We tested the iPhone 5's camera against the iPhone 4S, the top Samsung Galaxy S III, HTC One X and Nokia's preposterously high-resolution, 41MP PureView 808. And just to see if it can really holds its own with high-quality, pocketable point-and-shoots we put it up against the Canon S100.
Can the iPhone 5 keep up with (or outshoot) these cameras in everyday conditions? We tested two very common situations: a daytime cityscape, and a very low-light close-up in the darkest corner of the office. Below, we've collected a series of side-by-side comparisons. The area inside the loupe will be at 100-percent resolution if you click to expand each of the images. The cameras all have slightly different focal lengths and stock apertures, but we did our best match the field-of-view in each of the shots. Beyond image quality, we were also interested in the speed of each camera's performance.
Design And Performance
The main addition to the iPhone's camera arsenal in iOS 6 is panorama shooting. But otherwise the camera app's interface is the same as ever, which is to say crazy simple. Every other camera we used has way more customizability — from manual function controls to continuous shooting modes to additional scene settings. The iPhone just takes care of all of that for you — or expects apps like Instagram or Camera+ to provide filters and processing for tinkerers.
That makes the iPhone 5 an easy camera to use, but that simplicity turns out to be a major drawback when shooting in the dark. Every other camera in our test has a built-in low-light setting that use fancy tricks to improve image quality and reduce noise and distortion.
On the upside, the iPhone 5's A6 processor makes a huge difference compared to the A5 in the iPhone 4S. The camera's focus and shutter responds faster to touch and when you hammer on the volume button repeatedly to release the shutter, the iPhone responds like a blazing semi-automatic automatic weapon.
All that being said, what really matters is the final product. So how does the iPhone 5 snapper stack up?
As with photos the iPhone 5 takes much better than the iPhone 4S. And really, it does very well when compared to nearly everything else. In this test, it's a tossup between the iPhone 5 and the Samsung Galaxy S III. That's impressive.
The iPhone 5's camera is a significant improvement from the iPhone 4S both in terms of image and video quality. It holds its own compared to the Samsung Galaxy S III — the top camera on a smartphone people are actually going to buy. Still, there's a lot of room for improvement. Apple really needs to add additional settings for darker conditions. Yes, our low-light test was extreme, but Apple can and should do better. In short, the iPhone 5 camera is better, and as before, it's suitable for snapshots. But if you're serious about good-looking memories, you should keep a point-and-shoot around. We're dreaming someday Apple will adopt a camera as good as the 808 PureView or the Canon S100. Sigh, someday.
Video by Michael Hession, additional photography by Nick Stango, and thanks to Wagner