iPhone 5S camera: new sensor and lens, can Apple keep Nokia at bay?

The Apple iPhone 5S brings with it a brand new and larger imaging sensor and wider maximum aperture lens that, combined, should make for Apple's best camera yet.

The 8-megapixel sensor is 15 per cent larger than that found in the original iPhone 5. But it doesn't cram more pixels on to the sensor surface, so - now take a big, geeky breath - the size of each sensor node, which translates into each resulting "pixel" in an image, measure 1.5 microns. That's larger than the 1.1 microns found in the Nokia Lumia 1020. Interesting.

READ: Nokia Lumia 1020 real-world camera test

There's a wider maximum aperture too, in order to let in more light. But don't get too excited, the f/2.2 lens on the iPhone 5S is only one third of a stop brighter than the f/2.4 lens on the iPhone 5 original. ISO 200 on the earlier model could now be snapped at ISO 160 using the 5S wide open, assuming all the same other settings in use. The new lens construction is made up of five elements, but that sounds rather similar to the previous iPhone 5 construction to us.

There's a whole lot more on the features front that makes the camera interesting. A dual flash - one is masked with a warmer amber filter, the other is a cooler, bluer tone - means that the device can auto-select the right one to use for the most natural and balanced looking shot. Great for skin tones.

Then there's iOS 7, the operating system that's pre-installed on the iPhone 5S and available to other Apple devices on 18 September. The interface looks entirely different from the earlier iOS versions. Select built-in filters, quickly cycle between photo, video and aspect ratio to one side; assign flash, HDR and burst to the other side.

Built-in features attempt to tackle image blur by taking multiple shots, combining them for exposure and picking the sharpest of the bunch for the resulting image. But it's not a proper optical or sensor-based stabilisation system like the Nokia 1020 has. So we doubt that Apple can win in this area. It needed to do more.

The Apple approach is one approach. The Cupertino giant is still playing the image quality game, much like HTC pushed with the One, but has all but ignored the zoom game.

When companies such as Samsung are going whole hog with camera-phone hybrids such as the Galaxy Zoom, and Nokia is running up the resolution in order to provide ample digital zoom without impact to resulting quality, is it the right way to go?

READ: Samsung Galaxy Zoom review

It's arguable, really. It depends what you want from your smartphone camera. If medium-wide shots of pretty much everything satisfy your needs then the iPhone 5S's apparent bump in quality will please. But it's more about the advance in features and things like the inclusion of built-in features that will have most impact on casual consumers - that's the Apple-y stuff that will have the greatest impact.



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