What can my iPhone shoot?

Understand your iPhone’s abil­i­ties and its lim­i­ta­tions

Mac Format - - BACK ISSUES -

Al­though all iPhones (and all but the ear­li­est other iOS de­vices) can do the ba­sic job of tak­ing a pho­to­graph, later mod­els, of course, can usu­ally do more. So, it’s worth be­ing aware of what each gen­er­a­tion of de­vice is ca­pa­ble of do­ing so that you can work within their lim­i­ta­tions. We’ll fo­cus on the iPhone solely here, since it’s the most pop­u­lar photo-tak­ing de­vice in the iOS range.

Sen­sor res­o­lu­tion

Al­though some pho­tog­ra­phy fea­tures are un­locked by up­grad­ing to later ver­sions of iOS, most are built into the hard­ware, and so in or­der to get them you need to up­grade your iPhone it­self. That said, it’s definitely worth up­dat­ing your de­vice’s op­er­at­ing sys­tem to the most re­cent version it sup­ports in or­der to en­sure you’re get­ting as many fea­tures as pos­si­ble, such as the time-lapse op­tion in iOS 8.

Let’s start with the easy one: im­age res­o­lu­tion. The first couple of iPhones were a mea­gre two megapix­els, but by the time we got to the iPhone 4s in 2011, it had climbed to a pretty sen­si­ble value of eight megapix­els.

It’s widely recog­nised that merely in­creas­ing sen­sor res­o­lu­tion doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean higher qual­ity pic­tures. That said, eight megapix­els should give you plenty of op­tions: you’d get a 10x8-inch print at 300dpi (a good level of qual­ity), yet you still have suf­fi­cient res­o­lu­tion to al­low you to crop and re­frame a bit – es­pe­cially if you’re print­ing at a smaller size. The lat­est iPhones, the 6s and 6s Plus, have a sen­sor res­o­lu­tion of 12 megapix­els, which boosts this flex­i­bil­ity.

Even though the iPhone 3GS in­tro­duced an aut­o­fo­cus lens and video record­ing, it was only really with the iPhone 4 that the cam­era be­came some­thing you’d ac­tu­ally want to use for keep­sake pho­tos. With it, res­o­lu­tion went up to 5MP, and it was also the first model to have a front-fac­ing cam­era.

The base­line for pho­tos

If tak­ing pho­tos is some­thing you want to do a lot with your iPhone, you at least want an iPhone 4s; with this model, not only did the sen­sor res­o­lu­tion hit 8MP, it also in­tro­duced video sta­bil­i­sa­tion (al­beit ‘fake’, dig­i­tal sta­bil­i­sa­tion) and face de­tec­tion, which skews the auto-ex­po­sure and fo­cus sys­tems to any faces it finds in the scene. With this fea­ture – which you’ll see ac­ti­vat­ing as a rec­tan­gle around faces in the viewfinder – the iPhone will try, for ex­am­ple, to en­sure that some­one stand­ing with their back to a bright win­dow won’t be turned into a sil­hou­ette, as would hap­pen with a less in­tel­li­gent ex­po­sure sys­tem. The 4s was also the first model with panorama mode and Full HD video record­ing.

A flash of colour

In the iPhone 5, the ISO rat­ing jumped dra­mat­i­cally, qua­dru­pling from 800. That meant that pho­tos taken in low light, such as in­doors, were much less shaky and smeary – even if they were some­times cov­ered in a bliz­zard of noise.

The next model, the 5s, added burst mode and a new flash, which changed its colour tem­per­a­ture when fired based on the am­bi­ent light in the scene, fur­ther help­ing with the tone of pho­tos taken in low-light sit­u­a­tions.

Invisible re­touch

The iPhone 6 marked a big up­grade to the cam­era, not so much in the hard­ware as im­age pro­cess­ing. (That said, the ad­di­tion of fo­cus pix­els made a huge dif­fer­ence in how long the cam­era took to fo­cus, and it could keep fo­cussing con­tin­u­ously while shoot­ing video.) Lo­cal tone map­ping and ad­vanced noise re­duc­tion work in­vis­i­bly in the back­ground to make your pho­tos look bet­ter with­out ef­fort from you. Well, aside from rais­ing a fin­ger to press the shut­ter.

This gen­er­a­tion also in­tro­duced op­ti­cal im­age sta­bil­i­sa­tion (OIS) – but only on the 6 Plus. OIS is a big deal for elim­i­nat­ing cam­era shake (it’s use­ful when you’re mov­ing, or at any time in low light), and it’s achieved not by try­ing to work out in soft­ware what is shake and what is im­age, but by read­ing data from the iPhone’s mo­tion sen­sors and then phys­i­cally mov­ing the lens el­e­ments in op­po­site di­rec­tions to com­pen­sate. Ir­ri­tat­ingly, even with the iPhone 6s this re­mains lim­ited to the big model; we really want to see it as a stan­dard fea­ture.

Other 6s-gen­er­a­tion fea­tures in­clude Live Pho­tos (mini-movies taken around the time you press the shut­ter), us­ing the screen as a flash for self­ies, and a 12-megapixel sen­sor res­o­lu­tion.

All iPhones can take ba­sic pho­tos, but each suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tion has im­proved things and added fea­tures

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