Use Your iPhone’s Camera App for Real-Time Translations and Unit Conversions « iOS & iPhone :: Gadget Hacks



When you see foreign words on a sign, unfamiliar currencies on a dinner menu, or a recipe using a different measurement system, there’s a good chance you google it for a translation or conversion. Your iPhone’s Translate app comes in handy for real-world language translations, and Siri’s pretty good at converting measurements, but there’s an app on everyone’s lock screen that can do both: Camera.

On iOS 16, Live Text has become much more powerful, especially in your default Camera app. While Live Text was helpful in the Camera app on iOS 15, the most you could do was select, copy, and speak content it identified. Now, there are quick actions for Live Text that turns Camera into a text translator and unit converter.

The Camera app’s new powers work great when traveling abroad or studying a foreign language, as well as whenever you need to convert measurement units from one system to another, like liters to gallons or British pounds to US dollars. You don’t even have to take a photo or video — just pointing your camera at a sign, book, menu, or another object in the real world is enough for Live Text to kick in.

Live Text in the Camera app works on iPhone models with an A12 Bionic chip or newer. So if you have an iPhone XS or newer, you can use the new Live Text tools.

Enabling Text Detection for the Camera App

Text detection should already be enabled for your iPhone’s Camera app, but you can double-check by going to Settings –> Camera and ensuring the “Show Detected Text” switch is toggled on.

Using the Camera App to Convert Units

Select the “Photo” shooting mode in the Camera app, then point the camera at the measurement units you need to convert. After the text gets surrounded by a yellow frame, tap the Live Text button at the bottom right of the viewfinder, and Live Text should show it in an enlarged preview.

This is also how it works on iOS 15, but on iOS 16, currency and measurement units will be underlined if Live Text has conversions for it, and you’ll see quick actions to the left of the Live Text icon.

Tap the underlined unit in the preview or the convert quick action button, and it will show you all of the available conversions. If you need to paste a converted value from the list, tap the conversion to your clipboard, then paste it wherever needed.

Good to know: You can also use Live Text to get unit conversions from an already captured still photo or video in your Photos app. Conversions via Live Text are also possible in other apps and services, such as Files, Mail, Messages, Notes, Safari, and Quick Look.

What Measurement Units Are Supported?

You can convert a variety of units, including:

  • Currency (British pounds, Euros, etc.)
  • Temperature (Fahrenheit, Celsius, Kelvin, degrees)
  • Distance (meters, feet, yards, miles, etc.)
  • Weight (grams, pounds, ounces,
  • Volume (cups, teaspoons, fluid ounces, gallons, etc.)
  • Area (square feet, acres, hectares, etc.)
  • Angles (degrees, turns, radians, etc.)

For a more complete list, check out our guide on converting units in Messages. Oddly, times are not currently working in Camera as they do in Messages.

Using the Camera App to Translate Text

Select the “Photo” shooting mode in the Camera app, then point the camera at the foreign text you need to translate. After the text gets surrounded by a yellow frame, tap the Live Text button at the bottom right of the viewfinder, and Live Text should show it in an enlarged preview.

This is also how it works on iOS 15, but on iOS 16, you’ll see a “Translate” quick action to the left of the Live Text icon if it’s one of the supported languages that can be converted (see the list at the bottom of this article for all the supported languages).

Tap the “Translate” quick action button, and the text on the screen will change to its translated version. You can tap a section of the translation to get more options (if it separates them by lines). On the menu that appears, you can listen to a preview of the text spoken, copy the translation, change the translated language, add it to your favorites in the Translate app, or open it in the Translate app.

In some cases, Live Text won’t recognize the language displayed and won’t show the “Translate” quick action button, but there’s another option you can try. Also, if the language is supported for translation, but you don’t want to translate the entire text highlighted by Live Text, you can choose to translate specific text from the highlighted section.

After you tap the Live Text button to highlight the text, the contextual menu for the highlighted area should pop up. If you want to translate the entire preview, choose “Select All” from that menu. Otherwise, tap a word to select it, then use the grab points to expand the selection if necessary. Either way, tap “Translate” from the contextual menu.

When you translate text this way, the onscreen text won’t change into the translated version like above, but you’ll see the same options that you would in the menu that appears.

Using the Translate App’s Camera

Another way to translate foreign text around you is to use the camera in the Translate app. Open the Translate app, go to the Camera tab, select the original and translation languages, then point the camera to the text you want to translate. On iOS 15, there is no option to use the camera in Translate.

Then, tap the Take Picture button (the circle) below the viewfinder to snap a still preview, and you’ll see the translated text over the original text. If you tap the translated text, a menu opens with similar options that you’d see in the Camera app. You can hear the pronunciation, copy the translation, or add it to your favorites.

You can also translate text from an image saved in your Photos app by tapping the Choose Photo button to the left of the Take Picture button. After you select your image, it will show up with all the text converted to the target language you previously selected.

If you want to share the translated image, tap the Share icon to the right of the Close Image Preview (X) button, and the share sheet will appear. To attempt a new translation, tap the Close Image Preview (X) button.

Good to know: The Translate app only works with images and only for translations, but both translations and unit conversions work from images and videos when opened from Photos; To see Live Text on videos, you must pause the video on the needed frame. As with conversions, translations via Live Text are also possible in other apps and services, such as Files, Mail, Messages, Notes, Safari, and Quick Look.

What Languages Are Supported?

You can choose between the following languages when translating from Camera, Translate, or another app on your iPhone. With some languages, you might never see the “Translate” quick action button appear, but you can still use the “Translate” button from the contextual menu.

  • Arabic
  • Chinese (Mandarin – China Mainland)
  • Chinese (Mandarin – Taiwan)
  • Dutch*
  • English (UK)
  • English (US)
  • French (France)
  • German (Germany)
  • Indonesian*
  • Italian (Italy)
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Polish*
  • Portuguese (Brazil)
  • Russian
  • Spanish (Spain)
  • Thai*
  • Turkish*
  • Vietnamese*

* Not mentioned for system-wide translations on Apple’s website but are available from the “Change Language” option on iOS 16, as seen above.




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Cover photo and screenshots by Brenda Ramirez/Gadget Hacks

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