Living with the Apple iPhone 6 camera: are 8 megapixels enough? (part 4)

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.

It's no longer a secret - smartphones have become the world's most popular camera, and the Apple iPhone has a special place among them. Equipped with an 8-megapixel iSight camera with dual LED flash on its back, and a 1.2-megapixel selfie cam, no one can say that the iPhone 6 has the most megapixels, the larger sensor, or the widest aperture. Still, it has become the benchmark for smartphone cameras as evidenced by the countless companies that copy Apple's approach to the camera interface and experience.

Why do so many people, including professional photographers, share a passion for the camera in the iPhone 6? Is there a logical reason or is it just unconditional love for the Apple brand, as nay-sayers claim?

This is the final chapter of my personal one-month deep exploration of the hidden avenues of Apple's latest and greatest, and this time I focus solely on the camera and imaging experience. The iPhone 6, however, does not exist in a vacuum, and I will also share my impressions of how it feels to use it against its rivals. First, though, let's look at camera specs and how much they really matter.

Camera specs: what is it that really matters?


Apple has equipped the iPhone 6 with an 8-megapixel main camera. That's less than the 13-megapixel shooter on the LG G3, less than the 16-megapixel cameras on the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Galaxy Note 4, and it's much less than the 20-megapixel cameras on Sony's Xperia Z3 and earlier flagships. Does this make the iPhone 6 an inferior camera? Some may shout out a confident 'yes' - in the general case, having less megapixels translates into less fine detail into images, but detail is just one aspect of an image, and arguably, one of the less important ones (unless we're speaking about landscape images that professional photographers capture and use for gigantic prints). If you want a proof, just look at our camera comparisons and polls where the 20-megapixel Xperia Z3 consistently loses to cameras with much less megapixels.

It's important to understand that Apple is not just saving money by not including a camera with a higher megapixel count, but - just like with its decision to use a dual-core chip rather than fall for the octa-core trend - the 8-megapixel resolution of the iSight camera is a conscious and rational decision. Camera theory is a complicated matter, but one generally accepted rule is that pixel size does matter in many occasions. Apple makes a point that its camera features 'large 1.5-micron pixels', and that's an important distinction from all the rest smartphone makers that use much smaller, 1.1-micron pixels (save for HTC at the moment). There are some physical limitations related to pixel size, and most importantly when a camera packs a lot of pixels on a small sensor it becomes very susceptible to the negative effects of diffraction. We have also seen cameras with high megapixel count generally perform less than ideal in low-light.

The takeaway from all this is not that 8 megapixels of resolution is the end-all be-all of smartphone cameras, but that looking at resolution tells you very little about the actual quality of the images that has much more to do with the way the camera exposes, captures colors, the easy of use so that a skilled photographer can frame and shoot quickly, and not miss the magic of the moment that great photos are all about.

Apple's 8-megapixel iSight camera experience: the fast and furious


The most striking feature about the camera in the iPhone 6 is just how fast and straightforward it is to shoot with it. Apple's camera app has no menus and no complications: just point and shoot. With iOS 8 you can now adjust the exposure of the image by just tapping on the screen and swiping up or down. It is this kind of simplicity and user-friendliness that seems to escape many other phone makers: this simple mechanism for adjusting exposure is nowhere to be found in rivals, and it's a fairly essential way to control the looks of an image.

The iPhone 6 is also the fastest smartphone camera in existence, period. You have the quick start shortcut from the lockscreen (swipe up from the right-most corner) that takes you directly in the camera app, and snapping images on the iPhone 6 is some 30% faster than doing so on its rival Note 4. Taking an HDR pic is practically as fast as taking a regular image, which minimizes the ghosting effect often observed in HDRs.

Taking a pic (sec) Lower is better
Apple iPhone 5s 3
LG G3 2.7
HTC One (M8) 2.3
Samsung Galaxy S5 2.5
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 2.8
Apple iPhone 6 1.9
Taking an HDR pic (sec) Lower is better
Apple iPhone 5s 3.5
LG G3 4.3
Samsung Galaxy S5 3
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 2.8
Apple iPhone 6 2
iOS 8 opens the door to full access to the iPhone's camera controls for third-party apps. What this means is that now you have DSLR-like level of control of the shooting experience - you can control ISO, shutter speed, white balance, and separately control exposure and focus in a very intuitive way. If you want that level of control (you don't have these options in the stock app), my favorite application is ProCamera 8 that offers solid, crash-free performance, all of the afore-mentioned options and then some more, including a histogram, a tilt meter, and the capability to use it to record video.

Panorama


The new iPhone 6 is capable of recording panoramas with impressive detail of up to 43 megapixels. Panorama shots on the iPhone 6 turn out great - stitching is hard to notice, as the image looks seamless, and exposure is fairly well adjusted throughout panoramic images. I have tested many other flagship phones, and it's frustrating how many high-end phones neglect this option - the Sony Xperia Z series do a horrid job with panoramas, and the LG G3 also does not shine in this mode, if you're looking for examples. Just as in image quality, it seems that Samsung is the most serious rival to Apple, as the Note 4 and Galaxy S5 shoot excellent high-resolution panoramas as well.


Video: unlocking maximum bit-rates


The iPhone 6 records videos at 1080p and either 30 fps or 60 fps, and the recordings turn out of very good quality, but when you compare it to many Android devices, you can see one feature missing - Apple's darling is not capable of recording 4K videos (it is not physically capable as 4K video requires a slightly higher-resolution sensor). While some may argue that 4K monitors are not all that common yet, the advantages of 4K video in regards to chroma sub-sampling alone are a fairly convincing reason in favor of 4K video, even when you watch it on a display with a lower resolution.

If you want to unlock the full potential of the iPhone 6 camera, though, you would need to go to a third party app to records at a higher bit-rate, and get some impressive footage. My favorite app for video recording is MoviePro, a $4.99 application that allows you to get full control over zoom speeds and unlock higher bitrates for the camera. It brings an all-manual video ride that will allow enthusiast smartphone videographers to record 3K (3072x1728) video at 120 Mbps bit rate on the iPhone 6 & 6+.

Apple also has a few awesome video modes that I like using a lot: slow motion and time lapse. Take a look at a few samples recorded with these modes on the iPhone 6 right below.



This concludes my four-week exploration of the Apple iPhone 6. I will summarize my thoughts in a full-featured Apple iPhone 6 long-term review, so stay tuned.

Related phones

iPhone 6
  • Display 4.7" 750 x 1334 pixels
  • Camera 8 MP / 1.2 MP front
  • Processor Apple A8, Dual-core, 1400 MHz
  • Storage 128GB
  • Battery 1810 mAh(14h 3G talk time)

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77 Comments

1. android_hitman unregistered

Another article about the iPhone 6.. why so many? maybe because MWC2015 is just arround the corner and people must not forget about Apple and their products?

3. Victor.H

Posts: 1107; Member since: May 27, 2011

If you cared to read it, you'd see that I'm living with the iPhone 6 as my daily driver for four consecutive weeks, and share my experience every week. My colleague Paul lived with the Note Edge, and I'm planning to do this with the Nexus 6 next. Chill.

13. buccob

Posts: 2981; Member since: Jun 19, 2012

Some editor should take the time and also live with a Z3 or Z3c just so you can actually see the details and advantages of its UI... The camera might not be the best, but once you learned its manual mode, it can easily surprise you. The high sensitivity ISO and loseless Zoom have been 2 features not found and any of its direct rivals that consistently help me out with my photographs. Battery life is unmatched for their size and performance is great. You should seriously give it a try, instead of simply making quick reviews that do not cover the whole experience

15. Victor.H

Posts: 1107; Member since: May 27, 2011

I'm kind of booked, but I'll definitely pass on your suggestion to the others.

18. hboy857

Posts: 367; Member since: Jun 03, 2013

The camera is one of the best. It's just that you have to invest your time to learn Sony's cameras quirk. If you get used to the quirk you can take great pic even with their usually unreliable auto mode. I also 100% agree with you. PA should take the time with Z3/Z3C.and explore the capabilities of these phones's camera.

34. emanuelwooten unregistered

don't live with the nexus 6 do something like the sony z3. or better yet do a poll with at least 4 different phones and let us the readers choose which phones you should live with.

63. androidmachines

Posts: 31; Member since: Jan 10, 2015

Victor admit it, you guys at Phone Arena are paid stooges. Your articles are so biased towards Apple & I am personally sick of it. I sell smartphones for a living & I used the iphone 6 for about a month after its release & I really don't understand what all the craze is about, that phone is simply average. The iphone 5S is the best phone apple have ever made, period. Many people have bought iphone 6 because iphones for the first time ever has a big canvass, that is all.

76. iLovesarcasm

Posts: 589; Member since: Oct 20, 2014

I tried iPhone but sticked with Samsung, because I'm a businessman and I need a useful phone.

28. Donone41

Posts: 246; Member since: Dec 17, 2014

That's exactly the case here.

52. darkkjedii

Posts: 31772; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

You got owned bruh.

2. maherk

Posts: 7065; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

"having less megapixels translates into less fine detail into images, but detail is just one aspect of an image, and arguably, one of the less important ones" is this some sort of joke PA? 4 parts, and the 4 parts of your story is painted with fanboyism all over it. The iPhone 6+ with OIS failed to compete against the top android flagships, so please for once, give us a real, unbiased and honest review of the iPhone just like your fellows at GSMARENA did.

5. Victor.H

Posts: 1107; Member since: May 27, 2011

Once again, this is my own personal experience and thoughts about the iPhone 6. If you want the review, we've published it months ago, and you're always free to read it.

10. maherk

Posts: 7065; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

When you add "and arguably" to the sentence, it doesn't translate to you offering your personal opinion, actually it is as if your pointing out that the majority of people don't care that much about the details of the pictures.

11. maherk

Posts: 7065; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

Oh and btw, i did read the article and it was full of excuses about why a $700+ is still offering 720 screen, 8mp camera, 1gb of ram, 16gb of storage without micro sd slot, and the list goes on and on .

17. Finalflash

Posts: 4063; Member since: Jul 23, 2013

They kind of have to temper the rhetoric a bit though. They can't just outright bash the phone because it has quite a large and vocal following. PA is a fairly small community site compared to others and yet their Nexus 6 vs iPhone 6 Plus comparison reached almost every corner of the tech news world. So much so that they immediately had to do a damage control fluff piece and Apple fanboys the internet over have been trying to justify the outcome of that poll. They also have no reason to outright trash it but yea it can be somewhat irritating when they justify a lack of features as a feature like they did in previous version of this series.

29. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

I agree 100%. The iPhone was $650 for the 16GB model which is still high, but other OEM's were doing the same. However, Apple raised the cost of the iPhone $100 and yet changed nothing. Its the same SoC as the 5S with a minor speed bump and same for the GPu. Same RAM amount, same storage and the same camera with a slightly updated sensor with OIS, and they simply increased the size to 4.7" which is only .7" larger than the 5S. Then as you stated the display went from 640p to 740p. Yet again a non-standard resolution for no apparent reasoning. IMO, Apple simply increased the price $100 simply because they knew their was going to be a huge demand on the larger size and they wanted to increase profits as much as possible. After all, the display, and everything else is already cheap because the parts are at least 2 years old. There is no reason for what everyone calls a premium model to have such disgracing specs at this price. Its the same BS Apple's pulls with the Macbooks. Selling 2 year old hardware at premium pricing just to get a fancy case is downright dishonest in my opinion because you aren't getting what you pay for. This is especially true since they only make one phone. I know it costs Samsung more money to make the S, due to the fact they make their own parts for many of them with exception of the US version. They have there own factories and very large distribution channels to fill which all cost money. Apple pays someone else to do that and it much cheaper for them vs using yoru own employees. Then you have to consider Apple dropped the 32GB model and replaced it with the 64GB. That was stupid. They could have made the 32GB model the entry level model , especially since they charge a full $100 to go up to the next. But no, cheating your customers on what is the top selling model the 16GB is sad and again in my opinion dishonest. Yes the Galaxy S is also 16GB, but it doesn't cost $750, yet it has a bigger battery, a larger display w/higher resolution, a better camera even without OIS and it last longer on a full charge and the list goes on. Basically everyone who bought an iPhone got nothing for their extra $100 and then have the nerve to talk sh*t about someone elses' choice of phone. There is no excuse, not one single one where a phone in this price range has such a crappy @$$ camera. There is no way the Note 4 should have a better camera than either of the iPhone for this year. The iPhone was released first, its has a higher price, yet it fails compared to the Note 4. The 6+ has the same camera as the 6 only with OIS and it sucks too. Also the front camera still being 1.2MP? When most phones at least have 2MP is sad as well.

56. darkkjedii

Posts: 31772; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

Victor, keep up the good work bro. You give very thorough reviews, and that's appreciated. For those who don't like it, or PA, why keep coming to the site? Close your account and start your own tech site, invest thousands of dollars into these devices, and do your own reviews. No bias, or fanboyism to worry about then.

9. usermaxthon

Posts: 70; Member since: Jan 20, 2015

Go to GSMARENA then. No one forcing you to stay here and read this biased article. This is a very well written article. Good job Victor.H.

44. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

Yes, its a well written biased article. It's really sad that some writers are so deep into Apple pockets. If this writer was using some other device, he probably would have ripped it to shreds. Blog sites like this aren't suppose to be biased. They are simply suppose to give a review or feedback based the device being used from a customer standpoint as a user. Not as a fan. Being unbiased means you are willing to say good and bad about any product whether it is your favorite of not. For me the concept of using a devic eand giving this type of feed back is to obviously gives the device strengths and do equally for its weaknesses. I am not saying he has to actually compare it directly with a rival device. But he could say something like - When considering whether 8MP on a camera is enough, you have to consider your personal usage and what types of pictures you want. Yes the IPhone as a quick point a shoot is a great camera. It has an easy to use U without the advanced settings found on SLR's. Saying another rival has a confusing UI is biased. Some people can handle advanced capabilities and some can't. If you are familiar with advanced capabilities, yes they can be confusing, but if you want to learn the become less as such. Then he could add, for the price of the phone compared to rivals, a better camera would be expected or should be considered. This is just an idea. The idea is to be a consumer, who purchased this phone and to make them aware of what they are actually buying. Being in fear of saying something bad about Apple, but go out of your way to say bad things about a rival is blatant biased and is deceiving and misleading to readers and that is not good journalism. The thing, we want to support the site because overall it is a cool place. However, with such popularity, the site should be fair and reasonable and as of late this one and many others simply are Apple fanbois where Apple can do no wrong and it give false impressions about Apple products in general. If they did this equal for every OEM, then it wouldn't be considered biased. But they don't.

59. darkkjedii

Posts: 31772; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

Start doing your own reviews, on your own site, and say and add whatever you want.

64. flamencoguy

Posts: 107; Member since: Aug 04, 2012

You are absolutely correct that many writers are in Apple's pocket one way or another. Apple marketing will ban writers from conferences/product launches etc if you write unkindly about Apple or their products. They track every writer. This is the gun they hold to your head. Many sites are so obviously biased towards Apple including BGR, Wired, Business Insider, Slashgear, CNET and many others.

66. machello

Posts: 35; Member since: May 03, 2013

I read this comment loudly. And my home goat looks up to me and cries; MEEEEEEEHHHHHHHHH! Again my friend, it's not all about the specs, but userfriendly experience. Btw, I own an Iphone 6, aswell a Q10 and a note 4. All with their own positive and negative things. Pick the one you like and let people enjoy theirs......

70. darkkjedii

Posts: 31772; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

Great post +1

58. darkkjedii

Posts: 31772; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

Well said man, they sound like little B******, jumping down the throat of anyone who says something they don't like. Get a damn life for crying out loud. +1

30. Macready

Posts: 1830; Member since: Dec 08, 2014

It is a rather silly statement, especially when you realize that these cameras do not have optical zoom, unlike most compact cameras. Which means the only way to somewhat mimic zoom, is through cropping. Anyone who claims cropping is an unimportant feature for a smartphone in the current age, would be lying. And anyone denying the fact that a good 16MP camera on current phones allows much more cropping than an 8MP one, would be lying too.

4. tiara6918

Posts: 2263; Member since: Apr 26, 2012

Totally agree with this article. For me higher megapixels are just a gimmick. People nowadays snap a photo then upload it to social media sites. They don't look at it on their huge tvs or would they often zoom on it and crop it later on, if you want to zoom and crop then get something that has high optical zoom. The iphone6 and 6+ performs great despite their 8 megapixel count compared to competitor, i could say the same for the highly praised camera of my m8 at 4 megapixels. Everyone who has tested out my phone loves the camera, but ofcourse fanboys will be fanboys, a lot of you will not agree with me

19. Finalflash

Posts: 4063; Member since: Jul 23, 2013

Of course a lot won't agree with you. Also you pretty much just dissed yourself by saying fanboys will be fanboys. Many people and reviewers have shown that there are better cameras out there on smartphones than the Apple cameras. There is the Note 4, S5, N6, etc. Other companies are pushing all the boundries while Apple throws out the same camera every year, gives it a new name, ups a gimmick or two here and there, and reviewers/fanboys start making excuses and what not to justify it all (the easiest excuse being their choice or cognitive dissonance).

26. tiara6918

Posts: 2263; Member since: Apr 26, 2012

It's still one of the best out there in terms of camera. They improve it every year without consumers noticing it

41. Slammer

Posts: 1515; Member since: Jun 03, 2010

But, imagine how great the pics would be if it had a larger camera. You are making Apple very rich by accepting cost cuts on Apple's part. John B.

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