It's fair to say more and more people are dumping their compact cameras in favour of using the camera on their smart phone. With that in mind we feel it's time to do our very first photographers review of a smart phone; the iPhone 6S. When Apple first released the specs for the new iPhone camera people took to the forums and expressed their disappointment with the same 12MP sensor used in the previous model. It would seem people were expecting a higher 16MP ccd similar to Samsung's and HTC's latest offerings. But in a world of playing top-trumps with statistics people overlook what really matters, the quality of the image. One of Microsoft's Nokia Lumia’s featured a ridiculous 41MP censor which served only to sound impressive, the reality was it failed miserably when compared to the iPhone 5S’ 5MP camera.
Prior to getting my 6S I owned a 5S for two years. Although I never use my phone for doing proper shoots, it is always in my pocket and consequently has captured some fantastic images when I’m out and about. Personally, I cannot fault the 5S’ 5MP sensor, it produced vibrant & sharp images which looked stunning on the phones retina display. Admittedly the images suffered when viewed on my Thunderbolt display but then again, what can you expect from a 5 megapixels! This is where the 6S bridges the gap nicely striking a balance between storage capacity and resolution. But the question is does it produce better images than my 5S?
I first got chance to use the 6S’s camera on one of my evening cycle trips just above Matlock. For once it was a beautiful clear evening and dusk was fast approaching making for some excellent shots during my 10 mile cycle round. It proved to be a fruitful trip with ample photo opportunities to play with the HDR, Panorama and new Live Photo features. First impressions are good, the Auto HDR feature is excellent at gauging whether the subject would benefit from the high dynamic range treatment. After forcing it off for a couple of test shots the difference is night & day, to be honest I see no reason for deviating from the auto setting. The Panorama feature has certainly been improved in iOS 9 showing considerably less stitch marks, the extra mega pixels over the 5S really make a difference allowing you to zoom and explore your pano in much more detail. The Live Photo feature is an interesting addition; for those who are unsure, this feature takes multiple shots along with a few seconds of audio. When reviewing the photo, its looks like any other but when you press and hold, the photo animates playing all the shots back like a movie. Unfortunately playback is jerky, which is understandable if Apple didn't show perfectly smooth playback in the iOS 9 video! Not sure whats going on there but if you want to capture a moment with a little extra detail I am sure it will serve you well.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t expecting more from the auto-focus system, as it stands it performs the same as my iPhone 5S taking about 1-2 seconds to focus. If the phone is then moved closer or further from the subject it makes no effort to refocus even when you press the shutter. This behaviour seems really odd considering nearly every camera I know checks your subject is in focus before firing the shutter. To be fair, this is more of a software gripe and could be addressed with an update with the possible exception being the auto-focus speeds. Despite its slowness I have had no miss-focused images or problems focussing in difficult conditions such as low light, high contrast and subjects with very little detail for the camera to lock onto.
After a few more days pottering around taking some snaps I decided it was time to give my results the Thunderbolt display test. Viewing images on the phones retina display look stunning but it is hard to pickup on any imperfections on such a small screen. Using the Mac Photos app I connected to my iCloud account, downloaded my pictures and enjoyed the viewing! They certainly pass the Thunderbolt test, looking every bit as good large as they did small, something that is rare in compact/smartphone cameras. Images appear well exposed and wonderfully vibrant without loosing that natural feel, something that is very hard to achieve outside of your high-end cameras. Noise is pretty well controlled considering the size of the sensor and is only noticeable when zooming in on your larger displays, certainly nothing to worry about. Naturally this gets worse the lower the light and with no ISO or noise reduction options in the camera app there isn’t much that can be done.
So far, I have been very pleased with the results my iPhone 6S has produced and haven't felt the need to give any of them the post process treatment. That said, I couldn't help but play around with the surprisingly brilliant editing tools built into iOS’s Photos app. Similar to the Mac version you can easily rotate, crop and even aspect crop your images. There are also a bunch of preset effects for quickly giving your image the black & white treatment or the cross processed look. But whats even more impressive is the ability to adjust the, exposure, highlights, shadows, brightness, contrast, black point, saturation, contrast, cast and also create your own black and whites. Thats a pretty good set of tools for processing on the go, and all are well optimised for a touch interface. I actually found editing images on my iPhone more enjoyable than on my Mac; it allows you to interact with your images in a more ‘hands on’ manor, something I hope we see more off in the future.
So, to answer my original question… yes, it is certainly an improvement over my 5S and I look forward to seeing what random things I capture with it in the future! The iPhone 6S, I would say, sports one of the best smartphone cameras available on the market today. Sure, its 12MP censor lags behind its competitors but it posses the wonderful ability to capture vibrant & life like images. Something I believe is worth the sacrifice. Equally impressive is the software offering an easy and intuitive way of capturing and editing your pictures. The new Live Photo feature is an interesting addition, but could do with some improvements to make playback of images a little smoother. The only thing that hasn’t been improved over my 5S is the autofocus which is still sluggish and in need of some TLC from Apple.
Non of these images have been edited and are 'as taken'.