Apple’s new iPhone 5 sports a better, faster iSight camera with enhanced still and video capabilities and improved low-light performance. Many of the improvements are software-based.
The camera is still 8 megapixels, like the previous 4S model, with a resolution of 3264-by-2448. There’s still backside illumination, a hybrid IR filter, a five-element lens, and a fast f/2.4 aperture. A new dynamic low-light mode can sense dim light and boost the aperture by up to two stops.
A new optical system includes precision lens alignment, which Apple says is measured down to the micron level. For the first time, a sapphire crystal lens promises to make images clearer and sharper. The company says the ability to take macro and close-up photos has also improved.
A new image signal processor is built into the iPhone 5’s new A6 chip, and Apple says that the camera is 40 percent faster than its predecessor. Spatial noise reduction removes noise via a smart filter that looks at images and figures out which areas should be of uniform color or texture. That improves low-light performance, overall.
On the software side, there’s now a panorama capability. The process, as demonstrated in the keynote, is easy. Just tap, hold the phone vertically, and sweep across the scene you want to capture. According to Apple, the camera, the device’s gyroscope, and its high-powered new chip work in concert to capture up to a 240-degree panorama span of up to 28 megapixels. Software tells you what pace to move it at, on the fly, and it’s designed to compensate for camera movement and some jerky motion.
The new Shared Photo Streams feature is iOS 6 lets you gather images to share images with friends and family via iCloud the Web and accepts comments and Likes. That feature isn’t exclusive to the new iPhone, though.
The iPhone 5 features improvements in video as well. Alongside the 1080p HD video recording, which is the same as the 4S model, there’s improved video stabilization, face detection for up to ten faces, plus you can shoot still photos while recording video.
The biggest boost comes to the front-facing camera, which is now designated “FaceTime HD” and shoots 720p with backside illumination as opposed to VGA. FaceTime over cellular promises better quality conversations, if your carrier allows it.
Camera on the iPod touch
Many of the iPhone’s visible and technical improvements also made their way to the iPod touch, its non-telephonic companion, that has an A5 chip.
The iPod touch camera is a 5 megapixel model with auto-exposure, which sports better performance in low light, the phone’s new panorama capability, and the ability to use iPhoto. It features all of the iPhone 5’s sensors, lenses, auto focus, LED flash, and the new sapphire crystal lens.
Video features are similar to the iPhone 5 as well. The iPod touch has 1080p video with image stabilization and face detection, and 720p HD FaceTime camera on the front.
For a camera on the iPhone, Apple users have much to be excited about. The larger screen and increased processing power will surely make for an enhanced user experience as well as better photographic and video results. The boost in quality, especially for the front-facing camera, will make folks who use FaceTime happy.
For the general population that is not Apple-centric, however, there are other comparable camera phones out there. The Samsung Galaxy S III, the Droid Razr HD, and the recently announced Nokia Lumia 920 all share some major specifications with the iPhone 5. They’re all 8 megapixels with a resolution of 3264-by-2448 pixels, and all have auto focus and LED flash. While their front facing cameras differ somewhat, they are all HD. Some sport other impressive features, like the Lumia 920’s f/2.0 aperture, or burst shooting modes.
While there’s some convergence in terms of specs, there are more profound differences when it comes to operating system, interface, and software features. With the growing popularity of smartphones as primary picture-taking devices, it will be very interesting to compare this fall’s crop of new phones head-to-head in controlled tests.
Jackie is a tech writer and editor in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her specialties include Apple hardware and software, art, design, photography, video, AR, VR and 3D, and a wide range of creative and productivity apps and systems.