iPhone 4S Camera Pros and Cons

Apple's latest iPhone comes equipped with an overhauled camera that sports many useful features. Even though I give it an overall "thumbs up," I do have a few nits with this pocketable point and shoot. Here's my list of pros and cons.

iPhone 4S Camera


  • Operates more like a camera. Press Home button twice to reveal camera icon. This helps photographers respond quickly to photo opps. Volume button doubles as shutter release. Fast focusing and reasonable shutter lag. Overall, an enjoyable picture taking experience.
  • Increased resolution with 8 MP backside illuminated sensor. Improved dynamic range too. Movies now at full HD (1080p).
  • Improved 5-element f/2.4 lens.
  • Useful HDR option that helps photographers tame harsh, contrastly light.
  • Responsive AE/AF lock puts exposure and focus control in the hands of the shooter.
  • Close focusing allows iPhone to serve as a mini scanner to record information faster than typing.
  • Handy editing controls (rotate auto enhance, red eye removal, and cropping) allow for quick clean up while reviewing images. Cropping tool is non-destructive. You can return to a cropped image, choose crop again, and recrop a different way. (Thanks Erik Wessel-Berg for that tip.)
  • Excellent image quality for a mobile phone.

with_hdr_iphone_4s.jpg With HDR turned on, you can better tame harsh, contrasty light.

no_hdr_iphone_4s.jpg You really notice a difference in this type of light when HDR is turned off.


  • Lens is at the bottom of camera when using the volume button as the shutter release. Much better to have the lens closer to shutter button.
  • Lack of burst mode is puzzling given the horsepower this camera has under the hood.
  • White balance tends to be on the warm side, which is great for people pictures, but would like to have a simple control, such as "normal," "warmer," "cooler."

Bottom Line

Highly recommended mobile phone camera. The iPhone 4S takes good pictures, is fun to operate, and responds quickly. Take advantage of the increased resolution and use the cropping tool to tidy up your images before sharing them with others. I love the HDR option for taming contrasty days.

I've also published the podcast, "iPhone 4S Camera, Ready for Prime Time?", where I delve in to the specs and features of this device. I talk about how the ISO and shutter speeds work together, more on the HDR function, how to choose spot metering instead of pattern, and more.

Nimbleosity Rating: 4.5 (out of five possible)

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Regarding "Cropping tool replaces original image without an option for keeping it too."

Editing is non-permanent. Go into edit-mode again and re-crop the image. Edits are also transferred to Aperture/iPhoto (via Photostream). Sooo cool.

Hi Derrick

I have also been fooling around with the new iPhone 4S. I moved up from the iPhone 3G so this was big jump for me. Not only does it have a much better camera the overall speed is so much faster.

Just last night I happen to found out about the fact you can do minor editing within the iPhone (Photo Stream) and the edits show up within Aperture. Really cool. I also now seem to have a handle on how this HDR feature works. It is sort of cool how you end up with the original image and the HDR copy. I did a couple of tests yesterday and I now do see the difference between the two images. I was a little confused at first because the EXIF information shows no difference except the image number from what I could tell.

Who knows what will be in the future with these phone cameras? But this could start to put a damper on point and shoot digital cameras.

One other note. I received word this morning Canon has announce the new CANON EOS-1D X DIGITAL SLR CAMERA. Information is posted on the DP Review Website: http://www.dpreview.com/news/1110/11101810canoneos1dx.asp
The price tag maybe a little out of my range at a suggested retail price of $6800. But maybe this will also mean that there will be an update to the Canon 5D's and the 7D's also coming. Lets hope so.



Thanks Erik and Stu for your comments. Very helpful.

Will start with Erik. What a great find about the cropping tool being non-destructive! I moved that to a "pro" in the article and gave your credit for the tip. Also wonderful that the editing information is transferred to iPhoto/Aperture.

Stu, in today's podcast I talk about how the HDR information shows up in the EXIF metadata. You HDR images from the iPhone 4S will have the field "Custom Rendered 3". You can check that by opening the image in Preview and going to Get Info.

Also, it's an option in the iPhone 4S to keep the "normal" image too when shooting HDR. Go to Settings > Photos > Keep Normal Photo So you can turn that on and off.

Thanks to both of you I have a new appreciation for Photo Stream too.

Great contributions!

Also the headphone remote's volume up button can to pictures.
So one of the cons don't matter. plus it will be less jarring.

Video stabilization is also a plus.
I am sure you have already seen this.

Burst mode is probably not there because of battery.

It seems Google has added panoramic mode and taking photo
while in video mode. Two idea Apple should have put in there
as well.