The iPhone 5’s camera is an evolutionary – not a revolutionary – step forward for iPhones. Whether or not you like it will depend more on your goals from photography than on its particular performance or features. Compared to the iPhone 4s, the biggest difference is its speed. The 5 feels faster and more responsive, with a much shorter shot-to-shot time. It feels clunky to go back to using a 4s after using the 5. Its photos also show more aggressive noise reduction, but at the cost of smearing away some of the finer details. It’s a personal judgement which looks better – the detail of the 4s or the cleaner smoothness of the 5. Personally, I prefer the look of pictures from the iPhone 4s, but the speed of the iPhone 5 has already seduced me too effectively to consider going back.
While its on-paper specifications don’t suggest that much has changed from its predecessor, the iPhone 5 is certainly better, and as close to a pocket digital camera replacement as anything Apple has yet released. Still possessing an 8-Megapixel (3264x2448) sensor, and adding only small software features such as a new Panorama mode that are also found on the iPhone 4S, the iPhone 5 rear camera nonetheless renders colors more accurately than its predecessors, more quickly acquires accurate focus locks, and offers dramatically enhanced low-light performance.
I’ve learned that 3rd party developers CAN take advantage of this special “low light boost mode.” […] While it’s not documented yet in the AVCaptureDevice Class Reference, taking a peek at the “AVCaptureDevice.h” class header reveals the related properties:
Either way, there’s more cloud detail [with AutoStitch], ergo why I like it better. The iOS shot has solid white blown-out areas in the clouds. And no matter which way you look at it, it’s easier to line up individual shots and stitch them later than it is to carefully hold a camera steady as you pan across for a live panorama.
I’m baffled how [Consumer Reports] arrived at this conclusion, given that I’ve found the iPhone 5 camera to be not just a little better than the 4S in low light, but remarkably better. The only explanation I can think of is that whoever conducted these tests wasn’t using the built-in Camera app on the iPhone 5, and instead used a third-party camera app. In my experience, the iPhone 5’s new low-light capabilities are at least partially software-driven — low-light shots taken with third-party apps don’t seem any better than on the iPhone 4S.
Update (2012-10-04): Digital Photography Review:
The iPhone 5’s sensor isn’t magically more sensitive than its predecessor after all. There have been rumors of pixel-binning and multi-shot noise reduction at play in the iPhone 5, and based on what we’ve seen, it does look like the iPhone 5 employs some sort of pixel-binning at its highest ISO sensitivities, and upsizes the resulting images to 3264x2448 pixels (8MP). Notice how sharpness drops significantly between ISO 800 and ISO 2000. This appears to be more than just increased noise and more aggressive noise-reduction.
You’ve probably seen reports from AnandTech, Gizmodo, CNet, and other sites about the iPhone 5’s camera and problems with a purple haze in photos. And while the test photos I took for our iPhone 5 review didn’t show the purple haze effect, I can now confirm that I have been experienced. I’ve even seen the problem (though not quite as pronounced) with an iPhone 4S and a Samsung Galaxy Nexus phone.