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Hands on: iPhone 5 camera

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Gadgets on the go

Adam Turner is an award-winning Australian freelance technology journalist with a passion for gadgets and the "digital lounge room".

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The iPhone 5.

The iPhone 5.

The iPhone 5's improved camera makes it easier than ever to leave your compact digital at home.

Better photos are something you can generally take for granted with each new iPhone, so it's surprising to see that the iPhone 5 offers the same 8 megapixel rear camera resolution as the iPhone 4S. But there's more to picture quality than the pixel count and the iPhone 5's camera is still a considerably improvement on its predecessor.

On a bright sunny day you won't see much difference, but the iPhone 5 shines through when it comes to dynamic contrast and low-light performance. It retains the iPhone 4S' f/2.4 aperture, which means the camera can capture more light than the iPhone 4. But Apple has made other tweaks to improve the iPhone 5's picture quality over the 4S. When you take shots in a darkened room, or with a bright window in the background, you'll see a lot more detail in the shadows. That's great for parties and the extra contrast helps deliver more lifelike images and prints.

Apple has also added a slick panorama feature to iOS6, which is available on the iPhone 5 and 4S but not the 4. It lets you slowly pan around the room while it takes lots of photos which it then stitches together. An onscreen guide helps you get the best results although it still can be a little warped, depending on the scene.

You'll also notice the improved low-light performance when capturing video, along with the fact that shooting widescreen 1080p now almost perfectly matches the phone's new widescreen aspect ratio. Apple has improved the video stabilisation and has added the ability to capture photos while recording video. It's the latter that really caught my eye, because I hate being forced to choose between shooting videos and stills when recordings events such as kids blowing out birthday candles. Denying this feature to iPhone 4S owners seems harsh, although I don't know whether it's a technical limitation or just Apple's way of "encouraging" you to upgrade.

By now it should be clear that this isn't a full iPhone 5 review, as there are plenty of them around, this is just a closer look at one interesting aspect. If you own an iPhone 4 then the quality of the iPhone 5's photos and video alone could be enough to convince you to upgrade. Despite its best efforts, the photo quality of the iPhone 4 still can't rival that from a decent entry-level compact digital from the likes of Canon. The iPhone 5 closes the gap considerably. The faster processor means it also fires up faster and responds sooner when you tap the button to take a phone or shoot video.

If you've got an iPhone 4S then the improvement are less striking, but still impressive. I've seen complaints about the iPhone 5's flash misfiring but I haven't encountered this issue. From my tests it does a more even-handed job than the 4S in dark conditions, and when you disable the flash the iPhone 5 picks up a lot more detail in very dark rooms. Move into a room with bright windows, or outside with the sun behind your subjects, and the iPhone 5's improved picture quality really shines through. These three photos make it clear how the much the iPhone's camera has improved over the last few years -- with the iPhone 4 on the left, 4S in the middle and 5 on the right.

 

 

You see a similar improvement when you switch to video mode. Panning across a scene with the setting sun in the background almost completely overwhelms the iPhone 4S, whereas the 5 copes much better -- offering more detail in the shadows and more accurate colours.It's not just the light handling which has improved. In in good light the colours are slightly more vivid and bright areas are less washed out. This means that some photos actually look sharper than the 4S even though there are no extra pixels at play.

It's worth remembering that photos will look slightly better on the iPhone 5's screen, compared the 4 or iPhone 4S, due to the whiter whites and boosted colour saturation as I discussed on Monday. But even when you copy photos to a computer you can see the improvement in the iPhone 5's shots.

If you're still using the iPhone 4 then you'll be amazed at the iPhone 5's camera, but to be fair the iPhone 4S' camera isn't too shabby unless you put it in really punishing conditions like the photo above. Perhaps of more interest to iPhone 4S owners is that Apple has also boosted the iPhone 5's front camera from VGA to 1.2 megapixels. It obviously improves the quality of self-portraits but, more importantly, the jump allows the iPhone 5 to support 720p Facetime HD video chats. These look significantly better than standard Facetime, assuming you've got the bandwidth to let it shine. Even when you make Facetime calls to owners of older iPhones, the image they see is improved thanks to the iPhone 5's camera. iPhone 5 owners can make Facetime calls over both wi-fi and mobile broadband, as can the iPhone 4S after the iOS6 upgrade (but not the iPhone 4).

Camera phones might never satisfy hardcore photographers, but the iPhone 5's impressive efforts make it easier to leave your compact digital happy snapper at home. Later in the week I'll wrap up with a look at the iPhone 5's mobile broadband performance and new features such as HD voice calls.

10 comments so far

  • Fan boys and haters start you ranting engines.

    I do have to say though that the panorama feature is pretty cool. Had a play with it on my wife's new iPhone and it works surprisingly well.

    Commenter
    Dr Charlesworth
    Date and time
    September 26, 2012, 10:42AM
    • And wouldn't you know it? Samsung has ALREADY copied Apple's innovative panorama feature on the Galaxy S (that's the S1, released in 2010)

      Commenter
      Plagiarist
      Date and time
      September 26, 2012, 11:54AM
      • Interesting article in today's Age. I suggest all fandroids read it then come back and complain about Apple's "closed" system.

        http://www.theage.com.au/it-pro/security-it/security-risk-for-millions-of-android-phone-users-20120926-26khk.html

        Commenter
        Ron
        Date and time
        September 26, 2012, 1:59PM
      • There are features then there are well executed usefull features. Maybe on the galaxy 1 but what does that matter if your "copy phone" just lost all your photos and data by someone sending you a SMS ?

        Commenter
        Reg
        Date and time
        September 26, 2012, 2:46PM
    • "Apple has also boosted the iPhone 5's front camera from VGA to 1.2 megapixels". Competitors have had 1.9 megapixels on their front cameras for at least 6 months now.........

      Commenter
      Greg
      Location
      Wollstonecraft
      Date and time
      September 26, 2012, 3:09PM
      • Insightful comment. Would read again.

        Commenter
        jacksonjesse
        Date and time
        September 27, 2012, 9:08AM
    • Did you read that article? The exploit does not work by sending an SMS, it requires the user to follow a malicious link from the default web browser. Even if activated it doesn’t wipe any photos or user data, it just factory resets the phone, which is inconvenient, but easily fully recovered from the cloud.

      Similar exploits exist in the Apple closed system. The difference is in the closed system, you're at the mercy of Apple to develop and release a fix. In the open software world, the exploit can be blocked or remediated independently of the manufacturer, in this case by the simple expedient of using an alternate browser, or installing an alternate dialer or URI handler for “tel:” URLs. A few seconds effort.

      Complex software will always have bugs and loopholes which can be inconvenient or abused for malicious purposes. The best software will be adaptable enough to quickly overcome issues as they’re discovered.

      Commenter
      Not a fandroid
      Date and time
      September 27, 2012, 7:53AM
      • So if I buy a Samsung phone I then have to download a different browser and a different dialer just so my phone doesn't get remotely wiped of all it's data?

        No thanks, but you enjoy your fail phone.

        Commenter
        Spacks
        Date and time
        September 28, 2012, 7:57AM
      • Once more for the dummies who don't understand the word "OR".

        The exploit is NOT a "remote wipe", it requires the user to follow a URL.
        It does NOT wipe all data, it performs a factory reset.

        To avoid the issue you need only choose ONE of the following - (interesting concept, it's called "CHOICE", look it up sometime).

        1) Avoid following suspect hyper links (good advice for all users on all platforms)
        2) If you want to follow a suspect link, do it from any of the numerous alternate browsers
        3) If you want to follow a suspect link in the default browser, make sure you have at least one non-default dialer installed
        4) If you want to follow a suspect link in the default browser without an alternate dialer, install an alternate URI handler for "tel:" URLs.

        The above are only necessary until a permanent fix is released.

        5) Install the next update for your phone (which you would do anyway).

        The exploit is interesting from a theoretical perspective, but unless it can be monetised in some way, there seems to be little inventive for anyone to actually deploy it, other than a malicious competitor.

        Here's a challenge - find a single person among the millions of Android users who has actually had any data on their phone wiped unintentionally,

        Commenter
        Not a fandroid
        Date and time
        September 28, 2012, 10:13AM
      • The USSD exploit has been fixed.

        Commenter
        Not a fandroid
        Date and time
        October 02, 2012, 8:07AM

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