I have an iPhone SE 2 with pretty standard 12MP camera and as I was sitting on our porch and browsing the web I randomly enabled the main camera and took a shot of my sweatpants fabric (no joke here):

Macro image

I was pretty impressed with the quality as I could see fibers etc.

Just 10 minutes later I attempted to take a few more shots at the same macro level. No matter how I tried I could not get even near if the shot above:

new attempt one more before i gave up

So I am puzzled as to what allowed my phone camera to take that perfect shot and then fail to capture it next time?

I was not using any special apps just standard photo app.


I copied the EXIF data and I "think" there was in fact digital zoom used by the camera. But I am not sure auto focus is able to leverage that cause surely I was not using digital zoom myself:


  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Any chance that you could have a drop of water on the lens? \$\endgroup\$
    – xenoid
    Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 7:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ hmm very unlikely cause it’s 20% humidity here (7500ft eastern sierra) the time window was about 10min as well. Could different light be a culprit? It was after 4pm \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 8:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ Did you crop the first picture or not at all? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 14:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NicolasRaoul nope it’s straight forward 4:3 default camera image and i posted it as is \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 15:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SergeyRudenko you may want to consider redacting some of that EXIF info: it appears to have your exact location, and Google Maps confirms that the location is on a porch. \$\endgroup\$
    – lights0123
    Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 21:37

3 Answers 3



I think this is a combination of using digital zoom (or cropping) and flash.

I don't own an iPhone SE but a Samsung S8. On a high level they have comparable cameras though.

iPhone SE camera specs (it doesn't specify what wide is unfortunately):

12 MP, f/1.8 (wide), PDAF, OIS

Samsung S8 camera specs:

12 MP, f/1.7, 26mm (wide), 1/2.55", 1.4µm, dual pixel PDAF, OIS

Test photos

Below I took a photo of some fabric as close as the Samsung could (approx. 7 cm). The left/first photo uses 8x digital zoom and flash, the right/second photo uses 4.5x digital zoom and no flash. To me the difference looks comparable to what you're seeing.

enter image description here enter image description here


So to answer your question, if you want to achieve a photo similar to the one you show on the top:

  • Use flash
  • Use digital zoom
  • Use no/little digital zoom and crop the photo afterwards

My guess is partially supported by the EXIF data of the photo posted by the question asker.

It states (among other things):

Digital Zoom Ratio

However, the same EXIF data also shows that no flash was used:

Off, Did not fire

  • \$\begingroup\$ Hey I feel like it might be the digital zoom, I updated my answer with EXIF data and I see it got to 5x digital zoom there. I am still puzzled as I was not sure "auto" mode could do that. But I think you are the closest with the answer! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 16:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ The digital zoom could've been triggered by accident, e.g. if you've a small drop or particle on your screen it might misinterpret a press or swipe as a pinch-in gesture, zooming in quickly unintentionally. Anyway, have fun at June Lake! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 16:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you:), yeah I will do another attempt later today, just surprised there is no automatic function to support such macro shots \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 17:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Notes that Saaru has a small hole starting in his pants. Recommends that she fix it pronto! :) \$\endgroup\$
    – FreeMan
    Commented Jul 28, 2020 at 14:15

You can convert your phone into a make-shift macro camera by applying a small drop in front of the lens. In humid conditions when water is condensing or during rain etc this might occur accidentially.

The drop size determines the extend of the macro effect (smaller drops mean smaller focal lense, thus stronger macro effect). There is a very brief description how to do that voluntarily here.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Call me a skeptic, but I find it highly unlikely that the resulting image happened by an accidental drop of water. An interesting thought, nonetheless. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 14:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ In light of the impossible, the improbable might be what we see :) As I'm not familiar with the details of the iPhone hardware, I shall gladly learn that another method was used. Tbh I had seen this kind of macro effect once on my phone somewhat accidentially. The illustration of the digital zoom in the other answer... that looks quite convincing though, and possibly it's more likely. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 15:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ For good measure I tried out the water drop method described in the link and it's rather hard to get a water droplet to stay on the camera on purpose, so I really doubt this droplet stayed there by accident. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 15:51

Try setting the camera to manual focus, then select the minimum focusing distance, and get as close as possible. Possibly combine that with the built-in digital zoom.

  • \$\begingroup\$ iPhones have manual focus? Oh, do you mean focus lock or do you mean installing an App? \$\endgroup\$
    – uhoh
    Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 13:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ yeah there is no(sadly) manual control on apple's camera app. Some filters settings and ratio ;/ \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 16:38

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