Camera shootout pits the iPhone 6s against every previous iPhone generation

BY Evan Selleck

Published 28 Sep 2015

iPhone generations cameras

With the launch of the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, Apple’s newest camera is available for millions to use. So camera shootouts are expected, and even desired.

And while many shootouts pit the newest iPhone against leading smartphone competitors, SnapSnapSnap decided to see how the iPhone 6s and its new 12-megapixel camera compares to every generation of iPhone before it, all the way back to the original iPhone. Apple is quick to point out that there are plenty of improvements to the new camera system in its newest iPhones, but it’s always good to see how that new technology compares to what came before it.

The publication has eight different tests to compare the cameras, including Low-Light Sunrise, Portrait, Daylight, and others. Each of the tests is a great breakdown in what makes the camera systems worthwhile or lacking, indicating the features that Apple has added over the years to improve the cameras it includes in its smartphones. For anyone that’s even remotely interested in the photos that their phone captures, this is a great way to see just how impressive they’ve become.

Here’s how it breaks down, with the images sliced to show each generation of iPhone displayed from oldest-to-newest, with the original Phone on the far left, and the iPhone 6s on the far right.


iPhone 6s camera shootout Macro

“The first comparison is a macro of pencil crayons to examine the increase in detail with the new 12MP iPhone 6s. The original iPhone and 3G are fixed focus so they are unable to focus on closely placed objects resulting in blurry, pixelated images. Autofocus was added to the iPhone 3G which improves the quality of the image slightly. There is a noticeable improvement in the details and sharpness of the image with the 5MP iPhone 4 and the 8MP iPhone 4s, but we only begin to see the details in the pencil crayon tips with the iPhone 5 and 5s due to addition of the five-element lens which increased the sharpness of images. The iPhone 6 is a brighter image thanks to the local tone-mapping algorithm added to this version, but the clear winner is the iPhone 6s. The addition of detection autofocus and deep trench isolation gives this iPhone camera faster, more accurate focusing and clearer, less noisy images. The detail and colour separation in the iPhone 6s image is dramatic.”


iPhone 6s camera shootout Daylight

“The original iPhone and iPhone 3G were low contrast and very blue in tone. The iPhone 3Gs is kind of an anomaly with it’s warm tone and rich colour saturation. We see a shift from a warm tone to a more accurate white balance with the iPhone 4s. An increase in the details in the last 4 phones is apparent looking at the rivets and the red cross on the side of the Boeing Vertol CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter.”


iPhone 6s camera shootout Portrait

“One of the major complaints with the iPhone 6 was a pixelated “blotchiness” with skin tones in particular. In this version, Apple altered their local tone-mapping and noise reduction algorithm for better exposure and contrast, but it caused pixelation and a decrease in sharpness. It looks like Apple tried to fix this problem with iPhone 6s using deep trench isolation which causes a greater separation in the photo diodes to maintain accurate colours and reduce noise.”

“The iPhone 6s image looks more vibrant, sharper and skin tones look more true to life. The sharpness is apparent around my eye, but I’m still noticing the pixelation problem, especially with the highlights on my cheeks in the tight crop.”


iPhone 6s camera shootout Sunset

“With the iPhone 6s we see a return to the more highly saturated and contrasted style of the 5s. There is definitely more detail in the clouds, but they are still quite pixelated due to the noise reduction software Apple is using. It’s a tough balance between reducing noise and increasing pixelation. Something Adobe has been trying master for years. As a photographer, I would love to be able to tweak the strength of this noise reduction algorithm with a slider or manual setting.”


iPhone 6s camera shootout Lowlight

“We’ve seen the biggest improvements in low light conditions over the years. The original iPhone, 3G, 3Gs and 4 all had an aperture of f/2.8. Apple added a backside illuminated sensor to the iPhone 4 which improved the quality over previous versions. We see some more improvement with a wider aperture of f/2.4 in the iPhone 4s and the 5 which had an additional low-light boost from ISO 800 to 3200. An advanced noise reduction algorithm was added to the iPhone 6 and you can notice the decrease in the overall graininess of the image and an increase in sharpness. The deep trench isolation technology used for colour separation in the iPhone 6s also improves its low light capabilities by ensuring that the light captured by one pixel doesn’t interfere with surrounding pixels. The iPhone 6 image is actually brighter than the iPhone 6s image and looks very good, but the 6s has more contrast, detail and less noise.”

Photographer Lisa Bettany rounds out the tests by saying that every year that she does these comparisons, and every year that she’s “impressed” by the improvements that Apple makes. This year isn’t any different, as she says that the camera in the iPhone 6s is the “best yet.” She also points out that the speed improvements to autofocus, as well as overall improvements to color accuracy, make this camera certainly one worth using.

If you’ve been using the camera in the iPhone 6s or 6s Plus so far, what do you think of Apple’s 12-megapixel camera so far?

[via SnapSnapSnap]