Just when you thought the iPhone 5c would be internally, atomically the same as last year's iPhone 5, Apple went and gave it the same FaceTime HD camera boost as the new, flagship iPhone 5s. That means bigger pixels and a back illuminated sensor (BSI) that gets the wires out of the way and - your guessed it! - captured even more photons. The camera itself is still a relatively tame 1.2mp but that's enough - exactly - for 1080p video, and now at 1.9 microns (which is bigger in size, if far, far fewer in number than the rear iSight camera). Tech babble aside, what does that mean for your FaceTime video calls, and your selfies? Let's take a look.
FaceTime camera evolution
The front-facing camera, which Apple has co-branded FaceTime to match their video and audio calling service, was introduced in 2010 with the iPhone 4. It wasn't even a megapixel and was capable of only 480p VGA video, but it was a start. The iPhone 5 got a FaceTime HD camera, at just over a megapixel but with better 720p video. The iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c both keep that resolution but get slightly better optics to go with it, and the iPhone 5s gets a much better image signal processor as well.
FaceTime HD camera daylight still performance
Daylight performance for stills was pretty good, and pretty similar across the board. However, the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c appear to have better tonal range. From left to right, top to bottom: iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c, iPhone 5, iPod touch 5.
FaceTime HD low-light still performance
Lowlight performance presented far more obvious differences. Here's where those bigger pixels and BSI pay off, providing less noise and better tone. From left to right, top to bottom: iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c, iPhone 5, iPod touch 5.
FaceTime HD video performance
Again, with good lighting, I'm not going to say there's a tremendous difference, though the iPod touch does show its age and relatively lower power levels the most. Low light, as above, is where you'll see the most difference. The iPhone 5s significantly out-performed the iPhone 5c here, even though they have the same FaceTime HD camera hardware. Unless there's something amiss with my device, that might be yet another example of the excellent image signal processor (ISP) in the iPhone 5s Apple A7 chipset.
So is the FaceTime HD camera in the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c as new and improved as Apple says it is? Surely. Will it make a difference for your video calls or self-portraits? Only if you make and take a lot of them in low-light (we don't judge!). It's nothing to upgrade from an iPhone 5 for, but it's one more thing on the list of small improvements that add up to better devices.
If you've been using - or abusing - the iPhone 5s or iPhone 5c front-facing FaceTime HD camera, let me know what your results have been.