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iOS 15 Is Here: Here's Why It's So Important for Photographers

iOS 15, the next major update of the operating system, is available today, and it brings with it a lot of exciting and useful features, particularly for photographers. Let's dive in and see what you can expect when you upgrade. 

Mobile phones are more capable than ever, and they have become legitimate tools for professional photographers and filmmakers. Part of this has been the rise of computational photography. For example, traditionally, the small sensors of phone cameras have been a serious hindrance to low-light shots. However, after the introduction of Night Mode, which uses a combination of long exposures and machine learning to improve sharpness, noise, exposure, and more, the issue has been mitigated in a lot of situations. I have been genuinely impressed by it, and it has made it possible for me to take good shots in far more situations than ever before. iOS 15 brings with it a range of new features that will improve both real-time interaction and exploration of your photo collections. It's exciting to see features that not only improve photography and video work, but also turn the camera into a serious production tool. 

Live Text

Live Text is essentially real-time OCR (optical character recognition). This allows you to use the camera (or examine photos already taken) to recognize text and take actions using it. For example, say you are out for a walk and see a house for sale that you are interested in. Using Live Text, you can quickly copy all the info from the sign, send it to your partner, email or call the realtor, and more. If you are on a trip in a foreign country, you can translate signs in real-time. What is especially exciting is that the system can recognize handwriting, not just typed text, making it easy to quickly digitize and pull information from a variety of sources.

Visual Lookup

Visual Lookup, like Live Text, is a feature that turns the camera into a useful informational tool. When using the Photos app, you will sometimes see a star attached to the information button (which contains photo metadata) in the bottom toolbar. This indicates that Visual Lookup recognizes an object or scene in the photo and can offer more information on it. For example, you can quickly learn about pieces of art or landmarks, look up books, identify plants or pet breeds, and more. As someone who is obsessed with dogs, this is a ton of fun to use. 

Spotlight

Spotlight is iOS's built-in search tool, and iOS 15 is expanding its capabilities with a focus on images. Users can now search for images on the web or from their own photo albums, even from the lock screen. At this point, after many years with a phone as my primary camera for capturing life's moments, I have literally tens of thousands of photos, and even with my favorites album and topical albums, it can be tough to find what I am looking for. 

Spotlight's updated features alleviate that problem by adding lots of image search features. Users can now search for natural terms like "dog photos" and get results from their own albums or the web. You can also search for text in photos, objects, people, locations, or even by scenes (such as waterfalls). It is a powerful search implementation that makes it easy to quickly pull up whatever photos you want without any burden to keep things organized yourself, which is especially useful given how many photos most of us have on our phones nowadays. 

Memories

Memories is a neat feature that lets you take a look back at past highlights. Not only does iOS pull together photos from previous years on a given date, it compiles them into a watchable clip with a soundtrack. 

The new update brings a lot of new songs to the mix, and Apple Music subscribers can also add any of the service's tens of millions of songs. The song suggestions are personalized to each user's tastes, the content of the photos and videos, and expert recommendations. The feature takes into account songs that were popular at the time and location of the relevant photos and videos, songs from the artist contained in a concert memory, and more. It's the kind of contextual awareness that can really ramp up the nostalgia factor of memories. One of my favorite things to do when I am laying in bed in the morning is watching photo and video memories, and having them packaged in such a convenient and well-produced form is awesome.

Further Memories additions include deeper customization of length, songs, and look. The system does a great job of applying adjustments to ensure a consistent aesthetic between photos and videos that make up a given memory, helping to create a more cinematic, consistent, and immersive experience. 

Messages

Reading and digesting multiple photos in messages is improved quite a bit now too. Multiples photos now show as collages and stacks that can be easily swiped through. Tapping shows the collection as a grid and allows the user to quickly reply or save the collection. Meanwhile, in the Photos app, users will see a new Shared with You section that collects all photos sent in messages. The library pays attention to photos the user was there for and gives them extra priority in Memories and Featured Photos. The Shared with You section also shows who sent the photos and lets you reply right from the app. 

iPhone 13

Along with all the improvements mentioned above, iPhone 13 users get access to some other exciting software features along with the camera hardware improvements on the new models. 

Cinematic Mode

Cinematic mode leverages computational photography abilities to create shallow depth of field in videos and to follow the faces in a frame and automatically shift focus to the dominant face at any given time, even if the subjects are moving. You can easily take manual control to focus on any subject you would like or to lock focus on a specific person. One of the neatest features of Cinematic mode is that because the phone records and stores a depth map at the time of capture, you can change focus and depth of field in post, just like Portrait Mode.

ProRes Video

iPhone 13 Pro users also get access to ProRes video, useful for professional filmmakers who want the best possible quality in a common format.

Smart HDR 4 and Photographic Styles

Smart HDR 4 adds new and improved abilities, like better color and contrast, and the ability to independently adjust lighting and toning on different faces in an image. In addition, Photographic Styles allows you to vary basic parameters like contrast and white balance in real-time while composing images without affecting things like skin tones. 

Free to Download

Whether you own the new iPhone 13 or an older model, there are a lot of neat new features in iOS 15 that vastly expand the capabilities of your iPhone's cameras and Photos app. iOS 15 is free to download and is available today. 

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22 Comments

Stephen Strangways's picture

I have yet to see anything that suggests "Cinematic Mode" will offer anything other than 30 fps. To call it "Cinematic" but not offer 24 fps is just ridiculous.

Michael Krueger's picture

If you watch the Apple video samples it's clear the AI can't even keep up with 1080p 30fps so it's no wonder they didn't allow higher frame rates or resolutions, not sure why they would exclude 24fps.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

24 is 20% easier to process than 30

Michael Krueger's picture

I thought live text and visual look up were standard features on all smartphones like 5 years ago.

Tony Northrup's picture

Tell us you have an Android smartphone without telling us you have an Android smartphone :D

Jon Kellett's picture

Sorry Tony, why exactly does this (apparently) upset you?

g coll's picture

Jon, it was obviously a joke mate :)

Michael Krueger's picture

Google, Samsung, even Microsoft has already been doing it. Apps have been available for years as well, honestly was surprised to see that it's new to iOS.

Wouter du Toit's picture

It's about security. Most of it will be done on device, and not through the web. That's why Siri isn't as good as Alexa or Google. It's a compromise Apple users make. I for one, happily.

Luca Santirocco's picture

"Here's Why It's So Important for Photographers" LOL

Sam Sims's picture

I own an A7III and it's so important to me.

Jon Kellett's picture

Just wondering Alex, does Apple pay for this commercial?

If it's not a commercial, why don't we ever see articles like this for Android - I mean heck, it is the major player internationally and you most likely do have a substantial readership that aren't US located.

Alex Cooke's picture

Nope, this isn't paid.

Patrick Hall's picture

My guess would be that Apple systematically released new iPhones and ios updates in a predictable manner.

Android is used on so many different phones and hardware that the initial excitement gets a little lost compared to Apple.

That being said, I wish Apple or Google was paying us!

Alex Cooke's picture

Also, Jon, I've reviewed and enjoyed Android products too: https://fstoppers.com/originals/streaming-box-photographers-fstoppers-re...

Alec Kinnear's picture

It is a bit like an ad as most of these features are irrelevant for photography. Even iPhone 12 Pro's ProRaw was kind of a waste of time as the photos end up looking oversharpened and like Apple photos but take a lot more work to get there. For the small changes one can make to Pro Raw photos, one may as well start with the HEIC master. But Apple has to keep selling new phones annually so they are digging up what they can.

The cinematic mode for video has potential. This version as a proof of concept isn't bad. You'll have to buy an iPhone 14 for it to work properly at 24fps or with 4K footage though. More interesting would be software which could analyse footage and move the focus point (requires small sensors and deep depth of field, i.e. normally shot phone videos).

Jan Holler's picture

Is it still usable as a phone?

Alexander Petrenko's picture

As usable as rotary one?

Jose Morelos's picture

Thank you, Alex.

Paul Scharff's picture

"When using the Photos app, you will sometimes see a star attached to the information button (which contains photo metadata) in the bottom toolbar."

Could you show me a screen grab with this information button? I can't find it and am pretty Apple-proficient.

Alex Cooke's picture

When you click on an individual picture in an album, it's the info button third from the left at the bottom of the screen.

Michael Hickey's picture

If iOS still doesn’t support and separate out tagged images from my camera then it’s still pretty useless as a platform for me.