For many people, the iPhone is the gold standard when it comes to smartphone photography. The iPhones may not have always yielded the highest quality of imagery – the others caught up in that department a couple of years ago – but their sheer ease of use, speed and consistency, topped off with a terrific dollop of photo editing and sharing apps, puts them in a zone of their own.

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So when Apple released the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus with the same megapixel count (eight, for the record) as that seen in the 4S/ 5/ 5S/ 5C, there were a few sighs of disappointment. But then, Apple has never really party to the megapixel wars – it came out with a 5.0-megapixel camera on the iPhone almost more than three years after Nokia painted the market red with its N95, remember. So what has been promised is (skipping the jargon) much more detail, better colours and in the case of the 6 Plus, optical image stabilisation, which should translate into better videos and low light photography.

But do the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus deliver on their promise? Well, we have both devices with us for a short time (too short, alas) and we took a number of pictures and even shot a brief video with each, and for good measure, we took pictures with the iPhone 5S too, which was no mug in the camera department, remember? To minimise complications and to keep comparisons simple, we stuck to auto mode, as that is the mode that most people will use anyway. We tried to take pictures in as many different conditions as possible, but would like to call on your patience when we erred or missed out – we simply did not have the sort of time we would have wanted in ideal circumstances.

The images and the videos are below. Feast your eyes, and then go right ahead and read our conclusions. Click on each image for bigger version. In all the image sets below, iPhone 5S is on the left, iPhone 6 is in the middle and iPhone 6 Plus is on the right.

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The iPhone 5S vs iPhone 6 vs iPhone 6 Plus Camera: Our Take!

  1. We felt that there was a slight tinge of over saturation in the pictures taken by the iPhone 6, with some colours (particularly dark ones) looking a bit ‘richer’ than in the pictures taken by the iPhone 6 Plus, which we thought were the most realistic of the three cameras. But when push comes to shove, the difference between the 6 and 6 Plus’ cameras is really marginal.
  2. What, however, cannot be denied is that the cameras of the newer iPhones are a significant notch above that of the iPhone 5S in terms of detail. We found much more detail in the pictures taken by both the 6 and the 6 Plus as compared to the iPhone 5S.
  3. Speed of focus and operation is noticeably faster in both the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus. Focus locks on very fast and there is almost no shutter lag.
  4. The flash also works much better in the 6 and 6 Plus, filling light in much better than in the iPhone 5S.
  5. The optical image stabilisation of the 6 Plus might make its presence felt in some circumstances (specially in those 240FPS slow motion videos), but truth be told, in routine use, we could see no significant improvement in stills and videos over those of the iPhone 6. That said, both the 6 and 6 Plus delivered significantly better videos than the iPhone 5S.
  6. In sum: the iPhone 5S remains a very good phone camera. The 6 and 6 Plus improve on it. Once again, we are not going to get into the “unmatched, amazing” adjective zone as we have seen some very phone cameras out there (the OnePlus One, the Xperia Z3 and of course, the camera masquerading as a phone, the Lumia 1020), but we can say that the iPhone’s tradition for simple, speedy and consistently good quality photography has not only been adhered to, but enhanced!

Better? But how much better?

The big question is: is the improvement in camera significant enough to warrant an upgrade from the 5S to either of these two devices? THAT is a very tough question to answer. None of these cameras are actually bad. In fact, for sheer consistency, we still think the iPhone 5S is good enough to give most camera phones out there a run for their money. The 6 and the 6 Plus are definitely and noticeably better.

But is the improvement a huge one? After almost half a day of using all three, we cannot say for sure. What we can say is that the improvement in the iPhone camera in this generation is a bit reminiscent of the upgrade from the iPhone 4S to the iPhone 5, where the change was discernible, but not exactly eye-popping (unless you really value those slow motion videos). Further complicating matters is the fact that the iPhone 5S is actually the easiest of the three to use – the 6 Plus can be difficult to handle, thanks to its size, and the 6 is easier only in comparison, it is still tougher to use than the 5S.

Conclusion: which one for me?

Our conclusions on the cameras of the iPhone 5S, 6 and 6 Plus are therefore, as follows:

  1. If you really do a lot of intense photography on your phone, go right ahead and grab the iPhone 6 Plus, as it certainly seems to do the most realistic colours. Just make sure you have a wallet and hands that are big enough. And do not always curse that big screen – it will help you edit pictures a lot better.
  2. Already have an iPhone 5S and want a better camera, but don’t have the budget (and/or the mitts) to accommodate the iPhone 6 Plus? Get the iPhone 6.
  3. If you want a great camera phone that is easy to handle and costs in the vicinity of Rs 40,000 (at which it is available on many online retailers), we think the iPhone 5S remains one of the best choices simply for its ease of use.
  4. But here comes the biggie: if you are a casual photographer and already have the iPhone 5S, and you are not the type that gets crazy about details and super still/super slow videos, you don’t really need to upgrade only for the camera. You still have a very good camera on that device. And it is easiest to handle too.

There are many differences between the new iPhones and their predecessors, but the cameras, while significantly better, are unlike to be in the league of deal makers and breakers, unless you are a die hard cell shutterbug!


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Nimish Dubey has been writing for more than a decade now (well, Windows 3.1 was around and Apple was on the verge of being finished when he started). He has been published in a number of publications including The Times of India, Mint, The Economic Times, Mid-Day and Femina on subjects that vary from tech write -ups to book reviews to music album round ups. He managed to interview Michael Schumacher once and write two books for young adults along the way.