The camera in the iPhone 6S has all the qualities that mobile photographers have come to admire in the old 8-megapixel iSight camera. Images are bright, colorful and clean, and even though the megapixel count is modest, it makes up for it with consistently sharp detail rendition, both in the center of the frame and right out to the edges.
The images are also free of distortion and chromatic aberration, the twin scourges of cheap (and not so cheap) camera lenses. We suspect these aberrations are being corrected during the image processing phase, but that hardly matters because the results are excellent and leave no sign that they've been corrected digitally.
This camera might have only 12 million pixels, but each one is used to its absolute best. Most cameras are limited by their lenses and/or the way the images are processed, rendering their sensor resolution a little academic. This one is not.
Is the iPhone 6S better than a regular point-and-shot digital camera? Except for the fact that you don't get a zoom lens, definitely. Is it a match for a DSLR or a compact system camera? No. But it is good enough for serious photographers who've left their DSLR/CSC at home to shoot with confidence, knowing that the images captured with the 6S will stand up in their own right.
The iPhone 6S camera is simple to use and delivers excellent results. The Pano mode is so quick, straightforward and effective that you can use it for super-wide snapshots with hardly more effort than taking a regular photo. The real revelation, though, is the quality of the 4K video and Slo-mo modes.
The old 8-megapixel iSight camera delivers extremely good fine, textural detail for a small-sensor camera. The cost is a faint noise pattern, usually barely visible, but there nonetheless. Most photographers, however, would happily accept faint noise in exchange for this detail rendition. Disappointingly, with the new camera Apple has opted for increased noise reduction and increased sharpening (probably to offset its effects). As a result, the new camera's images look a little more 'processed' when you examine them up close, and the jump from 8 megapixels to 12 hasn't delivered a proportional improvement in detail rendition.
Mild disappointment about the image processing aside, this is a great camera in all senses – regardless of the fact that it's in a phone. Keen photographers will be rightly suspicious of any small-sensor camera, but this shows small sensors can nevertheless deliver real quality.
Of course, we now have to carry out the same tests with the iPhone's rivals, the Sony Xperia Z5, Samsung Galaxy S6 and LG G4. Interestingly, these beat the old 8-megapixel iPhone in our lab tests, but real-world results are a different thing again, and this is where the iSight camera really impresses.
This extended test was designed to find out whether the new 12-megapixel iSight camera is better than the older 8-megapixel camera for still images (hmm… maybe), whether a mobile phone can really shoot top quality 4K video (amazingly, yes) and whether the iPhone is a genuine photographic tool for serious photographers (definitely).
iPhone/mobile photography isn't just a cheap and cheerful fallback for when you've left your proper camera at home – it's a serious photographic movement attracting both photo enthusiasts and artists. Mobile phone photography hits the 'reset' button in a photographer's brain. Its limitations and its opportunities make you see, shoot and share images in a whole new way.
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