)
- iPhone 8 Plus (f/2.8 telephoto lens)
- iPhone X (f/2.4 telephoto lens)
- iPhone XS and XS Max (f/2.4 telephoto lens)
- iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max (f/2.0 telephoto lens)
All of these have access to shooting with the telephoto lens or shooting in Portrait mode, as well as Portrait Lighting (except for iPhone 7 Plus).
How to shoot with the telephoto lens in the Camera app
- Open the Camera app and select Photo mode.
- Tap on the 1x button to switch to 2x mode.
- Frame and shoot your photo!
Note: As long as you're shooting in a brightly-lit area, the Camera app will automatically select the 56mm-equivalent lens when you switch to 2x magnification; if you're in a dimly-lit area, however, you won't be able to use it, and the app will automatically switch to digitally-zoomed wide-angle shot.
If you're running iOS 10.1 or later, you can also use Portrait mode, which will automatically always shoot with the telephoto lens.
How to shoot with the telephoto lens in third-party apps
If you run into a situation like the above where you want to make sure you're shooting with the 56mm-equivalent lens — and that lens only — you can use a third-party manual camera app that supports lens swapping. (Our current favorite is ProCamera
Here's how to shoot in ProCamera:
- Open the ProCamera app.
- Tap the More button (looks like a 3x3 square grid).
- Select the Tele camera option.
For other third-party apps that support the multi-lens camera system with telephoto lenses, instructions will likely be similar — you'll just want to look for their lens selectors.
Let us know in the comments.
September 2019: Updated with iPhone XS, XS Max, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max.
Serenity Caldwell contributed to an earlier versiono of this guide.
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Christine Romero-Chan was formerly a Senior Editor for iMore. She has been writing about technology, specifically Apple, for over a decade at a variety of websites. She is currently part of the Digital Trends team, and has been using Apple’s smartphone since the original iPhone back in 2007. While her main speciality is the iPhone, she also covers Apple Watch, iPad, and Mac when needed.
When she isn’t writing about Apple, Christine can often be found at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, as she is a passholder and obsessed with all things Disney, especially Star Wars. Christine also enjoys coffee, food, photography, mechanical keyboards, and spending as much time with her new daughter as possible.