All you ever wanted to know about the cool little camera inside the iPhone4S – but didn’t know to ask…
As a serious semi-pro still photographer I used to look on cellphone cameras as little toys… until the iPhone cameras – and the associated apps – started to change the world of imaging. The first real jump into a half-serious camera was the iPhone4 – then the 4S pushed the bar that much higher. Along with some very powerful apps this combination of hardware and software has brought relatively high quality imaging to a new audience.
I have been shooting with the 4S since it was released last year, and finally wanted to really find out what made it tick – what its limitations were and how it could be used. I have always approached photography from my scientific background – with a firm desire to know all that was possible about my tools so I could know what to expect in a variety of conditions. Turned out this is a rather complex subject. Data was not easy to find: Apple very deliberately hides or says nothing about even the most basic of specifications on their products, and the iPhone camera is no exception.
I want to be clear about a few things before progressing with this series of articles: I am not a professional product reviewer – these are just my observations from research and using this device since October 14 of last year. I am also not in any way attempting to offer a course on photography or the physics of lenses, sensors, etc. I will attempt to explain things in what I hope is a clear fashion for anyone who is mildly interested in technology and how this camera can be compared to more traditional DSLR cameras. All of the research was accessed from publicly available documents – whether online or offline.
The expertise I hope to bring to this discussion is the discovery of data that is available, but hard to find; the organization of that data in a way that will hopefully benefit current and future users of this device (or similar cellphone cameras); and the sharing of what I have found useful (in terms of both hardware and software) to maximize the performance of this technology.
I didn’t realize at the start of this little project how it would grow. I thought I would write a few pages and toss in a couple of diagrams on the camera and some of the software. I was kidding myself! Over about a month I amassed over 500 pages of research, tested scores of apps, and took hundreds of shots to test ideas and software. Even then, I am sure that other will find things that I have not seen – and have opinions that either differ or contradict those expressed here. That’s the beauty of a more or less democratic web – anyone gets a chance to have their say.
To keep the posts manageable – and allow me to start posting something before I have another birthday – I am breaking this topic into a series of shorter posts. In addition to this introduction, I plan five additional parts:
- Basic camera overview – a short discussion on basic terms, including a glossary. Just enough to allow for a common understanding of terms and words I will use in the rest of the discussion. For further details there are literally thousands of books, websites, etc. on photography.
- Primary differences between cellphone cameras and traditional film/digital cameras. This is important as a basis for understanding the limitations of this type of hardware – and to relate many of the numbers and terms used in traditional photography to the new world of high quality “cellphotography.”
- The iPhone4S specifications, hardware details, construction and other info.
- Software apps I have found useful on the 4S platform. I make no attempt here to review all apps for this device – that would take more days that I have left – but will rather exemplify the apps I have found useful, and how I use them in everyday practice. It’s a starting point…
- Techniques, limitations and other general discussion from my experience of this camera, in relation to the decades of shooting with film and digital hardware in more traditional photography.
While the bulk of this series will deal with still photography, I will also address the video capabilities of both the hardware and software. The video features (1080P, etc.) are just as powerful as the still camera features, particularly with good software.
I aim to post all five blogs within the next week – time permitting. I hope you all find this interesting – it’s been fun to discover all this information, and I continue to enjoy seeing just what this little camera can do.
Just as a hint of what’s possible, here are a few shots I took with my iPhone4S. They are unretouched except for basic adjustments of exposure, contrast, etc. – no Photoshop effects, no ‘tarting up’ – these are here to show what the basic camera can do, given an understanding of both the capabilities and limitations of the hardware/software of this platform.