iPhone 15 Ultra camera upgrades could give photographers a serious dilemma

Purple iPhone 14 Pro rear
The iPhone 14 Pro uses a 1/1.28-inch Sony IMX803 sensor (Image credit: Shutterstock / Kaspars Grinvalds)

We recently reported on rumors that the iPhone 15 Ultra will arriving packing a telephoto camera with a variable zoom lens, and new leaks suggest this won’t be the only impressive camera upgrade heading to Apple’s upcoming flagship. 

According to serial Apple tipster Ice Universe, the iPhone 15 Ultra – which, as a reminder, is expected to replace the iPhone 15 Pro Max in 2023 – will use Sony’s new IMX903 48MP sensor. Why is this significant? Well, the IMX903 measures 1/1.14 inches, meaning the iPhone 15 Ultra could be shipping with the biggest camera sensor ever used in an iPhone.

For comparison, the iPhone 14 Pro Max (aka Apple’s best iPhone right now) uses Sony’s already-excellent IMX803 48MP sensor, which measures 1/1.28 inches. The larger sensor size on the iPhone 15 Ultra, then, should allow for more efficient light capture and detail retention. 

As Ice Universe notes, 1/1.14-inch sensors aren’t strictly the same as 1-inch sensors – of the sort used on photography-focused phones like the Xiaomi 12S Ultra and Sony Xperia Pro-I – but they suggest that the difference between the two sizes will be negligible on the iPhone 15 Ultra. 

“The specifications of IMX903 for [the] iPhone 15 [Ultra] are close to 1 inch, that's for sure,” Ice Universe writes. “I'm looking forward to Apple joining the 1-inch club.”

Suffice to say, the iPhone 15 Ultra looks set to challenge the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra to the title of best camera phone – read our analysis of why the iPhone 15 Ultra will be the wake-up call Samsung needs – but the rumored camera credentials of the former could give traditional photographers a serious headache, too. 

Combined with its periscopic zoom lens for real telephoto zoom, the iPhone 15 Ultra’s huge 48MP sensor will make Apple’s next flagship a phenomenally powerful camera in its own right. And, at an expected price of around $1,199 / £1,309 / AU$2,099, the phone should provide a cheaper alternative to many of the best cameras, which typically retail for figures in excess of $2,500 / $2,000 / AU$3,700. 

A closeup on the iPhone 14 Pro series' triple camera system, the device depicted is the Deep Purple colorways

(Image credit: Apple)

As TechRadar's former Cameras Editor, Mark Wilson, explains: "Mirrorless cameras still have much larger sensors than the iPhone 15 Ultra’s rumored 1/1.14in chip, but Apple’s computational processing will help compensate. The larger the sensor, the more light and information those algorithms will have to work with – and that could be particularly helpful for the Ultra’s periscope zoom lens, as those traditionally have quite dark apertures."

"But these upgrades for the Ultra could give photographers like me a difficult decision. If the rumors are true, the Ultra will be opening up a sizable photographic gap to the rest of the iPhone 15 series – so it could be a decision between splashing out on that flagship, or waiting until next year for an iPhone 16 Pro with a periscope zoom."

iPhone 15 Ultra: what else to expect

Two iPhone 14 Pro phones on a blue background

The iPhone 15 Ultra is expected to arrive in place of an iPhone 15 Pro Max (Image credit: Apple)

In terms of what else we expect to see from the iPhone 15 Ultra, unofficial iPhone 15 Ultra renders have hinted that Apple’s upcoming flagship will be getting a USB-C port, a slightly shallower camera bump and a curvier chassis than the iPhone 14 Pro Max. The phone could be clad in titanium, too (which is typically stronger and lighter than the stainless steel used by current iPhones).

Also on the design front, the iPhone 15 Ultra was widely rumored to get solid-state volume and power buttons. Leaks had suggested that these buttons would use vibrations to simulate the sensation of being touched despite not actually moving (think the iPhone 7’s haptic Home button), but analysts Jeff Pu and Ming-Chi Kuo recently poured water on those claims. Other leakers, however, still believe that the iPhone 15 Ultra will be getting solid-state buttons

Despite using the same A17 Bionic processor, the iPhone 15 Ultra is rumored to be even more powerful than the iPhone 15 Pro, with one source claiming that the former’s software won't limit the phone as much as it will on the Pro model

We’re keeping tabs on all the latest iPhone 15 Ultra rumors as and when they appear, so stay tuned to TechRadar as we learn more about what to expect from Apple's next flagship handset. 

Axel Metz
Phones Editor

Axel is TechRadar's UK-based Phones Editor, reporting on everything from the latest Apple developments to newest AI breakthroughs as part of the site's Mobile Computing vertical. Having previously written for publications including Esquire and FourFourTwo, Axel is well-versed in the applications of technology beyond the desktop, and his coverage extends from general reporting and analysis to in-depth interviews and opinion.  Axel studied for a degree in English Literature at the University of Warwick before joining TechRadar in 2020, where he then earned an NCTJ qualification as part of the company’s inaugural digital training scheme.

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