The iPhone 4 was the single most successful camera in Flickr history. At least as far as being the top contributor of images by camera model is concerned.

Now that the iPhone 4S has appeared, it is interesting to see what the differences are from the iPhone 4’s features.

1: The screen back-light is brighter.

About 2 stops brighter at the minimum setting and about 1/4-stop brighter at the maximum setting.

Minimum is so very dark for both that its use is hardly ever employed.

Naw, that’s not the Big Deal. That’s probably its LEAST interesting improvement.

The fact that it’s a huge chunk faster than the iPhone 4 is a much Bigger Deal. That’s what we really meant to say.

Processes flow through the iP4S from 200% to 700% of the previous speed. Making all the following things possible.

Here’s a link to Rob-Art’s performance Shootout over at Bare Feats.

2: Still mages are WAY* better on the iPhone 4S.

Stills are 3264 x 2448 pixels large and high-enough quality to print at 200 ppi for 12 x 16-inch prints viewed at a comfortable arm’s-length. If you were to print a 24 x 32-inch image and view it at around three feet (a meter) away, you would get the same effect: Great-looking photo. Certainly overkill for any web image.

Shots are now on a par with the best of the mid-2000’s DSLR images. Except for factors like Depth Of Field, inability to make manual exposure changes, lack of interchangeable lenses and stuff like that. In other words, the iP4S makes nice shots. Image quality has moved two or three steps forward.

In dim areas, maximum shutter time is 1/15 sec. Aperture is always f/2.4, a little more open than the iP4’s f/2.7. ISO is equivalent to 800 in the dimmest light. It’s a little grainy, but you’ll never notice it in prints. Grain is MUCH better in worst-case images in the dark. In bright images, you won’t see it at all.

HDR stills are now made with a faster 3-shot bracket. Generally this helps the images, but you will see strange effects around bright light sources in shots of dark areas. The iPhone 4 made only two fast exposures, but that actually makes images of lighting fixtures look better in dim shots. Often for either camera, the non-HDR image is the better shot.

Tip: HDR images can show double edges on contours because the three shots are offset in time, being shot sequentially. So hold that sucker Very Steady and/or use the Volume Up button as a shutter release (new feature).

White balance handling of dim, incandescent settings look more realistic because they don’t flatten the WB to neutral, the way the iP4 does. A bit of gold is retained, making the shots more like the way you see color. That watch face is actually silver. The light on it comes from dimmer-attenuated incandescents.

Like the previous iPhone camera, it has a digital zoom feature that enlarges the image, giving a zoomed-in effect. The enlargement isn’t just a crop. It literally blows up the pixels so the final image saved is the same 3264 x 2448 pixels of a full-wide frame.

Shot-to-shot speed is now quite fast. You can capture shots every 1/2 second for many exposures. At least 60 shots can be gathered this way while you quickly tap on the on-screen release.

** The two shots here are made in different ways. One is a crop into an original HDR frame, the other was shot with a digital in-camera zoom. Which is Which? Answer below.

3: Video recording has jumped into the 1080p realm.

When you directly compare imagery between the iPhone 4 and 4S, you see that the tonal range of the iP4S is much improved over the iP4. Much better shadow and highlight handling and a lower-contrast mid range. Colors are more eye-like, and our eyes like them a lot.

One of the largest grumbles about Apple’s in-iPhone video recorder has been its inability to lock focus, or exposure, or white balance. Check out #5 below.

If you are shooting with the iPhone 4S and integrating footage with your previous 720p clips in iMovie, shots will land into existing edits at the apparent correct frame size. Meaning they will scale to the size of the edit’s setting.

Tip: Using the cropping or Ken Burns Effect, you can zoom into the 1080p image and derive a good-looking 720p scale image. That would be a 50% zoom enlargement.

Tip 2: Shoot with FiLMiC Pro (V. 2.01, the current one) at the 30 fps setting, and your resulting image file will be a down-scaled, extra sharp 720p30 clip. We hope the next version of FiLMiC Pro includes this option along with 1080p30.

The angle of view in the 1080p30 stabilized image is EXACTLY the same as it was in the iPhone 4. Still images are a sliver narrower. If they used to be equivalent to a 28mm lens, they are now equivalent to about a 30mm lens. Not enough to notice in practice.

4: Video shot with Apple’s Camera App is stabilized.

The biggest news here is about Apple’s video stabilization. It’s turned on by default and operates in real time. It seems to work with a pixel-shift scan that moves under control of the internal accelerometers. It produces a lesser stabilization effect than the one created with DollyCam, and it seems to do nothing about rolling shutter effects. In very unstable shots, it seems to help very little, but in routinely hand-held clips, it does clean up a reasonable degree of unsteadiness.

If you shoot with Apple’s video camera, the videos are always 1080p. To improve exposure in dim areas, the frame rate will drop to as low as 24 fps without your intervention. That’s only a 1/3-stop improvement. But it could bite you in editing. We shall see.

It’s worth noting that most modern editing programs work with the run-time of a clip, not its exact frame rate, as they place the footage and sync it to the time base of the edit that was chosen in setup.

I think Apple did these things to avoid “consumer confusion”, so you don’t get a chance to select standard definition or 720p as an option. Surely some enterprising App maker will fix that in time, but you CAN shoot 720p images with it right now!

720pX is the maximum image size that FiLMiC Pro 2.5.2 currently shoots. The “X” is a frame rate you choose in its settings, meaning anything from 1 to 25 fps in 1 fps increments, plus 30 fps. As far as we know, this is the ONE App that allows you this degree of fps fine-tuning, making its Version 2.5.2 at $4 a super-bargain.

When you shoot at 720p30, the iPhone 4S behaves normally. You get what you set, all selected options included.

What everybody seems to want to know is this: What does in-camera stabilization look like compared with no stabilization? I tested this by lashing two iPhones together, a 4 and a 4S, then holding them in a death-grip as I explored different exposure regimes. All auto controls were free to wander. Check out the video here, or click on the image.

5: Apple’s Camera App can lock focus, white balance and exposure.

Simply touch the image area where you want both focus and exposure to occur, and wait till the square identification box does a little animated double zoom. This eats up a few seconds at most.

Now you are locked for focus, white balance and exposure. Nothing in the Apple docs I’ve seen tells you about this. I had to find out about it on the web from an article detailing IOS 5 features from last june. And nobody appears to have noted that the white balance lock was part of the touch-lock.

You do this BEFORE you roll to record. Other apps insist that you lock exposure AFTER record start. Early versions of FiLMiC Pro and Almost DSLR both operated that way. Apple’s solution is the best, especially IF y
ou have a neutral gray focus panel with you to use as a locking target.

Oh, wait a minute, what’s this?

Tip: You can print out this pattern on a sheet of letter paper, fold it in 9ths and carry it in a pocket. Click on the image to open the .JPG or .PDF page. Most ink-jet or laser printers will do a reasonable reproduction for you. Hold the unfolded page up at about 5 feet (1.75 m) from the iPhone 4S and you’ll be in hyperfocal distance for the 4.28mm, f/2.4 lens. Printing it on Tabloid stock (13 x 19 inches or 330 x 480-ish mm) would help.

As long as you stay in the Camera app, the locks stay put. When you dismiss the Camera app, you lose your settings.

You can shoot many shots in a row and keep the same focus and exposure across all shots. You can’t memorize the setup, but how long until some enterprising App Developer finds a way to do that?

6: The iP4S camera has an IR filter.

That may not sound like such a Big Deal, but when you compare the outdoor, blue sky shadow results of an iPhone 4 to the 4S, you see a world of difference in the color filling the shadow.

Much of that is the factoid that IR contamination is not making its way through the blue-filtered photo sites on the image chip, causing them to portray too much blue. This “blue spill” effect has been with us since color film was born, and now it’s flattened in the iPhone 4S. The image here is a frame from the movie mentioned in #4.

7: Prior iPhone 4 physical accessories are compatible.

Got an Olloclip wide angle / fisheye optic? Got a Steadicam Smoothee?

Both are made to tight tolerances for the iPhone 4, and both work just as you would expect on the iPhone 4S. In fact, the iPhone 4S is a wee bit smaller in its thickness by a few thousandths of an inch, but a few thousandths wider and taller. The weight of iPhone 4S is within 1.4g of the iPhone 4. No balance issues at all.

The iP4S fits the Steadicam Smoothee camera housing a bit more snugly than the prior phone, but snapping it into the holder is a... snap.

Here’s a test video that shows the iPhone 4S walking around a garden strictly hand-held, then walking around the same circuit mounted on a Steadicam Smoothee.

But what about low light? DollyCam for the iPhone 4 cautioned you that it would just completely Give Up in low light. The iPhone 4S may do this automatically, given our results in a low-light test with a Steadicam Smoothee. We know that the Smoothee works just fine in any light, and we were surprised to see how much jiggle there was in the hand-held iP4S. Here’s a clip of our test.

Obviously the Smoothee-held version is a whole lot more watchable than the hand-held version. We will do more with this in future videos to show off how the greatly-improved picture quality just begs for super stability.

* WAY better is a technical term meaning 73.56% better.

  1. ** The top watch is an in-camera zoom. The other is a crop in iPhoto and was saved from Photoshop at a smaller scale. Meaning that the in-camera zoom is less effective than cropping the image in a post-production stage.

iPhone 4S Review   Latest additions 5/14/12
Getting better by degrees.




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