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Camera shootout: How the iPhone 6s compares to the iPhone 6

Christopher Phin | Sept. 30, 2015
With a 12 megapixel back-facing camera, 4K video capabilities, and Live Photos, the iPhone 6s's camera is a significant leap forward from the iPhone 6.

Once shot, you can use 3D Touch to activate them (with audio), or set them as wallpaper on your iPhone or Apple Watch. Sharing them is messy at the moment, but should improve as developers use Apple’s specs to incorporate them into, say, Facebook. 

It’s a cute idea, and the examples on Apple’s website show exactly why it should work, but honestly, I’ve struggled to create anything half as compelling, and I speak as a man with an adorable two-month old daughter. Worse, perhaps, the frame-rate of Live Photos (14.99 fps according to QuickTime) is jarringly low, in stark contrast to the buttery-smooth interface throughout. Still, there is a magic to them: They remind me of the moving photos featured in Harry Potter—maybe in part because the low frame-rate somewhat evokes the flickering of ciné film. 

Still, I’m personally left a little nonplussed by Live Photos. The still/video thing just seems messy and unresolved, and if it’s just video-with-a-JPEG-in-the-middle, why is the frame-rate so low? Surely there’s enough muscle? Perhaps it can be improved with an iOS update, and I’ll certainly keep it around on my 128GB iPhone 6s for all the few extra megabytes it will cost me, just in case I do capture something I love. (16GB iPhone owners might want to think twice.) It might be that I just haven’t gotten my eye in yet for what makes a good Live Photo. 

What about real video? 

Straight video is the other big upgrade with the 6s, since it can now shoot in 4K. 4K is four times the resolution of 1080p, also known as Full HD—think of a grid of four TVs stacked in a two-by-two grid—and so one of the big advantages of it is that you get more creative control in editing. Whereas the jump from 8 to 12 megapixels is a jump of only half as much again, going from 1080p to 4K is a fourfold increase in resolution, so you can do much more with cropping. In the video below, for example, the first five seconds show 1080p footage from the iPhone 6, while the last 10 show a 1080p-sized chunk cropped, cookie cutter-style, from the middle of some 4K footage off a 6s. 

In other words, if you intend to output at HD rather than 4K, you do get a facsimile of a zoom lens with the iPhone 6s by shooting in 4K, and you have the option of recomposing footage after it’s shot without it starting to look blocky and low-res. 

Of course, you could instead target 4K output, and the native 4K footage from the 6s is good. It’s not jaw-dropping—certainly, nothing like the quality from a Canon EOS-1D C or RED camera, even before you start talking about the creative possibilities from different lenses those cameras have—but essentially like the video footage you’d get from an iPhone 6, just with much more detail. If you have a monitor or TV that can display at least 4K, it will look impressive, though if you’re just shooting fun little videos to share on Twitter, rather than raw footage for projects or for posterity, it’s (at least currently) overkill. 

 

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