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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Test of iPhone6+ camera in low light

I have been out of the iPhone world (as an everyday user) for a year as I tried the Android and Windows phones.   I just got a 6+ and have heard rumors it is a serious contender in the camera world.   So I decided to try it in the conditions I break out my real camera: low light.  I also tried an iPhone 5c because I had access to one (I would love to see how the 5s fares which I am sure we will see from other users).    The test scene subjectively was about as dark a picture as I would take that's not some night image and I had adjusted this picture to "seem" like what I saw.   Basically a tavern illumination level.
The specs of the cameras I used were:
  • iPhone 5c, 3264x2448 pixels, 1/3.2" sensor (1.4um pixel size)
  • iPhone 6+, 3264x2448 pixels, 1/3" sensor (1.5um pixel size)
  • Canon G1X, 4352x2904 pixels, 1.5" sensor (4.3um pixel size)
Here is a nice image from gizmag to show how ginormous that canon sensor is (it's almost as big as the serious DLSR cameras now):
 So the area of the big pixels is about 8 times that of the phone pixels.  If pixel size tells most of the story at low light levels, as I have always said, we should expect the phones to not do nearly as well.  But to listen to the interwebs, the phones are now competitive.  In my test let's see:
iPhone 5c

iPhone 6+
Canon G1X
 To my surprise, they all did quite well on color.  The tone mapping does crank up the brightnesses and make the scene appear brighter, but that is not wrong; it's a matter of taste.  The blurry foreground of the Canon shows it was opening up its aperture to get more light, so more than sensor size should come into play.  Let's look closer to see if the phones can possibly compete with the Canon's big sensor/aperture working in concert.  Here are 100x100 pixels of each near where things are in focus.
Left to right 5c, 6+, Canon G1X

My only conclusion is WOW.  Apple really has a home run here.  Granted the Canon is a few years old and I skipped the 5s and maybe this is old news and the 6 isn't much better than the 5s (and other cameras of that generation are competitive from what I have seen) but I am amazed Apple could pull this off.  I am looking forward to seeing how the other manufacturers respond (for example, if Nokia, which has a great camera track record, makes a phone with a much bigger sensor, can they do even better), and how the DSLR makers do as this technology makes its way to the high end.

I suppose I have a more personal conclusion.  If I don't need defocus blur effects, the Canon is going in the drawer for now.

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