Some months back I posted about using the camera in an iOS device as a video magnifier. Work arounds were needed, as is usually the case when using a device for something outside of what it was designed for. Now with iOS 10, Apple has added a feature called Magnifier. It has made my previous post obsolete. Thanks, Apple. No really, thanks!
If you have familiarity with some of the accessibility features in iOS, the addition of Magnifier may cause a bit of confusion initially. iOS 10 now includes Magnifier and two types of zooming. Pinch zoom is a quick way to magnify some content on your device such as webpages, email messages and pictures. The zoom utility has been in iOS nearly since its beginning and is used for magnifying the user interface of your device, that of any app, as well as content that does not respond to pinch zoom. Magnifier, on the other hand, is used solely for magnifying content that you point your device's camera at. It also allows the content to be displayed with varying colour combinations and contrast levels. Let's have a look at Magnifier!
Setting it up, Starting it up
Navigate to Settings >General >Accessibility >Magnifier. Turn on the Magnifier switch. Directly under the switch, you should see a brief description of the feature and also the instruction to triple press the home button to start magnifier. The three presses of the home button need to happen quite rapidly unless you've chosen to allow a slower triple press by going to Settings >General >Accessibility >Home Button and choosing 'Slow' or 'Slowest' instead of 'Default'. Also note, if other accessibility features are linked to the home button triple press, found at Settings >General >Accessibility >Accessibility Shortcut, you will get a prompt with the triple press asking which of those selected features to start. If no other features are linked to the triple press, magnifier will launch.
A Look at the Main Interface
Caption: Image shows a view of the main screen of the magnifier utility with a camera view of a document and a black bar with five controls.
The image above shows the initial Magnifier interface which consists of a large camera view area and five controls on a black bar at the bottom of the screen. The camera view shows an image of an 8.5x11" document that I am pointing my camera at. I am holding my iPhone about one foot away from the document.
The controls on the black bar are:
Magnification Slider – mine is set all the way to the left at no magnification. More on this in the next section.
Flash icon – the icon is yellow, indicating that my LED light is turned on. Turn this on if light levels are low or to lighten shadows that can occur when holding the device directly over the object being viewed.
Focus lock icon – when turned on, this prevents the camera from focusing on things nearer or further to the lens than the item you intend to view. The icon is white, indicating that focus lock is off, allowing the camera to auto focus on whatever is nearest to the lens. You can touch the icon to turn focus lock on or off but there's a better way of using it. More on this below.
Shutter button - this looks like the shutter button from the camera app but it works quite differently. Press it once and it will turn from white to gray and the camera will snap a picture. After a couple of seconds, the screen will show the captured image. Press the shutter again and the image on screen will disappear and the button will turn back to white. The image that appears when you press the shutter button is only temporarily stored until the button is pressed again and the live view comes back on. Unlike the camera app, the images are not kept. This is great because we do not have to busy ourselves with deleting images after using the Magnifier.
Filters icon – when pressed, filters gives access to options for changing the image display colours and contrast level.
A Look at the Filter Options
Caption: Image shows view of the Magnifier filter options. The inverse yellow/black filter options is enabled. The document in the camera's view shows as black text on a yellow background.
From the main Magnifier screen, press the filters button on the lower right corner and the view above will show. There are five controls here in the black bar at the bottom of the screen.
Choose filter – slide this from left to right to choose one of the available colour filters: None (normal colours), white/blue, yellow/blue, grayscale, yellow/black or red/black.
Brightness – slide this left or right to increase or decrease the brightness of the image
Contrast – slide this left or right to increase or decrease the contrast of the image
Invert Colours – turn this on to invert the colour pairings found in the choose filter control. For example, if you prefer to view standard documents with white text on a black background, you would want to select the grayscale filter, which will make the white page whiter and the black print blacker and then touch the invert colours button to get white text on a black background.
Return to magnifier – the last button exits the filter options and returns to the magnifier controls.
Mastering the Magnifier
If you opt to move the magnify slider way over to the right towards the maximum amount, you may notice that while the text gets nice and large, the image might be quite shaky. I don't have the steadiest hands and realized that I can aim my camera at my document, take a picture at minimum magnification of the whole page and then pinch zoom the resulting image and move the view around the image with one finger. The resulting motion is much steadier this way and the quality and amount of magnification appears to be exactly the same either way.
Cameras on iDevices do a really good job of autofocusing but using the focus lock is not a bad habit to get into. It ensures that maximum sharpness is achieved when taking a picture. It's important to fill the screen first with as much of the document as you wish to view and then tap the screen to turn on focus lock. If you then move closer or further away, make sure to tap the screen again to refocus.
If you find that the image looks washed out or is too dark or bright, head over to your filter settings and play with the contrast and brightness sliders to fix things up. It might take a bit of experimentation to get things where you like them and you may wish to alter filter settings depending on what type of content you are magnifying.
The magnifier works equally well for distant tasks as it does for close ones. It's great for checking house numbers or reading shelf labels that are too high. Bear in mind that if text is really tiny or at too far a distance, there may not be enough resolution available to provide the necessary amount of magnification.
Lastly, the resolution of the camera and the screen size of your iDevice will affect the quality and amount of available magnification.