An Analysis of Apple’s iPhone 4S Camera: What We Know So Far

Image from This is My Next’s Liveblog of the Apple Announcement, by far the fastest and best one that didn’t crash.

Today, Apple announced the iPhone 4S. In the world of photography, we mostly care about the camera to help spur on our creative initiatives. The iPhone 4 had an impressive range of features like an f2.4 lens, ISO 80-2000 and 1/1000th shutter speeds. Indeed, after our field test we saw that use of Apple’s iPhone 4 really took off with the amount of apps that came out such as Hisptamatic, Instagram, etc.

Apple proclaimed that they wanted to create a camera that is better than a point and shoot. So, have they? Without having our hands on the product at all, we’re going to do a breakdown the specs.

Please note that this is all speculation.

8MP Sensor

The iPhone 4’s sensor was 5MP and this year’s iPhone 4S has been bumped up to 8MP. But how big is that sensor? If it’s exactly like the iPhone 4’s, then it will be around a 4.54 x 3.39 mm^2 chip (5.67 mm diagonal) which corresponds to a 35mm film camera crop factor of 7.64 x.

In point and shoot camera terms, that means that it is a 1/3.2″ sensor. Most point and shoot camera sensors range between 1/3.8″ and 1/1.5″ (crop factors between 8.6 and 3.9). That means this sensor is indeed larger if it is still the same size.

With an f2.4 lens, it corresponds to around f22 in the 35mm film world.

5 Element Lens

After some internet research, we’re not exactly sure how many elements were in the iPhone 4’s camera but these extra elements may be able to help with delivering sharper images and focusing. They also need to be ultra light elements (even for a phone) if they have a reduced shutter lag. More on that later on.

If the lens is just like the older iPhone, it will have an f2.4 aperture.

Temporal Noise Reduction

This is a new one to me. Temporal Noise Reduction is when a model of the noise that each pixel may produce is constructed at a random process. Because of this, it doesn’t work well on sequences with fast motion (citation here at this PDF). That may mean that if you’ve gotten yourself all filled up with coffee or are shivering in the cold of night, your jerky hands may cause image noise in lower light situations such as at night.

So how does this look in practice? Take a look at the video above. Also notice how the video is steady.

For iPhone vidoegraphers, you’ll be pleased with this one unless you enjoy the look that apps like Super 8 give you where you can embrace all that noise.

The sensor in this camera is a CMOS sensor, so you may also experience a bit of the jello effect due to the way the signal readout happens.

Back-Illuminated Sensor with 73% More Light Delivered

Just like we’ve seen in point and shoot cameras and the iPhone 4, back-illuminated sensors do indeed deliver better light sensitivity. So what does 73% more light mean?

– We could see even higher ISO numbers. The iPhone 4 was at ISO 2000.

– Apple may have found a way to shoot at a slightly faster shutter speed

Hybrid IR Filter

The idownload blog is saying that the filter will deliver richer colors. After doing some more research, I found a Hybrid IR camera (PDF link) which promises to have, “outstandingly clean images in the dark.”

Still, it doesn’t seem to say much about a Hybird IR filter and further searches tried to give me, “Hybrid Air filter” search results. According to DPReview though, the Olympus E-3 had a Hybrid IR Cut filter. This article will be updated when we have more information on it.

Reduced Shutter Lag

1.1 sec is fairly fast for any camera. Street photographers may still want something a big faster such as the Olympus EP3.

Macro

This comes from the new lens elements. They didn’t exactly say how close you can focus, but as many photographers will learn, you’ll need sufficient light for a macro photo. The flash on the iPhone 4s’s camera doesn’t seem to be placed in such a convenient spot for macro photos.

1080p Image Stabilized Video

This will be a killer feature for so many people. There are loads of videographers out there doing entire videos and movies on their iPhones and the fact that you’ll now have 1080p video with image stabilization will mean that the video world is about to explode with more videos of drunken times and randomness.

I hope Vimeo and YouTube are both ready.

So what are your thoughts? Are you getting one? Let us know in the comments below.

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Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.