iPhone 5S Camera Review – Image Quality Test (Part 1)

Today I spent a few hours with my iPhone 5S, starting to learn about its camera features and more inspect its image quality.  I am an enthusiast photographer and I own several DSLR cameras before. This is the first time that I am shooting with a mobile phone that has a good camera.  Before I had the iPhone 5S, I had the Google Nexus One and Samsung Galaxy Young, both didn’t impress me with their image quality. Therefore  I didn’t like to shoot with my mobile phone. Now that I have a high quality mobile phone camera, I might start shooting photos with my iPhone 5S.

In this article I want to talk about the iPhone 5S image quality, both indoors and outdoors, including sharpness, color reproduction, micro contrast and Bokeh quality analysis and give you my first impressions and what you should expect from the  iPhone 5S main camera.

iPhone 5S Image Quality Analysis

At the first moment I took some sample shots and view them on the iPhone 5S screen, I was pretty amazed with what I”ve seen.  I expected the iPhone 5S to produce good quality photos, but the image quality did took me by surprise — it was really that good. Of course “really good” is a subjective opinion, however when I viewed those test shots, I was actually comparing the iPhone 5S photos to what I use to see from a mid-range DSLR camera.

One of the first shots I took indoors in the evening with little ambient light in the kitchen at ISO 320.

Breakfast,, Soy drink and vegetables
iPhone 5S sample image - ISO 320 | f2.2 aperture | 1/33 sec shutter speed

The above photo was shot at 1/33 sec shutter speed, f/2.2 aperture and ISO 320 using pattern metering at 3254×2448 pixels image resolution. Obviously this is quite a high resolution, but it was shot indoors and therefore the iPhone 5S used a higher ISO to compensate for the lack of ambient light to get an optimal exposure.

This image told me a few things about the iPhone 5S camera capabilities. First of all, the colors were very accurate. Second, the lens is very sharp (although lower ISO test needed for this) and thirds, the noise levels at this ISO sensitivity were very acceptable for my specific needs. Obviously you would shoot at faster shutter speed and lower ISO to check the sharpness, but this was the first shot and it gave me a good initial understanding of the quality of the camera.

Here you can see a 100% scale crop of the image above.

soya drink iPhone 5S sample image crop image
iPhone 5S sample image, 100% scale crop (ISO 320 / f/2.2)

The above image gave me a good understanding of the color reproduction and contrast of the lens. I was very impressed with the image quality so far and already eager to test it outdoors in daylight.

The next image I took outdoors in good lighting conditions, therefore the camera settings was set to ISO 32 and 1/1500 sec. shutter speed.  Good camera settings to check the sharpness of the lens and the light metering sensor functionality.

Hours roofs landscape view
iPhone 5S test shot (ISO 32 | f/2.2 aperture | 1/1500 sec shutter speed | 4.12mm focal length)

Here are two full resolution crop images.

Tree and Laundry hanging out - iPhone 5S crop images
Two full resolution / full scale crop images of the image above

As you can see from the above sample picture and rectangular crops from the original full-re image, the iPhone 5S lens is very sharp. The noise is relatively low, but it’s visible in the shadows.

In the next image you can clearly see the excellent micro-contrast of the lens.  I focused on the middle at the gray ceramic structure.

ceramic doll structure
iPhone 5S lens micro-contrast test

Here are the full resolution crop photos:

texture micro-contrast test for the iPhone 5S back camera
texture micro-contrast test for the iPhone 5S back camera

I don’t know who is the iPhone 5S lens manufacturer but the iPhone 5S rear-camera optics rocks! – look at the details in the above image.. and this is an unedited image, straight from the camera. The lens micro contrast is among the best I’ve seen from any phone camera, I’m really impressed.

Still not convinced? — here’s another outdoor sample image taken at ISO 50, F2.2, 1/125 sec. shutter speed with Spot metering this time.

rog in a flower pot
iPhone 5S sharpness and micro-contrast test outdoors

Here are two 100% scale full resolution crops.

Flower in pot, iPhone 5S crop photos
Original size crop iPhone 5S photos (outdoors)

WOW! – I just couldn’t imagine getting better sharpness than this, tack sharp images!

I also tested the iPhone 5S lens against the sun in various angles and noticed no lens flare. I took the next image using the built-in panorama mode. Taking panoramic images was a walk in the park with the iPhone 5S and it was super accurate too. It uses a sweep panorama feature that shows you an arrow and a line, and while sweeping the camera from side to side, you have to maintain the arrow middle section on the straight line. My hands were a bit shaky and I was still able to get a perfectly aligned panorama photo.

You can also see that I shot the panorama photo against the sun and you can see there there isn’t any lens flare visible, just a blown highlight, which is expected in this situation.

iPhone 5S panorama photo
iPhone 5S panorama photo in daylight (click to enlarge)

Another thing that I wanted to check out is the lens shallow depth of field and Bokeh (how good the background blur effect looks. The iPhone 5S camera uses a small sensor. Although it’s a bit larger than the iPhone 5C and iPhone 5, it’s still very small. I was able to get a shallow depth of field at f/2.2 only when I was very close to the subject and the background at the back was relatively far from the subject.

The distance from the subject is one of the elements that effects the depth of field, alongside the lens aperture and focal length.  The Bokeh effect was nice, but obviously wasn’t in the same league to what you get with a DSLR camera and a fast lens.


Bokeh test iPhone 5S
Bokeh test iPhone 5S

All in all, I am very impressed with the iPhone 5S back camera image quality.  The sharpness, color reproduction and color accuracy were very good. In the next test I would make a more high-ISO performance analysis. Meanwhile, I can tell you that the iPhone 5S can take superb images in daylight and indoors under good lighting conditions (tested up to ISO 320). The noise levels are very good considering the sensor size. The light metering sensor is doing an excellent job maintaining an optimal exposure and I can’t remember a single image where I got a bad exposure — really impressed with the light metering sensor.

I can say in a great confident that I finally found a camera that camera that can replace my point-and-shoot. It does lack an optical zoom, but that’s true to all iPhones and most mobile phone cameras on the market. Skin tones also looked very natural, although I didn’t post any sample images here.

You can view the entire set of images here on Flickr.  I will post more photos and also add my opinion about many other aspects of the camera in the upcoming days, including: high ISO performance, skin test, flash test, camera app UI impressions and more. Make sure you are subscribed to camera debate facebook page (link at the sidebar) to be the first to get an update when I post new articles about the iPhone 5S. Thanks.

What’s your opinion about the iPhone 5S image quality and the sample images you’ve seen here? — share your opinion by leaving a comment in the comment section below.

Also check out:

iPhone 5S high ISO / Low light performance

iPhone 5S AF speed test

iPhone 5S Square Photo vs Regular Photo

iPhone 5S HDR Photo test

iPhone 5S LED Light

iPhone 5S lens distortions (vs Samsung Galaxy S4)