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iPhone 5s camera: Is it a 'great' camera?

iPhone 5s camera: Is it a ‘great’ camera?

With plenty of fanfare the iPhone 5s was introduced this week. I certainly have plenty of interest because my iPhone 4s contract conveniently is ready for an upgrade. I seem to be on the iPhone “s” track. First the 3s, then the 4s, and now, I’m not sure about the latest model.

I waited in a line for the 4s, but I’m not rushing in so fast for the new iPhone 5s. If I decide to buy the iPhone, I think I will give it a little time to see the first results roll in.

iphone5s-2-250pxThe fingerprint reader and faster processor are nice features, but the camera is the biggest issue to me. It doesn’t look like Apple hasn’t made any giant leaps past the smartphone camera competition, from what I’ve seen on its keynote video or website, that has made me commit for two more years.

Apple does make some interesting claims on its website that extol the virtues of the new iPhone 5s smartphone camera to capture my attention:

“It’s not just a great camera for a phone. It’s a great camera, period” — This one is a bit of a marketing stretch. I will agree that it is a great camera for a phone, but a great camera, period. Let me list a few cameras that I think fit better into the “great” category: Nikon D4, Canon 5D Mark III and Leica M. I’m willing to go head to head with the 15% larger sensor and bigger 8 megapixel iPhone 5s camera any time, anywhere with one of these full-frame cameras. I forgot to mention a few other cameras, like the Olympus OM-D E-M1, Panasonic GH3, Sony a77 or Fujifilm X-Pro1 which would be worthy challengers.

“And that means you get amazing-looking photos every time” or “It shoots consistently great photos all the time” –Since most people always like their own photographs the best, maybe this makes a lot of sense, but not to me. I shoot thousands and thousands of photos with my iPhone 4s, and not every one is a winner, that’s why there is an edit and delete button. In order to make this work, the iPhone 5s either has some special super software with its new souped up processor or it will go with the theory that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, when looking at their photos.

“It simply makes more sense to teach iPhone how to take a great picture rather than teach people how to be expert photographers” — This claim is the most fun. Is the iPhone going to photo school? All cameras today are getting better; focus, exposure and quality are improving across the board. Is the phone going to pick the angle, compose and decide and wait for the the best time of day for proper lighting? I can’t wait to see how this works.

iphone5S-2-400px“A white LED and an amber LED work with intelligent software algorithms to adjust the flash intensity and color temperature, using over 1000 unique combinations to light your subject perfectly” — When you use the word perfectly, I take notice. I saw the one example on the website of the flash and using my 40 years of photo experience, the flash exposure color didn’t look perfect. The flash exposure looked better in the photograph, but it didn’t look perfect. Also noticeably missing from the website were  examples of low-light photography. The high-resolution examples, which you could download, were shot with great lighting, most during perfect daylight. Absent from the website were examples from typical events like a concert, sports inside a high school gym or birthday parties.

“Larger sensor. Larger pixels. Larger aperture. Continuous burst mode” — Trying to upgrade your camera while fitting a small form factor is a tough challenge. Trying to get a large sensors and an optical zoom into the camera phone has become a very tough puzzle to solve and Apple has done a nice job of upgrading the camera deciding to make its sensor 15% larger, using larger pixels and a larger f2.2 aperture.

Nokia decided to change its form factor with its recent entry into the high-quality smartphone camera challenge. The makers figured consumers wouldn’t mind a larger phone with a camera lens popping out of the back of the camera. They went with more pixels, 41-megapixel on the Lumia 1020 model. It is a noticeable upgrade to the quality, to digitally zoom into the image, keeping some  quality. It certainly would be better with optical zoom. Since Apple committed to the same architecture of the earlier model phone, this major change wasn’t an option.

The new camera does have a lot of improvements, so my complaint is mostly with the marketing department using the words: perfect, amazing and great. Some nice features have been added: a better flash system, image stabilization, burst mode, 120 frame-per-second, video zooming, faster aperture, a much cleaner and easier to use interface, and improved quality image.

I’m looking to forward to checking out the lines for the iPhone 5s on Sept. 20. I am tempted to buy, but I’m going to be patient and wait and see the real-world photography results before I take the plunge.

Photo credits: (top to bottom) Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide product marketing, speaks on stage about the camera quality during the introduction of the new iPhone 5S. Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press; Apple representatives demonstrate the iPhone 5s during a new product announcement at Apple headquarters. Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press; and Tim Cook, chief executive of Apple, speaks on stage during the introduction of the new iPhone 5s. Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

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  1. September 14, 2013, 4:14 am

    The best camera is always the one you have with you… and if they improved the existing camera it likely will be better than that D4 or 5D MkIII sitting in your camera bag at home. As to whether it's a great camera, I guess you haven't answered the question, and speculation is just that. I'll be interested to see field reports from those who actually use one, but the best improvements are seldom reflected in specifications, as we've seen in the megapixel race and the prior mhz race with PCs. I also think the definition of "great camera" has to take into account the target user, who probably isn't someone who spends a lot of time changing lenses, calculating f/stops and depth of field or hours post-processing in Photoshop. A small, well-thought out camera with good image quality, great ergonomics and fast response time that fits in your pocket just might be considered "great."

    By: felipe carlos
  2. September 14, 2013, 5:33 am

    Comparing any smartphone to a full-frame DSLR is not the point of a great camera in a cell phone. Let me see you carry a Nikon D4 everywhere you go. Does it fit in your pant's pocket? Pro level images are possible using an iPhone, I'd suggest it is the skills of the photographer more than any one camera with whatever specs it has.

    By: Eric
  3. September 14, 2013, 5:43 am

    Yes, you are right. . If you want to have everything in the same box, some adjustings have to be done. The marketing department went too far, they did a good job but… they had no technological backup. Nice try. Apple should try to find new concepts or real big improvements and not "almost there" solutions with a big fanfarre.
    It is not easy to find new products, new concepts.
    All my computers (desk top, lap top iPad) and phones are Apple but the last 3 months I am thinking to buy a Sony Xperia and the only obstacle is the system Android – but… may be I will do it. The format, the screen, the sound everything is ten times better than the iPhone and sound+image is what you use more in a phone today…so
    Pictures? I use my Canon for real results.

    By: JOe
  4. September 14, 2013, 6:18 am

    "It doesn’t look like Apple hasn’t made any giant leaps past the smartphone camera competition, from what I’ve seen on its keynote video or website, that has made me commit for two more years."

    You seriously need a copy editor. Like now. The first clause has a double negative, so instead of what you intended it to mean, which is that it doesn't appear Apple has made any giant leaps, it actually means the opposite, since you're saying it "doesn't" look like Apple "hasn't" made any giant leaps. Really, the word "hasn't" has no place in the clause at all.

    Two, you're tense-shifting all over the place. The "has made" in the third clause should likely be "makes" instead, since you CAN'T commit yet. Overall, the writing in this piece is far below newspaper quality, which isn't the author's fault as much as it is the Times. Since we've established the iPhone isn't going to photography school, maybe the Times set the example and go to editorial school.

  5. September 14, 2013, 7:33 am

    Ok, obviously the new iPhone's camera will not hold up to a high end DSLR or Leica but relative to other smart phone cameras is it a "great" camera? I realize the way over hyper marketing campaign begs to ask the former question but I think you have to look at the context of who it is aimed at. For your average iPhone instagramer, is it great or just a small step up?

    By: jjjjgtfr
  6. September 14, 2013, 11:28 am

    I use an iPhone 5, and often slip that in my pocket and leave my 5 pound Nikon at home. I have enjoyed the creative challenge of a single focal length lens, auto aperture/shutter speed. I often use Pro HDR which mostly does a better job or extremes than the unbuilt HDR, except where there is movement or high contrast edges. Pro HDR is slow and fiddly, but often worth it with the results.

    Processing images through Lightroom 5, which has great noise reduction and sharpening, can give an acceptable print up to 30"x40", with a brightly lit subject.

    So for me, the iPhone 5 has been an adventure in creativity, having it conveniently and unobtrusively with me all the time. I even got an honorable mention as a finalist in the prestigious, Emerging Focus Summer Sessions Competition in LA this year with an iPhone 5 image.

    In a way I am relieved that Apple did not up the sensor to 12MP, thus relieving my techno-envy and pressure to upgrade.

    By: Jim Everett
  7. September 14, 2013, 1:50 pm

    The Nikon D4's, Canon 5D Mark III's and Leica M's cellphones suck. Now, the Hasselblad 500 ELM has a great cell phone built in. Maybe you should trade up.

    By: Agfa Pina White
  8. September 14, 2013, 1:51 pm

    I think they were comparing the new iPhone camera to pocketable point-and-shoots, really… compared to a pocketable Lumix or such it probably is a great camera.

    The balanced flash, though – that is very interesting. Perhaps the example photo wasn't "perfect," but I can't imagine trying to get a quick photo by gelling my flash just right and doing as well. AFAIK, there's no other flash like it.

    I'm due for an upgrade too, and I'm looking forward to trying it out.

    By: Mac Daddy
  9. September 15, 2013, 12:06 am

    Is this your first ever Apple product intro? Have you ever heard terms like "insanely great" or "magical"? I'm sure the products didn't cause literal insanity nor could they saw a woman in half. More cases of Apple over the top. Along with Mercedes-Benz and "The best or nothing" (then what to make of Maybach, which was M-B's upmarket brand?), or Charmin being "squeezably soft" (who squeezes toilet paper?) or Cadillac being "A new standard for the world" (I could think of at least three German brands that would take issue).

    It's called promotion. It's been going on for quite a while.

    Nothing to see here. Move along.

    By: MarkB
  10. May 28, 2015, 7:25 pm

    The iPhone is that the latest in technology for good phones. With applications downloadable for as regards to everything, there is not a lot of your iPhone cannot do.
    smart android box

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