Apple’s new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, announced today, push even further into the compact camera arena. In particular, the new phones now have phase detect autofocus on the imaging sensor, much like many of the mirrorless cameras have been using lately. Apple claims twice the focus performance as before, and the iPhone wasn’t exactly slow to focus before due to the use of a small sensor and a wide lens.
Other aspects of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus camera that push the envelope into compact camera realm further (or beyond) are:
- 43mp Panorama stitching mode, coupled with gyroscopic data captured during the swivel to make for better stitching.
- Image stabilization is built into the processor of the iPhone 6 Plus, essentially trading off a few pixels for better image data.
- Video now records at 30 and 60 in full 1080HD, plus 240 fps in 720P, plus a time lapse function is also available. Autofocus is continuous in video recording.
- Single-shot HDR is now available, using the multiple read system they patented in 2012. Basically the camera reads the sensor data once after a short period (highlight exposure), doesn’t reset the data and then reads it again after a long period (shadow exposure).
- If you have an Apple Watch, you can use it as a viewfinder to what the iPhone camera is seeing.
While only 8mp (the front-facing camera is 5mp), Apple made a number of changes to both the image sensor and lens used to improve the performance of the imaging. For example, the photosites are now 1.5 microns square, larger than in the iPhone 5. I don’t think it is random that Apple has stuck with 8mp in the iPhone camera, by the way: that’s essentially what you need to fill a 4K video screen size. You can certainly find more pixels in smartphones, but you’d be displaying those images downsized in almost any output you’d consider other than print.