Noted Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo previously predicted significant improvements to two of the three iPhone lenses in 2021 and 2022 respectively. A new report today suggests that we won’t see any matching improvements in the main lens, however.

Kuo’s earlier reports say we can expect notable improvements to the ultrawide lens this year, and an even more dramatic boost for the telephoto lens next year …

Background

A previous Kuo note said we can expect three improvements to the ultrawide lens this year.

First, he expects the aperture to be widened from f/2.4 to f/1.8. All other things being equal, that would let in more than twice as much light, significantly improving the low-light performance. In particular, it should allow for sharper and cleaner night shots.

Second, sources indicate that the number of elements in the lens will be increased from five to six. There are pros and cons to adding elements to a lens, but when a manufacturer takes an existing lens design and adds elements, this is generally done to reduce distortion, which is especially important in wide-angle lenses.

Finally, he expect the ultra-wide lens to get auto-focus for the first time. The current ultra-wide lens is fixed-focus. This might sound surprising, but isn’t generally a huge issue in very wide-angle lenses as they are mostly used for landscapes and cityscapes, where everything in shot is far enough away to be in focus. However, switching to auto-focus will be useful for closer wide-angle shots.

A separate report predicted a far more dramatic change to the telephoto lens in 2022 – creating the possibility of up to 10x optical zoom on the telephoto lens. We previously explained how a periscope lens design can dramatically boost optical zoom.

You may not be familiar with periscopes unless you’re a submarine fan or old enough to have had one as a childhood toy. Essentially it’s a tube with two 45-degree lenses mounted at either end of them. You look into one end and can see an image reflected from the other end.

A periscope lens uses the same principle, but with just a single mirror, to bend the light 90 degrees.

This allows greater optical zoom. How much optical zoom is an open question [but] Samsung’s Galaxy S20 Ultra uses a periscope lens to provide a 10x optical zoom, so that is clearly practical in a modern smartphone.

Today’s iPhone lens report

His latest report focuses on likely battles between Apple’s competing suppliers, but includes a couple of product references.

First, he says that the 2021 lens will be a ‘7P’ one. This is industry speak for a lens with seven plastic elements, which is the same as the main lens in the iPhone 12. Second, he specifically says that we shouldn’t expect any significant lens upgrade between the 2021 and 2022 models.

In our previous report, we put forward the non-consensus forecast that Sunny Optical will ship iPhone 7P lenses in 2021 […] We predict […] no significant upgrade of the iPhone lens in 2022.

Some are taking this to mean no improvements to any of the lenses in the 2021 and 2022 iPhones, but I believe this is a misreading. Kuo has a track record of referencing his earlier predictions when new information comes to light, so the fact that he doesn’t walk back either of the previous ones leads me to conclude that today’s note references only the primary lens.

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