iPhone 5s vs 5c – Camera Comparison

November 12, 2013

In this article I want to discuss the differences between the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c rear facing camera. We know that the iPhone 5c features almost identical hardware specs, and it has the same camera as the iPhone 5. So this comparison is also about about the iPhone 5 camera as well.

I didn’t expect Apple to release a new iPhone model without making a change in the rear-facing camera.  The changes are not huge, but have a direct impact on the image quality, at least when it comes to low-light performance.

Before we jump on talking about the differences, let’s first take a look at the specs.

iPhone 5ciPhone 5s
Sensor size and resolution8MP
(4.89x3.67 mm)
Sensor technologyBack-illuminated (BSI)Back-illuminated (BSI)
Pixel size1.4 µm1.5 µm
Focal length4.10 mm (31mm equivalent)4.12 mm (29.7mm equivalent)
Maximum lens aperturef/2.4f/2.2
Image stabilizationNo optical image stabilization (IBIS)

Digital image stabilization
No optical image stabilization (IBIS)

Digital image stabilization, as well as automatic multi-frame combining for sharper images (strips out the sharpest areas from various images and combine it to a sharp single frame)
FlashLEDDual LED True Tone flash

(two LED lights with different color tones, one warm, other cold - mix the two to get a true-to-life color rendering under various type of lighting that have different color temperatures)
Continuous ShootingN/A (optional, using a 3rd party app)10 fps (up to 999 frames)
Slow-mo (Slow motion)N/AYes, 720p120

The iPhone 5s is certainly a positive upgrade when it comes to the rear-facing camera. Apple employed a larger sensor, faster lens, wider field of view, improved digital image stabilization processing using multiple images, added Dual LED flash with True Tone for natural scenes under various lighting conditions, super afst burst and slow-mo video recording.

So what’s makes the iPhone 5s to perform better than the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5c in low-light?

There are a few improvements that made this happen:

  • Larger sensor which results in larger pixels considering the same resolution
  • Larger aperture size
  • Improved digital image stabilization
  • Might also be an improved noise reduction algorithms due to much more powerful processing power, but I couldn’t verify this

Let’s first talk about the size of the sensor and how it affects the camera’s low-light performance. The size of the sensor itself isn’t the factor that affects image quality directly, but in fact the size of the pixels is. The larger the pixels, the more photons each pixel can absorb, and you can look at it like the image data, which in fact it is. The larger the pixel, the more data can be absorb for each pixel so we can get a better info about the color that should be rendered for that specific pixel.

Larger pixels have the potential of producing images with lower image noise and due to the single pixel capacity of storing more photons, this leads to a higher dynamic range. It’s worth mentioning that this isn’t a 1:1 comparison, which means that it doesn’t mean that two cameras with the same pixel size and optics will produce and image with the same dynamic range and image noise. There are other factors that influence the results, including the sensor technology (e.g. FSI vs BSI) and image processing.

In fact, the iPhone 5s sensor isn’t much larger than the iPhone 5 and 5c, but this slight change helps to improve the sensor’s sensitivity to promote better image quality. The differences is not due to the size of the sensor, but due to the fact that both sensors have the same resolution, and therefore the pixels on the 5s sensors are larger.

iPhone 5s vs 5c - sensor size comparison

iPhone 5s vs 5c - sensor size comparison .not real size, obviously :)

In the case of the iPhone 5s, the aperture size is probably the factor that influence the the low-light performance more dramatically, but the combination of both lead to the iPhone 5s producing low-light images with much better clarity and much less noise under the same shooting conditions.

The aperture for those who don’t know, is a hold from which the light passes through to the sensor. The larger the aperture, the most light that can reach the sensor and vice versa. The aperture is represented by f-numbers (ƒ). The larger the f-number, the smaller the hole is and therefore less light can pass through that opening. That works on the other way around, the smaller the f-number, the larger the hole and more light can pass through.

For example: f/2.8 (can be written as F2.8) hole is larger than f/5.6 one.  So a lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 will result in much more light passing through. There is 2-stops difference between f/2.8 and f/5.6, each stop means two times the amount of light. This means that a lens with f/2.8 aperture will allow four times the amount of light to pass through compare to a lens with f/5.6 aperture.

The f-number of the lens represents the maximum aperture. In other words, it’s the largest aperture possible for the given focal length of the lens.  iPhone 5s has a 4.12mm f/2.2 lens (4.12mm is the focal length, f/2.2 is the aperture), which means that the maximum size of the hole that the lens can reach equals to f/2.2, whether with the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5c the lens aperture is f/2.4. The f-number is larger, and therefore less light can pass through the lens compare to the 5s lens, actually 1/3 stop.

The difference is very visible, and it makes the iPhone 5s a better camera for low-light photography.

Focal Length Difference

The iPhone 5s also features a slightly wider lens. In other words (more technical ones) we can say that the iPhone 5s has a wider field of view than the iPhone 5c and iPhone 5. the different between 31mm (equivalent) and 29.7mm (equivalent) is not big but visible.

With a wider angle lens you will be able to squeeze more of the scenes into the frame without moving back. A wide angle is great for landscape, indoor and group shots. There are phone camera lenses that are much wider than the iPhone 5, like the Samsung Galaxy S3 with its 26mm effective focal length. Samsung Galaxy S4 for example, has the same effective focal length as the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5c.

Dual LED Flash vs Single LED Flash

The dual LED flash of the iPhone 5s provides him with stronger luminosity power and the ability to better light up the scene compare to a single LED flash, like the one found on the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5c. The True Tone flash will also give you more natural results.

If you are find yourself shooting lots of images and videos and your searching for a phone with a camera that can produce very high-quality photos, even in low-light situations, the iPhone 5s will provide the goods. I personally wouldn’t upgrade to the iPhone 5s for its improved camera specs, but its nice to see that Apple improved its camera performance in this new model. The iPhone 5c and iPhone 5 cameras are still excellent performers but in each generation we will of course see improvements that will push image quality and low-light performance further.

My main criticism is that Apple didn’t include an optical image stabilization on its more expensive model, the iPhone 5s.  An optical image stabilization can greatly help to improve the camera’s low light performance when shooting static scenes, however it’s not intended to stop fast moving subjects — for that you’ll need a faster shutter speed.

I think that Apple is saving it’s wildcards for the iPhone 6, and I expect the big innovations to be implemented on that future device.


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