Is the iPhone 15 Pro Max Birder Ready

My sister is a birder and has a dedicated camera she carries around when birding. However, the best camera is the one on you when you need to take a picture.

She’s been impressed with the pictures my iPhone 12 Pro can take. However, it can’t do much when the bird is teenie weenie and/or far away which seems to be the case with most birds. The 2x lens doesn’t cut it and the 10x digital zoom is still not quite enough and can be grainy when cropping the bird.

I’m just curious if the new iPhone 15 Pro can be the birder phone you have on you when you need to take the picture. Is the 5x zoom enough? What is the maximum digital zoom?

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The Wall Street Journal article referenced earlier has some nice comparison shots of the different zoom levels. If you can’t get through the paywall, it’s also in Apple News+.


The first camera I had that could do recognizable photos of a bird was a Panasonic 15x point-and-shoot. It was pocketable, so I had it with me quite often.
I have moved on from that camera.
However, the point is that 5x is not really a good match for birding.


Birders tend to want and need long zooms. My favorite dSLR walk-around lens is an 18-270, and it is barely adequate for shots of biggish birds that are not far away. This cormorant is not far away, and the lens was fully extended, after which I cropped about 70% of the resulting image.


FWIW, my (very old now) Kodak Z712IS point-and-shoot has a 12x zoom lens (36-432mm equivalent) and it has worked very well for all kinds of applications, but I’ve never tried it for birding.

I don’t carry it in my pocket wherever I go (far too big for that), but I bring it with me on vacation and I love the pictures it takes, even though it only shoots a 3072x2394 (7.1MP) JPEG image.

The only thing I don’t like about this camera is that it’s too old to record GPS location information. So when I get back home after a vacation, I need to remember where I was for each shot and manually set the location in Photos after I transfer everything.


A trick here is also to shoot a picture with the iPhone simultaneously. After you import the images from your camera, the iPhone picture should be next to each set, and you can copy the location from the iPhone picture to your actual photos. You can then delete the iPhone-shot images.


The iPhone camera is amazing and my sister is impressed with my bird shots. However, it’s not so great when the bird is small and/or far away which seems to be the vast majority of times (and also facing away from you. My sister says she’ll go through all her pictures one day and publish “Bird Butts of America”. I have a trick where I’ll use the burst mode as I slowly and carefully approach the bird as in this shot.

I understand the challenges. There’s a reason why my sister’s birding camera doesn’t fit in her pocket. I’m just hoping that the camera on the iPhone one day will be good enough. It sounds like it’s close but still no cigar.

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What about the new 48 megapixels?

When I can’t zoom in enough, I end up cropping in Photos. The new iPhone Pro resolution is 4x what we had before. Now, zooming in will result in a photo that still has great resolution.

I’m not sure I know whether higher resolution or higher optical zoom will make my birding pix look better. Both would be great, of course. I’d love some field data (or even a good explanation) of which helps in what way.

This is a deep, deep rabbit-hole discussion.

Things that can help make better bird pictures include:
high resolution, long zoom, anti-shake lenses, short exposure (for which you need a bright lens - wide aperture, high ISO, and bright light), low noise (for which you want low ISO and bright light), small physical size (the camera you have with you), and maybe the most important, experience and patience.

The best pictures may happen when you have observed where the bird is likely to appear and wait quietly there. Or when the bird unexpectedly lands in front of your focused camera!

Computational photography generally doesn’t help too much beyond anti-shake (moving lens elements and/or the sensor), because birds don’t often pose for the multiple exposures required by the processing.

Yes, let’s get some field experience with the new iPhone camera used by an experienced birder and see how well it does!
(I just got an iPhone 14 Pro when my old iPhone 7 became unreliable, so I am not ready to volunteer this year.)


It’s going to be better than older models…but it’s still not a wildlife camera unless the animal/bird is close or you’re interested in Instagram size output…that’s just physics. Not going to stop me from upgrading from my XS Max though.

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I’m certainly no birder and I realize bird shots require a lot of zoom, but depending on what you’re trying to capture, the iPhone 15 Pro Max does an impressive job for casual shots. It’s definitely improved over the 14. In the past photos from this distance would have come out so bad as to be useless.

Here are two birds I saw on a hike on the Oregon coast this past week. They were about 75-100 yards away respectively and I used the max 25x zoom (5x optical + digital). There’s definitely a lot of fuzziness (and who knows how Discourse handles the compression), but there is impressive detail such as the gull’s eye.

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