What's So Great About the iPhone's New Camera?

The camera in the iPhone 4S is going to be better. We suspected as much, but now we know exactly how it's going to be better.

It's faster. Much faster. We're talking half a second in between photos, so if you missed the moment you won't have to wait for an eternity for another try. Most of the other leading camera-phones take two to three times that long.

It's bigger and brighter. The images it takes will be 8 megapixels at 3264x2448 pixels. That's some nice resolution right there. But, as we've said before, ISO is as important as megapixels. Sometimes adding more pixels into the same, small area actually decreases the image quality if the sensor can't handle it. Thankfully, the image sensor is going to be backside illuminated (like the iPhone 4, the myTouch 4G Slide, and Sony's newer Xperia phones), which will get it 73 percent more light (more than the iPhone 4, too). In other words, photos you take when the lighting isn't great will suck less. It's got a larger, f/2.4 aperture, too, which isn't much bigger than the iPhone 4's, but it will give it another little boost.


It's sharper and more vibrant. The five element lens should give you a cleaner image, theoretically. It should make it 30 percent sharper than the iPhone 4 (which had a four element lens). They also included a hybrid infrared filter. This is the kind of thing you usually just see on DSLR cameras. It should give you more accurate and more vibrant colors, and reduce red ghosting and chromatic aberrations which sometimes happen around light sources.

It's cinema-ier. Video hasn't been left out. It will shoot 1080p video at up to 30 frames per second, which means it should look good on your HDTV and not be stretched unnaturally. However, when a small camera shoots at 1080p sometimes the edges get warped, and there can be a pesky flicker due to the rolling shutter effect. We'll have to see if this is continues to be a problem on this camera. Either way, it will definitely take advantage of the backside illuminated sensor, but it remains to see what the bitrate will be, which has a large effect on the resulting quality. Anyway, welcome to 2011, Apple!

UPDATE: Now with video (see above).

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Giz Explains is where we break down whatever science or tech questions are scratching at the backs of our noggins. Got questions of your own? Email them to us at explains@gizmodo.com and we'll see about answering them.

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"The five element lens should give you an increased depth of field and at a wider f/stop range." The 4 rules of DOF:

1. As distance to the subject increases, DOF increases.

2. As f stop increases, DOF increases.

3. As focal length increases, DOF decreases.

4. As sensor/film size increases, DOF decreases.

*[DOF decreasing means a smaller more pleasing image in focus with blurred out of focus areas, a smaller hyperfocal plane.

F/stop increasing means a higher numerical f/stop (i.e. F16 vs F8) and less light hitting the sensor

focal length increasing means going from 10-100 mm.]

These are mathematical constants, so outside of the faster f/stop on the lens there is nothing that will increase the DOF characteristics on this new camera unless they made the sensor bigger or increased the optical zoom.

More anecdotally, tests have shown that a sensor this size will show no discernible difference in Bokeh as you decrease (numerically) the F/stop past, say, f/3.5. This will have an effect on low light photography though.


That having been said, the apple camera's have always been head and shoulders above the rest and this will certainly be a better image, though don't expect it to even replicate a Point and shoot for depth of field.