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The iPhone 4S 8MP Camera Features – Why I’ll Upgrade

The iPhone 4S 8MP Camera Features – Why I’ll Upgrade
iPhone 4S camera

Yesterday Apple announced the iPhone 4S at their “Let’s Talk iPhone” event (You can watch video of the entire event here on Apple’s site) – a Mashable poll has over 59% of people disappointed that there was no  iPhone 5, and Yahoo News muses over Apple’s failure to manage expectations.

However my eyes were on the iPhone 4S camera.

I have an iPhone 3GS and have held off on upgrading as I figured it was worth waiting to see what the announcement would be. That announcement I originally expected to be in June… so, was it worth waiting for?

The iPhone 4S has an 8MP camera – my 3GS has a 3MP camera and the iPhone 4 has a 5MP camera. Previously I thought it was unlikely the new iPhone would get an 8MP camera as it would require a larger sensor, but Apple claim their new backside illumination and optics improvements have done the job. It will be interesting to see the specs of the sensor when someone rips open the iPhone 4s.

Here’s what the Apple site says:

Pull out your iPhone in moonlight, candlelight, or under little white lights. Or shoot in bright light. Like at the beach. iPhone captures low-light and lots-of-light moods beautifully. So darks aren’t too dark and lights aren’t too light. Even action shots are less blurry. The next-generation backside illumination sensor is engineered with increased sensitivity and a shorter exposure time to achieve the same scene brightness — colors are less saturated and you’ll see more details.

With a lot of info from Wired’s live blog of the event we can take a look at the new camera features:

  • New 8mp sensor with improved backside illumination
    • 60% more pixels than iPhone 4 5mp sensor
    • gathers 73% more light than the iPhone 4’s sensor
    • 33% faster than the iPhone 4 camera
  • 26% better auto white balance than the iPhone 4
  • Hybrid IR filter for better color accuracy and more color uniformity
  • New lens with 5 elements providing a 30% sharper image – iPhone 4: 4 elements
  • Larger f/2.4 aperture which lets in more light – iPhone 4: f/2.8
  • Face detection – helps auto focus and exposure based on whether it’s a portrait or group shot
  • 1080p HD video with video stabilisation
  • Takes 3264px x 2448px images

With the graphics and processing improvements in the 4S all of this should add up to a damn good camera, and don’t forget that the iPhone 4S will also feature all the photography related improvements brought by iOS5:

  • Volume button shutter release
  • Lock screen shortcut
  • Optional gridlines
  • Pinch to zoom
  • Auto exposure / auto focus lock
  • Image editing
  • Photo management
  • Photo syncing
  • Twitter

The picture quality from the iPhone has always been impressive, Apple just seem to get it right where other camera phones images still look… well, like camera phone images. Other camera phone announcements of 8MP cameras haven’t interested me because the resulting images just didn’t cut it, but I trust Apple to have come up with a combination of hardware and software that will produce quality.

And while other people may have been disappointed about the lack of an all out funky new design, I’m happy as larry because all of the existing cool photography accessories for the iPhone 4 will be compatible from the word go.

UPDATE: TechCrunch reckons that the sensor is the Omnivision OV8830 (based on this PDF report), which means it’s the same size sensor as the iPhone 4 and uses smaller pixels – which normally would not be a good thing, however OmniVision say major improvements have been made since the first generation of backside illumnination sensors:

Benefits of OmniBSI-2 technology found in the OV8830 include optimized die size, a bigger collection region in the photodiode enabled by custom design rules, a significant reduction in power consumption, and 1.2 V digital core. Key improvements over the first generation OmniBSI architecture include a 20 percent improvement in peak quantum efficiency in all color channels, 35 percent improvement in low-light sensitivity, and 45 percent increase in full well capacity. OmniBSI-2’s custom pixel design rules also enable better pixel layout, better isolation, and significantly reduced crosstalk. Each of these advances represent additional performance improvements over the first generation OmniBSI technology resulting in better image quality, enhanced color reproduction, and improved overall camera performance.

Omnivision OV8830 (iPhone 4S sensor) OmniVision OV5650 (iPhone 4 sensor)
8 megapixels 5 megapixels
1.4 μm 1.75 μm
1/3.2 inch 1/3.2 inch
backlit sensor backlit sensor

Let me know what you think of the new camera in the comments, and whether it would encourage you to upgrade…