Lab test – Apple iPhone 6s: the photo evolves with the handbrake

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Aina Martin
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The iPhone 6s, like the 6s Plus, are carrying several technological developments, including the photo part, which finally undergoes a boost on the sensor. An evolution that allows Apple not to lose face in photophony, but more to establish itself among the very best.



Apple iPhone 6s


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For generations, Apple's iPhone has climbed the mountain of photophony. A hegemony that has been undermined for more than a year now and the coup operated by several competitors, from Korea or elsewhere. The most striking banderillas obviously remain the photophonic successes of the LG G4 and Samsung Galaxy S6 (and S6 edge and S6 edge+ versions), which often surpass the 2014 generation of iPhone by a surplus of sharpness – higher resolution, in particular , obliges — or more extensive photographic modes. With the iPhone 6s and its "giant" friend 6s Plus, Apple is therefore trying to bounce back with a camera equipped with a 12 megapixel sensor, while the brand has been confined to 8 megapixels since the iPhone 4S, i.e. 4 generations of products.  



However, and no doubt always to segment its technical offer, Apple still does not bother to integrate optical stabilization on the 6s, a privilege once again reserved for the larger of the two, the iPhone 6s Plus. And this at the very time when, with rare exceptions (like Sony Mobile for example), optical stabilization has come a long way in the high-end, even mid-range catalogs of mobility on Android, but also in some Windows Phone. 

  • Find the Apple iPhone 6s against the competition in our Face-to-Face Photo.

Another stumbling block in the preamble, we are in 2015 and Apple persists on an aperture of f/2,2. If you follow the photophone market a bit, then you probably know that brands like LG and Samsung now offer smartphone photo modules opening at f/1,8 and f/1,9 respectively. The two Korean giants thus give themselves a little more means, in theory, to achieve a more satisfactory behavior in low light. We also note that these same Asian manufacturers have designed their latest sensor themselves (LG Innotek and Samsung ISOCELL). 

Almost everything in pixels

But then what is this new iPhone worth in the photo? Well, in good conditions, during the day, indoors or outdoors with enough light, the iPhone 6s finally behaves like an iPhone 6... but with a higher resolution and still a slight overall smoothing. The leap forward is not the most disturbing and we therefore remain in a quality that is very present on the restitution, but already outstripped by Samsung or LG in terms of sharpness and precision in the image, these brands exerting a cutting drastic improvement in the image and, today, a clever mix of algorithms between edge enhancement and smoothing. The colors remain accurate on the 6s, although sometimes a little too reinforced, and sufficiently contrasted while maintaining a very often surgical tone in portrait.



 Apple iPhone 6s

Samsung Galaxy S6

Is it also the habit of having used and tested photophones with "living" shots in recent months at the top of the basket or the accentuation on this generation of a slight downside that could be attributed to iPhones up to then (and it's probably a bit of both in the end), but the shots taken with the iPhone 6s clearly lack depth. Overall, if the shot is good for the rest, a small zoom in the image reveals a lack of relief. The plan, flat, often seems unique and this reserve grows when the light decreases. 

  • Find the Apple iPhone 6s against the competition in our Face-to-Face Photo.

In demanding low-light conditions, the 6s spares the goat and the cabbage. On the one hand, it offers information enriched by the evolution of the resolution of its sensor; on the other, it doesn't really take the iPhone family one step further. Beyond 12 Mpx, the 6s nevertheless offers more than correct behavior, but it suffers from a lack of ambition on the part of Apple with its all-auto shooting. Depending on the case, shots may also appear more noisy than their equivalents on the iPhone 6, the fault of inevitably smaller photosites on the 6s sensor – the size of the module not changing a bit on the outside to accommodate more big inside.

Below, the iPhone 6s, then the GS6. The second will capture more contrast and light than the first. Details that escape, at the top, the iPhone, appear on the bottom shot at Samsung.


Apple iPhone 6s

Samsung Galaxy S6

Beyond the intrinsic qualities of the sensor and the shots, it should be noted that the iPhone 6s is still placed without forcing in the top of the basket of the most reactive photophones in use. On prolonged use, moreover, Apple outperforms its telephony friends. You can easily chain 4K, Full HD video and go back to a photo machine gunning without the iPhone running out of steam. Be careful with the autofocus though. If he is undeniably of the fast race, he can also sometimes deceive his world between the display on the screen and the result, which can be more blurred than expected. Tactile focus, especially in macro or near-macro, seems essential.

There is also the arrival of Live Photo. Widely presented at the new iPhone launch conference, this mode allows you to take a 1,5 second video before and after a shot. An exercise already seen on the Zoe option from HTC, but here Apple makes it simpler and more user-friendly. To activate it, you have to activate the small touch button at the top of the photo interface (it then lights up in yellow). You can navigate between the different Live photos in the gallery, which causes a mini movement in each image of this type (guaranteed effect). To read it all, just press the screen. In addition to the Live photo itself, the user can use it to establish moving home and background images, whether for the iPhone, iPad or even the Watch to come in the background of the dial .

Welcome 4K, still no stabilizer on the horizon

Now on to the video. Known for its rather effective digital stabilization, the iPhone here in the 6s version cannot hope to pass a milestone this year since Apple still does not add optical stabilization to it. Suddenly, the video capture in Full HD, even if it remains of high quality, cannot claim to box in the same category as the Galaxy S6 and derivatives, stabilized and very nicely. In 4K/UHD, watch out for shaking. More sensitive in this mode, the sensor must be pampered and the user's elbows tight to provide a very nice usable image. In this game again, a GS6 or a G4 do a little better, knowing that these mobiles lose their optical stabilization in 4K.

It is still important to note that Apple offers to set, as you will have understood, the level of quality of video capture. The doubt was allowed before the release of the product since the Californian firm had never offered access until then to this type of adjustment and the user had to continually do with the best definition possible. It seems that the arrival of 4K has unblocked the situation since 4 quality levels have arrived: HD, Full HD, Full HD 60 frames / second and 4K / UHD.

A very useful little subtlety, the iPhone immediately displays the amount of internal memory consumed for 1 minute of recording depending on the video quality. Thus, a 720p HD video takes up 60 MB for 60 seconds of filming, while a 4K video in the same time frame consumes... 375 MB! Owners of 16 GB iPhones will have to think twice or thrice before stacking the videos in 4K, since it would take barely 30 minutes of film to saturate the memory of the smaller capacity of the new iPhones.

Also note in the downsides, the path to go to reach this video settings menu. No, Apple did not want to load its Photo/Video application. So rather than putting the quality parameters there, the brand buried them in the general settings. More practical, you have?

On the side of the front sensor, in addition to the passage from 1,9 to 5 Mpx, we can see the addition of a flash of a new kind to help taking self-portraits. Indeed, rather than integrating a Led flash on the front face, Apple has chosen to use the iPhone's IPS screen to create a luminous flash. Flash that can also adapt to the atmosphere to bring out the best faces. The exercise is simple, suitable above all for close self-portraits and could save more than one head from burial. The quality itself remains very decent and will satisfy most appetites for selfies, but there is no doubt that an 8 MP front camera, or even 13 as we can come across today, would be more satisfactory if the we are looking for the beautiful photo rather than the immediacy.

You will have understood, the camera of the iPhone 6s disappoints us slightly, but probably because we expected much more. Be careful though, the iPhone 6s really remains an excellent photophone, but the level has clearly gone up a notch in quality and ergonomics in recent months and the lead taken over the iPhone 6s is not offset by the arrival of this new batch. This trend will have to be reversed or confirmed very quickly with the iPhone 6s Plus and its optical stabilization. But the latter comes into play above all during video capture. Apple will probably mark the blow much more next year with iPhone 7 and 7 Plus (?) revised from floor to ceiling, but all this will probably not prevent (and does not even prevent) these new terminals headed 2015 to largely find takers.

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