Want Apple to Make a Standalone Camera? That’ll Never Happen

Abstract digital artwork featuring a stylized apple with a lens in the middle, surrounded by dynamic, colorful geometric shapes on a dark background.

Some YouTube personalities aren’t satisfied with Apple’s imaging products and have reiterated their desire to see the company make a standalone camera with interchangeable — or even fixed — lenses. Here’s why Apple won’t do it.

Even though the iPhone is already the most popular camera in the world by some metrics, some prominent online personalities are asking for more. Back in 2019, Marques Brownlee — also known as MKBHD on YouTube — politely asked Apple to make a mirrorless camera.

“I’m hoping for a full-size dedicated camera with a real big sensor,” he wrote.

Fast-forward five years and YouTuber and former NASA engineer Mark Rober is calling for the same.

“I wish Apple (or really any of the smartphone makers) would make a DSLR. Basically all their same software but with a sweet set of lenses. Is that just too niche for their scale?” Rober writes on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

In a reply, Brownlee reiterates his desire to see the same: “Man I’m right there with you.”

Rober doesn’t seem to remember that a smartphone company did try and break into the mirrorless camera space before quietly flaming out: Samsung. In 2013, Samsung debuted the Galaxy NX, an Android-powered mirrorless camera with interchangeable optics. It was the first such system to feature connectivity to cellular towers and attempted to bridge the gap between a smartphone and a standalone camera.

Two years later, Samsung began the quiet exit from the standalone camera business.

Samsung didn’t just dip its toe into the market, it really gave being a mirrorless camera manufacturer a solid try. In addition to the Galaxy NX, a year later in 2014, Samsung also released the NX1, a 4K-capable APS-C camera with flagship specifications. It even produced a 50-150mm f/2.8 lens that accompanied a set of other optics it was producing.

These were highly capable cameras and critically acclaimed lenses and Samsung still failed to make headway in its attempts to be a “real” camera maker. It has been far more successful in iterating on the compact camera systems it has been putting into its Galaxy smartphones where it competes primarily against Apple and Google.

Looping back around to Apple and the desires of Rober and Brownlee, given Samsung’s failure and the failure of every other Android-equipped standalone camera ever made — Zeiss spent years developing the ZX1 only to watch it fail to catch on and discontinue it three years after launch — it would be extremely unlikely to see Apple try its hand at a mirrorless interchangeable lens or even fixed lens camera. Doing so can easily be considered a bad idea, given the lack of success any other company has ever had doing so.

A lot has changed since Samsung, or even Zeiss, failed to make the concept of a standalone camera powered by smartphone intelligence catch on. If there is a company to make something like this work, it would arguably be Apple. There were smartphones before the iPhone, laptops before the MacBook, and virtual reality goggles before the Vision Pro. Apple rarely wants to be first and very often succeeds against those who are first to market by taking a good idea and making it great.

But given how no other company has successfully proven that making a smart camera is actually a good idea, it seems like a stretch to think Apple will risk the investment when it seems to think its iPhone is already a camera good enough to use for high-end productions.

From a financial point of view, making a standalone interchangeable lens camera (ILC) makes very little sense. Apple’s revenue from just the iPhone was $200.5 billion in 2023. The value of the entire global digital camera market is estimated to be worth $24 billion (some estimations have it worth less than that, with sales in the United States barely eclipsing a billion dollars and shrinking annually). Even in the best-case scenario where Apple becomes the only ILC manufacturer, gaining $24 billion a year after investing in camera and lens design and manufacturing is unlikely worth it — and that’s the best-case, unrealistic scenario. Apple can make $24 billion more a year for a lot less — it could pick up the entire value of the digital camera market’s worth in revenue just by making the iPhone’s camera a little bit better, for example.

Arguably, Apple already is a “real” camera manufacturer and until something changes with its current product line or consumer demand, it will likely be quite content to continue just producing the iPhone.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see what an Apple interchangeable lens mirrorless camera would look like, too. It’s just not going to happen.

Image credits: Elements of header photo licensed via Depositphotos.