In the time since Apple released the iPhone 5, mobile photography has greatly improved. Samsung, Nokia, HTC and Sony have collectively raised the bar on smartphone camera hardware, leaving iPhone photographers glancing enviously at phones with physical zoom lenses, 41-megapixel sensors, so-called ultrapixels and detachable lens hardware.
While Apple's mobile app marketplace may still be the leader in photography apps, its camera hardware has some catching up to do. What can Apple do to appease the mobile photographer who may consider switching mobile platforms for a different camera? Will Apple rise to the challenge at its media event tomorrow?
I, like many people, am in the market for a new smartphone. My cellular contract is up and I am ready to replace my old iPhone 4S with the latest and greatest smartphone camera. But for once, I'm not sure if it's going to be Apple. What would make me buy another iPhone? Let's take a look.
1. Wider aperture for better low-light photos
The fixed-lens of the iPhone 5 offers an aperture of f/2.4, while newer phones such as the Galaxy S4 and Lumia 1020 have an aperture of f/2.2, and the HTC One and Lumia 920 offer an even wider f/2.0. If Apple wants to lure in late-night and low-light snappers, it's going to have to go wider.
Will it happen? Maybe. When Apple released the iPhone 4S, it opened the camera's aperture from f/2.8 to f/2.4. It's not unrealistic to expect Apple to go for a lower f-stop.
2. A better, brighter and warmer flash
While smartphone camera lenses and sensors have greatly improved recently, flashes are still giving mobile photographers the blues. The iPhone, in particular, seems to be a step behind in the flash game. Its tiny LED light may light up the scene 8-or-so feet in front of your phone, but it also makes everything look like its in an aquarium.
Other smartphone manufacturers have developed ways to light up the night. Samsung's Galaxy S4 Zoom and Nokia's Lumia 1020 (and the 808, for that matter) have a super-bright xenon flash. Meanwhile, the latest Acer smartphone has a ring flash around the camera lens.
Will it happen? Probably. All of the leaked photos we've seen of the next iPhone's camera have a dual LED flash with one white LED and one yellow. What is unclear is how Apple will incorporate the new hardware into the camera software. Will it the yellow flash be used at all times or only for photos where a face is detected to warm up skin tones? Is the yellow flash just a ploy to get people to stop posting badly-lit photos of sushi to Instagram? We will soon find out ...
3. A bigger sensor
Megapixels are great and all, but image clarity still largely depends on sensor size. Most smartphones feature a tiny 1/3" sensor, but some manufacturers are going bigger and seeing great results.
Sony's brand new 20.7MP Xperia Z1 smartphone has a 1/2.3" sensor — the same as most compact cameras — and the Nokia Lumia 1020 packs 41 megapixels on its 1/1.5" sensor. If Apple really wants to compete in the smartphone camera game, it needs to step up to the plate with a bigger sensor.
Will it happen? A girl can dream, can't she? But unless Apple completely changes the size and placement of its camera hardware, we aren't going to see a bigger sensor on the next iPhone.
4. More megapixels
If I can't have a bigger sensor (and let's face it, I most likely won't), then I'll settle for a few more megapixels. Most experts are expecting the next iPhone camera to come with at least 13MP to match the Galaxy S4, Galaxy Note 3 and LG G2.
Will it happen? If history repeats itself, we can expect some more megapixels. Apple went from 5MP on the iPhone 4 to 8MP on the 4S. On extrapolation alone, we can look for at least three more megapixels in the next iPhone camera sensor, though we can always hope for more.
5. Longer battery life
The iPhone 5's big screen is great and all, but keeping the larger phone alive all day can be nearly impossible if you are actively using it (especially for photography). To get the most out of the new iPhone, we need better battery life without having to purchase extra accessories.
Will it happen? Maybe on this iPhone, but definitely in the future. Samsung's Galaxy Note 3 has a new chip that will improve the device's battery life by up to 30 percent. New hardware technology combined with power-saving software has allowed Apple to increase performance without sacrificing battery life before, but as Apple proved with the latest MacBook Air, longer battery life alone is a huge selling point.
6. Surprise photo features on iOS 7
We already know a lot about the next version of Apple's mobile operating system. We know that it will allow for square format capture, come with nine different retro filters, and feature a new automatic categorization system for photo organization. These are welcome improvements, but I want a little more.
While some other features would be lovely, I just really want to be able to pick different focal and exposure points in the native camera application. Is that too much to ask? Even Flickr now has this feature standard in its free app. C'mon, Apple, give us this.
And if you really want to get fancy, how about an iOS equivalent to Nokia's Pro Camera app?
Will it happen? Hopefully. Apple loves to add just "one more thing" in its announcements. When iOS 6 was released last year, Apple waited until the fall to reveal the panorama feature, even though developers had the new operating system since June. Way back in 2010, Apple waited until the first update of iOS 4 to release its HDR photography feature.
For Apple's sake, I hope that it surprises me with some photography feature that I didn't even know I wanted, because that new Sony phone and Lumia 1020 are looking awful pretty right now. And I know I can't be the only iPhone user to think so.
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In this weeks' Throwback Thursday article, Simon raises a toast to the Sony Digital Mavica FD71 - a little camera which used really big memory cards.
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