24 Jan 2014

The iPhone 5s is an Impressive Camera

The iPhone 5s is an impressive camera. When it’s bright, it takes photos as good as my Sony NEX-5R, which is comparable to an SLR. Here are a couple of dozen photos, each taken using both cameras. You can see for yourself that the iPhone takes SLR-quality photos when it's bright.

There’s also a surprising number of things the iPhone does better than the NEX:
- It takes video at 120 FPS at 720p.
- Even at 1080p, while the NEX can do 60 FPS and the iPhone can do only 30, videos from the iPhone look far better — videos from the NEX look soft and blurry, as if they were taken from a low-end camera. Compare a video from the iPhone with one from the NEX.
- The iPhone shoots timelapse video at almost 4K resolution, unlike the NEX, which can only shoot 1080p, if you can get the timelapse app to install and work at all.
- The NEX runs out of battery after shooting a few hundred photos, while the iPhone was able to shoot a time-lapse of a thousand or two photos and still retain 20% of its charge.
- The iPhone has a panorama mode, while the NEX’s doesn’t work — it always finds something to complain about: it says I’m moving the camera too fast, or too slow, or not in a perfectly straight line, or something else. Even when it does work, almost half of the first photo is excluded, so I end up capturing a truncated portion of the panorama I intended to capture.
- The iPhone even has 3D panorama apps like PhotoSynth — rather than moving the camera in one direction, say left to right, you move it left to right AND up and down, so it captures all angles from your position and stitches the result into an immersive 3D view, where you can look in all directions.
- The iPhone can shoot a burst of 10 FPS. The NEX can shoot only 6 FPS, and that too only for a few seconds, after which it falls to 3 FPS. Whereas the iPhone can maintain 10 FPS for 999 photos.
- Pressing the shutter button, on any camera, can cause the camera to shake a bit, resulting in blurred photos. The iPhone has a camera app that, when you press the shutter button, waits till the phone stops shaking and then takes the photo.
- The NEX fails to autofocus at night, resulting in blurry photos as often as not, while the iPhone autofocuses correctly every time.
- Apple claims that when you press the shutter button, the iPhone takes multiple photos, and picks the sharpest of them. In fact, Apple says, the iPhone selects non-blurry parts from multiple photos and merges them to produce one crisp photo.
- The NEX supports tap-to-focus, but it adjusts only the focus, and not the exposure, with the result that the subject of your photograph can be dark and almost invisible.
- The NEX has a tiny 2.6-inch (effective) screen, while the iPhone has a 4-inch screen. The NEX makes it almost impossible to see any useful preview of your photo, or view it after it's been taken.

You'd expect a high-end camera to take noticeably better photos than the iPhone, most of the time. But it doesn't — when there's sufficient light, photos from the iPhone are no worse than those from the NEX. This is impressive. Photo quality aside, the long list of things above that the iPhone does better than the NEX is equally impressive.

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