Will the iPhone 4S camera kill off compacts?

iPhone 4S
Will the new iPhone kill off compacts?

As the world went into frenzy last night over the newly launched iPhone, which rather disappointingly turned out to be the iPhone 4S and not the much longed for iPhone 5.

However, there was one improvement that caught our attention. The improved onboard camera now boasts an 8 megapixel sensor, up from the 5 megapixels on the 4 along with an f/2.4 aperture lens for improved low light shooting. An advanced hybrid infrared filter has also been included, promising to boast more accurate and uniform colours.

The new iPhone 4s is powered by the new A5 chip and iOS 5. Apple claims that the image signal processor in the A5 chip is "just as good as the ones found in in DSLR cameras" and gives you the ability to tap to focus and control focus. Apple also claims that there's zero shutter lag, allowing you to catch action as it happens. To help further with that, the camera app will be accessible straight from the lock screen.

New advanced algorithms in iOS 5 claim to offer better colour accuracy, better white balance and greater dynamic range.

On top of all that, it also boasts new face detection which automatically detects whether you're shooting a portrait or a group shot, focusing on the most prominent face in the frame and balancing exposure for up to 10 faces.

Bringing over the LED flash from the iPhone 4, which automatically kicks into action when needed, the iPhone 4S would seem to offer everything that most budget compact cameras currently do.

Time to leave the compact at home?

They say that the best camera is the one you have with you, and of course, everyone always has their mobile phone to hand. As the cameras on board mobiles get better and better, it becomes less appealing to bring along an additional gadget to take up valuable pocketspace.

Taking a glimpse at the sample photos posted by Apple appears to show some incredible results. Particularly impressive is the depth of field capabilities that the f/2.8 lens brings.

In the pictures, colours light bright and rich with accurate white balance. During the launch event, we were able to steal a sneaky shot.

iPhone 4s picture

Click to see high-res picture

If you enlarge the picture to the high-res version you can see that the camera has coped well in the mixed low light conditions of Apple's Covent Garden store. Although the picture itself is rushed, results look very promising at this stage and we'll be keen to test out the camera more as soon as possible.


As compact camera manufacturers try to cram their latest offerings full of appealing features, including touchscreens, GPS tracking and digital filters, it's worth remembering that beyond everyday shooting, the iPhone 4S camera still does have its limitations.

Firstly, optical zoom. Even the most basic of digital compact cameras offers 3x or 4x optical zoom, with some, such as the newly revealed Nikon Coolpix S8200 brandishing 14x optical zooms. The iPhone 4S however, offers only digital zoom, which is limited in terms of producing the best optical quality.

Although the iPhone 4S is packed with the LED flash, which should work well for close up subjects, it won't work as well for other situations where the subject is further away. This is where the standard electronic flashtubes in most digital compacts still have the edge.

Other camera phones

Of course, the iPhone 4S isn't the only phone to be packing a serious camera punch. Although the iPhone's new camera specifications are impressive, it is really only playing catch-up with other mobile phone manufacturers in the market who have already introduced excellent cameras.

It is however, the only camera phone to cause a frenzy whenever a new model is released, as proved by the hits to TechRadar during the launch announcement.

If you're willing to forego the craze and are after a phone with excellent shooting credentials, two models you might want to consider are the Samsung Galaxy S2 and the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S, which boasts an EXMOR R sensor.


So is the compact camera market in trouble? It's a bit of a cop out, admittedly, but the answer is both yes and no.

We find it unlikely that anyone who owns the new iPhone 4S (or any other decently specced camera phone) will find it in themselves to lug around a budget compact on a day to day basis. It is this area of the market that has the potential to see most losses.

However, in terms of image quality, the iPhone 4S is unlikely to be able to compete with some of the premium compacts on the market, such as the new Canon Powershot S100 which has the ability to shoot in RAW, features a 5x optical zoom and a maximum aperture of f/2.0.

It will be interesting to see how the budget end of the compact market responds to the increasing capabilities of phone cameras, so watch this space.

Amy Davies

Amy has been writing about cameras, photography and associated tech since 2009. Amy was once part of the photography testing team for Future Publishing working across TechRadar, Digital Camera, PhotoPlus, N Photo and Photography Week. For her photography, she has won awards and has been exhibited. She often partakes in unusual projects - including one intense year where she used a different camera every single day. Amy is currently the Features Editor at Amateur Photographer magazine, and in her increasingly little spare time works across a number of high-profile publications including Wired, Stuff, Digital Camera World, Expert Reviews, and just a little off-tangent, PetsRadar.