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Apple iPhone 5 vs. iPhone 4S

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The new iPhone 5 has the best camera in an iPhone yet. We compare it with its acclaimed predecessor

What's all the hullabaloo, it's only a phone, right? Well yes, but the Apple iPhone 5 is no ordinary phone, it’s the latest incarnation of what’s widely regarded as the best smartphone on the market, and the overwhelming phone of choice among photographers. (Although it only accounts for 18.8% of the global market, for example, two out of the top three most popular cameras on Flickr are iPhones.)

The iPhone 4S won our cameraphone group test last year and its successor performs just as well, producing great looking images

The iPhone 4S won our camera phone group test last year and its successor performs just as well, producing great looking images

The iPhone 5 improves upon the 4s in almost every way. First the obvious the phone has retained the same width but stretched in length to accommodate a 4in screen with a 16:9 ratio (from a 3.5in 4:3 ratio). Although it has the same resolution (326ppi) the screen appears sharper and more saturated thanks to changes in the design which have enabled the layer of touch sensitive electrodes that previously sat above the pixels to be built into the pixels themselves. As well as boosting the screen’s clarity this has also helped make the phone thinner just 7.6mm while the switch from a glass back and steel frame to an anodized aluminium casing has trimmed the weight from 140g to 112g, despite its larger size a difference that feels greater in the hand than it seems on paper.

The camera

The iPhone 5 has a newly designed sensor but retains the same 8MP resolution, and has a new sapphire crystal outer lens, added more for scratch resistance than any gain in optical quality. The big improvement though is the speed, thanks to the new A6 processor which is twice as fast as the A5. This offers many benefits, from gaming to web browsing, but it also enables the camera to be activated more quickly, and images to be captured, edited, saved and shared more rapidly.

Apple has also added several functional photography improvements. It has boosted the top ISO from 100 to 32000 (though you can’t select this manually), and the front camera is now HS, so self-portraits and FaceTime chats look better. There’s a new panorama mode which produces instant 2400 images by sweeping the phone in an arc a feature found on some cameras. Video recordings benefit from some enhancements too. The image stabilization has been beefed up to make recordings smoother, while the addition of an extra rear-facing mic provides better sound than having to use the phone mic, which faces the wrong way for video. Also users can now take 1920 x 1080 pixel still images during video recording a great feature for anyone who has agonized over whether to shoot stills or video of junior’s school sports day sack race.

The iPhone 5’s wider screen is of little benefit for stills photography, since images are still captured in the 4:3 ratio (unless you use one of the third-party apps that offers different aspect ratios). It does, however, help when viewing panoramas, and of course when shooting HD video.

In addition, the front-facing camera on the iPhone 5 takes much better

In addition, the front-facing camera on the iPhone 5 takes much better

Image quality

The camera module in the iPhone 5 may be different from the one in the 4s but it behaves in an almost identical way. Using both cameras side by side the images are virtually indistinguishable in normal conditions, and even indoors. Sharpness and detail are excellent while exposures are generally spot on, with punchy but not unnatural colors. In extremely low light though (such as candlelight) it’s a different story. The iPhone 5 still produces usable if noisy images with recognizable shadow detail in conditions when the 4s fails to capture any image at all.

In good light images from the iPhone 4s and iPhone 5 are virtually indistinguishable in quality

In good light images from the iPhone 4s and iPhone 5 are virtually indistinguishable in quality

The iPhone 5’s higher maximum ISO of 3200 and better noise reduction pays dividends in very low light levels

The iPhone 5’s higher maximum ISO of 3200 and better noise reduction pays dividends in very low light levels

Verdict

There was a huge leap in photo quality between the iPhone 4 and the 4s, but from the 4s to the iPhone 5 the changes are more subtle and incremental and some of them (such as the panorama mode) can be added to earlier models by downloading iOS 6. Otherwise the only gains are operational speed and better performance in very low light. Video users will gain more from upgrading, particularly in being able to make use of a screen that’s now the right aspect ratio for full screen viewing.

Main camera improvements over the iPhone 4S

·         Faster processor

·         Sapphire crystal lens cover

·         Higher max ISO (to ISO 3200)

·         Improved low light performance

·         Shoot stills and video simultaneously

·         Panorama mode (available on earlier models with iOS 6)

·         HD front-facing camera (for self-portraits etc)

Other reasons to upgrade to the iPhone 5

·         Lighter, thinner (yet stronger)

·         Bigger, brighter 16:9 screen

·         Faster at everything

·         Better Wi-Fi (N), faster 3G/4G

·         Much better headphones (new design)

Other  
 
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