First of all, I don’t often review smartphone. No I am a photographer so smartphone is not really in my book for reviewing. Yet, here I am writing a review for Apple’s latest smartphone, iPhone 6s and its bigger brother, the 6s Plus!
Frankly, I admit that I am an Apple fanboy. I have been using Apple products since they made the Mac back in 85. I didn’t look back and I’d always enjoyed using Apple products. Despite having several so-called smartphones in the past, like the Window-powered PDA phones (do you remember them?), Palm-OS powered PDA phones to the late and dying Blackberry, none could really rival the overall usefulness, easy-of-use, features and connectivities of the first iPhone, launched in 2007.
Yes, if you asked me, I bought the first iPhone, then the 3G, and the 3GS. I skipped the 4 and jumped onto the 4S, then the 5 and now the latest 6S Plus. Practically, I’ve owned all the shapes and sizes and generations of iPhones. I must admit that I’ve seen the evolution. I have yet to own any Android powered devices but having played several from my friends. However, whether it’s from Samsung, Nexus or HTC, I just couldn’t get use to it. Things aren’t so direct in the Android world. Perhaps I am getting a little old and need something that’s easy to use.
Anyway, I am here to review the iPhone, well, more precisely, the camera in it.
So why this camera or smartphone?
Let me first by saying that there’s no practical differences between the 6S or the bigger 6S Plus other than the optical stabilizer that’s included in the bigger model. So, for simplicity, I will only refer the camera as 6S for now (by the way, I have both the 6S for my wife and the Plus for myself!).
But the fact is that nearly all of us use a smartphone these days. Apart from wallets or purses, they are the next thing we carry daily. We use it for all sort of things, thanks to all the fantastic apps available. We talk, we text, we FaceTime, we Facebook, we Instagram, we Twitter, we surf the web, we play games, and we take photos with them. So it’s an important device indeed. As it’s so close to us as a personal device, we naturally ‘rely’ on it. Photos are one personal thing that we like to record and keep, whether it is selfie or with friends, artistic close-ups of your favourite coffees or beautiful cityscape of your workplace. It’s indeed one of the most used photograph-capturing machine!
For those who are accustomed to Apple’s iPhones, you will love the latest model. If you already use the brilliant iPhone 6, you don’t need to rush to get this model in fact. However, if you use a iPhone 4s, 5 or even the 5s, you will be in for a very nice surprise in almost all aspects of it.
For Android users, well, it’s more of a personal taste thing. This review isn’t selling you the iPhone but only personal view on how the camera in the latest iPhone performs.
I never doubt Apple’s quality. Construction is always excellent in Apple product in general. It’s like comparing a Mercedes to Ford. They are both functional as intended but when you open the box, take the iPhone out and inspect closely, you will ‘see’ and ‘feel’ the difference. In terms of reliability, Apple has a long history of being one of the most reliable brands too.
All the iPhones I owned are still functional today, even the very first iPhone, despite a few dead-pixels. The 6S has a unibody which is improved from the original 6 to prevent the famous bendgate. It’s a little heavier as a result but certainly feels more solid in hand. It’s very thin too, a lot thinner than anything ‘pre-iPhone 6’ models. But overall, it’s solid as a rock, no creaks or cracks.
The new ‘Force-Touch’ screen is also stronger and scratch resistant, and a little brighter too. The camera lens has a sapphire crystal front to prevent all kinds of abuse you are going to throw at it on a daily basis.
Using it in practice, good and bad
Since the iPhone 4 through to iPhone 6, Apple had always stuck with the same camera setup. It’s either a good or a bad thing, totally depends on how you use your images. Frankly, people hyped too much about smartphone photography. They are convenient because you will always have them with you. They are certainly portable. However, when it comes to image quality, it’s still more or less comparable to those of mid-range point-and-shoot digital cameras. The latest 6S, Apple has decided to finally upgrade its aging camera. With resolution bumped up from 8MP to 12MP for the main back camera and a giant bump from 1.2MP to 5MP for the front, there’s a generally better details at it’s optimal settings. Other than that, the base specification is practically the same as its predecessor.
However, use it right and with the right processing, you can actually get some amazing results. Not that the previous iPhones sensor were shabby in anyway but with better details, little improved tones and dynamic range, you can have a good, if not brilliant, jpeg file.
What impressed me the most is the lens quality! I love the iPhone 4s camera. But when I upgraded to iPhone 5, it was like going backward. I had to replace my iPhone 5 due to a ‘warped’ sensor. But even with the new replacement, the camera still produced some horrible distorted images (well, only when you shoot something with straight line subjects) and it wasn’t particularly sharp either. It just didn’t feel right at all, but I used it anyway for my day to day snaps.
But with the iPhone 6S, I truly think that Apple finally gets it right. The lens is sharp and distortion-free. I am confident to use it for some general purpose street shoot these days. Of course it can’t rival any of my ‘proper’ cameras, but I am confident to use some of the images I captured using the 6S for work!
On top of all that, the 6S has one of the best ‘true-tone’ LED flashes around and now with the front lit up as a front flash for selfies, you are almost guaranteed to have some good quality and nice colored flash photography in any situation. Yes, it does work!! It’s way better than using the old LED flash as it often rendered very cold (Bluish) colour in the dark.
But there’s not just all good news though, the 6S has some down side too. With such small sensor, you are almost certain that it sucks in low light, that said for all smartphones out there. Despite all kinds of claims for better sensor sensitivity, noise reduction algorithm, all of them suck, full stop! Yes, it’s ok for some casual snaps with friends at parties but it’s no replacement to a proper camera.
Secondly, despite its faster processor and image engine, the autofocus is still not fast enough for many action stuff, like chasing kids. Because there’s no manual focus override, I have to kind to force the camera to focus on somewhere and use the ‘focus trap’ technique to get some action scene done. But since there’s some shutter lag, it’s kind of difficult to get the shot I want sometimes.
Finally, despite all the advancements from the previous models, I still wish that they could have used a brighter 1.4 or 1.8 aperture is ideal to get the most out of this lens and sensor. That Androids users are currently enjoying.
Well, I forgot, the optical stabilizer on the ‘Plus’ model does work, perhaps for around 2 stops, for both still and video.
I’ve seen reviews talking about shallow depth-of-view from some of the latest smartphones with faster 1.8 aperture, i.e. the Samsung. But C’MON!!! This is camera with a sensor that’s so small that even with 1.2, you will barely see the difference anyway unless you are going super macro-distant close. However, I will give it to the light gathering ability that it will ultimately allow the camera to choose a faster shutter or lower ISO to maintain better end quality. Apple’s 2.2 aperture limit is a little barrier for some dark scenes but for some good reasons, the noise in the image file, after it’s internal processing, look kind of organic, much better than rival’s super smooth and smudged and artificial looking pictures.
When shooting with iPhone or any smartphone for that matter, it’s easy to say it does it all but for the discerning photographers, it’s merely a tool that bridges the gap between professional and leisure time photography. But the sheer convenience of snapping a photo to sharing it on all your social media accounts cannot be ignored.
Despite all the marketing effort by Apple or even other smartphone manufacturers, it’s not something that you can ‘sell’ to most of your PAID clients. Yes, I’ve seen people entering competitions with smartphone pictures and also won some awards, and yes, it’s more about the photographer’s eyes than anything else. Yet, for a lot of the ‘paid’ customers, they demand the highest quality prints, files for their marketing materials and albums. This is something that smartphone can’t quite satisfy, yet.
But for anything else, Apple’s latest offering is by far the most capable iPhone yet and will definitely satisfy 99% of our trigger fingers.