The new iPhone 5S has lots of marquee features so it’s easy to overlook the camera. But it’s clearly important to Apple, and alongside the A7 processor and gold case, the new iPhone 5S has a vastly improved iSight camera over earlier models.
This isn’t much of a surprise to seasoned Apple watchers. Every iteration of the iPhone has made the camera better and better. All the time while keeping it incredibly simple to use. Apple says “What makes the iSight camera so remarkable is how beautiful photos look without your having to do anything at all. Just aim and shoot.” Apple has also included this gallery of photographs taken using an iPhone 5S on the Apple site.
If you’re playing a numbers game the iPhone 5S appears to have the same image quality as before, that is to say an 8-megapixel CCD sensor. This in itself has come a long way since the 2-megapixels of the first generation iPhone, but it’s the same as last year’s iPhone 5.
Our original review of the iPhone (first-generation) stated that: “the lens appears to be of very poor quality and the photos we took weren’t very sharp (even in good light). In a darkened room or at night, it’s simply hopeless. You can’t record video either, which seems something of an oversight.”
We’ve come a long way since then and the iPhone 5S has a number of technical advances that really drive the camera quality forward.
iPhone 5S camera: new technical features
Although the iPhone 5S has the same 8-megapixel specification, that doesn’t mean that it’s the same camera. Here are the new technical advances that Apple has made.
15 per cent larger sensor: The iPhone 5S has a 15 per cent larger sensor. The sensor is the part behind the lens that captures the light and turns the scene into pixels. Even though it’s still 8-megapixel, each individual pixel capture space is larger. So the quality is higher.
33 per cent increase in light sensitivity: The larger pixels mean that the iPhone 5S should be be better in low light conditions (as they have more light hitting them). Apple is claiming a 33 per cent increase in light sensitivity.
Dynamic tone mapping: The image processor now manages dynamic tone mapping alongside white balance and auto-exposure. Tone Mapping adjusts contrast in different parts of an image separately. There’s a good explaination of it over at Stack Exchange.
Autofocus Matrix: The iPhone 5S now has an autofocus matrix with 15 focus zones. This means that rather than focus on one part of a photo (the part you tap): it focusses on 15 parts at the same time and uses them to get the sharpest overall shot.
iPhone 5S: True Tone flash
This is the big new camera feature for the iPhone 5S. It has not one but two flashes built into the case. Two is twice as good as one, right? Well not exactly…
It’s a mistake to think of True Tone flash as a double-powerful flash. Instead the dual-LED is a more accurate flash because each flash is different. The iPhone 5S has both an amber and white LED to produce two different tones of light that can balance foreground faces with background ambient light.
The light in your current iPhone (or even DSLR) is calibrated to one colour that approximates sunlight. It’s great for outdoor shots, but not so good under artificial light. The new Dual-LED camera is an incredible new feature to find on a phone.
iPhone 5S: Auto image stabilization
A lot of new features from the iPhone 5S camera seem to have their roots in HDR (the process Apple introduced with the iPhone 4 that took several shots and blended them to get the best one). The new auto image stabilization takes several shots and then merges them together to create the best shot.
So if you take a photo of five people, the iPhone 5S actually takes multiple shots at the same time with slightly different settings. If one person's face is blurred in one shot and another persons in another shot then it blends the two good faces together for the final photo.
This all happens in real-time, the iPhone 5S user won’t even know it’s happening. They’ll just get less blurry shots.
The feature is called Continuous Burst Mode and here are some other things that it’ll correct:
iPhone 5S: HD video & slo-mo
The iPhone 5S has an incredible new high definition video recording feature that records 120fps at 720p. That’s more than most DSLRs which top out at 60fps. It’s incredibly powerful video editing for such a small device.
Slo-mo mode: This also enables the iPhone 5S to have a slo-mo mode, so it can slow down the video footage. It’s going to be great to video things happening, then be able to tap on the footage and slow it right down.
Live video zoom: The iPhone 5S also has a live video zoom feature, so you can zoom in up to 3x on an image while you are video recording. The ability to zoom in and out while filming again makes the iPhone 5S more like a camcorder than its traditional camera filming technology.
iPhone 5S: Is the camera any good?
Well the new features certainly sound interesting, but of course the proof is in the pudding. However professional photographers like Matthew Panzarion from Techcruch say the following: “I’ve tried many, many different Android devices over the years which promised better images but none have delivered. The only real smartphone contender in the camera space is Nokia, which is doing some great stuff with the Lumia line. But where Nokia is pushing the pixel-count boundaries with the 41 megapixel Lumia 1020, Apple has chosen to go in a different direction.”
So we are confident that the iPhone 5S camera will be much better than anything else on the market. We can’t wait to test it out.