The iPhone 4S - the technology behind its camera

The iPhone 4S - the technology behind its camera

That the iPhone has become a widely popular substitute for those ubiquitous point-and-shoot cameras is an indisputable fact, as its impressive Flickr stats go to show. And the photographic glory of Apple's pride and joy is expected to reach new peaks in the near future thanks to the potent new camera that the iPhone 4S will come equipped with. 8-megapixel sensor, backside illumination, hybrid IR filter, F/2.4 aperture size, and a handful of other specs were touted at the smartphone’s unveiling. But in real life, how much of a difference all this technical mumbo jumbo is going to make?

We will now break down into bits all of the iPhone 4S' camera features and explain how they act together to make the photos that Apple's latest smartphone shoots look their best. 


Megapixels are the tiny dots that make up the image, and their number is usually what most consumers are interested in. As common sense would lead one to believe, the more pixels you have, the better an image is going to be. In this category, the 8-megapixel camera on the iPhone 4S should be an improvement over the 5-megapixel one found on its predecessor as it has 60% more pixels at its disposal. But in reality, pixel count does not automatically translate into quality images.

Lens quality

The optical system is the camera's “eye” and as such its quality is crucial. Of course, Apple is well aware of that fact, which is why the optics on the iPhone 4S have been improved. Five lenses working together is what guides the light towards the image sensor. In comparison, this is one more from what the camera on the iPhone 4 had, and according to Apple, the result is 30% sharper images than ever before seen on an iPhone.


Guiding light is one thing, but letting it in is a different story. The wide F/2.4 aperture on the smartphone's camera allows for more light to hit the sensor for the same amount of exposure time, meaning that images can be captured at lower sensitivities and at higher shutter speeds. And while there are smartphones out there whose camera apertures go even wider, the F/2.4 figure is impressive nonetheless. The end result should be less digital noise, reduction in motion blur, and a boost in low-light performance when compared to previous iPhone models. 

Back-illuminated sensor

In a nutshell, that is a build process that arranges the elements within the sensor in a way that allows more light to be captured and transformed into digital information. On one hand, the iPhone 4 has a back-illuminated sensor as well so having the technology on the iPhone 4S’ camera isn’t anything groundbreaking. But on the other, Apple claims that the new iPhone’s sensor captures up to 73% more light than the one found in the previous model, so we might see some noticeable real life improvement after all.

Color accuracy

A so-called hybrid IR filter blocks away those pesky infrared rays allowing only visible light from entering the camera module. Now, Apple didn’t bother to describe what the “hybrid” part of the feature’s name stands for, but one possible explanation is that the IR filter both absorbs and reflects the unwanted infrared spectrum. With its help, the iPhone 4S' camera will supposedly achieve better color accuracy and uniformity across the entire image.

Last but not least, the A5 chip will also play a part in making those photos of yours look better. Apple claims that its built-in imaging signal processor can deliver up to 26% more accurate white balance when compared to the previous iPhone model. Since our first-hand experience with the iPhone 4 shows that its camera doesn't get along well with bright sunlight, we hope that both these new features will take care of the issue.

One more thing…

However, what the smartphone’s camera really outruns the competition with is its raw speed. Apple claims that the iPhone 4S needs only 1.1 seconds for its camera to boot, to focus on an object and to take a photo of it. In addition, 0.5 seconds are allegedly enough for the camera to capture the next image. These latency times are nothing but mind blowing, and if they turn out to be true out in the real world, the iPhone 4S would steal the “fastest camera on a phone” title from the Nokia N9.

Video performance

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video should be worth a million. Apple’s latest smartphone can capture footage at 1080p HD resolution, which is pretty much as high as any modern handset can go. The higher resolution translates into sharper, more detailed videos, and the effect gets even more noticeable if you play them back on your flat-screen HDTV.

Another feature that helps making iPhone 4S videos look great is the temporal noise reduction. In plain words, the still areas of the frame get their noise levels averaged over time. There is a video demonstration of the technology on YouTube, so feel free to check it out by hitting this link. 

Video image stabilization is a perk that you might be already familiar with, but it has to be mentioned nevertheless. Think of it as a way of reducing the effect your shaky hands have on the footage while it is being recorded, and the end result is smoother, eye-pleasing video.

What Apple skipped on

Although Apple equipped the iPhone 4S with one pimped out camera, the LED flash that it is backed up by appears to be untouched. That isn’t good news as the flash performance on the iPhone 4 was underwhelming, to say the least. Sure, some of the changes in the camera’s optical system might make a difference when shooting at night, but all the tweaks would be in vain if the final image gets spoiled by a blob of light that the LED flash is going to slap on it.


So, now that we’ve gone over all of the new features of the smartphone’s camera, you probably see how hard Apple has worked on making the iPhone 4S one of the best cameraphones on the market. If its real life shooting skills turn out to be as good as they are on paper, the iPhone 4S could easily substitute that point-and-shoot camera of yours. However, even though those iPhone 4S camera samples look stunning, none of them has been taken under poor lighting conditions. 

Nevertheless, we cannot wait until get our itchy hands on the iPhone 4S and throw it in the ring against some other smartphone heavyweights where its true photographic power will be revealed. And even if it doesn’t emerge victorious at the end of such a battle, it will surely give the competition a run for its money.

Related phones

iPhone 4s
  • Display 3.5" 640 x 960 pixels
  • Camera 8 MP / 0.3 MP VGA front
  • Processor Apple A5, Dual-core, 800 MHz
  • Storage 64 GB



1. Libra501

Posts: 14; Member since: Oct 05, 2011

really cool post PA.

19. NeXoS

Posts: 292; Member since: May 03, 2011

This is what I'm saying! It takes BRILLIANT company like Apple to invent something like "putting a camera lens into a mobile device"! Only Apple could figure out that most consumers use their phones for pictures or videos. Sooo amazing Apple, what will you come up with next??? Watch all the other phone makers copy Apple and start putting camera lenses into their phones! OHHHH WAAAAAITTT!! HOLD ON A MINUTE! Samsung ALREADY DID ALL THIS BACK IN 2009!!! ROFL!!! _sensors-news-2310.php Nice going Apple, what will you COPY next??? And iPhoneArena, how much did Apple pay you to copy and paste their online product brochure?

21. thekai12

Posts: 25; Member since: Dec 07, 2010

your awesome with our comment and you look nice and smart

26. phbelov

Posts: 124; Member since: Mar 25, 2011

Off please. You guys keep conscience. Apple is now in hard period. Their founder and genius died. And... Samsung is copying Apple, but not vice versa. Why aren't you talking like so about Samsung. Samsung has copied the whole iPhone interface, icons, etc. And guys who's copying now? Nexos, have you got an iPhone, have you photographed with it? Have you seen the photos that the device takes? If you can't buy an iPhone then you'll buy alternative device. iPhone is the standard gauge right now and I think you understand it. And the last thing. iPhone 4 has a great camera. And iPhone 4S has got better. (You can minus this post or whatever but it's truth...)

29. phbelov

Posts: 124; Member since: Mar 25, 2011

Oh and I forgot about accessories and a packaging box.

31. ardent1

Posts: 2000; Member since: Apr 16, 2011

NeXoS - you tried to omit the fact Samsung copied from the Japanese handset makers in the first place.

32. ardent1

Posts: 2000; Member since: Apr 16, 2011

NeXoS: One more thing - Apple worked on a videophone/pda in 1995. The source is: The Japanese electronic companies were working on digital camera and cellphones in 1997. NeXoS, please STFU since you are talking out of your ass. Apple's device in 1995 predates your 2009 example by about 14 years. NeXoS, how can you be so STUPID!!!

44. NeXoS

Posts: 292; Member since: May 03, 2011

Hey assdent1, can you read? I didn't say camera phone, I said they put a CAMERA LENS into a phone before Apple did. That's what they were HYPING UP the whole time at the event...the new "revolutionary" camera lens they put into the iPhone 4S. Well, "revolutionary" must be iSheepese for "we just copied ANOTHER idea from someone and claimed that we invented it!" Also, this guy created the first camera phone assdent1: Now what? Yea, that's what I thought, now you STFU stupid asstard!

45. ardent1

Posts: 2000; Member since: Apr 16, 2011

NeXoS: You don't know what Apple produced or didn't produce back in 1995 and that was my point. Apple doesn't tell the world what they were working on such as putting a camera len into a mobile phone device. NeXoS, you are so STUPID. "Also, this guy created the first camera phone ..." B*lls**t. All Philippe Khan did was document as being the first person to send a camera shot over a cellular network. If you had read that article, you would realize the first person or company to create the camera phone IS NOT KNOWN!!! We also don't know who was the first to place a camera len inside a mobile phone device. Again, STFU!!! I can't believe NeXos is so f*cking stupid. That's twice now. Call me all the names you want, but that doesn't change how in your eargerness to slam Apple, you revealed the depths of your ignorance. Way to go.

60. ZEUS.the.thunder.god unregistered

yeah i m talkin abt ur post lol

34. iDroidx650

Posts: 83; Member since: May 26, 2010

wow what a bitch. she can't admit the iPhone 4s camera is gonna be killer

42. biophone

Posts: 1994; Member since: Jun 15, 2011

That pic is just a celebarity not nexos. Great review pa of the camerea cant wait to play with it. I am sure the pictures will be stunning as they are on my 4

47. rooney unregistered

Are you okey? The current Galaxy S 2 use its backlit sensor. And it is the commercialize tech. You are ridiculing Sammy? Do you need to do it? I think you are an Ifan and have a lot of idle time to do something not fun

59. ZEUS.the.thunder.god unregistered


2. dze unregistered

Well I got to said Apple first IPhone is revolution, but four year later they still evelution unfortunely other leap ahead iPhone...... Apple lost there hype.

3. alecgale

Posts: 55; Member since: Jun 29, 2011

i think with steve jobs dying and the iphone 4s being a disappointment i think apple will just become another smartphone manufacturer

10. 530gemini

Posts: 2198; Member since: Sep 09, 2010

Dying? FYI. In Australia, orders are already delayed for over a week :-)

18. cc unregistered

Gemini, I love how you automatically read his post and reply with what you believe to be something that makes his statement false. Steve Jobs DID die. That has no connection to whether or not there are tons of idiots in Australia.

30. bucky

Posts: 3790; Member since: Sep 30, 2009

Generalizing all iphone owners as idiots makes no sense either. My sgs2 is gone once this phone comes out

40. 530gemini

Posts: 2198; Member since: Sep 09, 2010

@cc. Steve Jobs is dead. He's not dying. That's why I placed that question mark. I just wanted to give him an fyi that the ip4s is still doing pretty well. And, you are dumb to generalize everyone who gets the ip4s to be idiots. You are the stupid idiot :)

4. koss unregistered

Those pictures have a lot of digital image noise... look at the sky in pictures. I think galaxy s2 is now the king in smartphones camera... except nokia n8

7. Tre-Nitty

Posts: 470; Member since: Nov 16, 2010

No its not. I have both and the iphone 4 pictures are better. Stop trying to hype stuff up because u don't like a certain company.

13. Allday28

Posts: 339; Member since: Nov 19, 2010

s2 pics look kind of crappy when they are printed out..

5. ReturningToNokia

Posts: 130; Member since: Jul 09, 2011

Good info. Looking forward to PA's cameraphone comparison of the iP4s, N9, and other 8MP cameraphones soon.

6. Irteza unregistered

if its better than n8 then apple got it right otherwise a big fail (just on the camera part) not going to commnt on other aspects as this isnt the post about other things

8. vu2ikl

Posts: 11; Member since: Sep 22, 2011

iP4S camera will definitely be better than iP4. This time.. include the xperia arc S which also has a 8MP, back illuminated exmor, f/2.4 lens in the comparison. along with SGS2 and N8...and then it will be a just comparison.

9. ps unregistered

N8 camera is much better! f/2.8 widelens and carl zeiss

39. box unregistered

Right on! Now if only Nokia would put that in the 701 and all the mid-to-high-end WP7 phones they'll be releasing, they'll be nearly unbeatable. I don't care about a few milliseconds of load time if the picture will be crummy. It's a camera on a phone, not a DSLR, and I don't buy a phone because it can take fast pictures. Especially when it drops calls, has an itty bitty screen, built in china, and the cultish following it does

11. 530gemini

Posts: 2198; Member since: Sep 09, 2010

The ip4 already took good photos. With these improvements, I don't think there's anything to complain about. Android fanboys are of course the exception :-)

12. Dazzler unregistered

I don't know what to say. Do you (yes you Hunter Skipworth) even know what's the sensor size? Have we seen how the image stabilization works? How is the color accuracy? For all we know it's the same hardware we have in SE Xperia Arc. There is ABSOLUTELY no other information available. And photo editing in phone? Is that something new? Are journalistic levels so low now that you just copy-paste what a company says without checking yourself? Still no information on the sensor, and we start telling how good the camera is. Does it match the 1/1.83 sensor size of N8? Or is it still just 1/2.3 or 1/3.2? And about Full HD video, do we know the bitrate? Is it high profile? I was glad that you didn't say it was better than Canon 5D mark II.

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