Today, we got a look at the the future of the iPhone camera. Apple's doubling down on its imaging tech in the hopes that it can catch the eye of the people who really care about the quality of their images. Here's what you need to know about the future of your memory maker.
At the center of this new push is a flash system that'll keep the blast of a strobe from ruining your photos. Apple's solution to the flash problem is to use "True Tone" flash, which is just dual-LED lights of slightly different colors—one warm and amber and one cool and white—rather than a single bulb. The idea is that the LEDs can fire in concert, balancing out the light that's thrown on the scene so that it looks more natural. There are over 1,000 variations of flash suited to different situations—that's going to make a big difference.
Flash is tricky no matter what, and the little LEDs on our phones are particularly bad at lighting up a scene. Usually, camera manufacturers use xenon-based flash because the light gives photos a more natural look. The trouble is that it's hard to make a xenon flash small enough for a phone. Nokia started using them in its top phones recently, but if your priority is making the slimmest phone of them all, it's not going to work. Here, Apple's doing the best it can to improve the flash without affecting the iPhone's lovely slender profile.
According to Apple, the 8-megapixel iSight camera no has a 15 percent-larger image sensor, which makes for bigger pixels. According to Apple, they're 1.5 microns across, which is ever so slightly larger than the Pixels on top Nokia phones like the Lumia 925 and Lumia 928. The lens is now slightly faster, too. It's f/2.2 instead of f/2.4. Bigger pixels mean more light, and that fast aperture lets plenty of light in on its own. Apple says the new camera is 33-percent more light sensitive than its predecessor. And while we're on improvements, here's a bold claim: Apple's doubled the autofocus speed, which the company says puts it in DSLR territory. We'll believe it when we see it.
The camera has also been optimized for video and shooting action. It can shoot 1280 x 720 video at 120 fps, which can then be played back at 30 fps for slow-motion. While you're recording video, you'll be able to zoom in on a subject without stopping. In the same vein, you'll also be able to capture stills in a new continuous shooting mode at 10 frames per second.
Besides improving the core hardware, Apple's juicing the camera app with features in hopes that you might actually use it instead of jumping directly to other apps. The square photos and gauzy filters are ripped pretty much straight from Instagram, whereas the new 28-megapixel panorama mode is basically an improvement on the pano feature the camera had before. We're fond of the new iOS 7 look for the camera app. The old one was starting to get stale.
A year ago, Apple made the best camera we had ever seen on a smartphone that people would actually buy. But Apple's got some real competition from the hot imaging tech in the Nokia's Lumia 928 and 1020 phones, the latter of which happens to be the best phone camera we've ever used. And let's not forget that HTC put out its own impressive little shooter earlier this year.
From the looks of it, Apple's new camera might help it catch up with some of the other smartphone cameras out there, but only a real world shootout will settle the matter for sure.