The iPhone 4S Camera in Detail

Better optics, faster sensor, 1080p videos, and new Camera app

by Harry on October 5, 2011

The new iPhone 4S announced today by Apple will include an upgraded camera, as we had previously speculated. As a matter of fact, the camera was one of the main points during Apple’s keynote, showing the importance of photography on smartphones also from a marketing point of view.

The camera on a new white iPhone 4S

8MP Resolution
The new iPhone 4S will shoot photos up to 8MP in resolution. This seems to be the standard in higher-end smartphones these days, with Motorola Droid Bionic, Samsung Galaxy S II, and HTC T phones offering the same resolution.

New “Faster” Sensor
While details about why and how the sensor is faster are scarce, according to Paul Schiller, who introduced the iPhone 4S during the keynote, the sensor in the new iPhone 4S is 1/3 faster than the one in the iPhone 4. The new back-illuminated sensor will also feature an advancement of the same technology found in the iPhone 4 to offer better performance under low-light. Back-illuminated sensors basically increase the amount of light that reaches the photosensitive part of the sensor, bypassing the wiring component which in older sensors is placed before the photosensitive area.

The LED flash is still there for when you need it.

Brand New Optics

The 5-element lens in the iPhone 4S

The lens system in the iPhone 4S has been redesigned. The lens now features 5 elements instead of the 4 in the iPhone 4, and a larger f/2.4 aperture, which is a significant improvement over the iPhone 4′s  f/2.8. The focal length is only described as “super-wide” by Schiller.

The system also includes an infrared filter, described as an “advanced hybrid infrared filter” – I have no idea what makes it advanced or hybrid (software/hardware based, maybe?), so we will see if it is just marketing lingo.

The A5 Chip
The new CPU will do wonders for games, delivering the same performance seen on the iPad 2, but it will also improve substantially the performance of photography apps, according to Apple. The speed of the processor allows less shutter lag and faster image processing. Life of developers focusing their effort on the new iPhone 4S will be easier of course, even though they will still need to take into account the huge market share of the iPhone 4 and the undoubtedly renewed popularity of the iPhone 3GS, now coming for free with some subscription plans.

1080p Videos with Image Stabilization
The iPhone 4S will be able to shoot videos in 1080p resolution at up to 30 frames per second, against the iPhone 4′s 720p. The system also includes a stabilizer function to reduce camera shaking.

Front Camera
Yes, the lower-quality front VGA camera introduced in the iPhone 4 is still there, obviously.

Software Improvements
A little while ago, we wrote about the new Camera app coming with iOS 5. The app will now include features that would currently require third party apps. These features include:

- You can open the camera directly from the lock screen, a feature many iPhone photographers have been waiting for a while now.
- The volume button can be used as a shutter button. Camera+ will either be very annoyed by this or extremely flattered (considering the success of their app, I suppose the latter)
- Focus with a tap
- Pinch-to-zoom gestures
- HDR functionality

The Photos app has also been upgraded, with support for:

- Crop and rotate
- Enhance feature for automatic adjustment of sharpness, levels, and contrast
- Red-eye removal

iCloud, Apple’s cloud computing service, is the next big thing, and will be available from October 12, with a free plan including 5GB (10GB for $20/year; 20GB for $40/year; 50GB for $100/year). Apple’s focus with iOS 5 is in having their cloud computing service tightly integrated with all their devices and software. iCloud allows sharing of data – including music, photos, and apps – across multiple devices. For photographers, this means that photos will be almost instantly available on all your devices, if you want to. Not to mention, iCloud works also as a backup service theoretically more reliable than your computer’s Hard Disk.

Alysia October 5, 2011 at 4:29 am

I’ll stick to my current iPhone for a little longer.

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Miege October 5, 2011 at 5:54 am

Personally, I’d recommend people to upgrade their iOS devices after 3 years or after they can no longer update the devices’ iOS.

Well, unless you’re a developer, hobbyist or something, that’s a different story. ;-)

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Miege October 5, 2011 at 5:58 am

The way I see it, this is going to be a badass camera. Powerful camera + powerful chip = tools for great photography and photo-editing

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Anthony Florey October 5, 2011 at 7:51 pm

As far as iPhone and iOS are concerned, this is indeed a major release. Yet, many Apple users said they were disappointed. I am sure that if Apple decided to call the 4s iPhone 5, people wouldn’t be so upset now, and instead they would be at least satisfied, if not happy. This is Apple’s fault as well, for getting their audience used to this and for creating such ridiculous expectations..

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Miege October 5, 2011 at 11:06 pm

Nah, it’s not Apple fault. It’s people’s fault for losing their senses. People always want more and more and more but only need less. ;-)

Apple’s only fault would probably be making iPod touch the 2nd-class citizen. No A5 but claiming it to be a great portable game? I don’t think iPod Touch can even run Infinity Blade 2.

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