Is the iPhone 6s Plus camera actually worse than the iPhone 6 Plus camera?

Engadget has a table comparing the latest iPhone 6s Plus with the previous generation iPhone 6 Plus. It looks at first glance as though the new camera is actually worse for most practical purposes.

  • Old: 8MP iSight, f/2.2, 1.5µm pixel size, Optical Image Stabilization [OIS]
  • New: 12MP iSight, f/2.2, 1.22µm pixel size

For low-light photography, the lack of OIS is crippling (an important reason for anyone serious about photography to get the Plus rather than the Zoolander-sized iPhone).

The official Apple page, however, makes it clear that this important feature has not been removed in the latest generation of the big phones.

I do wonder about the low-light performance of this latest-and-greatest device. The pixel size of 1.22µm compares unfavorably to 6.25µm in the Canon 5D Mark III, sort of a standard for good low-light performance. A Sony A7R II has a pixel size of about4.5µm. Apple seems to have better camera software than anyone else but they can’t rewrite the laws of physics/CMOS.

The new phones will do 4K video, but should still photographers be camping out in line for this latest Apple device?

[Gratuitous Golden Retriever image from what is now my legacy iPhone 6 Plus:

2015-08-28 18.44.16]


9 thoughts on “Is the iPhone 6s Plus camera actually worse than the iPhone 6 Plus camera?

  1. In the presentation yesterday I wondered the same thing at first when they said they were jumping to 12MP, but Apple was quick to say that they were able to increase the megapixels without increased photosite noise due to a new tech called “deep trench isolation technology.”

    So it sounds like Apple is saying that they are getting the same quality from their the 1.22µm pixels in the iPhone 6s+ as they did with the 1.5µm pixels of the 6+. If it’s true that is really cool. Unless of course you’re a sap and bought the 16GB version of the phone. That’s the game I wish they would stop playing–selling a version with a uselessly small storage capacity.

  2. In my opinion, no camera phone that I have evaluated (including iPhone 6+) compares to my Nokia 808 in terms of resolution, backlit situations, and low-light performance (with stills). That phone was released in 2012. The apple sw and firmware (including wb and focus) are very good. I am looking forward to testing the Sony Xperia Z5 compact, to see how it measures up to my old Nokia.

  3. Nice that improvements continue to be made in camera phone technology, but it seems like manufacturers can make sense of going only so far, when at some incestuous level, most of them are also in the mirrorless or dslr business. Why sell phones or cameras, when you can sell phones and cameras. Camera phone convenience aside, if I’m attempting to get a quality “keeper” of an image, the Fuji X-T1, and one of any number of the incredible Fujinon lenses is the way to go.

  4. LivePhotos is 12 MPx jpg file with 4 seconds of sound and video.

    Perfect for lock screen to animate it is 3D Touch pictures of kids.

  5. I think total sensor size ultimately has more impact on low light ability than pixel pitch. If you have low light, you can always down-rez to 8mp and the averaging between pixels should take care of some of the noise. If you are taking pics in full sunlight then you have the option of keeping the higher resolution. The only losses would be if the higher pixel resolution resulted in more light being lost between pixels, which can in principle be fixed with more efficient microlens arrays.

  6. Since when a smart phone’s camera became a professional camera? Oh wait, I know, when Facebook came online.

    Seriously, Philip, if Joe-six-pack ever takes pictures with his / her smart phone as serious as you do, no smart phone should come with a camera.

    Speaking of Facebook, if it wasn’t for the built-in cameras on smartphones, Facebook would not exist as we know it today.

  7. Nikon (using Sony’s sensors but with their own processing, which is better than Sony’s) went from

    2008 12mp D90
    2010 16mp D7000
    2013 24mp D7100 (Toshiba sensor)
    2015 24mp D7200

    and increased image quality each time despite having smaller and smaller pixels. Imaging sensor generations matter more than pixel pitch.

    I’m using a pair of D7000s because even though their sensor technology is 5+ years old they’re still good enough for today.

  8. George: The iPhone 6 Plus is capable of professional-grade results in a lot of situations. Look at for example. It falls apart to a large extent in low light, but in bright sun if the picture isn’t interesting then it is not the fault of the gear!

    Low-light, sports, birds, etc. will require the big iron, of course. But I wouldn’t look down on anyone pursuing a creative project with an iPhone 6 Plus or 6s Plus (though I would discourage anyone interested in photography from getting the non-Plus and therefore non-OIS versions).

  9. I did this deep-dive into the relationship between Pixel Density & Total Image Noise and found no relationship between the two:

    Yes, individual photosites will have more noise, but we never view pictures at different resolutions 1-to-1–images will always be scaled to a specific screen size or print size, requiring the pixels from the higher resolution image to be combined. I’ve found that the higher resolution sensor provides more detail but generally the exact same amount of total noise.

    So, my conclusion is that more pixels are better for image quality.

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