In this article we’ll talk about the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus rear-camera camera in-depth, talking about the sensor technologies, the lens, etc.
New Sensor, Higher Resolution, Smaller Pixels
The new iPhone 6s Plus and iPhone 6s feature a new camera. Apple moved from the 8MP BSI sensor to a new sensor, reportedly the Sony RGBW IMX315 12MP BSI sensor. This sensor uses RGB with white sub-pixel, bringing improved color accuracy and better low-light performance. The sensor size remains the same, a 1/3″ (4.80 x 3.60 mm). This is the same sensor size as the iPhone 5S and iPhone 6, and it’s smaller than the 1/3.2″ (4.54 x 3.42 mm) found on the iPhone 5 . Because the new rear-facing camera has the same sensor dimensions but higher resolution, the pixel density is higher and therefore the pixels themselves in the new camera are smaller- 1.22µ instead of 1.55µ pixel size. Larger pixels promote better low-light performance because more light photons are captured for each pixel.
That said, we’ve already seen that different sensor technologies can overcome this obstacle in some degree, so don’t don’t be upset about it just yet. The new higher resolution sensor will make photos more crisper and will allow more cropping freedom in post editing using your favorite photo editing software or using the iPhone’s bundled one.
Apple also improved the noise reduction using Deep Trench Isolation technology for reducing electric current leakage (reducing the cross-talk between individual pixels). With this technology, the color filter sits directly on top of the pixels. In a conventional CMOS sensor, the filter is slightly above the pixels; this promote better color reproduction. Furthermore, this technology utilizes some sort of dividers between pixels which light cannot pass through, therefore prevent light bleeding to neighbored pixels.
As for now, it seems that Sony is the exclusive sensor provider for the iPhone camera. So it seems that Apple is locked, at least for the time being, for using Sony sensors. Sony is the largest sensor manufacturer in the world, so it’s actually not a negative thing, but Apple is locked to its technology, which might pose some restrictions for Apple.
Phase-Detection AF System, Same as before
The main camera sensor also features on-sensor phase-detection pixels to improve the subject tracking performance for stills and videos (what Apple calls “Focus Pixels” technology). The camera uses the information of both the contrast-detect AF and phase-detect AF to allow faster and more accurate AF performance, especially when shooting moving subjects.
According to Apple, the new iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus feature 50% more focus pixels compared to the iPhone 6 and 6+. This AF technology is essential for getting the desired results when capturing photos or recording videos of fast-moving subjects like kids running in the backyard, car driving on the road, etc.
F/2.2 Lens & Optical Image Stabilization (6S Plus only)
The iPhone 6S and 6S Plus features the same five-element f/2.2 aperture lens. The iPhone 6S Plus also comes with an Optical Image Stabilization, which is absent on the iPhone 6S. The same was with the iPhone 6 Plus and iPhone 6, where the Plus version has an OIS and the regular one doesn’t. I personally was expecting to see a faster lens, as many of the Android high-end phones already employ faster lenses.
The Optical Image Stabilization now works for videos as well. On the iPhone 6 Plus the OIS worked only for stills and you benefit from the Cinematic Stabilization for videos, which is a digital image stabilization, not an optical one. This will help you get more stable videos.
The lens cover remains the same, a sapphire crystal glass to protect the lens from scratches and bumps.
The new iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus camera can now record 4K (2160p) videos at 30 fps or Full HD (1080p) videos up to 120 fps and HD (720p) up to 240 fps. Finally iPhone uses can capture 4K videos, and no doubt that Apple is very late into this game. Most of the mid-range and high-end Android phones already have 4K videos recording, and for quite some time. Nevertheless, it’s good that Apple hasn’t abandoned this feature in these new models. Keep in mind that 4K videos take quite a lot of space, so if you intend to shoot many long videos, you probably won’t to consider getting one with a higher capacities like the 64GB or the 128GB models.
The new camera also employs the same improved local tone-mapping algorithm that improved exposure and contrast of images as in the previous model. The rear camera uses a dual-LED flash and both phones feature some enhanced built-in apps and software features to improve the overall experience when taking photos and videos. One of these features is called Live Photos. It’s somewhat the same as HTC Zoe. When you capture a photo, the camera automatically captured a 3-second video clip behind the scene. So when you view a photo, you can click on it and it will display that video up to the last image that was captured – very cool and useful feature.
Viewing DxOMark mobile rating, we can see that Apple already lost its lead to the Samsung Galaxy S6/S6 edge, Note 4, Motorola Moto X Style and Sony Xperia Z3. The Apple iPhone 6 Plus is positioned in the 5th place and the iPhone 6 in the 6th place as of the time of writing.
In my opinion, Apple show a relatively subtle improvement. I was at least expecting a faster lens. The LG G4 has a f/1.8 lens, the Sony Xperia Z3 has a f/2.0 lens, etc. I wish that Apple would have stayed with 8MP using this new sensor technologies, but obviously it’s not up to them, as Apple doesn’t manufactured its sensor and it currently relies on Sony and its sensor manufacturing line.
When it comes to the camera, I think that Apple is in no doubt behind the competition, and it’s been like that for quite some time. But the device as a whole will certainly make people upgrade to this new model. Not everyone choose a phone based on the camera performance alone. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very good camera, but it’s just that its competitors offer better camera performance overall. There is not that much innovation in the last couple of years to be honest. But we’ll probably going to see minor improvements until some major new technologies appear, and it might take a few years.