I expected more from the new iPhone 6S Camera

September 13, 2015

iPhone 6S camera and besides old vintage camera

I am probably not the only person who has high expectations when Apple releases a new iPhone product. As a passionate photographer, I care about the camera specs, want and expect to see improvements in each iteration. I was very disappointed with the Apple iPhone 6S/6S Plus camera. It’s not that it’s not any good, but I really wanted to see some degree of progression towards new technologies that solve some of the restrictions that we currently have in mobile phone cameras.

If you had to choose a regular digital camera at the store, I’m sure that you won’t even consider touching a prime lens (a camera with a fixed focal length lens, that without a zoom). If you had the option to choose between a f/1.8 lens or a f/2.2 lens for around the same price you would certainly go with the faster (f/1.8) aperture lens. The thing is that Apple doesn’t innovate anymore when it comes to its cameras. Apple did implemented OIS in the 6S+ model and the iPhone 6S and 6S+ both have phase-detection AF system to improve subjects tracking and the sensor design brings better low-light performance. That said, you won’t notice any substantial difference in image quality from previous models and it is still a prime lens with a slower aperture compared to the competition. 4K video recording was introduced, but it should have been there along time ago.

Apple talks about better noise performance and color accuracy and show off how beautiful the images are, but between us, we want and probably expect Apple to innovate much more in that field. Apple wanted its devices to look slim and visually appealing. Although Apple could implement an optical zoom lens, it won’t do it because it will add an ugly bulge at the back, and in no doubt it will hurt the sales of the iPhone.  There are new technologies that suppose to solve many of the current restrictions, but it might take a few years until we see those in consumer products.

Even without any true innovation, the iPhone 6S camera is at its current state already behind the competition. Apple did add 50% more phase-detection AF pixels to improve subject tracking performance, it uses a newer Sony sensor with improved architecture to reduce cross-talk, but the image quality was already there and it was very good, a small marginal difference won’t make such a big difference anyway.  Apple could have gone with a faster lens which could have significantly improve the low-light performance and also improve the shallow depth-of-field effect in some degree. But Apple decided to focus on what it does best, and it’s the complimentary bundled apps (e.g. Live Photos) that tightly integrated to work seamlessly with the iSight camera and enhance the user experience.

It seems that this is what people want most, and Apple does give them an large range of features that makes taking photos more fun and engaging.  Apple is no longer at the front row with its iPhone camera capabilities. The iSight camera of the iPhone 6 Plus is already trailing behind the Samsung Galaxy S6/S6 Edge, Samsung Galaxy Note 4, Moto X Style and Sony Xperia Z3+ as of DxOMark lab test results. The new iPhone 6S / 6S Plus might improve its position, but I doubt about it as Apple moved using a higher resolution sensor with smaller pixels, but that yet to be seen. As of the time of writing, DxOMark hasn’t yet tested the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, and I eager to see if there is any big change – but as I said, I am very skeptic.

Maybe Apple saved those new big changed to the iPhone 7, who knows. At the moment, I am much more excited with the LG G4 camera manual controls, RAW shooting capabilities and overall specs compared to what the new iPhone 6S / 6S Plus camera has to offer.

Of course when you buy a phone you need to look at it as a whole, and that what most people do. The camera is an important features, but it’s just another feature among all the other feature the phone has to offer. All said and done, the competition doesn’t really offer any true innovation either.  Phone like the Nokia 808 PureView with the big sensor and large bulge at the back doesn’t seem like the right solution. If it was a good solution, we would have seen the competition going this route, and if we look at the sales figures, we can see that most consumers don’t really care about that. Just look at DxOMark mobile rating, the Nokia 808 Pureview is at the 11th position. Although a very respectable place, that technology belongs to the past. In my opinion, companies don’t want to use large sensors because it elevated the price considerably, and they prefer to invest in other features. I’m pretty sure that Apple also has a long-term agreement with Sony to supply its iPhones with those 1/3″ sensors, so we probably see those sensors in the next iPhone 7 as well.

So maybe it’s just to early to see any major changes, and it might take several years until we see a big change in the mobile camera design. Miniaturization is very important and people want their personal smartphone to be as small and lightweight as possible.  I just hope that we see a change, and I don’t care if it comes from Apple or not. The iPhone 6s camera is still an excellent general purpose camera that takes very high-quality photos and videos. It will satisfy most people needs,