DPReview smartphone reviews are written with the needs of photographers in mind. We focus on camera features, performance, and image quality.

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The Apple iPhone, in its various iterations, is one of the most important devices of the past few years. Smartphones existed before the iPhone, and would exist without it, but the iPhone's innovative touch-screen interface and 'tile' operating system forever changed the way in which we think about phones, and indeed mobile technology as a whole. The iPhone 4, however, was the first iPhone graced with a camera that didn't completely suck. A built-in flash and 5MP resolution, as well as touch-to-focus and one-shot HDR functionality made it far more useful as a photographic tool than previous generations.

A little over a year later, in 2011, Apple released the iPhone 4S with upgraded camera specs all around, and the new iPhone 5, Apple's latest model (actually the sixth iPhone, but anyway...) brings a larger screen, faster processor and redesigned camera compared to its predecessor. The pixel count is unchanged though, at 8MP. On paper, the iPhone 5's camera offers very similar specifications to that of the iPhone 4S, but according to Apple, the new model should give superior results. 

Click here to read our guide to iOS - Apple's mobile operating system

Key Photographic/Video Specifications

  • 8MP back-lit CMOS sensor
  • Five-element ~33mm (equivalent) F2.4 lens
  • ISO 50-1000 (up to 3200 by pixel-binning)
  • 4 inch, 326ppi LCD display
  • Panorama Mode (up to ~28MP)
  • HDR Mode
  • Touch-to-focus and touch-to-AF/AE-lock
  • Face recognition for up to 10 faces
  • Hardware and on-screen shutter controls
  • 1080p video mode with option to record 2MP stills during recording

Design & Operation

At this point, five years after the launch of the original version, the iPhone's design is somewhat iconic. Much imitated in the past couple of years (hello Samsung Galaxy S..), Apple hasn't meddled too much with the basic recipe since 2007. From the front, in fact, the only thing that sets the iPhone 5 apart from its predecessors is the extra vertical screen resolution. 

The Camera app in iOS 6, like previous versions of the operating system, is pretty basic, but has the advantage of being uncluttered, easy to use and generally very responsive.

The iPhone's Camera app is extremely easy to use, but is deceptively versatile. You can touch the screen to focus, and lock focus and exposure with a long press. The flash can be set to on, off or automatic, and if you go to 'Options' you can activate onscreen gridlines (shown here) an automatic HDR mode and a Panorama mode. The camera icon at upper right switches to the front-mounted camera (for self-portraits) and the camera/video toggle at the extreme top-right switches between still and movie capture modes. 
The large circular button at center-right is the on-screen shutter button and the thumbnail at lower-right takes you to your Camera Roll where you can browse through captured images and video clips. 

By default, autofocus is acquired from the centre of the image, but tapping on the screen allows you to freely move the AF point around the scene you want to capture. As well as focus, this also acts as a metering lock so long as you hold the camera relatively still. If you want to maintain the focus and exposure while still being able to recompose your shot, AE/AF lock is initiated by holding your finger in one area on the screen. 

One of the things that made the original iPhone so revolutionary was its relative lack of external controls compared to other Internet-capable phones at the time. A power/lock switch, a 'home' button' and a volume control were the only physical control points. The iPhone 5 has only one more button than the original iPhone, and that's only because Apple made the old volume rocker switch into separate + and - buttons in the iPhone 4 (and subsequent models). 

An LED flash sits alongside the camera lens aperture on the rear of the phone, and provides enough power for close-range shots and a little 'fill' in daylight or sillhouette conditions. Flash can be set to fire automatically, or forced on or off.
 The iPhone 4, 4S and 5 have separate buttons for volume control, and since iOS 5, either button serves as a physical shutter release when you're working in the iPhone's Camera app. Using a physical button for the shutter helps prevent camerashake caused by jabbing at the onscreen shutter button. 

The iPhone 5's flash serves as a red-eye reduction lamp when a face is detected in the scene but disappointingly, it cannot be set to function as an AF-assist lamp. When the flash is turned on, the LED shines for a moment automatically to reduce red-eye, but in our testing, it doesn't help much when it comes to acheiving accurate focus in poor light.

With iOS 5, and now iOS 6 as well, you can launch directly into the camera app from the lock screen by pressing the home button once, and then swiping upwards on a camera icon on the lock screen. This doesn't completely activate the phone though - just the camera app. To do anything other than take pictures and view the ones you just took (the rest of your camera roll is locked off) you'll need to go through the normal swipe to unlock and - if you have set one - the password verification process.

With the iPhone 5 locked, you can activate the Camera App quickly by just pressing the home button (which activates the lock screen) and swiping upwards on the camera icon on the right.This image shows the interface mid-swipe, revealing the aperture blades graphic that opens to become the camera app.

As well as flash, an HDR mode is also available for shooting tricky scenes, which combines two separate exposures automatically, in-camera. This can be turned on and off from the 'options' button in the camera app, from where you can also opt to display 3x3 grid lines on the screeen to aid composition, and switch the camera to Panorama mode.