Review: How does Apple's new iPhone 5s perform as a camera?
Apple has completely reworked the native camera app for iOS 7, but the underlying design philosophy remains unchanged: it strives for ease of use by limiting options and employing intelligent automation. The new interface is a success, managing to incorporate the app’s extended functionality while preserving the intuitive point-and-shoot usability that Apple is known for. It stands in particularly stark contrast to the some of the Android camera apps we’ve seen, which offer far more manual control but also tend to pile on complexity, even when trying to simplify use via supposed ease-of-use features like scene modes.
You can jump directly to the camera app by sliding the camera icon on the lock screen up. This works even if the phone is passcode locked: you just can’t do anything other than shoot and review pictures until you properly unlock the phone.
On one side of the screen you have the large shutter button (you can rotate the phone to put this on the left or right). Tapping it snaps a frame, while holding it unleashes the 5s’ fearsome burst mode, discussed more in the features section.
The camera focuses continuously, with a yellow square briefly appearing to confirm focus: we’d prefer the focus confirmation to remain onscreen, but Apple seems to prioritize keeping the view unobstructed. You can take a picture whether the camera has locked focus or not. A potentially misfocused photo is usually better than none at all, but the lock indicator’s vagueness means that it’s easier to shoot misfocused pictures than it needs to be.
You can tap the screen to manually set the focus point and the exposure is biased towards that part of the scene, as we like. As in normal mode, the focus square disappears after locking.
However, if you tap and hold on the screen, the camera will lock both focus and exposure. It feels a little weird keeping your finger there, but this does ensure that focus won’t drift before you shoot.
Next to the shutter button is a simulated roller selector that lets you switch to video, slow-motion video, square format or panoramic mode with a swipe. Although its looks like it should roll continuously, in fact each swipe across the shutter button area advances the selector one step in the direction of the swipe, which breaks the skeuomorphism a bit but is quite convenient and beats digging into menus.
Tellingly, there’s no way to reach a settings menu from within the camera app (there are a few options you can change from the general iOS settings panel). Apple obviously wants to keep the app experience as straightforward as possible. Besides the rolling mode selector, you get a triple-circle icon for choosing one of the eight new filters built into the app, a thumbnail of the last shot for reviewing, toggles for the HDR mode and front/rear camera selection, and a flash mode icon (auto/off/on).
The iOS 7 native camera app is a model of simplicity, but it demands total trust in its decisions. There’s no way to control ISO, white balance or exposure compensation, parameters that are user-adjustable on virtually all other native camera apps. Many people simply won’t care about this. Those who do can somewhat offset the issue by using third-party apps that offer more control like 645 Pro Mk II (which is still buggy on the 5s at the time of this review, but will presumably get updated). But even the most advanced iOS camera apps can’t offer manual ISO control because Apple simply doesn’t expose that functionality to developers.
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