In order to really understand the camera of the iPhone 6, we have to first talk about the components that make up the camera system. While we don’t know the exact model number of either the iPhone 5s or iPhone 6 sensors, we do know that both the front and rear cameras are made by Sony. For the most part, it seems that the optical system is largely unchanged from the iPhone 5s to iPhone 6. The focal length and aperture are identical, and both have five plastic lenses. On the sensor side there are some obvious differences such as the addition of phase detection pixels. However, it’s otherwise difficult to say if anything else has changed in this area. There’s also a new ISP on the SoC, which serves to enable features like 240FPS slow motion video.

Based on what we know about the camera, the one highlight feature seems to be PDAF. While we’ve seen it before in phones like the Galaxy S5, we’ve never really talked about how it works. In short, microlenses on the sensor refract incoming light onto the AF detector in pairs, as seen in the photo below. Once this is done, the image produced by each AF sensor is compared for similarities. By finding these similarities, the ISP can know whether the lens is focused at a point short, long, or on the intended subject and command lens movement to focus on the intended subject. In case 1 in the photo, we see a situation where the camera is focused short, so the lens must move in order to properly focus on the subject, which is case 2. Case 3 and 4 show increasingly extreme cases of focusing too far to focus on the subject.

Source: Wikipedia

The real question is how it works. While we don't have an ideal test for auto focus and capture latency, we can at least get an idea for best case latency by looking at latency for both cases when viewing a well lit ISO chart, which has extremely high contrast and strong lighting so PDAF should be able to operate.

Camera Focus Latency (Shooting ISO 12233 Target)

Camera Shot Latency (Shooting ISO 12233 Target)

As you can see, it seems that capture latency is mostly unchanged when comparing the two phones but focus latency is dramatically improved in the best case, which is around 200 milliseconds. While the Galaxy S5 does have PDAF, in my experience it was hard to tell if it was any faster than a mostly contrast-based solution like the One M8. With the iPhone 6 the use of PDAF is immediately obvious because in well lit conditions the camera always snaps to focus without ever waiting for the ISP to detect an out of focus condition and run an AF scan. Oddly enough, in all of the manual camera applications that I've tried none of them seem to be able to use continuous auto focus in the preview, which suggests that this isn't exposed in the camera API.

On the UI side, the new camera application isn't a significant departure from what we're used to in iOS but there is one odd UI inconsistency present in the new UI, as in the slow motion video mode tapping the fps option will toggle between 120 and 240 fps but the same isn't true of 1080p60 video, which has to be toggled through the settings application instead of within the camera application.

Otherwise, I'm generally happy with the camera, especially with the new exposure biasing mode which does away with the need to try and get a specific exposure by locking exposure and reframing to get the right photo. While this certainly isn't a new feature the ease of use makes for a better implementation than most. Generally, exposure biasing is hidden in the settings menu so it's a setting that is only selected once and never again. However, Apple's solution will always default to 0 EV and allow for biasing by swiping up to increase exposure and down to reduce it, which means that this solution is fast and easy to do when taking a photo.

Overall, I don't have significant complaints with the camera UI or the general shooting experience. While I'm still looking for an ideal manual camera application I find Apple's mostly all auto solution to be more than sufficient. Of course, the shooting experience alone isn't enough to evaluate a camera so we'll look at image quality next.

Still Image Performance

While I'm still not quite happy with the state of our camera testing procedures, our current tests can generally give a good relative comparison, so the data we're looking at can still be used to draw some conclusions about the camera being tested. One of the first tests that we'll look at is the ISO chart, which uses increasingly tight line spacing to determine what the maximum resolution of the camera is.

In this test, the iPhone 6 does reasonably well, showing low aliasing until around the 16 or 17 mark, which seems to be about the same as the iPhone 5s. In general, this is one area where the iPhone falls short of the competition, which generally tends towards 1.1 micron pixels and sensor sizes larger than a third of an inch. However, it's definitely a great more detail than what we see on the four megapixel sensor of the One (M7) or One (M8). Given the sensor size constraints that Apple seems to be working with this is a respectable showing.

The next scene we'll look at is a daytime landscape shot. For the most part the iPhone 6 does admirably, as noise is well suppressed without noticeable oil painting effects that arise from when noise suppression is too strong and blurs out detail. Dynamic range is also generally quite good as shadowed areas have noticeable detail in this scene. In comparison to the iPhone 5s, while it's relatively hard to see any real differences in detail the noise in areas like the sky and in shadows are noticeably reduced without an obvious decrease in detail.

Following along the lines of the landscape shot, I also set up a lightbox scene with a few objects of varying contrasting textures, text, and feature size to get a good idea of what the limitations of the camera are. In this test scene, we actually see some level of improvement in detail when comparing the iPhone 5s to the iPhone 6. This is most obvious when looking closely at the texture of the metal bell. When compared to the Galaxy S5 LTE-A the iPhone 6 does fall behind a bit due to lower resolution and a mildly wider field of view.

For the next scene, I used the light box and standardized dim lighting in order to provide an example of camera performance between extremely bright and dark scenes. Here, it's relatively difficult to see a difference between the various phones, although with some cameras we're already starting to see a significant amount of detail blurred away in areas like the bell which has a great deal of low contrast detail. There's not too much difference here when comparing the iPhone 6 and 5s, although the 6 does have noticeably lower contrast in these situations.

At the extremes of low light photos, we definitely see a notable improvement in the iPhone 6, which can be attributed to the lower ISO. However, for better or worse we don't see a significant difference in exposure which suggests that this sensor likely has improved sensitivity despite identical pixel size. While we have no way of knowing the exact sensor, it's logical to conclude that the iPhone 6 is using a CMOS sensor process similar to the IMX240 in the GS5 LTE-A at a larger pixel pitch for better sensitivity. What's really incredible about this test photo is that the iPhone 6 manages to deliver an output close to what we see in the iPhone 6 Plus at four times the ISO/sensor gain.

The next two test cases are less about the camera itself and more about how well the OEM has integrated software and hardware. The first test we'll go over is the LED flash test in the lightbox scene that was previously used. While LED flash is generally a rather poor solution for low light photos, it's still important to test as there are some situations where it's absolutely necessary. In this case, Apple has done a great job of selecting an appropriate brightness level to evenly illuminate the scene and provided enough light to keep noise to a minimum, but for some reason there's a pink/red tint to the entire scene. This is one area where the iPhone 5s seems to provide more even color rendering as there is no such tint.

In the HDR test, there's a noticeable improvement in detail and dynamic range from the iPhone 5s to the iPhone 6. Key areas of note include the Media Link HD box, which has noticeably clearer text and there's also significantly more detail on the bell. Judging by the general improvements to detail in closer shots, it may be that these effects are either too subtle to see in landscapes or simply smudged away by noise reduction. There's relatively little to criticize here, as Apple seems to be effectively merging multiple exposures without obvious halos or similar effects that make HDR almost impossible to use in most circumstances.

Overall, the iPhone 6's camera represents a solid improvement over the previous generation, with less noise, more detail in some circumstances, better HDR, and improved low light performance. While it isn't a huge leap ahead, it's definitely more than one might expect. The improvements are subtle though, as there are no fundamental changes to the optics or sensor.

Display Video Quality


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  • bobobobo - Tuesday, September 30, 2014 - link

    solid phone, solid improvement. Reply
  • AppleCrappleHater2 - Tuesday, September 30, 2014 - link

    Worship the holy apple.

    The apple way, selling over expensive crap to stupid consumers that like to
    get robbed.

    This has been a disastrous launch in every respect. The iwatch is such an
    ugly piece of crap, it is truly unbelievable how a company, formerly known for
    its remarkable design, dares to put out such a crap ton of shit. Some
    characteristics are glaringly obvious and inherent to it: over expensive,
    hardly innovative, limited functionality and usability (need of an iPhone to
    make it work), looks exactly like a toy watch and so on.

    There are of course way better smart watches out there, especially from the
    likes of Samsung, Sony, Motorola, Asus, LG, simply put, there is no need for
    another piece of over expensive junk.

    The iPhone 6 is technologically stuck in pre-2011 times, a base model with
    a capacity of 16GB without the possibility to use SD cards isn't even funny
    anymore. The screen resolution is horrendous, it isn't water proof, shock and
    dust resistant, it offers nothing innovative, just some incremental
    updates over its predecessor, both lacking severely behind their competitors at
    their respective launch dates.

    Now the Iphone 6 Plus offers a „Retina HD“ screen, full 1920x1080p, oh wow,
    where have you been for the past 4 years apple, talk about trailing behind.
    That’s pathetic. The interesting thing about that is the fact that apple
    always manages to sell backwards oriented, outdated crap to its user base, all
    while pretending to be an innovative technology leader. The similarities
    regarding any form of sectarian cult are striking.

    You gotta love how Apple always comes up with new marketing bullshit terms,
    aka "Retina HD", with the intention to manipulate its users while preventing easy
    comparisons with its competitors by withholding the actual specs. Apparently it’s
    not enough to have a 1080p screen, you have to call it "Retina HD" to make those
    suckers buy it, otherwise someone could look at the 4K Amoled and Oled screens
    form LG and Samsung devices and get outright disappointed. Same goes for
    everything else. Every outdated „feature“ needs to get its own marketing label
    to persuade buyers with crappy „experience“ and „usability“ ads, while covering
    the truth with marketing gibberish, knowing full well that only a fraction of
    aforementioned buyers cares to look at the facts and dares to compare them.

    Car engines come to mind. For comparisons shake let’s look at a 1.0 liter, turbo
    charged petrol engine and a V8 compressor. What’s better should be obvious, but
    by calling the former an „ecobooster“, thus giving it a special marketing label,
    this joke becomes a „feature“, something positive that can be added tot the list
    of features of a car.

    By doing so a negative aspect is transformed into a positive one, the
    reality is distorted, non tech savvy buyers are manipulated and comparisons are
    made more difficult (another layer of marketing bullshit to overcome), well done
    marketing department. You see , if something is seriously lacking (of course for
    profit, what else), don’t bother explaining, just give it a nice marketing term, distort
    reality, make it a feature and call it a day. Fuck that!!

    FACT: Apple has been forced to copy Android in style and size for
    years because people abandoned their tired, moribund and fossilized
    devices for superior and innovative Android devices.

    Steve Jobs said no one should want a 7" tablet until everyone went and bought
    Android devices forcing Apple to copycat with the iPad Mini. Apple
    didn't think anyone wanted a phone screen larger than a business card
    until they all bought Androids thus forcing the arrival this week of the
    iPhone Galaxy and iPhone Galaxy Note clone phones.

    Swipe down notifications that don't interfere? Copied from Android and WebOS. Siri?
    Bought and ruined from a private developer; Google Now crushes it.
    3rd-party keyboards? Welcome to 2010, iChumps! Widgets? Welcome to 2009
    except you can't place them on your home screen. Live wallpapers and
    hidden icons? Maybe Apple will get around to copying those in iOS X in
    2016. Who knows.

    Apple lacks creativity and honest people acknowledge it. Steve Jobs gets credited as an
    innovator when all he was, was a huckster who'd spot someone else's tech, polish it up nicely,
    then slap a gnawed fruit logo on the back, charge a premium price and
    wait for the rubes like Jim Smith to hand over their cash like the good
    iSheep they are.

    But after that initial iteration, Apple is incapable of actually innovating something new.
    They literally cannot make a product until someone else shows them how and they copy it.
    They are also unable refine things because they believe to improve is to
    admit something was imperfect the first time. (This is why QuickTime 4
    had a legendarily terrible UI that was never changed through QT7 a
    decade later.) All they can do is make things incrementally thinner or
    faster but it's just minor refinements since they can't invest their way
    out of a wet paper bag.

    For all their squealing about Retina displays, they never even had a HD display until now;
    8th time is the charm, though you need the iPhone Galaxy Note to get the 1080p that many Android
    users have had for at least a year and is now considered
    bare-minimum spec. At the rate Apple drags along, QHD screens should
    arrive in 2018. Maybe. A graphic went around after the reveal comparing
    the iPhone Galaxy to the Nexus 4 from 2012. Exactly.

    The Apple Iphone 1 and Ipad 1 might have been innovative at their time,
    but since then, the bitten apple has been continuously rotting from the inside
    outwards, always swarmed by millions of Iworms which regale themselves with its
    rotten flesh, not forgetting all other Americans who support apple by means of
    their tax dollars to finance its bought US Treasury/Government bond interest rates.

    Last but not least, every Apple product includes a direct hotlink to the NSA,
    free of charge, something that might make it a good value, after all.

    Ceterum censeo Applem esse delendam.
  • esterhasz - Tuesday, September 30, 2014 - link

    Since we're quoting Cato today, here's a good one: "grasp the subject, the words will follow". Reply
  • uhuznaa - Tuesday, September 30, 2014 - link

    You seem to be a tiny bit obsessed. Reply
  • iphone6splus - Tuesday, September 30, 2014 - link

    Yet, he didn't comment on Touch ID. Reply
  • kevin_newell - Thursday, October 9, 2014 - link

    Apple is lagging far behind it's competitors both in user satisfaction (source: and innovation. I mean, who was first with large screens and phone cameras that work well in low light? It sure wasn't Apple. Reply
  • Caliko - Tuesday, October 6, 2015 - link

    A large iPhone is NOT innovation.

    Sorry iPhoney fan.
  • lowtolerance - Tuesday, September 30, 2014 - link

    I can recommend some good therapists. You need one. Reply
  • melgross - Tuesday, September 30, 2014 - link

    You sir, are a complete idiot! Reply
  • Gondalf - Tuesday, September 30, 2014 - link

    To be fair, a >$600 phone deserves a good least good as competitors, more ram and a little SD expansion slot. Plain and simple. This is not a matter of "idiocy" Reply

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