Apple is a company that is almost becoming like a German car maker: rather than reinventing the wheel with each new model of iPad or MacBook, they simply work on making incremental improvements to an already solid foundation. And the release of the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus is no different.
The iPhone 5 was, and still is, a very solid device that works well, has a fantastic screen, and an in-built camera that puts most other smartphone cameras to shame. So it’s no surprise that after watching the Apple Keynote at 3am (Australian EST) that I was a little keen to get my hands on the new iPhone 6 and start playing with its camera.
The Keynote promised an improved camera setup with faster focusing, better low light response, clearer and sharper details, plus better image stabilising for less blurry shots. In addition to this the iPhone 6 Plus also got the addition of optical image stabilisation, though as I decided on the plain old ‘6’ (mainly due to its more portable size) this camera comparison won’t be looking at this particular feature.
To start off with the first thing you notice, before you even take a shot, is the new autofocus system. Where the old iPhones (including the 5) have a bit of a hunt around for half a second before settling on a focal point, the iPhone 6 camera is in focus the split second you hold it up to take a photo. It’s truly astonishing. It’s as fast if not faster than many high end SLRs. And it’s by far the most significant improvement to the camera in my opinion. So many shots in the past have been missed or have not focused properly, whereas this system will quash most, if not all these issues.
Comparison images below can be clicked on to view larger
In terms of colour and balance, the iPhone 6 camera tends to produce images more like a proper digital camera. Colours are more realistic and less cartoony, as you can see in the image above it doesn’t make the sand an artificial colour. Plus the tonality is closer to how the scene actually looked in real life.
With close up photos that have plenty of light to illuminate the subject there’s almost no difference between the camera in the 5 and the 6, as you can see with this Buddha statue in our front yard.
In more overcast conditions, close up photos with the 6 are marginally sharper. However as you can see in this photo of sand on a timber step, the difference between the two are again almost indistinguishable.
When the subjects get a bit further away, the story begins to change. The image above is a detail of a wider shot, looking across the housing estate from our balcony to the houses on the other side (about three-hundred metres away). The image from the 6 has resolved with a lot more detail, particularly noticeable in the leaves of the trees on the bottom right of each image. Where the 5 makes the trees look kind of blocky, the 6 renders the leaves with much more accuracy.
The next improvement the 6 has over the 5 is detail in close up shots in lower lighting conditions.
Looking at the full size detail of the whippet photo, it’s even more evident with the fur and even the blanket behind resolving with significantly more detail than with the 5’s camera.
In the darkness of the garage under the house, a quick shot of the front of the A3 revealed even better low light performance and better focusing with the 6. With only a small amount of sunlight leaking into the garage, I have to say I was pretty impressed with the level of detail the 6 picked up.
Taking it another step further, inside the car this time, where only a very small amount of light was hitting the steering wheel. The 6 once again significantly outperforms the 5 with a brighter, sharper image that also reveals more detail in the darker sections of the wheel.
A quick shot of the instrument panel with the lights on also revealed that the 6’s camera is better at coping with extremes in contrast, while showing more detail in the dark areas.
A close-up of this same image shows more clearly the extra detail in the chrome surrounds, and also the control knob on the bottom left is considerably more illuminated and detailed.
Finally, a nighttime shot reveals that while the 6 isn’t an SLR by any means, for a smartphone camera it’s mighty impressive in ultra low light.
A close-up of the balcony photos shows the blurry, noise-filled image that the 5 took, compared to the 6’s much cleaner and sharper image. It’s still not perfect by any means, but considering it was taken through a lens smaller than a Tic-tac, it’s pretty damn impressive.
So are there any negatives from the upgrade? At this point I’d say not really. The lens does stick out from the body unlike all the previous generations of iPhone camera, but it’s still too early to say whether this will be an issue with scratching or getting knocked. The iPhone 6 camera also still suffers from hazy photo when the lens is hit sideways by bright light or sunlight. This isn’t a new issues though (with most other smartphone cameras suffering the same issue), and an issue that would be suffered by many proper cameras if it weren’t for the light guard attached to the lens.
Improvements including sharper images, better low light performance, plus the simply astonishing instant autofocus make the 6’s camera a joy to photograph with. Overall the iPhone 6 camera is an impressive upgrade for anyone who enjoys their ‘iPhoneography’, and particularly for people like myself who are on the two-year upgrade routine and are upgrading from an iPhone 5.