The iPhone 5s secret weapon: the camera

The iPhone 5s secret weapon: the camera

Summary: While the fingerprint scanner in the new iPhone 5s gets all the glory, the real killer feature in the flagship iPhone is its camera.

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The iPhone 5s' secret weapon: its camera - Jason O'Grady
(Photo: Jason O'Grady)

When people ask to see my iPhone 5s, they always want to see the fingerprint scanner. Then it tell them flatly "it's invisible." 

While it sounds flip, it's actually quite true. There's really nothing to see short of the "Add a Fingerprint" UI that's in Settings > General > Passcode & Fingerprint. And once you've been there and added your digits, there's almost nothing to see. There's no prompt to unlock your iPhone with your finger, you just touch the button. There's one prompt when you buy an app, but who wants to constantly buy apps to demo the fingerprint scanner?

Purchasing an app is one of the few ways to see the fingerprint scanning UI - Jason O'Grady

In fact, it's such a bad visual demo that Apple had to create a dummy "Fingerprint" app that's installed on the home screen of the demo iPhone 5s' in the Apple Store. All it does is scan your finger so that you can test the UI. (Fingerprints are not saved according to the small text at the bottom of the screen.)

The real killer feature in the iPhone 5s is the camera, and it's not surprising that it's the most popular camera in the world. 

The more I use it, the more that it amazes me. I'll write more about it as I get more comfortable with it, but there are two camera features that are positively amazing and alone are worth getting the iPhone 5s over the 5c for. 

Burst Mode and Slo-Mo. 

When someone asks me for the 'fingerprint demo,' my stock answer is that "it's invisible... but watch this." Then I launch the Camera app and touch and hold the shutter button while it fires off 10 frames per second for as long as I hold the button. The paparazzi-like, machine gun sound effect of the shutter ripping frames is mind-blowingly cool. 

I love this feature most because I have two small kids and getting them both to look at the camera at the same time is almost impossible (every parent is familiar with this problem). But now I just hold down the shutter button, fire off 50-60 frames and "fix it in post." Even more amazing is that the iOS 7 Camera app usually finds the best shots for me automatically (called "Favorites"), where both kids are a) not blurry, and b) looking at the camera.

The other camera feature I'm learning to love is the 120 FPS slow-motion mode which overnight made the iPhone 5s the "visualist phone of choice," according to CreateDigitalMotion's Peter Kirn.

if you’re investing in a new phone. And I have to say, generally, while other rivals (notably Samsung and Nokia) ship phones with good optics, Apple seems to have the edge in software.

Check out this incredible demo video from Rishi Kaneria which was shot on an iPhone 5s in 120 FPS slow-motion - the footage is jaw-dropping.

Forget about the fingerprint sensor people, the iPhone 5s camera is its truly killer feature.

Topics: Apple, iOS, iPhone, Mobile OS, Mobility

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41 comments
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  • Well

    Compare it to Lumia 1020 and you will see the real deal. I don't say the iPhone 5S camera is bad. I like the Slo-Mo part of it. But the burst mode iPhone 5S comes nowhere near to Nokia SmartCam on Lumia 1020.
    Ram U
    • Agree with Ram U!

      I think it's like any Apple update, two features - which don't even appeal to everyone - are supposed to redeem it? DDERSSS, I also think you're wrong in saying the Lumia 1020 lacks in other departments... I stumbled upon this comparison this morning and found it pretty interesting.. http://versus.com/en/apple-iphone-5s-64gb-vs-nokia-lumia-1020
      Felix Simpson
    • what's the point

      Without apps? Yeah Lumia has a great camera, but without Facebook and Instagram who are these pictures to be shared with?

      Besides that, pixel density is largely a fraudulent measure of quality.
      Mac_PC_FenceSitter
      • The point is this...

        1. Nokia Lumia 1020 does have Facebook (full app plus integrated native services) and Instagram (6Tag). Besides, Facebook and Instagram aren't the only places people share photos!

        2. Pixel density isn't the only measure being used in the Lumia 1020. It also includes optical image stabilisation, Xenon flash, pixel oversampling technology, F2.2 lens, BSI sensor which is much bigger than any other smartphone (even bigger than many dedicated cameras), a 6-elements lens, and an excellent app which allows full manual camera control (Nokia Pro Cam).

        Of course, if the iPhone had 41 MP, you wouldn't be making such fangirl-hater comments.
        wp7mango
        • I've said it a few times

          My phone is not an iPhone. I run a BlackBerry.
          Mac_PC_FenceSitter
        • Sucking up storage space

          Surely a 41 MP camera is going to suck up a lot of storage space over the 8 MP iphone. Calculating that space it would be 25 shots on the Nokia and 125 shots for the iPhone for the same amount of storage. The photo and video that I have seen of the iPhone 5s look very good to me. Plus there is no contest between the Microsoft and Apple App Stores.
          marcandsebe
        • Looks great on paper, but in practice...

          ...it's not as consistent.

          No doubt, the 1020 has great hardware. It's basically a phone built around a camera. It has a strong flash and does well in low light situations.

          Having said that, a common thread in the reviews seems to indicate that the iPhone camera does better, more consistently than the 1020. Not just in terms of focus, but in terms of producing more accurate colors more often. There are clear white balance issues with the 1020 as well. You may claim that some of this can be corrected in post production, but I'd say not as easily and I'd suggest most phone users wouldn't want to be bothered with that.

          There are a number of technologies needed to produce a quality photo. The lens, the sensor, the image signal processor and the software. The 1020 would seem to have an edge on perhaps the sensor, but not necessarily the entire stack. Specs don't tell you that... results do.
          techconc
        • when you rely on "pixel oversampling"

          To achieve the claimed 41 Megapixels, it is not truly a 41 Megapixel sensor, now is it? There was an article a few years back stating someone put a group of 8-10 MP sensors together and by creatively oversampling, that came up with a 2 GP image
          I hate trolls also
        • when you rely on "pixel oversampling"

          To achieve the claimed 41 Megapixels, it is not truly a 41 Megapixel sensor, now is it? There was an article a few years back stating someone put a group of 8-10 MP sensors together and by creatively oversampling, that came up with a 2 GP image
          I hate trolls also
      • Huh ??

        My Lumia 920 has Facebook... Not sure how yours looks like (if you even have one.. but if you don't, how can you judge...)
        DJK2
      • Plus,

        How would a 41 megapixel photo be viewed on Facebook?
        V E R Y S L O W L Y ! ! ! !

        After all, it's about 15 mb in file size. How many photos can that Lumia hold? How long before your free SkyDrive is full of your photos?

        Not trashing the quality of the photo - it's amazing. Just saying that the quality comes at a file-size price.
        benched42
    • agreed

      WP and Android comes with real uses for things like burst mode. Smart cam from Nokia is a great example, but not an isolated example of where Nokia are pushing smart software on top of an exceptional camera to provide real-world uses. Burst to pick out which of the shots you're not blinking in, for example. Clever.

      Sadly the sensor, or the software interpreting the sensor on the iPhone 5s is that great compared to the best Nokia and Samsung can offer. With colour reproduction, contrast, detail, and the lack of optical image stabalisation result in often inferior images and movies.

      The only real innovation is the slow motion aspect, which is very good, but somewhat of a gimick you'll use once or twice, and then never again. Still, technically very nice.

      Sad that the iPhone has now reached the point where people can't actually decide which is a single worthy bullet point of innovation. How things change.
      jrbrewin
      • Sales figures

        But how come they sold 9,000,000 iPhones over the launch weekend. That's 9,000,000 people who like what they see with Apple, innovation or not. :-)
        marcandsebe
        • Such an idiot

          9m?
          Try breaking that down if you can and compare it to a summative quantity for the i5 launches - there were several instead of one.
          It's a wash - yesteryear to this year.

          Now back to the camera discussion .......
          rhonin
          • Yet

            People do not break down the Nokia numbers. Nokia shipped 7.4 million Lumia phones last quarter, not in a single weekend. They do not break out how many of each. Or does t only count when it's the competition, and not Microsoft?
            I hate trolls also
    • CIO compared iPhone 5S camera to Nokia 1020

      CIO, the magazine for Chief Information Officers, compared iPhone 5S camera to Nokia 1020 (available on the web) and the results were an eye opener. The reviewer chose the 5S as giving the better (not larger) pictures.

      The Nokia with 41 mega pixels has 5-times the resolution of the 5S camera, and so when you zoom in all the way on the photos, the Nokia definitely has sharper details because of the greater number of pixels. But comparing the full images scaled to the same size (or printing the images on an 8x10 print) both photos look equally sharp.

      Looking at the comparison photos under different lighting conditions, where the 5S shone was in accuracy in all comparison photos.

      The photos taken by the 5S had more natural looking colors, while the Nokia shots had a noticeable washout on the reds and greens. Also, the 5S captured things more accurately in the brightest areas and in the darkest area of the shots, while the Nokia shots were more contrasty and had blown-out areas and dark areas were too dark actually losing details of what was being shot.

      Now you may disagree with this review and the reviewer's conclusions, and if you do don't complain to me... complain to the reviewer.

      Just in the few shots I've taken with my own 5S I've been extremely impressed with the image quality, and as good as the iPhone 5 (which I had previously) camera is, there is a noticeable advancement in the quality of the images taken with the iPhone 5S.
      Harvey Lubin
  • ARS Technica's camera tests show no "good optics" of Samsung, and it was ..

    ... disasterous in dark conditions (what is expected since SGS4 has tiny 1.1 mkm pixels in sensor).

    Obviously, Nokia Lumia 1020 was the best in the test in terms of low-light photos, but while balance was horrible greenish mess. (Eventually Nokia will fix this, though.) But anyway Lumia 1020 is rather cameraphone, not smartphone as it is overpowered in camera department and way lacking in almost everything else.
    DDERSSS
  • good optics

    Lumia 1020 is rather cameraphone, not smartphone as it is overpowered in camera department and way lacking in almost everything else.
    a418887065
    • good everything

      When you say "way lacking", does that mean not enough cases for it? Because I can tell it is an excellent phone, very robust, tons of apps, NFC, wireless charging, large screen, MS office mobile, 4G LTE, and more. Just what is it lacking that is so important?
      Sean Foley
  • All I can see is a gimmicky feature

    It'll entertain new iPhone owners for about one day. After that it's worn off.
    I mean how many slow-mo videos do you want to take ?
    EnticingHavoc