iOS 8 Camera Manual Controls Explained

September 30, 2014

iOS 8 camera manual controls explained

The new iOS8 allows developer for the first time to gain direct access to read and control the camera’s shutter speed, aperture, white balance, exposure compensation and ISO sensitivity. This control is available in iPhone, iPad and iPod touch using the latest iOS8. There is already an app on the iTunes store named “Manual – Custom exposure camera” that takes advantage of the Camera Kit SDK that Apple has released with iOS8. More and more camera app will be introduced with those manual controls in the near future.

So What so Special about Manual controls compared to a automatic shooting mode?

The iPhone 5S, which I currently own, doesn’t allow you to change any of those settings. This means that instead of the photographer choosing the values for the aperture, ISO and shutter speed, the camera does this fully automatically. It automatically decided which values to use based on the scene your are shooting. For example, if the light metering sensor detects a low-light scene, the camera might decrease the shutter speed, use higher ISO or use the maximum aperture of the lens.

The aperture is a hole from which the light passes through. The larger this pupil is the more light reaches the sensor. The shutter speed is like a window that open up and closes at a certain speed. The faster it open and then closed, the less light that reaches the camera image sensor. A higher ISO speed amplify the electrical signals on the sensor in order for the camera to produce a well exposed image when shooting under low-light situations. You can shoot at higher ISO in any lighting situation, but it’s recommended to stay with the lowest ISO speed in order to reduce digital noise in the image. The lower the shutter speed, the less noise we’ll appear in the image.

With new Camera API update, developers will be able to develop apps that give iPhone users an access to change the camera settings. They can can have control over the manual focus, white balance, aperture, shutter speed and exposure compensation. Changing the exposure compensation tells the camera to shift X amount of stops from the correct exposure given by the light metering sensor. Changing the exposure compensation will force the camera to use lower or faster shutter speeds to compensate for the change in light intensity.

People shooting with a DSLR or mirrorless cameras are already familiar with the P/A/S/M modes. Each of the P/A/S mode prioritizes different camera settings. So for example, if you choose mode A, you can change the aperture and let the camera recalculate the other camera settings for optimal exposure. In this mode, the photographer has a direct control over the aperture, allowing him to blur the background in different degrees based on the aperture f-number value. The ‘M’ mode is full manual mode. This is the same amount of control given by Apple to app developers, allowing them to build apps that give the user the option to choose which camera settings to use for both the aperture, shutter speed and ISO (and other manual options as well).

Before we continue.. let’s take a look at an ad for the Manual app for iPhone, allowing independent control of the shutter, ISO, white balance, focus and exposure compensation.

You might ask yourself, why one with an iPhone 6 needs to manually control the exposure if the camera can do it for you — isn’t it like autofocus, why not let the camera do the hard work?

This is true. You can let the camera do all the hard work and you probably get an excellent results most of the time. But, and this is a big but, the camera will do the best to make sure that the image is sharp and well exposed. What if you don’t want the default results. What if you want the image to appear darker or brighter. What if you want for the subject to appear blurry in the image. For example, you want to shoot a large carousel rotating and not look sharp or you want to smooth the streaming water of a lake without them looking sharp and static (giving a look of flow)?

In order to achieve creative result, you need to override the camera settings and tell the camera that now you are the one who decided how things are done. This is called “Manual mode”. A “Fully Manual” mode means that you decide what the ISO,  shutter speed and exposure values are. You can set those values an experiment with different results and find the photo that looks best.  Their will be apps that will allow you to capture a photo with the settings of your choice but with slight variation of one setting (e.g. white balance, exposure, ISO), and this is called Automatic bracketing. Automatic bracketing is done on the software side, telling the camera to take a photo with the default user settings buy capture sequenced photos with slight changes in various camera settings.  I’m sure this will be implemented in new app if it’s not already available.

Having the option to manual focus instead of autofocus, this gives photographers to achieve creative results. So again, the reason for manual control over the camera settings is to allow the photographer to be more creative. It also allows photographer to get the needed results in times that the camera might make the wrong choice. Sometime the camera not evaluating the scene appropriately, and only the photographer can understand what exposure is needed based on the visual context of the scene.

So this is a huge update and I’m sure many of you who are still new to these advanced topics will get to learn it and understand its benefits. This is creativity at its best, although there are significant limitations to the iPhone 6 nevertheless. You can’t zoom, you have a small sensor so the defocused background effect is limited and smaller sensor size impacts the image quality and low-light performance in general.

All in all, I highly recommend to download the latest apps that give you full manual control. You’ll be amazed of the creative shots that you can achieve with it. This is a dream come true for mobile photographers — give it a shot!

Check out the iPhone 6 Plus vs iPhone 6 size comparison here to see if the size of the iPhone 6 Plus might be too big for your taste

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