What can my iPhone shoot?
Understand your iPhone’s abilities and its limitations
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.
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.
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