iPhone 5S Camera Opinion from an Amateur Photographer Perspective

December 25, 2013

I bought the iPhone 5S a week ago and already have enough time to experiment with its main camera. My overall experience was very good, and like many other people, I’ve decided to ditch my dear old Fujifilm point-and-shoot in favor of a mobile phone camera — finally.

Before I bought the iPhone 5S I had the Google Nexus One, Samsung Galaxy Y and other cheap to mid-range smartphones. None of them gave me the image quality and low-light performance to convince me to ditch my digital camera. Not the my conventional P&S camera had a large sensor, but it’s image quality was very good and I liked the fact that I can use an optical zoom.

Shooting the iPhone 5S brought many advantages and disadvantages with it, and until I fully understood its cons and pros I wouldn’t think about ditching my beloved Fuji camera. A few of the iPhone 5S advantages were the ability to easily backup my images onto a remote location wherever I am,  easily share images and video with friends and family using social networks and various online photo sharing websites.  Second, with the iPhone 5S I could use 3rd party apps to extend the camera functionality (A huge advantage). Third, I am no longer restricted to shoot in daylight as the iPhone 5S camera low-light performance is very good.

Like many other people, I wasn’t carry my digital camera everywhere I go. Although it was pretty compact, I didn’t feel comfortable carry it with me all the time. This is different of course with the iPhone 5S, and for any mobile phone camera in general.

With my P&S camera I had to close up my shooting session in around 5 in the afternoon, which means no golden-hour photos. I owned several DSLR cameras, but eventually sold them because I didn’t used them often and preferred a portable camera instead — as I am an amateur photographer and not doing it for a living.

landscape view through a window, golden hour

Landscape view through a window in the golden hour (taken with the iPhone 5S)

The shot that you see above (resized) was taken at around 5:00 PM and it was already getting pretty dark outside.  The iPhone 5S F2.2 aperture lens certainly made a big difference here and I was able to take a sharp and well exposed image at 1/125 sec shutter speed and using ISO 50.  The camera light metering sensor does an incredible job and never failed me.  The built-in HDR on the iPhone 5S also helped in getting a well-exposed shot.

I don’t intend to sell any of my photos, and I mostly shoot for fun and for sharing valuable memories with my friends online.  Of for the price of the iPhone 5S, you can buy an excellent DSLR camera plus a lens or even two. However the main point was to have a camera that will be with you everywhere you go — and believe me, you’ll come home with lots of great shots that you otherwise would miss.

Another thing that I love so much about the iPhone 5S is the amount of details in the image. The sharpness of the iPhone 5S lens is second to none — and it’s even not from a popular brand lens (e.g. Carl Zeiss).

Doll image taken using iPhone 5S

Photo of a doll taken using the iPhone 5S back camera with crop from the original

The above image was taken at relatively slow shutter speed, but still in the shutter speed rule of thumb and result in a sharp image.  The fast aperture really helps when shooting in available light both indoors and outdoors.

The iPhone 5S camera also feels very responsive. I usually hated shooting with a phone camera because it was so slow. The iPhone 5S autofocus speed was pretty fast, at least in mobile phone camera terms and from what I used to. I don’t expect it to replace a DSLR camera for sports photography, but it decent for on a daily basis shooting.

Everything seems just spot about the iPhone 5S camera stills: the colors, contrast, sharpness, high ISO performance and responsiveness. The burst mode is a joy to use and the HDR really does make a difference. I was disappointed with the autofocus in video.  The camera just support continuous auto focus during video mode, unless I missed something.  The video quality is excellent, that I had to give to Apple, and the iPhone 5S is actually my first camcorder and made my enjoy shooting videos all over again.

The first thing I check when I test a new camera is how natural the image look.  I remember when I bought the Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Standard Zoom Lens for my Canon EOS 400D digital SLR camera. I just wasn’t satisfied with the contrast and that made every image look dull without any life in it. At some point I stopped shooting with it. I also bought the Canon 70-200 mm f/4L IS lens, which was a dream to shoot with, a perfect superzoom lens and it gave me superb results.

Breakfast,, Soy drink and vegetables

iPhone 5S sample image - ISO 320 | f2.2 aperture | 1/33 sec shutterspeed

As you can see from the above iPhone 5S sample image that was shot indoors under artificial lighting, the contrast and colors do not disappoint, and that an understatement.  The greens, reds and blue rendered perfectly and made the image look very natural and give you the feel that you are actually there. Like there is no barrier between you and what you see in the image. Of course you have to see it on a high quality display (I have a high quality LG IPS display) in order to appreciate the beauty of it.

old typewriter

Although I am not calling myself an Apple fanboy, I came to love the iPhone 5S a lot, especially its camera. The iPhone 5S lens is pretty wide, I think around 30mm in full frame terms. I did notice some image distortions though, so keep that in mind when shooting closeup portraits. You should be a bit far from the subject for it to appear non-distorted. Image distortions doesn’t mean the the iPhone 5S camera is broken. This is a non-linear n optical behavior that affects many lenses. More expensive lenses suffer less from distortions and they use unique lens design to correct it.  Lens barrel distortion can also be corrected using software like Adobe Photoshop Lightroom or an iOS app like perspective correct (paid app, might be free ones, didn’t spend time searching).

After watching the iPhone 5S sample images yourself, you can see like I’ve seen, that its main camera can capture very high quality images. For more information, read my iPhone 5S camera review. You can also visit my new YouTube channel to where I upload my test videos and don’t forget to subscribe. Thanks for reading.

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