Simon Ganon • Jan 22, 2020

The Evolution of iPhone Cameras


The Evolution of iPhone Cameras

The iPhone’s camera wasn’t a priority in early version of the mobile phone but has since evolved tremendously to be a central aspect of the user experience and a delight for anyone interested in photography. The fantasy of having a high quality camera with you everywhere you go has become a reality, and it has opened up new worlds for artistic expression by consumers but also business applications like real estate photography for agents, contractors, lenders, investors, appraisers - anyone who wants to use photos to communicate more quickly and clearly.

The bottom line is that you have a very high quality digital camera with lots of storage capacity, processing speed, and picture resolution sitting in your pocket, and it’s improving with every new iphone release. Let’s take a look at how far iphone cameras have come over time.

IPhone (2007)

Camera: 2MP | Aperture: f/2.8 | Screen Resolution: 480 x 320 | Pixel Density: 163 ppi

Image: Ryan Tir

When the first generation iPhone was released in 2007, Steve Jobs declared it was an iPod, a phone, and an internet communicator, all in one. It was the first touch screen phone to have a working browser as well as an mp3 player. Simply put, it was a brilliant innovation that forever changed the world. But as far as cameras go, it left much to be desired.

The original iPhone featured a meager 2-megapixel camera measuring only 4.5mm in diameter which is quite small considering the phone’s thickness. Its 1600 x 1200 resolution picture quality, though relatively primitive, was a welcomed development at the time. Judging by the camera’s specs it’s easy to deduce that it wasn’t a priority for Apple.

IPhone 3G (2008)

Camera: 2MP | Aperture: f/2.8 | Screen Resolution: 480 x 320 | Pixel Density: 163 ppi

Image: Yutaka Tsutano

The release of the iPhone 3G one year later is further evidence that early on, Apple had other ideas than an investment in a quality camera. With iPhone 3G there was an improvement in connectivity from 2G to 3G, and it included the App Store. However, iPhone 3G had the same camera specifications as the original iPhone barring the increase in diameter by 0.5mm. Its primitive software meant it couldn’t send and receive photos as MMS messages.

IPhone 3Gs (2009)

Camera: 3MP | Aperture: f/2.8 | Screen Resolution: 480 x 320 | Pixel Density: 163 ppi

Image: Pinterest

Finally, a little more attention was paid to camera quality in iPhones with the release of iPhone 3Gs. iPhone 3Gs came with a 3-megapixel camera with autofocus property where you can tap on the screen to focus. It also allowed users access to adjust some exposure settings. Most notably, for the first time, the camera could be used to record videos at 480p at 30fps. Another welcomed development! That aside, it still had the same overall build and quality as its predecessor in terms of resolution, aperture and pixel density.

IPhone 4 (2010)

Rear Camera: 5MP | Front camera: 0.3MP | Aperture: f/2.8 | Screen Resolution: 960 x 640 | Pixel Density: 326 ppi

Image: Reddit

iPhone 4 is one of the most infamous Apple phones ever. From being left behind at a bar by an Apple employee and then leaked online, to Steve Jobs touting it as an A+ upgrade to its predecessors, iPhone 4 brought a new level to the game.

First, there was an improvement in the camera sensor to 5 megapixels which allowed for better zooming, then an LED flash was added to the mix to enhance low-light performance. There were also improvements in screen resolution and pixel density as Apple introduced its Retina Display screen.

This 2010 release is the first iPhone to come with a front camera. Though at 0.3 megapixels it was hardly a capable camera, it made room for the introduction of Facetime which further increased the iPhone’s popularity. The 5MP rear camera could record HD videos at 720p in 30fps. It also featured a digital sensor that contributed to increasing the low-light performance of the camera.

One major flaw was the appearance of reddish lens flares when shooting with the iPhone 4 in the sun, this problem was addressed in the next version of the iPhone. With the introduction of Facetime, LED flash and Retina Screen, the iPhone 4 model laid the groundwork for the modern iPhones of today.

IPhone 4s (2011)

Rear Camera: 8MP | Front Camera: 0.3MP | Aperture: f/2.4 | Screen Resolution: 960 x 640 | Pixel Density: 326 ppi

Image: TNW

With the release of iPhone 4s, Apple made even more camera improvements, showing just how much of a priority camera quality had become to the tech giant. The lens flare problem was addressed, though it was still slightly visible. Apple increased the aperture in the iPhone 4s to f/2.4 and the camera was able to let in 73% more light than its predecessor thereby increasing low-light performance.

The obvious change was the improvement of the rear camera to 8 megapixels which was a huge leap at the time. This new camera was able to record videos in 1080 HD quality at 30 fps. It also could capture images in quick succession and featured an improved real-time stabilization due to better software. The resolution and pixel size were the same as the iPhone 4 but somehow performed better.

iPhone 4s boasted better picture quality and color accuracy when compared to iPhone 4. It also introduced face detection for still photos all due to Apple’s innovative A5 processor and the addition of a fifth lens element. IOS 5 update also introduced iCloud and Photo Stream but there was a notable improvement in the front-facing camera.

IPhone 5 (2012)

Rear Camera: 8MP | Front Camera: 1.2MP | Aperture: f/2.4 | Screen Resolution: 1136 x 640 | Pixel Density: 326 ppi

Image: Apple

On paper, the biggest improvement in camera quality in the iPhone 5 is the increase to a 1.2 megapixels front-facing camera, but there was an all-round increase in picture quality which is evidence that you can’t judge phone cameras only on specs. The improvements were visible to customers and the corresponding effect prompted Apple to state “Every day, more photos are taken with the iPhone than any other camera”.

The front-facing camera could record videos in 720p and make for a better Facetime experience than older iPhones. The rear camera had similar specs to 4s but could capture photos much faster and had improved low-light performance. There were improvements in HDR quality photos and iOS 6 update introduced panorama mode. Also, for the first time, sapphire was used to cover the lens to prevent scratches from ruining image capture.

IPhone 5s (2013)

Rear Camera: 8MP | Front Camera: 1.2MP | Aperture: f/2.2 | Screen Resolution: 1136 x 640 | Pixel Density: 326 ppi

Image: TLDtoday / Youtube

At this point, Apple already had a growing reputation for innovation in the phone camera, and they didn’t disappoint with the release of iPhone 5s. First, there was an increase in aperture from f/2.4 to f/2.2 to allow more light to increase low-light performance, and then there was improved color balancing and automatic image stabilization.

Apple introduced a 10fps burst mode and the ability to shoot slow-motion videos at 720p and 120fps. The flash for the rear camera was upgraded to dual-LED flash in an attempt to better balance the light in the surroundings and capture better skin tones. Photos App was upgraded to include creative filters and be able to automatically arrange photos into collections based on location and date.

IPhone 6 & 6+ (2014)

Rear Camera: 8MP | Front Camera: 1.2MP | Aperture: f/2.2 | Screen Resolution: 1334 x 750/1920 x 1080 | Pixel Density: 326/401 ppi

Image: Apple

Once again on paper, the iPhone 6 has the same camera specifications as iPhone 5s but performs much better. Apple introduced the iSight camera which had a property described as “Focus Pixels” that works to improve autofocus. This new technology is also known as phase-detection autofocus which was already in use on DSLRs and compact cameras.

The iSight camera could record HD videos at 1080p and up to 60fps as well as super slow-motion videos up to 240fps and time-lapse videos. It featured more granular exposure controls, cinematic video stabilization, better face detection, and a new true tone flash.

This new camera coupled with the ultra-thin build of iPhone 6 meant the camera lens couldn’t fit inside anymore thereby introducing the first camera bump on an iPhone, a bump which has only gotten bigger in recent iPhones. This makes the iPhone 6 camera a vital part of the evolution of iPhone cameras.

iPhone 6 and 6+ have the same camera specifications apart from the addition of Optical Image Stabilization in the iPhone 6+. OIS helps to reduce the negative effects of shaky hands during image capture using gyroscope and M8 co-processor in combination with the A8 processor.

IPhone 6s & 6s+ (2015)

Rear Camera: 12MP | Front Camera: 5MP | Aperture: f/2.2 | Screen Resolution: 1334 x 750/1920 x 1080 | Pixel Density: 326/401 ppi