How Big Can You Enlarge iPhone Photos

by Nov 24, 2023Photography Blog

Robin Whalley Landscape Photographer

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How Big Can You Enlarge iPhone Photos

I recently wrote an article about how to enlarge iPhone photos. In it, I used the excellent Topaz Photo AI software to correct quality problems and make a two-times enlargement. But that got me thinking: how big can I enlarge my iPhone photos?

In this article, I’ll test how big an enlargement I can really make. The iPhone I’m using for the test is an SE, 2nd generation, with a 12-megapixel camera and a single 28mm lens (in 35mm terms). It’s limited in terms of camera phone capabilities, so it should make a useful comparison for most people. And although I keep referring to an iPhone, the same principles apply to other camera phones.

The iPhone Photos for Enlargement

It’s easy to forget, but the phone isn’t the deciding factor in how big you can enlarge your iPhone photos. The size and quality of the starting image is key. If you start with a high ISO image with quality problems, your enlargement won’t be as good as starting with a high-quality image. I’ve therefore selected the two images below to test in this article. One from either end of the spectrum.

Sample images to test how big you can enlarge an iphone image

Image 1 was taken with the standard iPhone Camera app in the JPEG format. It was captured in good light at ISO20 (the minimum) and hasn’t been edited. The starting image is 3024 x 4032 pixels. At a resolution of 300ppi, it would produce a 10.08 x 13.44-inch print.

The second test image is quite different, although it was taken using the same iPhone. It was captured using the Slow Shutter camera app. This can capture long exposure light trails but does a lot of automated processing to produce the result. The exposure time was 8 seconds at ISO400 with the phone mounted on a tripod. The resulting image is 1960 x 2611 pixels. At a resolution of 300ppi, it would produce a print of 6.533 x 8.703 inches in size. In addition, the image has been processed using the Nik Collection in Photoshop.

Enlarging the Photos

To create the enlargements of the test photos, I’m using Topaz Photo AI as I did in the previous article. It may be possible to produce better results using individual Topaz products like Gigapixel and Sharpen AI, but this would take more time and effort.

Enlargements for Test Photo 1

After opening the iPhone sample photo 1 in Topaz Photo AI, I selected the subject and turned on the Upscaling feature.

Test iPhone photo 1 open in Topaz Photo AI as a 2x enlargement

The software then determined the image could be enlarged using the High Fidelity AI model. It also set the appropriate Deblur, Denoise and Compression Fix slider levels.

Looking at the preview results, I have no doubts this will produce an excellent 2x enlargement. That would give a 20.16 x 26.88 print at 300 dpi. I therefore decided to move to the 4x enlargement setting.

Test iPhone photo 1 making a 4x enlargement

This produces a 40.32 x 53.76-inch print at 300 dpi. Again, I have no doubt this enlargement will produce an excellent print. I therefore decided to test the six times enlargement. Here’s what happened when I selected the Max (6 times) enlargement in the software.

Test iPhone photo 1 making a 6x enlargement

At a six times enlargement, the iPhone image produces a 60.48 x 80.64-inch print using 300dpi. But I noticed this time in the preview that some areas of the image appeared too smooth. Whether this will appear in a finished print is debatable, but I didn’t want to take a chance. I therefore set the noise reduction to the minimum and double-clicked the Fix Compression slider.

Double-clicking the slider caused it to reduce from 81 to 56. I can only assume double-clicking resets it in some way. After these changes, the image preview appeared more natural and again looked excellent.

Summarising the Image 1 Enlargements

Having tested the maximum six-times enlargement option in the software, I’m confident the print quality will be good. I suspect this is because I was starting with a high-quality image, which we will explore shortly with image 2. There are however a few points to be aware of:

  1. The previews in the software were set to 100% magnification. This is too high to understand how a print will look. Reducing the magnification to 50% gave a better idea and improved the appearance of fine detail.
  2. The image sizes we’ve been looking at are big. Even with the preview set to 50%, it’s like pressing your nose up to the print and the only people who do that are photographers. When considering a reasonable viewing distance for the print, I doubt we would notice any difference between the image taken with the iPhone and one taken with a camera.
  3. The largest print in the test was just over 80 inches on the long side at 300 dpi. Finding a lab that can produce this print size is much more difficult than expected. After much searching, I could only find one UK printer offering a 60 x 80-inch print.

Let’s look at the second test iPhone image to see how much we can enlarge that.

Enlarging iPhone Image 2

I’ll use the same approach as with the first image for this. After opening the image in Topaz Photo AI the software automatically applied the following adjustments.

Enlarging TestiPhone image 2 with Topaz Photo AI

The only adjustment recommended was to enlarge the image by 1.53x. This produces a print size of 9.997 inches x 13.317 inches at 300 ppi. The software also detected that this was a Low-Resolution image, but it didn’t apply any Denoise and only a small amount of Deblur.

Whilst the preview for this enlargement looks good, it’s far too small to be used in our test. Setting the software to produce a two-times enlargement generated a print of 13.067 x 17.407 inches at 300 dpi. This size suits an A3+ print, and the image quality looks good.

Based on these findings, I compared the four and six-times enlargements. To make the comparison, I set the software preview to 50%. This allows me to make a reasonable judgement of how a print would appear. Here are the results.

Comparing four and six times enlargements

Image 1 on the left is a four times enlargement of the iPhone photo, whilst image 2 is a six times enlargement. Both are seen here at 50% magnification.

Summary of Enlarging iPhone Image 2

My personal assessment of the two is that a four times enlargement is acceptable, but the six times enlargement isn’t. When this image was enlarged six times, the fine details in the image were noticeably smooth and looked artificial. My best guess is that this is caused by the original image processing when it was captured and isn’t caused by Topaz Photo AI.

Whilst you may feel a four times enlargement is disappointing, let’s consider this. It still produces a 26.18 x 34.81-inch print at 300 dpi. Compared to the original image, which was just over 8 inches.

How Can You Enlarge Your iPhone Image Conclusion

Now, let’s try to answer how big you can enlarge your iPhone image. I say try because several factors dictate the result. These are:

  • The size of the starting image you are working with. The larger that is, the bigger you can make the enlargement.
  • The quality of the image. If you start with a poor-quality image, the quality problems will become visible when you enlarge it. This effectively limits how big you can make the image.
  • The software used. In this test, I’ve been using Topaz Photo AI. Whilst the individual Topaz products may produce better and larger results, many software packages won’t be as good. Use good software to not limit how big you can make the photo.

Keeping these points in mind, here are my thoughts:

  1. Starting with a high-quality iPhone image, you should be able to enlarge it by six times or more. At this size, the issue won’t be the image quality but finding a lab to print such a large image.
  2. If you start with a small and/or low-quality image, you will likely find six times enlargements are too big. Even a four-times enlargement may cause problems, but it’s still worth checking. A safe enlargement for a low-quality iPhone image is probably two times, but that should be plenty for most uses.

I’ve been quite surprised by the results from these tests and having printed some of my iPhone photos. It has made me reconsider the iPhone as a tool for serious photography. Not only can it produce quality images, but you can also use it when a camera is difficult to use. This article gives another example and explains my approach to editing iPhone images on a desktop computer.

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