Even though the iPhone 5 didn't get a boost in megapixels, it did receive some enhancements that should produce clearer, more vibrant images while reducing noise in low light situations. The iPhone 5's predecessor, the iPhone 4S already took amazing pictures in its own right, and the iPhone 5 camera will replace the need of a standalone camera for even more iPhone owners.
We've had some time to put the iPhone 5's new and improved camera through it's paces, including a complete hardware and software breakdown. So let's see how, if at all, the iPhone 5 camera makes those captured moments better.
Hardware design of iPhone 5 iSight Camera
The camera on the iPhone 5 has been redesigned to fit inside the new, thinner body. The surface of the lens is now made of sapphire crystal. For transparent materials, the only thing harder than sapphire crystal is diamond -- so it's significantly tougher than the glass used on previous models of the iPhone. The edge of lens on the camera of my iPhone 4S has some visible scratches, so the sapphire crystal surface of the iPhone 5, and Apple's claim that it's far less likely to scratch, should prove important over time. I'll be keeping an eye on it.
In addition to the sapphire crystal, the way that the camera sits in the body of the iPhone 5 has greatly improved from the iPhone 4S. It's perfectly flush to the back and there is no visible spacing between the camera and the body. The flash has also increased in size and appears to be clearer.
Sample photos taken with the iPhone 5
So how does this new and improved camera hold up? Let's take a look! All of the photos featured in this article have been taken with an iPhone 5 and have not been altered in any way. To see how all the photos look after using Apple's "enhance" feature in iPhoto, check out the video below.
Color vibrance with iPhone 5 camera
One of the first things I noticed about the iPhone 5's camera is that colors are much more vibrant than before -- especially in sunlight.
Macro photos taken with the iPhone 5
I was always very disappointed in macro photography with the iPhone 4S because it always seem to struggle with focusing. Not so with the iPhone 5. The camera allows you to get very close to your subject and locks a very sharp focus without a problem.
HDR photos taken with the iPhone 5
The improvements to HDR are also very noticeable. I highly recommend that you turn on the HDR setting any time you take a photo of a landscape or cityscape.
Low light photos taken with the iPhone 5
One of the biggest weaknesses of every iPhone camera has been the poor quality of photos taken in low light scenarios. Unfortunately, this continues to be a weakness with the iPhone 5 as well. If lighting is mediocre and your subject is still, then your photos will come out fine, but once your subject moves even the slightest bit, you will get noticeable motion blur, as shown below.
When the lighting is even worse, the photos have the potential to be dark and grainy. They don't seem to be as grainy as with the iPhone 4S, however, which makes it easier to recover the photos with editing apps.
Photos taken with the iPhone 5's front-facing camera
The other sore spot of the iPhone has been its front-facing camera. It did receive a minor boost for the iPhone 5 and it's actually quite noticeable. I never used it for self portraits in the past, but now I might.
Panorama photos taken with the iPhone 5
One of the exciting new features of iOS 6 is the ability to take panoramic photos directly from the built-in camera app by simply panning the scene -- and boy does it produce beautiful results with the iPhone 5!
iPhone 5 photos edited with Apple's "enhance" feature in iPhoto
To see all the photos in this article after having Apple's "enhance" feature in iPhoto applied to them, check out the video slideshow below!
The bottom line
Even though the iPhone 5's iSight camera didn't get any more megapixels than the iPhone 4S, there are still noticeable improvements to the hardware of the the camera. Externally, the lens fits much nicer into the back of the iPhone, and internally, the sensor has clearly been upgraded. The colors in the photos taken with the iPhone 5 are nice a vibrant with the potential of being even better with the simple tap of the enhance button. Additionally, the macro capabilities on the iPhone 5 are incredible and the lens does not struggle to focus. Although the iPhone 5 still has the potential to produce grainy images, there does some seem to be some improvement in this department as well. This is to be expected, however. Lowlight performance is dependent on the quality and size of a camera's sensor, so since the iPhone 5 contains a sensor that is physically very small, there is bound to be grain when there isn't enough light to adequately illuminate a scene. UPDATE: The differences between the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 cameras wasn't as great as I thought. Check my my iPhone 5 vs iPhone 4S: Camera shootout article to see why.
Overall, I am very impressed with the iPhone 5 camera and look forward to filling up my iPhone hard drive with beautiful photographs.
To see more photos taken with the iPhone 5 and to share your own, be sure to head to the iMore forums! In particular, if you want to show off your beautiful panorama's taken with the built-in camera app in iOS 6, enter this week's panorama photo contest!