Apple iPhone 6s Review

Apple iPhone 6s Review ImageApple iPhone 6s Review Image

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Introduction

Apple announced its iPhone 6s back in September 2015, marking an update to the previous version of its popular smartphone, the iPhone 6. As with the 6 it is available in a standard version and also a larger, Plus version.

In our review we’ll be concentrating on the specifications, usability and performance of the inbuilt camera(s), rather than commenting too much on its overall use as a smartphone, but if elements of usability are applicable to photographers, that may be mentioned too.

The iPhone 6s uses an iSight camera, which features 12 megapixels. Apple also says that it features a new “state-of-the-art” sensor, a new image signal processor, advanced pixel technology, Focus Pixels, improved local tone mapping and optical image stabilisation.

Another new feature is “Live Photos” – this basically captures a 1.5 second video of the moments before and after the shot has been taken. You can play back the video on the phone, or other compatible Apple devices.

One of the biggest new improvements for the iPhone 6s is the ability to record 4K video capture – you can also record in standard 1080p HD if you prefer. On the front of the camera is a 5 Megapixel FaceTime camera, which allows you to capture self-portraits, as well as for use during video calls.

The iPhone 6s, like all iPhones, does not have expandable memory, and is available to buy in 16GB, 64GB and 128GB varieties. You can also sign up for storage via iCloud, with a small amount for free, and more available to buy via subscription.

Ease of Use

Apple uses iOS for its operating system, which is reasonably dissimilar from Android, but if you’ve ever used an iPhone before, of course you will be naturally at home with the iPhone 6s.

You can access the camera module directly from the locked screen by either pressing the home button, or the lock button and swiping up with your finger from the bottom right hand corner of the screen. This makes it very quick to access the camera when you just want to grab a quick shot. You’ll be able to look at images taken in in the current camera session in playback, but if you want to see any older photos you’ll need to unlock the phone fully.

Alternatively, if you have the phone unlocked, you can use the camera icon to open the camera app. By default, this is found in the top right hand corner of the first home screen, but you can move it elsewhere, if you prefer. Apple has introduced 3D touch for the iPhone 6s, and that’s something you can use at this point. If you give the screen a firmer touch on the camera app icon, you’ll see that you can go straight to “take selfie” “record video”, “record slow mo” or “take photo”. Alternatively you can simply tap the camera app once to dive straight into the standard app.

Either way, once you’ve opened up the app, you don’t have a huge amount of options to work with. Most Android phones give you lots of control over how your image looks, but iPhones are a lot simpler in operation.

Along the bottom (or right hand side) of the screen, you’ll see some different options for quickly switching between the various modes the camera offers. The first option is Time-Lapse, Slo-Mo, Video, Photo, Square and Pano. Simply swipe left with your finger to choose the mode you want to use – we’ll talk about the different modes as we go through the review.

Apple iPhone 6s
Front of the Apple iPhone 6s

On the top of the screen, or to the left if you’re holding it in horizontal orientation, you’ll see that there’s the option to switch the flash on or off, or automatically detect when to use it, the option to switch HDR on or off, or again, automatically judge when to use it, a timer icon, and an icon to switch to using the front camera.

If you use the timer, you can choose between three seconds and ten seconds, the countdown being displayed on screen. When the timer countdown finishes, the camera will take a burst of images for you to choose from, this can be particularly useful for self-portraits to make sure that everyone is smiling, or not blinking.

The final icon you’ll see in this row, if you’re using the standard Photo mode, is the LivePhoto icon. This looks a bit like bullseye and can be simply toggled on or off. When you’ve got it switched on, there’s no difference in how you take the photo, but you’ll notice when you come to play back that you’ll be able to watch a short video. To watch the video you need to press down firmly with your finger on screen. If you don’t do that, it will appear as a normal photo.

To take a photo you can either use the volume down button on the left hand side of the phone handset, or you can use the virtual button within the camera app itself.

Just next to the shutter release, you’ll see an icon which looks like three circles overlapping each other. If you tap this you’ll see a range of different digital effects which you can use to shoot with your photo. These include Mono, to Chrome, to Process, to Instant, to Transfer. To switch off using a filter, press the filters icon again and select the middle option, or “None”.

Apple iPhone 6s
Rear of the Apple iPhone 6s

So now to go through some of the camera modes. Time-Lapse will take a photo at set intervals, and merge them all together in one time-lapse video. This is done quickly in-camera and is a great fun tool for creating videos of sunsets, lots of people / vehicles moving around, and so on. In theory it would also be good for something that unfolds over a longer period of time, but it seems unlikely you’d want to have your phone out of action just to record a time-lapse.

Slo-Mo mode is again pretty self-explanatory. This is a video mode that shoots at a very fast frame rate to capture a slow motion effect. You simply press record and the slow motion video will be recorded. By default, when you play back the video, the first second or so will play at normal speed, then the video will slow down, then speed up to normal again at the end of the video. You can however change the section which is fast or slow, depending on your preference. Again, this is a nifty feature which has some fun applications.

Video allows you to record video. The iPhone 6s can record 4K, but if you want to do that, you need to change the settings from the main iPhone Settings menu. By default, the camera will shoot in full 1080p HD. You should probably remember to change the settings back to 1080p once you’ve recorded something in 4K to save space on your phone – bearing in mind there’s no possibility to expand the phone’s internal storage.

Apple iPhone 6s
The Apple iPhone 6s – Image Displayed

Photo mode takes shots in the native 4:3 ratio, with the ability to use all of the settings we’ve previously mentioned. Square mode takes photos in a 1:1 ratio, priming them ready for an Instagram-like crop. Panorama means you can sweep your phone across a scene to capture an ultra-wide point of view. This is merged together in camera to give you your panoramic shot.

Although there’s not much in the way of manual edits that can be made with the iPhone 6s, you can adjust brightness by swiping your finger up and down the screen to add positive or negative exposure compensation. Changing the autofocus point is achieved by a tap of your finger at the point you need – this will also change the metering as it will meter off where you’re focusing. If a photo is under or over exposing because of high contrast, you can “trick” the iPhone into exposing differently by focusing on a slightly different area of the screen to force it to meter from highlights, shadows, or whatever you need.

It’s possible to download apps from the App Store which give you some more manual control – such as Manual – this will allow you to set your own ISO if you prefer. There’s of course a huge variety of other different camera apps each with different functions and specialities – it’s worth having a look around the store to see what’s on offer, especially as many of the apps are free.

Apple iPhone 6s
The Apple iPhone 6s – Camera Mode

To look at your images you can select the icon in the bottom left hand corner of the screen when in the camera app. Alternatively you can select “Photos” from the iPhone’s main navigation. If you select the latter, you’ll notice that there are several different folders for you to choose from. The phone splits images into Selfies, Videos, Panoramas, Time-Lapse, Slow-Mo, Bursts and any folders you’ve created yourself. There’s also the Camera Roll, which is all photos you’ve taken on the camera in one place.

Once you’re looking at a specific photo, you can make some edits. You can change the angle, or rotate it. You can also change the aspect ratio. You can add the same filters that are available before you take the photo and you can also make slightly more complicated edits in terms of “Light” (exposure, highlights, shadows, brightness, contrast, black point), “Colours” (saturation, contrast and colour cast) and “Black and White” (intensity, neutrals, tone, grain).

The great thing about making these edits is that you can revert to the original shot at any time by clicking the red “Revert” text – even if you edited the photo days, weeks, months, or any given time ago. You can also press a magic wand icon to let the phone decide on what it thinks the best edits should be – this will work well sometimes, but not others.

Apple iPhone 6s
Rear of the Apple iPhone 6s

A final thing to say about looking at photos in playback is that you can press a heart icon to add it to your favourites folder. This means that when you’re looking back through your Pictures, you can jump to a group of favourite images, rather than having to scroll though potentially thousands of other images.

Focusing is generally very quick and in good light, pretty accurate. If the light is very very dark, the camera may struggle to focus, in which case you may want to consider switching on the flash to help the camera focus. Operational speeds are very quick, thanks to a new A9 processor with 64-bit architecture. This means that not only is the phone very quick to use in general operation, but when you’re flicking through images, zooming in on images, or using imaging based apps, such as Instagram.

The iPhone 6s’ retina screen is great and really makes images pop and appear detailed and vibrant. It’s great to look through your images (and others) while using it, and the increase in size from the iPhone 5S is a welcome one. If you prefer, you could go to the even larger iPhone 6s Plus, which is great for viewing images but is a little more unwieldy to use.

Apple iPhone 6s Review ImageApple iPhone 6s Review Image

Mac users, we’re pleased to announce Macphun’s all-in-one photo editor Luminar is now available for just $69£52, and now comes with 12 portrait presets created by Scott Kelby, plus 1 month of access to KelbyOne photography training.

Use coupon code “PHOTOBLOG” to save another $10 on Luminar.

We rated Luminar as “Highly Recommended”. Visit the Luminar web site to try it for free.

Download Luminar & Try Free »

Image Quality

All of the sample images in this review were taken using the 12 megapixel JPEG setting, which gives an average image size of around 2.5Mb.

Apple stuck with an 8 million pixel sensor for quite some time before upgrading to a 12 million pixel for the iPhone 6s. This may have been a move to compete with Android phones which generally have higher resolution sensors.

The additional pictures don’t seem to have made too much of a noticeable difference between the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6s – you’ll probably struggle to tell a noticeable difference, and happily the extra pixels don’t seem to have caused in a reduction in low light performance.

In good light, images from the 6s are fantastic and are more than competitive for a compact camera – it’s no wonder that compact camera sales are suffering when you can get such great image quality in phones.

Colours are bright and punchy, but if anything are a little oversaturated – this gives them a pleasing look, but sometimes they’re not entirely accurate. You could change to a different filter mode if you prefer something a little flatter, or you could edit the photo after the shot, but it would be nice if you could choose different saturation levels before you shoot. That said, this camera is designed to appeal to the every man user who doesn’t want to edit, so erring on the side of over saturation is likely to have more mass appeal than slightly more muted colours.

Detail is also well rendered when looking at images at the sizes you’re likely to be using them at – that is the size of a mobile phone screen, or perhaps at A4 or below on a computer screen. If you zoom in at 100% there’s a little loss of detail and some smudging, but it’s not too bad at the lower end of the ISO run.

If we move up through the ISO range, image quality is good up until ISO 800, dropping off a little more after ISO 1600. As the camera’s lens has a wide maximum aperture of f/2.7, it’s likely you won’t need to venture that high all that often though. Images are usable at normal printing and sharing sizes, but if you examine at 100%, there’s a little more loss of detail than we’d like and some noise appearing from ISO 800.

There’s no optical zoom for the iPhone, but you can use a digital zoom instead. This is basically just a crop of the image, and is useful if you’re desperate but is best avoided as the resulting image quality is a little lacking – even at small printing and web sizes.

Because there’s no way to set shutter speed, taking long exposures isn’t really possible in the native camera app – but then again, this is a camera designed for every day shots, and not really for more manual creative photography.

That said, the results you get from some of the iPhone 6s’ modes are fun to experiment with. Slow-mo and time-lapse are particularly interesting for videographers, while the Live Photos are fun to use for events, parties, and so on – you may want to switch them off for more mundane shots though.

The front camera has been upgraded to a 5 million pixel device and while it’s obviously not as high quality as the rear camera, it’s great for taking selfies and produces some nicely exposed, detailed and coloured images.

ISO

There are 8 ISO settings available on the iPhone 6s. Here are some 100% crops which show the noise levels for each ISO setting:

ISO 32

ISO 50

   

ISO 100

ISO 200

   

ISO 400

ISO 800

   

ISO 1250

ISO 1600

   

Focal Range

The Apple iPhone 6s’ lens provides a focal range of 29mm in 35mm terms, as demonstrated below.

29mm

Digital Zoom On

Chromatic Aberrations

The Apple iPhone 6s handled chromatic aberrations quite well during the review, with some purple fringing mainly present around the edges of objects in high-contrast situations, as shown in the examples below.

Chromatic Aberrations 1 (100% Crop)

Chromatic Aberrations 2 (100% Crop)

Macro

The Apple iPhone 6s offers a Macro setting that allows you to focus on a subject that is 5cms away from the camera.

Macro

Flash

The flash settings on the Apple iPhone 6s are Off, On and Auto. These shots of a white coloured wall were taken at a distance of 1.5m.

Flash Off

Flash On

ISO 64 ISO 64

And here are a couple of portrait shots.

Flash Off

Flash On

Night

The Apple iPhone 6s’ maximum shutter speed is 1/2 second, which isn’t great news if you’re seriously interested in night photography. The shot below was taken using a shutter speed of 1/17th second at ISO 2000.

Night

Night (100% Crop)

Filters

The iPhone 6s offers a range of 10 creative filters.

Off

Chrome

   

Fade

Instant

   

Mono

Noir

   

Process

Tonal

   

Transfer

 
 

Panorama

The Apple iPhone 6s allows you to take panoramic images very easily, by ‘sweeping’ with the camera while keeping the shutter release depressed. The camera automatically does all the processing and stitching.

Panorama