Comparing iPhone 7 camera with older gen (Outdoors)

Sunset - iPhone 7 - October 4, 2016

It is pretty safe to assume that the latest iPhone has the best camera in general. The tradition continues with iPhone 7, which allows me to take impressive photos like the one you see here. But to truly appreciate the improvements, a good round of comparison is in order.

First, let's look at the basic specifications as reported by the EXIF data. For the rear camera, we have these values:
Device Focal Length
35mm Equiv.
iPhone 7 3.99 28 1.8 4032x3024
iPhone 6S+ 4.15 29 2.2 4032x3024
iPhone 6+ 4.15 29 2.2 3264x2448
iPhone 5S 4.15 29 2.2 3264x2448
iPhone 5 4.12 33 2.4 3264x2448
iPhone 4S 4.28 35 2.4 3264x2448
iPhone 4 3.85 35 2.8 2592x1936
iPhone 3GS 3.85 35 2.8 2048x1536

And for the front camera:
Device Focal Length
35mm Equiv.
iPhone 7 2.87 32 2.2 3088x2320
iPhone 6S+ 2.65 31 2.2 2576x1932
iPhone 6+ 2.65 31 2.2 1280x960
iPhone 5S 2.15 31 2.4 1280x960
iPhone 5 2.18 35 2.4 1280x960
iPhone 4S 1.85 35 2.4 640x480
iPhone 4 3.85 35 2.4 640x480
Last year's rear camera was mostly about the increased pixel count; with the quality improvement taking a back seat. Front camera did jump out of the 1.2-megapixel hole, which was overdue. This year, enhancing the image quality is back in focus. The sensor can now capture on a much wider colour space (DCI-P3, a.k.a. Display-P3, instead of the traditional sRGB), and the wider aperture on the new rear lens (f/1.8, up from f/2.2) should allow for lower noise and brighter night shots. Meanwhile, the front camera can now take 7-megapixel photos.

iPhone 6S Plus (left) can capture and display in sRGB colour space only, while iPhone 7 (right) can do both in a wider DCI-P3 colour space

To illustrate the difference in the colour space, WebKit Blog prepared an interesting sample file. The faint WebKit logo inside a red box is only visible on the DCI-P3 capable display. Most regular displays don't have enough "range" of colours to show the difference. Luckily, I happen to have two devices with DCI-P3 support - iPad Pro 9.7" and iPhone 7 - so I put it up on the iPad. The setup above shows the iPhone 6S Plus unable to see the logo, while the iPhone 7 does. This extra capability should allow the iPhone 7 to capture and display photos in a richer and more accurate manner.

With that out of the way, let's first look at a view outside with the Sun just obscured behind the cloudy sky. This type of scene is hard on the camera because of the wide range of brightness it needs to cover. This can sometimes be overcome with the HDR (High Dynamic Range) function, but I wanted to see how well it did without resorting to this. All the photos were shot with the default metering mode (i.e. did not touch the screen to adjust focus and exposure).

Dynamic Range - iPhone 3GS, 4, 4S, 5, 5S, 6 Plus, 6S Plus, and 7

Original Photo ISO Shutter Speed
iPhone 7 20 1/1088
iPhone 6S+ 25 1/620
iPhone 6+ 32 1/791
iPhone 5S 32 1/933
iPhone 5 50 1/847
iPhone 4S 50 1/587
iPhone 4 80 1/450
iPhone 3GS 64 1/588

Looking at how the clouds are depicted and how evenly lit the whole scene is, we can see the evolution of the iPhone cameras. 3GS and 4 was unremarkable, but starting from 4S, which was the first model to have an 8-megapixel camera, things got noticeably better. Then we see gradual improvements up to 6S Plus. Finally, 7 makes another leap - buildings are bright, yet the clouds are more detailed than ever. Older models look washed out in comparison.

Clarity (rear camera) - iPhone 3GS, 4, 4S, 5, 5S, 6 Plus, 6S Plus, and 7

Original Photo ISO Shutter Speed
iPhone 7 25 1/40
iPhone 6S+ 32 1/30
iPhone 6+ 32 1/30
iPhone 5S 32 1/30
iPhone 5 50 1/30
iPhone 4S 64 1/40
iPhone 4 80 1/24
iPhone 3GS 80 1/24

As for how clear and sharp the cameras take the photo, these crops at the native resolution tell the tale. Looking at both the letters on the banner as well as the ground, the 4S again set the bar for the baseline quality. The best results come from 6 Plus or later models.

Now that we've seen how the rear camera fares outside, let's move to the front camera. Included since iPhone 4, this is predominantly used for selfies (self portraits) so one can assume it's optimized for objects closer to the camera. I suppose this is why it got away with having such low resolution for a long time (1.2-megapixel camera on a high-end smartphone in 2014?). But what if it's used to take landscape photos?

Clarity (front camera) - iPhone 4, 4S, 5, 5S, 6 Plus, 6S Plus, and 7 vs. iPhone 5S rear camera

Original Photo ISO Shutter Speed
iPhone 7 25 1/285
iPhone 6S+ 32 1/525
iPhone 6+ 32 1/529
iPhone 5S 50 1/299
iPhone 5 32 1/287
iPhone 4S 125 1/1138
iPhone 4 125 1/938

Perhaps it was expected, but they are no match for the rear cameras. Anything before 6S Plus had too low a resolution, and even when the resolution was bumped up in 6S Plus and 7, it's still not as sharp as using the rear camera, despite making them focus on the banner specifically. It seems that the optics aren't suited for this kind of use. Indoor and close-up photography may have a different outcome, though. I'll be dealing with them in the next post.


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Wesley's Tool-Box on : Comparing iPhone 7 camera with older gen (Indoors)

Continue reading "Comparing iPhone 7 camera with older gen (Indoors)"
Continuing from the last post, let's look at the indoor performance of the front camera. I took photos of a table in the living room where the kids have built what's essentially a toy village with Lego blocks. It should serve to show differences in colour


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