iPhone 5, photography, purple fringing, and what you need to know

Not long after the iPhone 5 was released, reports of a purple flare produced by the camera started sprouting up all over the internet. Matthew Panzarino from The Next Web quickly responded to these outcries of "purplegate" by explaining that this flaw wasn't unique to the iPhone 5, but is present on the iPhone 4S and can even occur when using high-end DSLR cameras and lens. This weekend, Apple issued a support article claiming that this symptom is normal for small digital cameras and explained how to reduce the likelihood of it occurring.

If this purple haze is so normal, then what exactly is it? As Panzarino pointed out, it's a chromatic aberration called "purple fringing". The above photo is his example of both the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 producing purple flare.

[Purple fringing] can be related to a variety of things including stray infrared light, stray UV light, anti-reflective lens coatings, image processing or bloom from overexposure. These effects are exacerbated in very bright light and with lens flare.

The photography experts over at Digital Photography Review reached a similar conclusion as demonstrated in the image above.

The most likely cause of the iPhone 5's purple haze is probably lens flare and internal reflections in the camera lens assembly. All lenses are succeptable to lens flare to some degree, and as you can see from the images at the top of this page, the iPhone 4S isn't immune either (ditto the iPhone 4 and competitive smartphones from other manufacturers).

When I first heard about purple fringing with the iPhone 5, I was a little bothered because I had never experienced it with my iPhone 4S. Except it turns out that I did experience it, I just never noticed because I wasn't looking for it. I found these two photos I took on my iPhone 4S, last year.

I also decided to see if I my Nikon D800 and Sigma 50mm f/1.4 lens were susceptible to purple fringing. With very little effort, I got this photo.

So once again, all this hype over "purplegate" has been blown way out of proportion. As it turns out, Apple was actually being modest when they said that "most small cameras" may exhibit this flare as even very expensive digital cameras are susceptible to the flaw.

So how do you avoid it? First and foremost, avoid pointing the camera towards a bright light source to eliminate flare altogether. You can also use your hand to shield the source from directly hitting your lens. Professional cameras actually come with lens hoods that work similar to using your hand, because, again, all cameras will produce flare. Some iPhone cases may also work as a small lens hood since they create a ridge all the way around the lens. If you want lens flare, just not purple flare, try altering the angle at which the light hits the lens.

Or, if you're like me, embrace the purple flare and create photos that make it look like there's an alien invasion.

Leanna Lofte

App and Photography Editor at iMore. Mother, wife, and math instructor. Follow her on Twitter @llofte and send her apps to consider for review at iosapps@imore.com

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There are 37 comments. Add yours.

2oh1 says:

"all this hype over "purplegate" has been blown way out of proportion"

I agree completely. When I first saw these stories popping up, I thought "Oh no! I wonder if buying an iPhone 5 was a mistake?" I pointed my new iPhone at my lamp to see what it would do, and sure enough, purple fringe. Then I did the same with an iPhone 4. It was worse. It was more of a red fringe than purple, and there were all kinds of crazy artifacts. And then I tried the same with my $1400 DSLR (with $800 lens). And, of course, the shot was garbage because only an idiot would take a shot like that.

It's great that Apple has put such an excellent camera in the hands of millions of people, but the downside is that millions of people who may know nothing about photography confuse themselves due to a lack of understanding of even the basics.

tomsunny says:

I Just change this new iPhone 5 Camera lens, and then the pictures is really very good and never saw the Purple fragging.
you guys can try this camera lens:
http://www.etradesupply.com/oem-apple-iphone-5-camera-lens.html

wormeyman says:

Thanks Leanna, i know this has been frustrating you.

Roboticz says:

Why is an article being made to make excuses for this situation? Yes other cameras can suffer from lens flares, but you don't see such a dominant purple haze in the photo. Many other sources have taken pictures with the iPhone 5 and then the 4S... and the same extent of purple haze was not seen on the 4S photos.

Some people are claiming that the fact that the camera on the iPhone 5 is shallower to allow for the phone to be thinner AND the material the lens (external part) is made of is what is contributing to this purple haze.

On all my other phones I've may have seen a small amount of lens flare... but never such an easy to spot purple haze.

Please don't make excuses.

valdan says:

This is not an excuse. As a filmmaker and photographer, I experience purple hazes and flares constantly, making me retake the shot or use it for artistic purposes. No camera too big (Canon 5D) or too small (iPhone 4) has escaped any of this. That includes the shallowness of the lens/image sensor and sapphire glass. Even the photographs above, taken from other phones and cameras prove that it isn't the make up of the device, but a problem that exists in photography in general. A solution could include a lens hood for the sun, but I'm sure you'd find something wrong with that too.

If you'd go to professionals instead of tabloids, you'd find out the truth. If you're looking to discredit the article, you have failed spectacularly, but don't try to bring your hate upon the article.

Roboticz says:

Umm... there's a link posted further below in the comments where they compare photos from different phones. And while all phones showed a lense flare in the photo... the iPhone 5 was the only one to show a purple area on the photo.

ajendus says:

I don't know what else to tell someone like you. You have no understanding of optics. I work in film and TV (like the original post author) and also shoot photography. There is no such thing as a perfect lens. You can spend $60,000 on a Cook lens and find a flaw in it. This purple flair is the flaw in the iPhone 5's (and 4 and 4S lens). If you're comparing it to other lenses, they may not have this. But you CAN NOT compare two different lenses and ask "why did this other lens not do that?" That 'other' lens will have some other flaw. Plain and simple. If you really look at these photos, however, none of them with the purple flair are any good anyway, so what does it matter. You can get a really terrible picture with a flare or without a flare. It still is a terrible photo.

But here's the real deal. If you are really a photographer or cinematographer, now that you know this flaw about your lens, you'll be so much better in your craft. In fact, if you're really good, you'll be able to use it to your advantage. And instead of complaining about the flaw, go out and shoot!

Roboticz says:

??? People don't want purple areas in their photos. Other phones do not have purple areas in their photos. The iPhone 5 is susceptible to that.

That is all.

Instead of telling people to "use the purple flare artistically"... how about making their not be any purple haze to begin with... as was the case with previous iPhones.

KBeat says:

Those tests were poorly done as the light source was far more to the edge of the frame on the iPhone 5 tests than on the others. Proximity to the edge of the frame is a huge factor when it comes to purple fringing. The examples Leanna posted from DP and NW were far more useful as the light sources in the comparison pics were equally placed.

prlundberg says:

Look again. The pictures here are clearly not identical either.

KBeat says:

Let me clarify, the pictures don't have to be identical. What needs to be consistent, or more or less the same, is the proximity of light source to the edge of the frame. The closer to the edge (or even just out of frame), the more likely you are to experience purple fringing. This is true of any lens. It's due to how purple fringing occurs. If the light source is more centered, more away from the edge, the odds of getting purple fringing are greatly reduced. I don't think there is any question in those comparison photos linked to below, the other cameras have the light source more centered in the frame and not as close to the edge. Perhaps they are completely immune to it, I don't know as I don't have one of those phones, but you can't say that from the shots they posted. I can say I can reliably produce purple fringing with an iPhone 4, iPhone 4s, and an iPhone 5 here in studio, as well as with several point and shoots from Canon and Nikon. I've also seen it in shots taken with "L" glass using a 5D Mark II, although it's far, far less common.

FWIW, I DO find the purple fringing a bit more pronounced in the iPhone 5 as opposed to the 4/4s. I'd guess this is due to the additional thinness of the lens housing, but it's apparent in photos from all 3 phones.

OTACORB says:

I took pictures at a homecoming high school football game and there was many bright lights as there is in most stadiums. Everyone of the pictures I took looked absolutely fantastic. I had a friend with an expensive camera that took pictures that didn't look nearly as good. Clearly the iPhone 5 camera is not perfect, but this situation has most definitely been overblown big time. I am not making excuses Roboticz, I am sharing my experience using the actual camera. I've had great experiences outdoor in direct sunlight too, but I didn't aim my camera directly at the sun, but the sun was certainly in the image with no flair.

VeryConfused says:

"Everyone of the pictures I took looked absolutely fantastic. I had a friend with an expensive camera that took pictures that didn't look nearly as good"

Cough, cough. Indeed. We all believe you when you imply the iPhone takes better pictures than an expensive camera.

I will agree with Roboticz. This is just another article to deflect from the truth that the iPhone 5 camera doesn't take very good pictures. Maybe we should get an HTC One smartphone or Galaxy 3 to take the exact same pictures for comparison purposes?

OTACORB says:

Who care what you believe, folks like you believe whatever you want. Do you even own an iPhone 5? Have you had pictures that have been impacted by this so called horrible purple flair or are you just talking shit for the sake of doing so? What it always boils down too with you Android folks is that you just can't stand that fact that those of us that actually own this phone are damn happy with it. Get over it already! If you like Android then fine enjoy your Android, but quit jumping into every freaking thread about the iPhone 5 with your BS. You aren't going to convince me as my experience tells me all I need to know.

By the way my work provide me a Galaxy S III and I have taken pictures with it as well and it takes good pictures. But better than the iPhone 5... NOPE! All the reviews I've seen put them pretty close to being the same. So go sell peddle your Android nonsense to someone else.

Unforgiven41 says:

@Veryconfused. You sir, are a idiot.

infty says:

I'm also going to add that @Veryconfused is ignorant.

Any photographer that is worth his salt knows that what's more important than the camera is the photographer. A good photographer can take better pictures with any point and shoot camera, than a poor photographer with an expensive DSLR camera. I know people who buy DSLRs but don't know a thing about photography and take poor pictures. So yes, it is definitely possible to take a better picture with iPhone 5 (and even a Galaxy SIII) then with a DSLR.

prlundberg says:

You do understand what "imply" means, don't you?

Rather than name calling and going into an obvious explanation one doesn't need to be an expert to figure out, I think I'll just leave it at that.

prlundberg says:

Yes, I'd also like to see comparison shots to other non-Apple phones. Don't know why people would resort to name calling just because you suggested that.

No doubt it is overblown, I don't think it makes it a bad camera. It's certainly better than the camera on my 18 month old 3VO. But it seems that the author missed the the iPhone 5 being more succeptable to flare than other phones, and the other comparison shots I've seen seem to confirm this. Who knows if they were taken in a controlled manner. But the bottom two examples also seem to confirm this as the pictures aren't as good and there are more artifacts with the 5. The top photos aren't taken from the exact same position so it's hard to say.

The point being that Apple almost certainly sacrificed some camera quality for thinness. Every design choice is a compromise, some companies just refuse to admit that which tends to irritate some people.

ajendus says:

The photographer takes the picture. The camera just records it. It is entirely possible for one to take a better picture with an iPhone than with a DSLR. If you were a photographer, you'd know that.

P.S. Comparing different lenses is not proof of anything. It is almost literally comparing apples and oranges. They are built differently and therefore will have different flaws.

prlundberg says:

Of course they will have different flaws. That's the point. That's why you compare things. How do you determine the strengths and weaknesses of the iPhone camera without comparing it to the competition? Your logic makes no sense.

Keith Woodhall says:

How is this so hard to believe? When I hand my girlfriend a 5d mark 2 and a 35L, the pictures she takes with the camera look no different than what she gets with her 10 year old point and shoot. At a certain point, the person taking the photos DOES become a factor in the outcome of the photo. Instead of reading phone blogs about this problem, look at any major photography site. Lens flare isn't new. In fact, the 1500 dollar lens I was referring to gets it worse than my iPhone. Lens manufacturing is always a balancing act. How bright? Sharp? And how much flare do you allow to achieve these attributes.

prlundberg says:

Thanks, that's a nice common sense comparison of the pros and cons of those cameras. I think they are all good enough for what I hope to get out of my next phone.

KBeat says:

Those are poorly constructed photos for the purposes of testing the lens flare. Unlike the examples above posted by Leanne, the light source in these photos is clearly more to the edge of the frame in the iPhone 5 photo than in the others where it's far more in frame. This makes a huge difference in affecting lens flare. I'm making no statement on the quality of the iPhone 5 camera versus Android phones, only that these test photos are poor examples due to the differences in light source placement.

Trust me, I've been shooting professionally for years. Slight variations in the placement of a strong light source at the edge of the frame can have a dramatic difference in the type of flare the lens exhibits. The closer to the edge of the frame, or just slightly out of the edge, a light source is the more likely it is to induce purple fringing. If the light source is more centered, the camera will balance for it properly.

Roboticz says:

The main problem with the purple haze happens when the light is just out of frame.

KBeat says:

Yes, that is when purple fringing is most common (and I've seen it using dozens of lenses and cameras), when the light source is just at the edge of the frame or slightly out of frame. If it's within the frame enough, it's not reflected off the edges and the camera balances for the color of the light, even if it's still a poor shot.

prlundberg says:

They aren't specific, and I could be wrong, but I'm reading that test not that they tried to take identical shots, but they tried to take shots that showed the worst flare from each camera. They do mention that it was difficult to get flare on the HTC.

It's certainly not a perfect test by any means, but it does seem to support what a lot of others are saying. And it's no less valid than the shots shown on this page which are clearly not identical.

I think everybody gets that it's common. However some cameras are better than others, that's the point here. A lot of people are complaining the i5 is much worse in this regard than the i4s. Again I believe it's overblown, but that's no reason to deny it.

KBeat says:

plmn,

Here's what I mean. I took two quick snaps with an iPhone 5 with a desk lamp pointed directly at me. In one, I kept the light source just out of frame, as they did in their iPhone 5 shot. In the other, I moved it in frame a bit, as they did with the other phones they tested. The difference in purple fringing is dramatic. This is the same phone, same shot, same light source just placed a bit differently at the edge.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/kbeat/8074743178

That's why I say those are poorly done comparison shots for the purposes of comparing purple fringing, unless of course the purpose was to make the iPhone 5 intentionally look worse than the others, which was probably the case.

prlundberg says:

In your above post you say the purple fringing is more pronouced in the 5 in your experience as well. That's what the complaint is, right? Along with it being easier to avoid on the 4s?

I understand what you are saying and I wasn't clear. All these comparison photos are not quite identical. We dont' know what was cropped or if the light source is in exactly the same position in any of them. If they were simply trying to replicate the flare on a 4S, I have no doubt it's possible. If the other site is intentionally trying to make the 5 look worse than it actually is, that's possible too, although they also make a point of saying the 5 has better image quality than the SIII. The key is whether or not it is happening so easily now that it is a concern or just people venting frustration that Apple cut corners. I suspect it's just people venting.

rj5570 says:

Leanna, great article!

Thats why we have lens hoods for our DSLRs

And maybe thats why the iphone project was called "Project Purple" :)

Alldaybreakfast says:

I tried to correct Panzarino on this issue but he got all defensive. What is being seen is lens flare, not chromatic aberration. Lens flare happens when the suns rays hit the inside of a camera's lens from a specific angle. See here:
http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/lens-flare.htm

Chromatic aberration is different. It relates to an incorrect focusing of light leaving tinges of colour against a solid object when strongly backlit. See here:
http://www.dpreview.com/learn/?/Glossary/Optical/chromatic_aberration_01...
This is sometimes referred to as purple fringing. The fact that the iPhone 5 lens flare is purple is due to a combination of factors including the lens angle, the coatings on the internal lens barrel and the angle of the sun. Lens flare comes in many colours as a quick visit to Google search images will reveal.

The problem with the iPhone 5 is lens flare which happens to the best lenses. Lens manufacturers make lens hoods, coat their lenses with exotic coatings and use other tricks to try to minimise lens flare.

Both lens flare and chromatic abberation are very common. Lens flare is eas

kev46 says:

Great news Leanna, but I thought that the light should always be behind you for great photos never in front. Anyways, my phone is shipping so I'm excited to own my 1st iPhone, just have 4thGen iPod Touch.

tys says:

I am very disappointed in my iPhone 5 because of this.
I'm on holiday and have had many otherwise great photos spoiled by the purple haze.
Luckily I brought my 4S along as well and have switched back because it doesn't have this problem AT ALL for me.
I'm selling the 5 when I get home, hopefully they fix it with the 5S.

RoboWarrior says:

Am I the only person that thought the purple lens flare was cool and wanted to get an iPhone 5 just to take pictures with a purple flare? I'm not joking if you use it right it can look really cool and strong...

markawashington says:

And that's how you control bad PR. Good job Leanna Lofte. It was getting out if control. Next article to right is Apples bad Maps that replaced Google Maps system followed by the scratches on the black phone device. Why? Because you did a very well job proving your case for them.

Wirelezz says:

Im on my second iphone5 first one was really bad for puprle fringing and the second one i got as replacement is perfect no purple fringing

the_sooo says:

Jfc people calm it with the complaints about how the new iPhone 5's camera has more purple flare. The examples used are to display the worst that the flare gets on each iPhone, and the iPhone 5's flare gets worse at an even greater angle to the Sun thus decreasing the probability of getting flare. However if you were REALLY that concerned about flare, follow the advice Leanna provides and shield the side of the camera lens with your hand, like how a lens hood works on a DEDICATED camera. Stop mistaking the flare as a manufacturing flaw and assuming it will be improved with the 5S or whatever next generation of iPhone there will be, FLARE WILL ALWAYS EXIST. Flare is a physical occurrence, not dependent on the software or hardware but on the photographer. Even Leica lenses with some of the best coatings available still exhibit some sort of flare. Just because the 5 has more prominent flare doesn't mean that it is an inferior phone and that you should switch back to the 4S or that other phones are better, it's just a side effect of one of the millions of variables that occur when taking a picture. This overblown hype is the product of putting photography into inexperienced hands who don't know the basics of optics or photography. This is coming from a Blackberry user who doesn't even have a camera on their phone, I just have a passion for photography and hate seeing people bash an engineering feat because of a lack of knowledge.