It has once again been rumored that next year's iPhone 14 Pro models will feature an upgraded 48-megapixel primary camera (the "Wide" lens), compared to a 12-megapixel Wide lens on iPhone 13 Pro models, but it is not as simple as it might sound.
In a research note earlier this year, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said iPhone 14 Pro models may support both 48-megapixel and 12-megapixel output, which would likely be achieved with a process known as pixel binning. Already in use on some Android smartphones like Samsung's Galaxy S21 Ultra, pixel binning merges data from multiple smaller pixels on the camera's image sensor into one "super-pixel" for improved low-light sensitivity.
Pixel binning is beneficial because simply increasing a smartphone camera's megapixels while maintaining the same camera sensor size results in smaller pixels, which generally capture less light, leading to lower-quality low-light photos. Pixel binning would allow iPhone 14 Pro models to shoot high-resolution 48-megapixel photos in bright conditions and 12-megapixel photos in low-light conditions that are still of high quality.
On the Galaxy S21 Ultra, the device shoots 12-megapixel photos by default, with a toggle available in the camera app for shooting 108-megapixel photos. This is ideal for most users, as high-resolution photos have large file sizes that can use up lots of storage space. A single 108-megapixel photo shot with the Galaxy S21 Ultra can have a 16MB file size, for example, compared to the average 12-megapixel photo being around 2-3MB.
CNET's Stephen Shankland wrote a helpful explainer that goes into more detail on the technical aspects of pixel binning earlier this year.
Kuo expects the iPhone 14 Pro's new 48-megapixel Wide lens to support 8K video recording, up from 4K currently, and he said these high-resolution videos would be suitable for viewing on Apple's rumored AR/VR headset expected to launch next year.
Kuo ultimately believes that the camera quality of the iPhone 14 Pro models will "elevate mobile phone camera photography to a new level."