Seriously, this camera business is getting out of control.

If the leakers are to be believed, this is the back of the iPhone XI. That big chunk at the top left is the camera array, which is expected to have between three and six cameras. (Depending on who you ask.) I guess that after seeing this massive patch on the back, I have to ask…

Isn’t it enough already with the cameras?

First of all I get it… people want thin phones. That’s why the camera “bump” started with (I think it was) iPhone 6. The whole phone doesn’t need to be that thick, but the tiny little focus mechanism on the camera does need a little room to work. But as more cameras have been added, the bump has gotten bigger, to now where it seems to take up this massive amount of real estate, seeming for all the world like a giant scab on the otherwise smooth skin of the phone.

Why phones “need” so many cameras

In a traditional camera, zoom is done by changing the distance between two elements in a lens. You’ve seen those long, long lenses at sports events, the zoom lets the camera get in the middle of the action. But no one seems to want a two-foot lens sticking out of the back of their phone. Instead, multiple fixed-distance lenses do the trick. This trend started with iPhone X which had two cameras on the back and now you can see that the world seems to be moving to three cameras. Pretty soon it’s going to be four or five.

The idea of using fixed lenses for different zoom levels isn’t new. Take a look at this 1950s television camera.

Multiple lenses meant you could get different levels of zoom without using (then expensive) zoom lenses.

In modern phones, multiple cameras work together to create an illusion of fine focus on the subject and blurry backgrounds. Digital zoom technology blends the two cameras to give you the illusion of being able to zoom in smoothly on your phone.

I would imagine three cameras would do that even better, giving you even more zoom, even more depth, even better low light performance. Multiple cameras could be set to different exposure levels to let you get really brilliant pictures, or all their images could be combined for shots that look better with less light.

The camera wars may never end

I can imagine that the iPhone’s truly over-the-top camera array is a response to all those articles that say that iPhones have lost their camera leadership. Those articles aren’t wrong, it’s just… how much leadership do you need? The phone in your pocket takes better pictures than pretty much any camera you’ve ever owned. That’s true even if you’re still rocking an older phone. We have gotten way past the point where any amateur photographer needs the level of quality they get. Sure the photos are beautiful but what’s the real benefit once you get past a certain point?

Like other technology wars, the camera wars will probably continue far, far past the point where any average human sees any benefit. They’ll eventually settle down, like the processor wars and hard drive wars did, when people get excited about something else.

But in the meantime…

I gotta say that camera array is ugly. Massively ugly. Ridiculously ugly. Just an affront to the basic idea of beauty. Something has to be done.

Oh and one more thing…

we’re all assuming that the iPhone XI will be pronounced “iPhone eleven,” because Apple pronounces iPhone X as “iPhone ten” and iPhone XS and “iPhone tennis” (another whole issue.) I think it would be cool, and a benefit to so many diverse consumers, if they pronounced it as the Chinese do: “iPhone zhee.” If I do get this overly camerafied mess in my pocket, I know I’ll pronounce it that way, even if no one else does.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.