Michael Rammell

iPhone 6 Plus Camera - Better, or just Bigger?

Gear, Product, ReviewMichael RammellComment

I've been an iPhone user since the 3Gs, which was way back in 2009. From there I moved to the iPhone 4s, the 5s and now the 6 Plus. The camera on the 4s was 'adequate' by today's standard, but back then it was excellent. The 5s was, and still is, by smartphone camera standards quite simply excellent. In my mind there is no question as to why the point-and-shoot market has had it's plug pulled - the cameras inside phones today are more than able to produce photographs of a decent standard. Of course, knowing the basics of what makes a great photograph in the first place will always put you at an advantage. I could be controversial here and say "and even if you don't know how to make a good photograph there are an array of filters to patch over that"...but I won't :D

I've even got a dedicated iPhone gallery right here on the website, so once I capture something on the iPhone, I edit it in Snapseed and then email it directly into the gallery.

Anyway, today's post is about how the iPhone 6 Plus functions as a camera. Is it an improvement on the iPhone 5s? Read on to find out more and see lots of iPhone photographs.

Richmond Park, London UK. iPhone 6Plus

One golden morning in Richmond Park I was able to capture this photograph on my iPhone 6. Sharpened, warmed and contrast-boosted using Snapseed for iPhone.

Lets take a brief look at the specs

Contrary to the title of the post, the iPhone 6 Plus' camera is definitely a better camera than the previous iterations of the iPhone to date...on paper at least.

The 6 Plus was released at the same time as it's just-as-new-but-smaller-brother the iPhone 6. Although the cameras in these two phones are pretty much identical and offer some technical improvements over the iPhone 5s, these changes don't seem quite as revolutionary as many iPhoneographers would have hoped. Improvements over the iPhone 5s include:

  • Increased dynamic range
  • On-sensor phase detection (or "Focus Pixels" as Apple call them) for faster and more accurate autofocus
  • A burst rate of 10 photos per second.
  • The iPhone 6 Plus does feature optical image stabilisation too, meaning it will help to prevent blurry shots, particularly in low light.

Otherwise, the iPhone 6 Plus maintains the same megapixel count of 8Mbp (which has remained the same since the iPhone 4s), it continues to have an f/2.2 aperture as well, which again was the same in the iPhone 5s. There are a whole host of other improvements too, most notably for video, but this review is looking mainly at the iPhone 6 Plus' ability to take stills (but, I'll talk about video in another blog post once I have something of note to share. I do shoot stills afterall, not really videos).

I should add that there is a timelapse feature, but this was part of a software update, as opposed to a feature exclusively on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.

"So what's with the title of the post then?" I hear you ask. Well, sure, it's a better camera in terms of on-paper specs etc, but in my humble opinion having walked around a Greek town, London, Richmond Park and used it every day at the day job and at home; armed with both the iPhone 5s and the iPhone 6 Plus (and my beloved Olympus OM-D E-M5) I can honestly say that the iPhone 6 Plus doesn't feel revolutionary in it's ability to produce cleaner, sharper images than that of the iPhone 5s. Side-by-side the two perform near enough the same. Which is very disappointing for me.

I'm sure I'm wading into dangerous waters here as lovers of Apple products can sometimes be carnivorous fish (to continue the metaphor) but unless you put them side by side in some sort of studio setup and really tested them and compared the shots, I can't see or feel much difference at all here in the real world in terms of the files that are coming out of the iPhone 6Plus.

So, to actually set them apart we have to look at other things, such as the screen, the size of the device and the handling of the device. The things that can make it more, or less of a practical and easy to use camera. So, I'm going to go through a few key physical differences of the 5s and the 6Plus and give a quick conclusion on each:

London Underground, iPhone 5s

Size

"Too big to be convenient" is my quick answer. It's too big to pull out one handed and swiftly swipe up from the bottom of the lock screen and snap away. The iPhone 6 Plus requires two hands. It's less convenient than it's older and smaller brother the iPhone 5s. There is apple's reachability feature, which is genius, but another issue is that the back of the iPhone 6Plus is made of a material that isn't exactly as 'grippy' as I'd like it to be for a phone this size. I always feel like I'm about to drop it! In fact, now that I've had it a few months I can tell you I have dropped it a few times, fortunately it's just been onto a carpet, or the sofa, or a few inches, but I can tell the day is coming where the beautifully crafted iPhone body will come to a blow with hard concrete (and likely come off worse!)

It's not just that though - the iPhone 6Plus seems oddly balanced in it's weight distribution too (If I am allowed to be hyper critical). It could just be that I've spent a couple of years with iPhone 4s and 5s shaped and sized phones so something this large seems odd, but even with my medium-to-largish hands it still feels like it's a phone that requires your full attention, two hands, no distractions and possibly even a small case with a better material to hold onto.

At the time of writing I've not extensively tried the 'plain old iPhone 6' as yet (the non-plus version). But my hope is that it's a better more one-handed and actually pocketable size.

So, in conclusion when it comes to physical size - bigger isn't always better for a camera. The iPhone 6 Plus is really a two handed device, which for me is somewhat of a step back as the iPhone 5s and previous iPhone's were ideal as a quick device to yank out of a pocket and make a photograph of something. With this you need to dedicate two hands and if that's the case, you may as well carry a more capable point and shoot and shoot RAW for later.

As a phone for emailing, texting, games videos etc the screen size is a welcoming sight for sore eyes, but that's if you're in a controlled environment able to use two hands to hold onto it.

Materials

As I briefly mentioned above the iPhone 6Plus seems to be made of a metal that doesn't grip well with human skin! It's forever sliding and slipping out of my hands. This is partially the size, but the phone often feels like an eel - it just wants to jump out of your hands and kiss the nearest, hardest surface screen side down (like a piece of buttered toast, with the screen being the buttered side!)

Windsor Castle, Berkshire, UK. iPhone 6Plus In good light anything is possible with an iPhone camera

Windsor Castle, Berkshire, UK. iPhone 6Plus

In good light anything is possible with an iPhone camera

Screen

Now, I want to be clear that as a phone, the iPhone 6 Plus' display is wonderful. It's great for messages, videos, viewing photographs and of course everything else, but that screen size for me is actually a concern; I always feel like I'm about to smash it. So, a case is a must with the iPhone.

If, like me, you've historically forgone a case because 'The iPhone has been manufactured wonderfully and I don't like the idea of covering it with a case'...well think again with the 6 Plus.

That's not to say it hasn't been manufactured well (which I'll come to when I talk about bending in a moment) it's just that it feels so prone to dropping that i'm just not confident It'll make it to upgrade time one one piece if it doesn't have the protection of something to keep it safe for each time the seemingly suicidal iPhone 6 Plus wants to leap out of your grasp in a bid to meet

Stabiliser

The stabiliser, as far as I can feel and in my resulting photographs seems to help a little. It's certainly more for video from what I can gather. I typically know the limitations of the iPhone and just put it away when it's too dark to use. The Flash still isn't suitable and with it being positioned directly next to the lens everyone I shoot ends up looking like they're in a 70's club with a sweaty, over-exposed forehead and crazy-huge catch light in their eyes. Red eye is a thing of the past though.

Anyway, the reason I mention about the stabiliser is because if there is plenty of light, or it's a bright day, then the stabiliser isn't necessary anyway: the iPhone sensor of the 6 Plus (and iPhone's as far back as the 4s) were able to record great images in decent light. So, the stabiliser has been added to get sharper images in low light. The problem is however is that whilst the stabiliser makes the camera nice and still and free from shake, your subjects are still moving around all over the place when it's dark so they're still blurry. But this isn't from the camera, this time it's the subjects' fault. You see, much like a point and shoot on auto mode often used to do, it'll control the aperture, shutter speed and ISO: when ISO is as high as it can go and the Aperture is pushed as large as can be the next thing the camera can do to let more light in is to slow it's shutter speed - when it does this to a crazy level (anywhere below 1/60th I would argue - it's unlikely you're going to get sharp photographs. But, seeing as you can't control these settings wihout the use of a manual-mode camera app for iPhone, it falls back into that old trap of: flash everyone and make them look sweaty (even though you're just having Sunday Carvary with your Nan) or put the phone away. Or...have burry subjects of course.

So, know your cameras limits and work to them and embrace them

iPhone 5s - Same low light performance as the 6 Plus

Know how well your iPhone will perform in not-so-favourable light and work to those limitations. Experiment as well.

Other features and general review of the iPhone 6 Plus

So before I come to a general conclusion about the iPhone 6 Plus as a camera I want to talk more about it as a phone and a device in general. If this part of the review doesn't interest you just skip to the 'Conclusion' section nearer to the bottom of this article...

Bending

Let's keep this section simple

Q: Does it bend?
Possible Answer 1: No
Possible Answer 2: If you put the phone in your back pocket. Yes, it could bend. If you put the phone in your front pocket and then lean over something, like a railing, or a fence then yes, it could bend. If you have a YouTube channel, too much money and a lot of time on your hands and want to try and bend an iPhone 6 Plus - Yes, you're likely to be able to bend an iPhone 6 if you do so with intent and have enough time on your hands.

Otherwise, please see Answer 1 above.

If you insist on elaboration for this section: with everyday use and even with a little bit of a beating: the iPhone 6 Plus should be fine. If you're prone to cracking screens or sitting on phones then sure, you're likely to bend the phone or crack the screen after all it is much bigger than previous iPhone's, so it's logical really that the chances of a cracked screen will increase if you're not the careful sort, but otherwise, you should be okay. Just be careful with your iPhone 6 Plus. Afterall, it's probably cost you the same as a mid-range laptop would cost, so it makes sense respect it. But, in short no, i've not found mine to be prone to bending any more than my iPhone 5s.

Boston Logan International Airport, USA. iPhone 5s The small size of the iPhone 5s makes it very inconspicuous 

Boston Logan International Airport, USA. iPhone 5s

The small size of the iPhone 5s makes it very inconspicuous 

battery life

The battery life is better than my iPhone 5s, but I am attributing some of this to the 5s now being just a little over a year old. I got myself a 5s because my 4s' battery started to plummet quickly. It's just age.

I charge my phone's overnight and they'll often need little boost at lunch time to get them through a day, or they'll be on their knees and showing 'Less than 10% battery remains' a few times. Which is never nice. The iPhone 6Plus is thinner than previous iPhones, but the phone is much bigger too, so it does have a larger battery. Then again, that large screen is going to sap a lot of juice, so the battery life is probably only marginally better as far as I can tell.

Perhaps more pertinent to this review is to know that if you use the camera on the iPhone throughout the day then the battery is of course drained much quicker too. If you're used to the battery life of an iPhone - none of this will be a surprise to you. My advice is, if you're planning on using your iPhone as a camera for much of the day, or if it's the only camera you've got, then put it into airplane mode to preserve battery whilst you're using it at as a camera. So, if you're abroad in a city or photographing your children in a play for example - having the phone in airplane mode won't be such an issue because you're not going to be receiving too many calls whilst you're abroad and you're surely not going to step out of a play to answer your phone, right? Airplane mode will save a good amount of battery and can be flicked off and on with just two swipes. 

Keyboard

For those of you experiencing an iPhone for the first time you may find the keyboard takes some getting used to anyway, but for those of you coming from a previous generation iPhone with a smaller screen, you'll also have to get used to a keyboard that is marginally different also. The keyboard is better, there's no doubt, thanks to the buttons being larger and spacing being a bit better, but if your muscle memory has registered keys in certain places from the old iPhones you're going to have to adjust. I find myself constantly pressing keys next to the key I want, but it's getting easier.

having said that it goes back to the one-handed situation again where the keyboard is too wide now to use with just one hand.

On the flip side though the new, wider horizontal keyboard is a breath of fresh air:

image.jpg

Pocket Sized?

No. It's not pocket-sized. the iPhone 6 Plus is forever sticking out of the top of my pocket in the front of my jeans. If I am wearing smart trousers with pockets that aren't quite as deep I dare not put the iPhone 6 Plus in my pocket as it does fall out when you sit down. It's size could be described as 'cumbersome', yet handy when you need a big screen.

Corfu Town, Greece. iPhone 6Plus

Given the time to use two hands and compose the shot, the iPhone 6Plus is probably a bit better thanks to it's larger screen

Power Button Placement

In a bid to make the phone operational with one hand Apple have moved the power button (screen off & on) to the right hand side of the device, instead of having it at the top like we've been used to with every version of the iPhone that came before it. It's odd at first, but the move makes perfact sense really. It does however mean that if you're watching a video, or doing something with the phone in a landscape orientation there is a chance you can press the power button and turn the device off. Which can be a real pain!

Camera Lens Protruding

The lens element of the camera sticks out. It's annoying. The back of the phone is flat and flush but the lens element is proud of the surface. Odd. Not a deal breaker, but I get the feeling Steve Jobs wouldn't have allowed that. 

Not an issue, but worth a mention. 

Conclusion

If I have both the iPhone 6Plus and 5s with me and both hands available (not holding my daughter in one arm, carrying a shopping bag, pushing a pushchair etc) I would go for the iPhone 6Plus as a camera: the larger screen makes composing a what you're about to photograph easier. Additionally, with the minor improvements, even it were just 1 or 2% better (what ever 'Better' means to you) then why wouldn't you use the best camera you have with you. Further more the hardware inside the iPhone 6 Plus does make it marginally faster than the iPhone 5s as well, so the camera activates quicker and is generally just more responsive.

However, if I were shopping or occupied doing something then the iPhone 5s is a natural go-to device thanks to it's convenient size that suits one-handed operation.

It is swings and roundabouts really. Your preference will dictate your opinion, rather than cold hard performance and specs making one phone the stand out winner and camera champion over the other. As a result of the iPhone 6 Plus not being enough of an improvement to warrant it's cost, my advice would be to stick with the iPhone 5s if that's what you have and not sweat it about the camera in the 6 Plus. In short, they're the same but the size it what separates them. Although, I don't feel like I'm holding my breath everytime I have my 5s in my hands as it does feel more robust.

As a photographer, blogger and someone who uses their iPhone for pretty much everything including note-taking, calendars etc. The iPhone 6Plus, if the circumstances permit, is a better all-round camera. But, if you're after something to pull out one handed and make a quick snap, then perhaps a 5s or the smaller iPhone 6 is the better option.

Sorry to sit on the fence with the conclusion, but in short you can pick one of the following cliches as your choice of conclusion:

  1. "It's horses for courses"
  2. "Swings and roundabouts"

Fact of the matter is the iPhone 6Plus camera isn't dramatically better at all, but the features of the phone probably do help it to edge  it's predecessors. 


Every single photograph featured in this post was shot using an iPhone 5s 64Gb or an iPhone 6 Plus 128Gb. The files have not at any point been adjusted, modified or edited on any application outside of the iPhone itself (i.e they've not been in photoshop or Lightroom). All photographs went through my usual iPhone post-processing method in Snapseed for iPhone



Subscribe to this Blog to receive notifications when new articles have been released

I don't ever send SPAM and you'll only get an email once every 2 weeks or so. Here's a sample of what you'll receive every now and then If you don't like it I make it very easy to unsubscribe! Come on, join over 600 other subscribers today!

Are you a photographer in business, like me? I've put together this massively popular pricing calculator for my subscribers. Download it today for FREE