Review: How does Apple's new iPhone 5s perform as a camera?
- Good exposure across a range of situations
- Good image detail, restrained noise reduction
- Pleasing color rendition
- Good flash with notably accurate color
- Very responsive operation, negligible shutter lag
- Very fast shot-to-shot time, 10 fps continuous burst
- Very easy-to-use camera app
- Panorama mode better than most
- Fun slow motion video capture
- Effective HDR mode with very little ghosting
- Digital video stabilization works relatively well
- Well-designed gallery (Photos) app
- Less detail in good light than some higher-res sensors
- Minimal manual control in camera app
- Photographic ergonomics not the best
- Finicky focus confirmation can lead to missed focus
- Smallish screen
- No optical image stabilization
- No dedicated, two-stage shutter button
- Underexposed video in very low-light conditions
- Filter images only exportable at low resolution
The iPhone 5s updates the iPhone 5 with brawnier processing and a slightly better camera with more features. General performance is excellent, with apps feeling speedy and silky smooth animations. iOS 7 also brings a fresh look to Apple’s mobile OS for the first time since, well, ever.
On the outside, the 5s is almost indistinguishable from its predecessor (unless you opt for the gold color scheme). The 4-inch screen is cramped compared to most of the competition but allows for single-handed operation by even small-handed people. Build quality is very good. The phone’s photographic ergonomics aren’t the best: pinching it between the fingers in the usual camera orientation feels a little precarious because of its thinness and slick, aluminum edges. A case can help with this: Apple’s aptly named “iPhone 5s Case” feels nice. There’s no dedicated hardware shutter button, but the volume buttons pinch hit (minus the two-stage operation we’d love to see).
Features and Operation
Apple bucks the industry trend toward upping resolution, holding the 5s to 8 megapixels. The slightly faster F2.2 lens and a slightly larger sensor are improvements on its predecessor but aren’t standout features on their own. The innovative color-matching flash, on the other hand, is a first on any smartphone camera, and helps produce more natural colors under artificial lighting.
Apple’s updated native camera app is a monument to simplicity and usability. It arguably offers the best point-and-shoot experience on a phone at the moment. This comes at the expense of manual controls and customization, which are essentially nonexistent. Parameters that are routinely adjustable on other camera apps (ISO, exposure compensation, white balance) are absent here. We like to have at least a little more control. Nokia’s latest native camera app shows that it can be done without badly compromising point-and-shoot usability.
The 5s is a photographic lightning bolt, with a blazing-fast (and immediately accessible) 10-frames-per-second burst mode. There’s also virtually no shutter lag, and shot-to-shot times are essentially instantaneous. All that speed makes focus the slowest link: it’s quick but not shocking so. Apple’s finicky focus indicator makes it easier than we’d like to accidentally take misfocused shots, but the slightly clumsy press-and-hold focus lock can help if you find this to be a recurring problem.
Compared to much of its competition, the 5s is relatively light on imaging-related software features. That said, most of the new and updated features Apple does include are useful rather than gimmicky. On the capture side, the panorama mode is substantially improved, dealing better than most with wide ranges of brightness across the scene. The camera now packs a set of filters and a square aspect ratio mode. A new digital image stabilization feature delivers real benefits but isn’t as impressive as optical solutions. There’s a new slow motion video mode that generates very smooth quarter-speed footage at a respectable 720p resolution, and some provisions for manipulating and sharing the output that are good but could be improved. Normal 1080p capture now supports zooming while recording. The HDR mode remains adept at offsetting the limited dynamic range of the sensor.
A revamped Photos app brings improvements to reviewing and sharing, with new automatic organization of shots into “moments” and “collections” and a year overview that makes it surprisingly easy to find a needle in a haystack of images. You can also share directly with newer iOS devices nearby with the new AirDrop feature.
Image quality in good light is very good, with a judicious balance between detail and noise reduction, pleasing colors and well-chosen exposures. The lens is sharp from corner to corner. With its 8-megapixel sensor, the iPhone 5s captures less detail in good light than some of its competition, but what it does get is sufficient for most any application. However, you’ll have a little less cropping leeway compared to a 13 MP or higher sensor.
Quality drops in low light, which is par for the course. The detail advantage held by higher-resolution sensors of similar size disappears when noise reduction gears up. Despite Apple’s trumpeting of the 5s’ larger sensor and photosites, the low-light performance is comparable with but not obviously better than the best of competing phones like the Samsung Galaxy S4. Although the 5s’ digital image stabilization does help keep things sharp at slower shutter speeds, the phone can’t use the really slow night-friendly shutter speeds accessible to phones with optical image stabilization like Nokia’s Lumia 900 series or HTC’s One.
The 5s’ standout low-light performance point is its color-matching flash, which does actually produce more natural looking colors than most LED flashes. Exposures are usually good, but we did observe some overexposure in close portraits under certain conditions.
The Final Word
The iPhone 5s, running Apple’s fresh iOS 7, is an excellent phone with a very good camera. Image quality under most conditions is among the top of the class of “conventional” smartphone camera units: you have to look to the Nokia Lumia 1020 to find something that’s hands-down better across the board, though in good light the best 13-megapixel sensors do capture more detail.
The camera app is supremely easy to use, and the 5s’ powerful processing makes for class-leading burst speed and excellent responsiveness. Users looking to upgrade from older iPhones shouldn’t be disappointed. That said, there’s nothing in the 5s that changes the fundamental balance of power in the mobile photography world: users committed to other OSes won’t necessarily see a reason to switch.
DXOMark Image Quality Assessment
The Apple iPhone 5s achieves a good DxO Mark score of 76 which means it is trailing very slightly behind the Nokia 808 in our list of the best smartphone cameras.
The Apple iPhone 5s produces good still image quality, with reliable exposure, pleasant color and good detail in bright light. In lower light the images show strong luminance noise and loss of detail but the edges are still sharp. AF performance is excellent in all light conditions.
In video mode the 5s captures good quality footage with good color rendering, good textures in all light conditions but some occasional exposure instability. For a more detailed analysis, visit www.dxomark.com.
Apple iPhone 5s
Category: Mobile Phone
Camera and Photo Features
Ergonomics and Handling
Still Image Quality
Speed and Responsiveness
The iPhone 5s features a very good camera that’s easy to use and delivers strong results with little user intervention. It’s a logical extension of the Apple design philosophy, with evolutionary performance increases and feature extensions. iPhone photographers looking to trade up will find much to like in the 5s, but it’s not likely to lure users who prefer larger screens or are committed to other mobile operating systems.
There are 78 images in our Apple iPhone 5s samples gallery. Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter / magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review), we do so in good faith, please don't abuse it.
Unless otherwise noted images taken with no particular settings at full resolution.
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