iPhone 4S 1080p video camera hands on

One of the new features of the iPhone 4S is a 1080p HD video camera. This new camera sports an f/2.4 lens and improved sensor to capture more light. It also has video stabilization to steady those shaky shots. To see me put this new camera to the test, check out the video above.

Extreme lighting

The first thing I tested was how well the camera deals with harsh lighting - meaning environments that have both dark, shaded areas and brightly lit, sunny areas. The iPhone 4S did a fantastic job of adjusting the exposure to bring in more light in the shade and less light in the sun. However, I did notice that if I was filming my daughter in an area that had bright backlighting, the video was a little underexposed even if I tapped to expose on my daughter's face.

Video Stabilization

The next thing I tested was video stabilization. First I tried out a non-extreme situation that has a similar amount of movement that the average person may experience - walking backwards while my daughter runs towards me. There was definitely still some camera shake present in these shots, but it wasn't too bad. My stomach tends to be pretty sensitive when it comes to bouncy film, but these clips didn't affect me.

However, the next test I did was to run down the street, and this one was pretty bad. It was still very shaky and I couldn't image watching an entire video like that, but I also couldn't imagine filming an entire video like that. This was an extreme scenario that expect not too many people will find themselves in.

The video stabilization performed best when panning the camera around. I was particularly impressed by the clips of me panning around the camera to follow my daughter as she walked past me. These were nice and smooth.

Low light

Next up was low light. The quality of the video in the low light environments of my house were not the best, but they weren't particularly horrible, either. Camera shake was a little more obvious and the clips were grainier, but overall, I was satisfied with its performance as a cellphone camera. I was particularly impressed with how the camera was able to compensate for the pink lighting in my daughters room and choose a good white balance setting. This was a huge improvement over the iPhone 4.

Macro

The macro lens on the iPhone 4S camera is incredibly sharp - when it's able to actually lock focus. On larger items, like leaves, the iPhone 4S has no issue focusing, but with smaller, skinnier items like twigs and sticks, the camera really struggles with grabbing a focus and often times never does. I tried to focus on some berries hanging from a bush for several minutes with no luck. It doesn't seem to make a difference between direct sunlight, shade, or overcast light, the iPhone 4S seems to frequently have issues with focussing. This is a huge disappointment.

Conclusion

Overall, I am very impressed with the iPhone 4S video camera. It handles the changes in harsh lighting, poor lighting, and movement quite well and also has great audio quality. The biggest disappointment is that the macro lens frequently has issues focusing. However, when the lens does focus, it looks amazing.

It's time to retire my Flip Video camera for good.

Have you been recording some amazing video with your iPhone 4S? Head on over to our Photography and Video forum to show them off!

Leanna Lofte

Former app and photography editor at iMore, Leanna has since moved on to other endeavors. Mother, wife, mathamagician, even though she no longer writes for iMore you can still follow her on Twitter @llofte.

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Reader comments

iPhone 4S 1080p video camera hands on

42 Comments

Thanks for the tests Leanna. I've been experimenting around with the 4S too, and I've come to understand that the 4S likely uses a shift in contrast to achieve focus. Focus seems to search in and out, and uses the changes in blur and contrast to lock focus. With something so thin like a twig, I don't think even a higher end camera, like a DSLR, could achieve focus without going manual.
Now overall I'd say I'm extremely please with the 4S camera so far. I do, however, wish that we had more manual controls, especially exposure and focus. It would be nice to also have ISO controls and shutter speed too, but I'll keep dreaming for the iPhoneSLR, lol.

I wonder if maybe you were too close, but not sure how large the target was. The leaves you focused on in the video turned out well after a try or two, so maybe it will just take some getting used to. The more I think of it, the more I believe that the camera is trying to focus on the more prominant background, so if the target is a smaller portion of the image space, it may take some more practice to get it just right. Still, I'm very impressed with the new camera! No doubt about it.

Thanks for the writeup and video. I see mentions of its new 'macro' capability, but I have not seen anyone mention what the 4S minimum focus distance is…can someone here comment on that? TIA

...and everyone else who thinks they can't afford it:
How about putting your iPhone 4 on Craigslist or ebay and go with "half the subsidy" from your carrier, which is what I do every year. It has worked like a charm every single year and I heard that Georgia has also been successfully doing the same thing with her carrier up in Canada. Although they increased the 1-yr. subsidy by $50 this time around, so be creative when writing your ad. ;-)
Naturally, you will be resetting the clock on your 2-year contract.

Well, I just run a test with my dedicated video camera, and it also doesn't quite focus on such thin things. :)
I say the video camera in this is exceptional for a phone. Remember: it's a phone. :)
Loved the hands-oN!

I've been pleased with it overall. Video of my son t the alligator farm were surprisingly good. Btw I love the hood you live in lots of greenery! Ur little one is big!

I am not the least bit jealous, nor anenoyd that I got my 3G in April and must wait for almost 2 years to get the 3G S (or whatever will be out then). Yeah, right. I really, really, really would have liked to have the video feature.

The iPhone's video capabilities are pretty good indeed.
However I do miss the wide angle of for example my Creative Vado HD (720p pocket video camera). With a wide angle lens lets you take a better capture of outdoors and scenery.

So I'm still waiting for my 4S but:
I was watching this on my 3GS and the video seemed to go in and out of focus constantly and seemed pixelated at times. Is it me,my 3GS, AT&T or the uploading process to YouTube?

Fantastic review Leanna! Thank you so much! This was exactly the test that I was looking for. I am currently still using the original iPhone 16GB (which still works like a charm) but would like to replace it with a new smartphone that has photo/video camera features like the iPhone 4S.
Untill now, I couldn't find any smatphone that was even on par with my old Sony MiniDV (SD) camcorder in terms of white balance or video stabilization. I am going to wait a few months more (or at least trying) to compare the photo/video performance of iPhone 4S with the upcoming Google Nexus Prime and the Samsung Galaxy S III, but I think that the video stabilization will remain a unique feature of iPhone 4S only.

I bought the 4S for the new camera - first time I have ever been disappointed with an Apple product (I have bought over 100). The focussing on the video always "hunts" to the point of turning the video blurry before finding the right focus - you can imagine when panning and having your main subject move out of the centre of the screen this actually ruins the video!

Is the auto-focus system triggered by software or hardware? Maybe this problem could be solved with an App like Camera Plus Pro of ProCamera?

Like most, I've read many reviews of the newest features on the 4S. The ones that stand out are those that allow the reader a glimpse into the authors personal life and thereby elevated above those pounded out within the sterile confines of a cubicle.
Thanks for making your reviews special.

I just got my first iphone (4S) and shot some video. (a friend's concert indoors at a recording studio) It looks great and sounds good on the phone on playback, but HORRIBLE when brought over to my macpro and played on screen/ editing. I used Image Capture to transfer the video to my computer. Am I doing something wrong?

Leanna, great job! It did appear that the phone did focus on the twig, perhaps with the light on the screen you weren't able to detect it. So far, I am thrilled with the quality of the photos as well as the video. Apple really scored with the 4S for photographers. I just wish Siri would snap the shutter but she won't. Am I lazy or what. Thanks for the test.

I want to say thank you a whole lot for the job you have made in wrnitig this piece of wrnitig. I am hoping the same top work by you down the road too.

Although the video sample in this review is really stunning, I digged somewhat deeper and found some native footage shot with the iPhone 4S on the following URL:http://images.anandtech.com/reviews/gadgets/apple/iPhone4S/iPhone4SvSGS2...
The ZIP-file contains 2 native samples (1 shot with the iPhone 4S and the other shot with a Samsung Galaxy SII) and played it on my Sony PS3/Pioneer 50" Plasma TV set (I had to do so some re-multiplexing first). Result was that it was awful. The footage shot with both the iPhone 4S and the Samsung galaxy SII has BIG problems with horizontal pans. The motion just doesn't look natural compared to the footage shot with an AVCHD camcorder.
What could be the problem here? 30 fps should be enough, right?
And it's there a way to fix this?
Leanna,
Could you also post the source files (MOV-files) of your footage?

Thanks for the review Leanna, you and you're daughter are cuties. I'm enjoying my 4S and the camera. I appreciate all you do for TIPB and the IOS community. You guys are great.

I've been testing the 4s camera today as well. I wish I could turn off the steadyshot function when I want to. 4S digitally compensates for jerky movements and vibration, which adds digital artifacts to the footage, What would look like a 'normal' shaky shot turns into something that looks unnatural. I don't know, maybe I'm being too picky.

I've been testing the 4s camera today as well. I wish I could turn off the steadyshot function when I want to. 4S digitally compensates for jerky movements and vibration, which adds digital artifacts to the footage, What would look like a 'normal' shaky shot turns into something that looks unnatural. I don't know, maybe I'm being too picky.

Excellent review. Just what I was looking for. Beautiful narrator, beautiful daughter. Good job!

hiVegas is a VideoEditing software WITH chormaKey function, SMU2 is NOT an editing video software BUT a Vector Keying program quite different and of course results are betterSMU2 does NOT integrate into vegas as Nothing other sw (except CS3) because is NOT made for do thisSMU2 work with its virtual sets and some other made in 3MaxDs, but we assure best result only with its own Vsets, of courseright use of SMU is use it to create effects then use it as piece for editingwe do not talk by phone because we ssell worldwide and is time consuing and USELESS .all info are inside this website and SMU ids the best software all over the world see demos and that's it , no need to add much more

Good review to a point. You left out the most important thing and that is in dark lighting at night or with lights on at night.
When tested the quality is not as good as bright light and is grainy. The frontal camera is even worse at night and the grains shows a lot more. I am still fine with the phone, but overall disappointed that they couldn't get it right in terms of the camera working at night. Complain to Apple everyone.

I just installed my new glass today. Thanks for the vids, they relaly helped. My only problem was my screen was so busted up the suction cup wouldn't work. I used the included screwdriver to pop it up. The broken glass also made it tough to remove it from the frame. The kit worked great and the vid was very helpful.