It’s always a funny feeling walking into a concert hall foyer that is familiar to you from years of concert-going (in this case, Wigmore Hall), and unexpectedly spotting one of your own photos.
A funny feeling, but a good one. (That is, if the photo was from a commission. I dread doing this one day to find a pilfered image on display; I guess this is quite uncommon given the nature of this kind of photo. It happens all the time online, but – one hopes – less in the world of print.)
I worked with the Lawson Trio last year, before Clara joined the ensemble. It’s always that photo right at the end of the session, when everyone is freezing, windswept, and tired of lugging bags around, and you probably went on for two hours longer than you planned to – it’s then you finally get the shot:
Anyway not so this year. Like gold-dust, we found a lovely secluded little space outside a property management company right next to Tate Modern that gave us impromptu permission to shoot on their land. So lovely finding “Real Human Beings” from time to time, when London seems so full of officious security guards and companies who are so obsessed with faux health and safety, insurance, PR, and frankly any other reason to not let you shoot anywhere near them.
It wasn’t quite without interruption, but mercifully we were left alone after name-dropping the “real human being” who said we could shoot there. Anyway, the result of a little bit of planning, a lot of improvisation, and 2 hours of shooting:
Next up, we made use of the fact that photography inside the Tate corridors is permitted, with this great little scene shot across the escalator:
Finally, onto a favourite location of mine. Millennium Bridge is a footway across the Thames which connects the Tate Modern to St Paul’s Cathedral. Actually many photographers love shooting here, and you often have to fight for the specific spot as we did! This is because it’s such a great place to capture people, movement, old architecture and new.
The really exciting thing for me is that I managed to get my hands on a Microsoft Surface Pro for the best part of a day (colleague of a colleague), so naturally the first thing I did was to install my copy of Lightroom 5 on it, and give it a spin.
It’s very exciting indeed to edit photos directly on a tablet, without the usual restrictions you expect from an iPad. The Microsoft Surface Pro is absolutely superb for Lightroom because it uses a 128GB SSD which makes the process really snappy. Sure, it’s not quite capacious enough for your average working catalog size, but it’s wonderful for throwing into your bag and carrying out some edits over a coffee.
The Microsoft Surface Pro comes with a Wacom digitizer which I didn’t have time to test out fully, but there’s something a little unreal and wonderful about using a pen directly on your photographs in Lightroom without being tethered to a desk and a Wacom off to the side.
Actually I fell head-over-heels with this little computing device, and was surprised that it was even possible to use for serious editing work.
Perhaps I will get my hands on a Surface Pro again to give it a full review here on the blog, but I’ll leave you for now with that edited shot. I brought it back onto my primary editing setup to check contrast and colour, which were both good. I may have gone a little overboard with the blue backdrop masking but it’s quite a fun effect.
So here’s the finished product, an hour of backdrop masking in Lightroom on the Surface Pro!
Anyway wine prejudices aside, I am a huge fan of this man. The first time I tasted his amazing Penne Giardiniera in Ealing I was bowled over, then so glad many years later when the recipe was published and I could make it in my own home. What a recipe.
Anyway, I took a portrait of the great chef in his deli restaurant in Chiswick last year, and realised I never blogged the photo.
I rarely shoot just with natural light, so this was a bit of a stylistic departure for me, but I hope you like it. The shot is lit from the front of the shop, hence the striking (unbalanced?) white balance of the subject vs. the backdrop.
In this article, I’m going to tell you how to get the best possible portrait shots from your iPhone. I’ll also share with you some software I use; these apps are very well-loved by amateur and professional photographers alike.
There was a time I lugged my primary DSLR around with me everywhere I went. Out for dinner with friends, out and about in town, everywhere. The camera lived on my shoulder constantly but, the more time I spent shooting professionally, the less I was inclined to take my DSLR, opting instead to take various other smaller cameras for everyday photography; Canon G6, my beautiful old Nikkormat with 50mm 1.4 lens and a roll of Fuji BW film, even a twin lens reflex was smaller and easier to carry around!
Now I’ve been a professional photographer full-time for 4 years, and the only camera I ever take out with me when I’m not shooting for a client is my iPhone 4S.
The iPhone 4S camera is nothing to write home about, photographically speaking – of course. Without a large piece of glass in front of that sensor, it never will be.
But the point is: it’s good enough. Good enough that shooting portraits can be an enjoyable affair – quick, instant, and good results. The lens and the quality of the sensor are no more than adequate, which is precisely what you need from a tiny take-everywhere camera. The barriers to taking good portraits have mostly been removed; the process of shooting is no longer cumbersome as it was in previous generations of the phone, and I’m always able to predict the optical and digital quality of the images will be good, unlike many other camera phones I’ve used.
Here’s a shot I made yesterday on an unexpected visit to a coffee house in Amersham, where I unexpectedly met Claire and friends:
A portrait shot with the iPhone
4 Steps to great iPhone portrait photography
As with all natural-light photography: find the light. Most of the time I don’t go out looking for it, but instead I see it and think “this is gorgeous light for a photo”. This usually happens when you aren’t expecting it: hence keep the iPhone to hand!
Get an iPhone 4S or iPhone 5. The camera is far superior in the 4S to previous models. Also ensure you update your iPhone’s operating system. The latest version of iOS brought in some killer changes when it comes to shooting quickly. Read up here for more info.
Adopt the mindset of a portrait photographer. Take fewer photos, delete all photos except the best version, start to think in terms of editing every shot as part of the process.
Get the right apps. Process every photo you keep. This takes time, thought, and invention. The iPhone camera is not magic, it’s an automatic camera that makes assumptions about exposure. Every shot you take will require intervention with some kind of processing or photo editing.
Some apps I use
iPhonography is a fast-moving thing, so make sure to keep-up with the latest apps. I’m an incessant reader of reviews in the app store, and I research apps online a lot. Over the years I’ve purchased, downloaded, and tested tens of photo editing apps, but here’s a quick summary of the ones I always come back to.
I’ve used this app every day over the last year.
This has been my favoured go-to app for almost every photo I’ve shot on the iPhone. Made by Nik Software, who have a good pedigree in professional photo editing software, the app combines some of the toy-like features of Instagram with some really decent manual editing functions. The Instagram-like photo filters are actually fully manual functions with presets and a randomize feature, which does provide some ‘playability’ if you aren’t sure what look and feel you are going for.
On the whole I avoid using Snapseed’s “vintage” or “grunge” filters as they are way too ‘Instagrammy’ – they detract from the purity of the image. My style is to accentuate and to make the image pop. I use “drama”, “crop”, “selective adjust”, and “tilt shift” a lot, though. I also use the “straighten” function to rotate images although I do find that a bit fiddly. More on how I use this app later.
Whereas Snapseed is about bringing out the best qualities of your photos, Big Lens is basically a naughty app for cheats. Don’t get me wrong – you have to put a lot of work in, and the results are very good, but it essentially emulates the look and feel of a big lens where you might stop-down the shot to reduce depth-of-field. Put simply it blurs out the background of your image. (Plus it does a whole load of other things.)
Every great portrait has a good separation of subject and surrounding.
By blurring out the background of your image, you are accentuating the subject and drawing the eye in to the photo. You are removing distractions from behind the subject which is something you can only usually do with a big piece of glass on the front of your camera. The app actually has “aperture” settings to emulate f stops (f3.5, f3.2, f2.8 etc.) although clearly these are to be ignored as, technically speaking, they are nonsense. Add to this the fact that it’s technically not a great idea to mask out a subject using a pen tool, and you’ll see why this app isn’t for photography purists – but I like it because it does give 95% great results a lot of the time, at least for portraiture.
What about camera apps?
The above are great for post-processing, but what about replacement apps for the iPhone’s camera?
Personally I don’t use one. I have a number of theories on this one, not least the fact that there’s a good chance you will inadvertently begin using an app that doesn’t support the resolution of the latest iPhone. It’s a huge flaw, but I’ve seen it before. App developers tend not to make a big thing of such flaws.
If you do prefer to use a special app for taking photos, instead of iPhone’s built-in app, then make sure you do your research. Find an app that definitely supports your iPhone camera’s resolution, and one that doesn’t attempt to make your images brighter. Apps that claim to make the image brighter are actually pre-processing apps; all they do is remove the options to fine-tune your photographs in post-processing afterwards.
How I process photos
The greatest thing about instant mobile photography is taking your image from start to finish without getting your desktop editing software out! You can do it all on the bus.
I’ve settled on a process I like, which gives my images a certain look and feel. I’d encourage you to find your own process to make images that suit your own eye – this is the key to becoming a great photographer.
That aside, here’s my process:
Settle on my image
I settle on my favourite image version by doing quick mock-up edits of a few different versions, cropping accordingly. I delete extra versions of the same shot and set about editing the chosen image.
Edit in Snapseed
I load the image up in Snapseed and straight away use the “drama” filter:
Use Drama filter
I’ll get the filter strength as high as possible without it looking to hyper-real (it gives a surreal bad-HDR effect if over-used).
I bring the saturation UP as it’s usually too low by default. Here I’ve used +54.
Set the saturation and strength of filter. Experiment with options.,
I make a note of the numbers and then try out different combinations of the two settings for this filter. I press-and-hold the top compare button a few times to decide whether I went over-the-top:
Always keep stopping to compare as you go
Then I apply the filter:
Click to apply the filter, before moving on to the next filter
Sometimes the image isn’t nearly bright enough. To fix this I tend to prefer using the “Tilt Shift” filter (instead of the “tune image” filter), as this has a really nice brightness algorithm. Although the image is exposed nicely here, I still use it to slightly push-up the brightness:
Use Tilt Shift instead of "Tune Image" - nicer algorithm for brightness
I use two fingers to pull-apart the Tilt Shift area, so that the diagonally opposite corners get a tiny amount of blur, and I tend to leave the other settings as they are. Perhaps I will tweak the saturation a little.
Next up, crop:
I prefer to crop and straighten as last step in Snapseed
I usually double-check my edits using the compare feature from the main screen (this time, press-and-hold the image. The compare button shown above is only when you are in one of the filter views).
All done! Now I save the image out to the camera roll.
Edit in Big Lens
Next I load the image into Big Lens. Always use “advanced” to mask the image:
Always use the manual / advanced mask technique
Now draw the brush around the subject. Then click Auto to tighten up the edges:
Make a rough drawing
Auto helps get your edges half good, but you need to edit them more
Zoom in to erase the mask where it shouldn’t be, and use the brush tool to re-apply if you removed too much:
Pinch to zoom, pan with two fingers, use brush and eraser
To pan around, use two fingers.
Be patient, this process takes a long time. If you mess up, it won’t look good. There’s an undo button you can use for brush strokes. You really need to be a little bit anal about this process. Don’t worry though, you can try it out and go back and edit the mask if you like.
Use the arrow top-right to move to the next stage. Now apply your aperture size.
You can see here, I’ve gone too far. This makes it look unnatural, and you can also see masking artefacts more, if you look around the edge of the subject:
Dodgy masking - either re-mask or lessen the blur effect
I went for f3.2 in the end. I also used the ‘pop cold’ filter, which only applies to the backdrop, to further draw the eye in. I turned the filter strength down to about half:
Add a filter if you like, but dial-down the settings
Again, use press and hold the compare function. Play around with the other options.
But there you have it: a great looking portrait from a tiny camera in your phone.
A Cinegraph, or Cinemagraph, is a still image with some constituent parts that are moving.
Personally I think the concept is quite unique. It’s not the same as an animated GIF, the somewhat tacky pre-cursor of video on the web, where the whole image moves – usually as 3-5 second sequences in loops. Nor is it the same as video. It is a kind of moving still, where the photographer / artist (we can’t call him the film-maker) decides which parts of the image will move and which parts will be static.
This creates an interesting tension between objects whose movements are shown, and objects which were clearly moving but whose movement is frozen in time.
Testing Image #1: The Tiniest Movement Throws It Off
You can find some great examples of the power of Cinegraphs if you look anywhere online, but for now here is my first evening of work on the concept.
It’s a steep learning curve that combines frame-based image masking and editing, stills extraction, and a good degree of artistic direction when done well.
Don’t believe the multitude of tutorials online that tell you it’s really easy and super quick to do. Well it may be – but not to do one well! Try it yourself…
The artistic direction of the two photos below is next to none, but these were just testing images.
Have you seen Cinegraphs on the web? What do you think? Powerful, quirky, or gimmicky?
I’ve been pretty excited about the opening of Jamie Oliver’s new restaurant Union Jacks for a while, and as an avid local tweeter for Chiswick / accidental restaurant advisor / general photo and food blogger (usually on other sites), I took my camera along to the soft opening today.
Some background: I don’t have a TV and I’m only familiar with Jamie through his books, website, and other restaurants which I love (Jamie’s Italian in Cambridge and London W12, where I’ve dined more times that I can remember).
Sadly I just missed chatting to Jamie, but caught Jamie’s partner in the Union Jacks venture, Chris Bianco, who is a passionate foodie and restaurant entrepreneur from the US:
Back home his restaurant Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, Arizona is reputedly a great success with food critics, not to mention the fact he’s opened up other restaurants from Italian to Mexican, he grows and packages a range of varietals of tomatoes in California (sadly he won’t be exporting them for use in this restaurant) and he obviously cares dearly about his ingredients. I’m hoping the Union Jacks venture will attract similar critical praise. Certainly his amazing positivity comes across within just a few minutes of meeting him. I love how he has done-out the restaurant with little bits of local life – some framed prints from a much-loved nearby bookshop Fosters of Chiswick, to mention just one.
The interior itself is a nod to 50s/60s café dining with formica-style tabletops or roughly-painted wooden tables, funky lighting, traditional unfussy menus, and lovely tiling work on the walls – the same tiles as you are likely to see on the London Underground.
As with all of Jamie’s restaurants, staff are superb; their enthusiasm is palpable and even though Chiswick Union Jacks was not fully open, they were really on the ball, chatty, excited…
Whilst Union Jacks probably won’t compete with the excellent Gelato Mio across the road for serious ice, are not putting out cocktails like Sam’s or Charlotte’s, and probably don’t put pizza to the core of the menu as much as the nearby Franco Manca – which will always hold a special place in my heart – nevertheless the restaurant’s main strength is that it serves up an impressive range of food styles.
The Woodman Pizza (they call it a “Flat”): a topping with mixed field mushroom base and an aftertaste of aniseed:
Although in many ways Italian – at least the style of the interior – Union Jacks isn’t a traditional pizzeria by any means. It’s more like an “Italian-inspired English tapas restaurant”; the palate catered-for is very much the English one.
How so? Think mini Yorkshire puddings, Indian spiced chicken with Bombay potatoes, Bubble and Squeak, Treacle Tart, selection of great cheeses.
Below, Indian spiced chicken. What an amazing gravy it came with. Typical of Jamie: bursting with surprising flavours. And a delightful marinade.
The other thing I love: you can stop-by for a quick Builder’s Tea on the seats outside, or bring a group of friends for a whole evening out.
Below, the “Damson Gin Fizz”:
Below, “Roobarb & Custard” and “Union Mule”:
What they do, they do very well. “Earl Grey and biscuit” and “bitter chocolate” ice cream scoops:
The dough is made right in front of diners, so you can see the action! Smells amazing.
The restaurant is apparently not taking bookings until May, however I believe it will be possible to walk-in and dine at any time.
Having braved the upgrade queue – a decision driven mainly by my current iPhone 3GS and its pitifully depleted battery (lasting around an hour into the day) – by 9.30am Friday I was a proud new owners of the iPhone 4S.
O2 iPhone 4S release in Chiswick
There are myriad features on the new iPhone that I love; after 24 hours of testing Siri to its limits, playing with notifications, the integrated Twitter features, the location-based reminders, and more, I’m in no doubt the ‘phone will enrich my life albeit in some small way.
Rather than focusing on these features, however, here I’m reviewing the iPhone 4S camera from the perspective of a professional photographer.
Summary of improvements
Here’s a list of improvements you’ll see in the iPhone 4S camera, whether they are down to the iOS5 upgrade (which can be installed on older models) or to the iPhone 4S itself.
This review expands upon all of these improvements.
Ease of access
Quick access from the lock screen (iOS5)
No access to existing photos if iPhone was locked with passcode
Ease of control
Quicker camera-ready time (especially compared with iPhone 3GS and older)
Vastly reduced shutter lag (un-noticeable delay in taking shot after pressing button)
Increased ergonomics: use side button to shoot (applies to iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S under iOS5)
Optional grid for rule of thirds
Flash (improved on 4S) – photographers:keep that flash off at all times!
Quick Edit after taking photo
Crop / free-form rotate
Separate 90 degree rotate function
Manual red-eye removal
“Auto Enhance” – photographers: avoid!
Vastly improved focus and exposure seek time
Pinch to zoom – photographers: avoid!
Photo Stream (iCloud)
Increased resolution (7.99MP: 3264 x 2448)
Lower noise despite increased resolution
Increased sensitivity: especially great for low-light photography
Redesigned lens system
5 elements: sharper images
Wider aperture: f/2.4 – brighter and more impressive images. Reduced DoF for more ‘artsy’ photos
Some background – a personal disclaimer
As a professional photographer, there is a small part of me that despises the concept of a cameraphone. This ubiquitous device has landed in the hands of The Many, which has led to an explosion in the number of photographs taken across the world in any given second (which should be good), yet a proportionally huge reduction in the average quality of a photograph.
If this sounds a bit abstract, just consider what you see on Facebook. Every minute detail of our lives is now captured on our mobile phones in poor light, at low definition, and with little thought. Every moment, including the seminal moments – a child’s fifth birthday party, a graduation, the first dance at a wedding. These seminal moments are being lost in the sea of photos that we take, their significance diminished in our memories.
A Facebook Photo...
However this problem is not because of the technology itself; we can’t blame technology. It’s how we have adopted the technology. But then, neither can we blame lack of expertise; it’s not only the average Joe who doesn’t realise that ‘less is more’ when it comes to curating our lives’ photos, I have seen professional photographers who take the easy line and offer clients quantity over quality.
No, let’s not focus on the effect that ubiquity is having on the social function of photography. Let’s focus instead on the camera itself.
I wish I could attribute the following quotation to someone like Henri Cartier-Bresson, alas it’s a modern idea;
“The best camera is the one that’s with you”
As a cameraphone, the iPhone has long been behind the competition. Users of the original iPhone, the 3G, and to a lesser extent the 3GS, have bemoaned the poor camera.
The iPhone 4 brought the ‘phone’s camera up to modern expectations.
The iPhone 4S, released yesterday, greatly exceeds expectations of a camera phone, and many are saying it’s the best camera on a ‘phone to date.
What makes a good cameraphone?
From the perspective of a photographer, here’s what I believe makes a good cameraphone.
Ease of access: capturing ‘the moment’ is difficult if you have to navigate through menus and buttons before the shutter is even ready
With iOS5, it is now possible to access the camera from the lock screen. This may be done by double-clicking the home button, either when the lock screen is already showing, or when the phone display is off altogether.
And for those who protect their iPhone with a passcode, there’s no need to worry that this could be used to circumvent entering the passcode to view existing photos:
Controllability: how responsive is the shutter release? To what extent can focus and exposure be controlled? Is it quick to change the settings? What about other tools like composition guides or in-app post-processing?
One of the main issues with the iPhone 3GS was a delay when entering the camera app. The shutter animation would hang for a second or more, which really affects your ability to point and shoot. The iPhone 4S has an upgraded processor, and there’s no more waiting.
Another major gripe was that you had to use the software button on the screen to take a photo. The iPhone 4S now has a physical button for shutter release: the up-volume button on the side. This is a lovely button which provides a good level of physical feedback without jogging the ‘phone in the slightest when pressed. Great for macro shots, where the tiniest movement can throw the focus off.
Most importantly, something that angers most photographers about cameraphones – and indeed small point-and-shoot cameras – is the shutter release delay. These inferior cameras usually use autofocus; even if you have pressed the button, that shot isn’t taken until the camera thinks the image is in focus. This can lead to a delay of a second or sometimes more, and we professionals (or anyone with an SLR camera!) absolutely hate that!
The iPhone 4S has an instantaneous shutter release – like an SLR.
The result is that inexperienced users may end up with photos that are out of focus – but let’s face it, in many cases if you leave the camera to choose your focus point then you won’t be getting the best results anyway. At least this gives power back to the real photographer.
Combine this with the new face recognition feature, and the new super-fast focusing, and it’s actually very difficult to end up with photos that are out of focus.
The new iPhone 4S sports a grid for composing a shot according to the rule of thirds. Of course, this grid may be turned off, but it’s great for shooting landscapes. Here it is with the options screen:
Naturally, of course, we have the ability to turn the flash on or off, or set to auto. For a professional photographer, this switch is set to the ‘off’ position 95% of the time. If there isn’t enough light, the last thing we want is a horrible harsh flash lighting the scene. There are some occasions it is nice to switch the flash on, such as … wait for it … when the sun is shining. Why? This is called fill flash, and if the subject is close enough to the iPhone, the bright LED light is just enough to take the harsh edges off the shadows that are cast on the subject’s face. Similarly the flash is useful for more ‘functional’ photographs, e.g. if you are trying to read a number from the rear of a box and you can’t quite reach it otherwise.
Other than that: turn that horrid flash off, and leave it off!
From the above screencap, you can also see the switch camera icon (top right). This allows you to use the front-facing camera on the iPhone instead. Whilst this might be great for that narcissistic shot of yourself, it most certainly won’t do your photography any good. The front-facing camera on the iPhone 4S is still pretty horrid, and should be avoided for anything except its primary intended use which is video.
Another brilliant boon to iPhone photographers in the release of the iPhone 4S is the quick edit function. This is where, after taking a shot, you can quickly crop, rotate, or fix red-eye. There is also an option to ‘Auto Enhance’, however this should be avoided if you are serious about the photo. Apple have mercifully avoided any other ‘artistic’ editing functions, as well as manual post-processing control over exposure or contrast, and stuck to the basics: crop, free-form rotate, and red-eye. This is a good thing.
The focus and exposure control offer a similar interface to previous generations – tap anywhere on the screen to focus on that point – however they are noticeably faster and more accurate. iPhone 4S now also has a face recognition feature which assists when focusing on a single subject or taking a group shot. The focus can of course be overridden by tapping the screen to focus on another point.
Unfortunately, there is no separation of exposure and focus control, which means the point you focus is also the point which you choose for correct exposure level. Personally I think that separating these two controls would indeed have been one step too far for the average user. If you require this kind of functionality… there’s an app for that.
The zoom control now uses multi-touch pinch rather than the slightly fiddlesome zoom scroll-bar on previous generations. However, as this is digital zoom as opposed to optical zoom, the result is that you are cropping the image rather than actually zooming-in. Therefore, never use digital zoom; it’s a bad idea because it reduces your options. If you need to see something close-up, you should crop the image afterwards using the new iOS5 in-app editing (mentioned above) or using other software e.g. on your computer. (The same applies for any camera with digital zoom!)
One final point of interest about the improvements to photo handling in iOS5 worth noting is the integration of photos into iCloud. A new folder appears within the pictures app when you upgrade to iOS5 (or by default on the iPhone 4S) called photo stream:
iOS5 iCloud Photo Stream folder
If you have upgraded to iOS5 (whether you restored a backup of your older phone to a new iPhone 4S, or just upgraded your non-4s to iOS5), you have the option of using the photo stream function. If you switch this on, all photos you take from that point onwards will be uploaded / backed-up to iCloud, and will appear in both the camera roll and the photo stream folders.
This is a real boon for those who use desktop or laptop computers (Mac or PC) as your iCloud photo stream can be synchronised with your computer. No more emailing yourself files, or uploading them to Dropbox! Windows users will need to download the iCloud control panel application (download link here) for Windows, and Mac users will need to upgrade to OS X Lion and switch on iCloud. The windows client allows you to set the location of your photo stream, if you choose to have this downloaded to your computer.
The Lens and Sensor: more important than megapixels
Everyone knows how futile the ‘megapixel race’ is; this is where camera manufacturers play on the general public’s lack of knowledge and get them to focus on meaningless specifications such as the megapixel count. Of course, it’s not an entirely meaningless specification, but in many cases over the last decade, cameras have been released with dog-awful lenses and a high megapixel count; all this does is to show you in even higher resolution how terrible the photograph is!
It’s like matching hi-fi speakers with an amp. No use spending a tonne on lovely speakers if the amplifier doesn’t do them justice.
As long as the megapixel count does justice to the lens and the quality of the sensor, that’s all the matters.
Apple upgraded the iPhone 4S camera’s megapixel count (this is a function of the new sensor itself, of course) to 8MP. This resolution definitely does justice to the upgraded lens and sensor. It’s worth noting at this point that the video function does not use the full resolution of the sensor, and as such the image is cropped. Therefore, it’s no longer possible to take such wide angle images in video mode. This is a great shame, and it would surely have been possible to use the full sensor frame but reduce the resolution on-the-fly.
So – onto the good stuff: the lens and the sensor.
Apple stated that, despite having a higher resolution, the new sensor is 73% more sensitive. This essentially means the lens performs better in low light, which means that there is less blur and less noise. Let’s take a look. This is actually a comparison of images from iPhone 3GS rather than the iPhone 4.
The image from the iPhone 4GS had its resolution reduced in Photoshop to match that of the 3GS, for comparison’s sake. The images were taken in the same light.
Comparison of 4GS camera with 3GS camera - Sensitivity and Noise
The brighter image is from the iPhone 4GS.
As well as poor response to light and higher noise, below we can also see the increased JPG artefacts from the iPhone 3GS, however this may be due to the fact the image was not reduced in size, whereas the 4GS image was reduced in size, for this comparison.
iPhone 3GS camera image - cropped to show sensor noise
iPhone 4GS camera image - cropped to show sensor noise
If you can look past the noise and the JPG artefacts, it’s also possible to see that the image has a greater clarity of edges and increased detail in the blacks. Compare the cat’s eyes and nose; on the 3GS version they are blacker and with less detail.
As well as this revised sensor, the iPhone 4S has a completely redesigned lens setup, with a wider aperture (f/2.4, as opposed to the iPhone 4’s lens aperture of f/2.8). This wider aperture allows more light in, and as you can see from the below test images, it reduces the depth of field; this is something many photographers will enjoy about the new lens, as it can slightly improve the feel of portraits.
Note that the aperture of f/2.4 is not equivalent to that of the photographer’s standard measurement based on the 35mm film. The equivalent aperture would be much higher, in the order of f/18-22, as is appropriate for a fixed-aperture and fixed-focal-length lens.
Of course, the focal length of the iPhone 4S has also changed, and it’s now 4.3mm as opposed to the iPhone 4 focal length of 3.85. Whilst it may seem at first the image should appear zoomed-in in comparison to the iPhone 4, remember that the crop factor may be slightly different if the sensor has been redesigned. Very little detail has been released on the dimensions of the sensor itself.
The below two images show the effect of DoF (depth of field) of the iPhone 4S as compared with the iPhone 3GS. The images are shown here uncropped; the iPhone 3GS image is taken at a slightly higher elevation to compensate for the different focal length. These images are not intended as technically accurate comparisons of DoF.
Observe the bottom horizontal stick (a thin bamboo skewer) in both photographs. The focal point of both images was the middle stick. The iPhone 4S version shows the bottom stick to be much more out of focus.
Depth of Field - iPhone 3GS - More of the image is in focus - Less 'artsy'
Depth of Field test - iPhone 4S - Less of the image is in focus - More 'artsy'
The reduction in DoF is not severe, however it will have a noticeable effect on portrait shots, where backgrounds will appear that little bit more blurry and out of focus, thus accentuating the subject. A lesser proportion of the iPhone 4S image is in focus, which results in a more artsy photo. Great in most cases.
For example, here’s a picture of an avocado in the foreground, with me in the background…
iPhone 4S Depth of Field - Mat
And Apple has proven the DoF point with a slightly less attractive model, and a pretty flower…
iPhone 4S Depth of Field - Apple
The new lens consists of 5 elements, one of which Apple has stated is a ‘hybrid infrared filter’. This is presumably due to the increased sensitivity of the sensor to incident infrared light.
Please do see the summary of improvements listed near the top of this review.
Hopefully I have covered the main improvements to the iPhone 4S camera. As always, I’d love to hear your comments. Thanks for reading!