Sure, there’s no zoom, and the flash is inferior. But as the go-to device that accompanies so many folks – nearly 250 million iPhones have been sold – it’s the camera we always have with us. Out it comes at parties, weddings, dinners and other real-life events.
So Talking Tech was eager to take the new iPhone 5 out for a photographic field test over the weekend to see how it fared. Is the camera truly new and improved, like Apple says? Can you really ditch your point-and-shoot camera for important shots – even treasured vacation photos?
The verdict: The iPhone 5’s camera is a major winner and held up well against a point-and shoot-camera. It is easily Apple’s best camera to date. We compared it with the iPhone 4. (We never did the upgrade but spent several weeks with the 4S when it was released last year – so we’re quite familiar with that camera as well.)
Talking Tech brought the iPhone 5 and iPhone 4 to the tony Beverly Hills Hotel, where we shot a panorama of the swimming pool, got terrific low-light shots inside the hotel and took impressive close-ups of the beautiful flowers on display at the hotel.
The main selling points of the improved iSight camera:
Double HD. The iPhone has two cameras – a back-facing one that shoots in 1080p high-definition, and a front-facing option that, until now, only shot in standard definition. With the iPhone 5, that front-facing cam shoots in 720p high-definition. That’s a big deal because that’s the camera couples and friends hold at arm’s length to squeeze themselves together in the same shot. You can use this camera now for Apple’s FaceTime video chat in HD, which you couldn’t do before. As would be expected, life in HD looks a whole better. If you had to pick one major camera improvement for the iPhone 5, this is the one.
Stills and video. You can shoot photos while you’re shooting video – at the same time. Grabbing soccer team footage, but want a quick shot of Johnny as well to post on Facebook? Click record for video, and hit the camera icon while the video is being recorded. This feature works as promised, but watch your hands. When you click the camera record button for stills, you could end up jerking the camera and creating havoc with the clarity of your video.
Panoramas. You can shoot ultrawide shots, moving the camera from left to right, for amazing vistas. This is a software update in the iOS 6 operating system, a free upgrade, and works on the iPhone 5 and 4S, as well as the new iPod Touch. It’s worth upgrading software if you haven’t picked up an iPhone 5 yet. To operate the panorama, open the camera app and go to Options at the top of the screen. Click Panorama, and then compose your shot holding the camera in a vertical position, moving from left to right. You can choose to go ultra-ultrawide (almost 360 degrees) or medium ultrawide, depending upon how far you want to turn while taking the shot. The feature is standard on many Sony cameras, even point-and-shoots, but with the iPhone’s popularity, you’re likely to start seeing way more panoramas showing up in your Facebook and Twitter photo feeds.
Faster camera. Thanks to the faster processing chip for the iPhone 5, the camera app opens 40 percent quicker and responds more swiftly, according to Apple. This is all true.
Low-light improvement. The biggest problem with camera phone and point-and-shoot photos is that they’re terrific in perfect (i.e., outdoor) light, but they fall short inside, where the inexpensive lenses aren’t capable of letting in the needed light. That’s why so many camera phone shots are dark, muddy and fuzzy. The iPhone 5 did slightly better than the iPhone 4 in lower light situations. Images in low light have less noise and have a different color cast, by playing the white balance of the camera.
Image stabilization. Your videos won’t look as jerky, thanks to improved video-stabilization features. Video clips shot while in a moving car looked quite impressive.
Overall better video. Talking Tech likes the iPhone video camera so much, we’ve used it for many of our episodes. It does a terrific job in good lighting. Shooting videos with the iPhone 5 is even more pleasant. The Retina display produces a sharper screen to compose shots, and the sound has been upgraded. There are now three microphones in the device, up from two on the iPhone 4S. You’ll still need a microphone on a noisy street or bar, but the three mikes sounded markedly better than two.
More fun to use. The iPhone 5 display is 4 inches, vs. the 3.5 inches on the iPhone 4 and 4S, giving you more room and clarity to compose. (Most point-and-shoot LCD screens are 3 to 3.5 inches.) Apple says the color saturation has been increased.
Bottom line: Having the front-facing camera in HD is huge, the panorama feature is a lot of fun, and steadier videos make the new camera truly improved. It still pales compared with a good point-and-shoot, because the zoom and flash features are weak, and point-and-shoots have sharper lenses. For vacation photos, we’d still rather have a dedicated camera at our side. But for day-to-day use, if the iPhone is all you have in tow, you now have a better camera. And what’s wrong with that?
© Copyright 2012 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc., Jefferson Graham