iPhone 5 camera review

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.

Our readers continue to demonstrate to us every week through our iPhone photography tutorials and weekly photo contests just how well their iPhones capture the moments that matter most to them.

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!

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.

  • Simply amazing...
  • Love the panoramic but photos in low light with back lighting are terrible. You can compensate by adjusting the angle of the camera.
  • "iPhone," "iPhoto," "iMessage," "iSight..." These names are now getting stupid and unoriginal. Let's face it, the only new thing in the iPhone 5, besides it being longer, is that it now has a crappy map that gets you "iLost" (Google's word, not mine).
  • don't be an Ihater, go back to eating your jellybeans
  • And Samsungs "S Voice", "S-Beam", and other horrible named and blatantly ripped off features are better? Yes maps on the iPhone has some small issues (none of which I've noticed and I've used it for the last few days a lot), but when did apple have a maps feature that was ever better than android? What do you want to bet google isn't scrambling to release a turn-by-turn direction google maps for iOS soon? I love android too but you all look very desperate flaming iOS sights like iMore grasping for any negativity on the new iPhone 5. Do we all need to bring up androids many many flaws? The lack of updates, most devices are out of date and will remain that way, runs worse at double the specs than iOS and even windows phone 7 devices do, bloat (tons of it), lack of apps and dev support, still not a single android phone has caught up to the build quality of even the iPhone 4S, still not a single Android phone to catch up to the quality of the retina display one even the iPhone 4 (let alone the iPhone 5), still not a single android device to match the camera technology or quality of even the 1 yr old iPhone 4S (not to mention iPhone 5), fragmentation, and worse of all every android phone on the planet combined barely keeps up to the single iPhone device released a year? Come on you look desperate.
  • As if earpods and iSeek and most of the latest iCrap sound much better. I'm sorry but iPod, iPhone and iPad running iOS were fine. Apple has gotten out of hand with "i" thrown in front of application and features now.
  • Any pictures of scratches on your iPhone 5?
  • I don't have any scratches on my iPhone 5...
  • Great article. I was hoping to see how the iPhone 5 camera stacked up.
  • What I'm most excited to see about the camera is the capture speed, especially compared to other phones. I first saw it on an Anandtech video from the announcement event and was blown away (starting at 1:07 in) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ynBpKpjq5Oo. It looks like it takes pics basically as fast as you can tap the shutter button. Are there other videos/commentaries about this?
  • That exactly right. I tried taking pics faster but my finger couldn't push any faster!
  • I don't think I've ever taken a photo that looks half as good as Leanna's photos always do. Really amazing shots!
  • The camera is really really good, I took a lovely picture of some flowers outside the door of the mall to the apple store.
  • Thanks for the review. As an avid phito hobbiest, I was looking for a review of the camera.
  • Leanna, I really like and appreciate your posts. Thanks for your hard work! Keep it up. :)
  • No video quality comparisons?
  • Can you add side by side comparisons of the 5 and 4S taking the same photos? I think that would be interesting to see. Nice review.
  • Those are some really good shots. I so want the iPhone 5.
  • Great review! I'm coming off of the HTC Rezound camera which took great pictures and had more features including an action burst mode. The 5 does shoot skin tones much better though. We shall see. What photo editing apps do you recommend?
  • Camera+ has some filters and lighting adjustments - also a burst mode. Snapseed is the best editing app for iPhone, IMO.
  • Cool man thx!
  • amazing !!
  • We compared the iPhone 5 images to the iPhone 4S images at our Sprint store and there is no difference in image quality. While I would like to think they made some improvements to the camera it simply isn't true. The changes to the camera were merely to make it thinner. The lense quality isn't any better in terms of optics. The sapphire crystal is a nice touch; any watch lover will tell you sapphire crystal very tough to scratch. The biggest dissapointment was that the sensor isn't any larger than the 4S. While other companies are making better cameras on their newest phones Apple was content with merely shrinking the 4S camera to fit inside the thinner case of the 5. Fortunately for Apple consumers are pretty stupid and if Apple says the camera is better they will believe it. Case in point a certain late night show handing people an iPhone 4S after calling it an iPhone 5. These people used every phrase from the Apple anouncement about it being faster, lighter, thinner and taller than the last iPhone (despite the fact they were holding an iPhone 4S).
  • Can the new camera and processor handle a sunset yet? biggest frustration i have with the camera on the 4S is i tend to lean more towards sunset photography, and i'm always disappointed that red and orange seem to come out as a weird grey.
  • Leanna, great pics, but unless it's side by side, it's not a true comparison. In truth, the 4s was already a very good camera, and I think what's happening is that the 5 is the upgrade for the 4 users; the 4s users haven't moved en masse yet. And going from 4 to the 4s or 5, yes there is a noticeable difference. From what I've seen so far, I think they've changed the way the tone curve and how sharpening is applied.... but fundamentally the hardware portion of the image capture hasn't changed that much.... nor can it, considering the limits of physics when you are are talking about small sensors. (Rumors say that it's a similiar, but different sensor) I've always found that the tone curve on the 4s is too steep and the contrast too heavy for my liking.... it's like a girl with a tad bit too much makeup on. The 5 does seem to be innately better, but how the processing is applied after image capture looks like it's been tweaked a bit. From what I can see of the 5 is that the shadow portion of the tone curve isn't quite so steep, so dark pictures will generally look brighter and less muddy, but there seems to be more noise reduction applied, in some sames that I've seen, the 4s is better at bringing out fine subtle detail. I think the changes in camera output will please the intended audience though.
  • This wasn't really meant to be a comparison -- that's coming soon :)
  • Should I have black bars above and below my photos ? Not sure of this was normal.
  • I was wondering the same thing
  • Yes, that's normal. The iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 both take photos in a 2:3 ratio. On the iPhone 4S, the photos fill the screen, but since the iPhone 5 is 16:9 ratio, the photos will not fill the screen.
  • I'm really surprised with apple. Making a larger screen for the iPhone 5 but leaving filling this wonderful larger screen, out. Seeing the black bars above and below the picture is annoying. It might be normal based upon the 2:3 and 16:9 ratio but not acceptable for a product as sophisticated as this one. For a company that championed iPhoto it should not have been a big technical challenge to either change the ratio or add a fiture "fit to screen" or "change ratio".
  • The ratio of the photos is dependent on the size of the sensor. Photo sensors come at standard ratios and 16:9 is not one of them. In order to take photos at 16:9, apple would have to not take full advantage of the sensor, which would mean your photos would not be a full 5 megapixels. If you want 16:9 photos, crop them yourself with the edit screen. I, for one, would be pissed if Apple decided it was better to sacrifice megapixels just to fill the screen when I took photos. Not to mention, I don't want 16:9 photos -- they look dumb in portrait.
  • Shew. The author of this article kind of caught me off guard ... She's a cutie!
  • awww thanks!
  • Hey Leanna,
    I hope that you make the iPhone 5 review! Yours reviews are so simple, but so complete at the same time.. :)
  • Great review, however I feel inclined to point out that movement + low light + blur is not so much about iphone faults (or any camera phone for that matter), but it's go to do with general light and photography fundamentals. "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." This is the same for point and shoots and thousand dollar DSLR cameras. The only difference with those is that they have larger sensors that can generate good photos at higher ISOs which when bumped up in low light allow for a faster shutter speed to be able to catch movement in low light. So for us to ask to get sharp photos of moving things in low light from a camera phone is a bit of a stretch.
  • Yep, you are completely right. But I was trying not get to technical in the review since not everyone knows what ISO is. For those who do know what is, I would hope that they'd interpret that sentence as meaning that the iPhone 5's ISO doesn't go very high. And you're right, that's to be expected.
  • Hello. I read that you can snap pictures while recording video at a photo resolution of 1920x1080 which is great. My question however: does this impact the video quality at all during the snap?. I can snap pictures on my Canon 60D while recording but there is a half-second gap in the video each time I snap. So in practice I don't use it. Does the iPhone 5 video remain fluid ? Thanks.
  • Yes, the video will be fluid and uninterrupted.
  • How can I turn off panoramic view on my iphone 5 c? Help! this is first smart phone I've had