iPhone 5 for Photography and Video

Posted in Equipment, News by Nathan Lee Bush on September 12, 2012

iPhone 5 cameraApple just announced the true heir to the iPhone 4 (none of that S stuff) with a broadly revamped design and a raft of new features. Of course, giving special coverage to one phone so clearly in the consumer category seems beside the point amidst the raft of new announcements coming in the wake of IBC and leading into Photokina next week.

But com’n, this is no ordinary phone. This phone’s last two iterations hold the top two spots of most-used cameras on Flickr, and the top four among camera phones (the 3G makes the list!). Hell, this phone could shift US GDP prospects. And, this particular device has broad adoption among working photographers and photojournalists. This is confirmed both anecdotally, based on my observations in my daily interactions with industry professionals, and well-established in the media. The iPhone is a has a lot of fans among pros (Annie Leibovitz among them).

So what does the iPhone 5 offer image makers?

The new body is taller and lighter and most notably, 18% thinner. Thinner is generally bad for optics, and Apple forced the “iSight” into a 25% thinner package, costing the camera any improved specs. So on this front Apple managed to remain merely constant, making up for the crippling parameters by maintaining the five element, f/2.4 lens and 8 megapixel sensor of the 4S. Additionally, however, it boasts “precision lens alignment” and a new durable and clear sapphire lens cover.

Apple says the new A6 chip has a 2X faster CPU over the A5, and a doubled graphics boost to boot, while still managing to reduce size and increase efficiency. The speed bump allows for a 40% faster image capture over the 4S, which was already quite zippy. Absent hard numbers, I’d say we’re approaching consumer P&S shutter speeds with this latest update.

The iPhone 5 makes up for its surface spec-deficiency with some clever software tricks. It has a new dynamic low-light mode, which uses an algorithm evaluating nearby pixels to enhance low light performance up to 2 stop. The image processor reduces noise and includes a “smart filter” for better color matching. The camera also sees a trickle down of an increasingly popular feature among consumers: the panorama sweep. Starting with the camera in a vertical position creates a luxurious 28 megapixel file, with artifacts from moving objects and shaky hands removed in-camera.

Apple, hoping to break one of the few oft-cited criticisms of the company – its inability to crack into social sharing – is taking another obvious foray into the crowded but still up-for-grabs photo sharing sphere with Photo Streams (how Flickr didn’t wrap up this market with its seemingly interminable head start is beyond me… oh yeah, Yahoo bought it). The service allows you to share photos over with specific friends and family of your choosing.

The video retains the 1080p resolution of the previous incarnation (I don’t think we’re ready for 2K phone videos just yet). The camera features improved Image Stabilization over the 4S. Also a long-missing consumery feature, facial recognition, is included. The camera also includes a feature I’ve noticed in prosumer offerings like Nikon’s 1 series and Sony’s RX100, allowing for uninterrupting photo snaps during video recording. There are now three mics, on the front, bottom and back and noise cancellation technology built in. Finally, the iMovie app has been updated, though Apple didn’t go into details during its presentation.

As everyone knows, the display is critical when showing work to clients and colleagues alike. The 4 inch display has 44% “better” color saturation and full sRGB rendering. The added real-estate on the 336 ppi, 1136×640 retina display is of course welcome, as is the aspect ratio for filmmakers, which is much closer to 16:9.

Is It For You?
As everyone knows, the iPhone is so much more to working image makers than a compact camera or even a phone. “Personal Digital Assistant,” SIRI’s self-described role, doesn’t even do justice to just how central the device has become to our productivity, not to mention social lives. With updates and enhancements across the board, from maps to calendar to LTE connectivity (!), the device won’t have to rely on having the best camera to compete in this dynamic playing field. With elite competition on all sides, the iPhone brand carries such caché, all Apple has to do is not majorly screw up. And its lucky for that: Nokia’s PureView technology already blows everything else out of the water. But considering the, frankly, shocking growth of mobile photography in the past year alone, the imaging capabilities of the camera you always have on you are certainly a major factor to consider, especially for professionals.

What do you think? Are the iPhone 5 camera updates enough to entice you, or has another cameraphone already won your heart?

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  1. Aero Pics (@AeroPics) said, on September 13, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    We make the indie iPhone camera mount (tripod adaptor and so much more) sold by our friends here at Adorama, so the iPhone 5 specs were something we were watching closely. For video, this update is a bit of a yawn, as it really seems like a re-packaging of the 4S, though that is a very good cell phone for video. The location of the rear mic is going to pose a problem for everyone who places an accessory lens on their iPhone – not sure what Apple was thinking there. iOS 6 is the real unknown. Will Apple allow the developers real access to the device to offer manual control of ISO, frame rate, shutter speed and aperture? Time will tell.

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