We’re approximately five months away from the descension of the iPhone 5 hammer, and the rumors are already churning in a frothy effervescence. So while the iron is hot, I figured now would be a good time to talk about what I’d like to see from the iPhone 5′s camera, as well as forecast what I really think we’ll end up seeing. There’s no doubt about the fact that the camera on iPhone 4S is the best digital imaging module stuffed into an iPhone to date, and I’d argue that it’s better than any other phone’s on the market (though I still have to test the Nokia 808 PureView). However, the iPhone dynasty relies on various purchasable applications for any additional manual controls, and the phones lack any sort of decent zoom or image stabilization systems. Will Apple significantly upgrade the camera on the iPhone 5? Here’s a little wishful thinking.
Editor’s Note: This Wish List and set of predictions is based around the fact that these are the features I expect to see natively, right out of the box. Don’t hit me with comments like, “You can make panoramas with this application” and “Just download the Image Stabilization application!”
iPhone 5 Camera Wish List
A Bigger Sensor
One of the most profound upgrades on the iPhone 4S was its 1/3.2-inch back-illuminated CMOS sensor. To put that sensor size into perspective, it’s slightly smaller than a 1/2.3-inch chip found in nearly every entry to mid-level point-and-shoot digital camera on the market. The iPhone 4S’s megapixel count was also boosted to 8. Personally, I don’t care about the megapixel count as much as I do the sensor size. In an ideal world, I’d like to see a 1/1.7-inch CMOS sensor on the iPhone 5, which is the same size hardware stuffed into the Canon PowerShot S100 and Nikon Coolpix P7100. That sensor coupled with a 10-megapixel count would make the iPhone 5 a bonefide point-and-shoot slayer.
The iPhone 4S also benefited from a lens upgrade, flaunting f/2.4 glass. For a quick refreshment on aperture values, read my guide, but I’ll give you the CliffsNotes. The lower the F value, the more light the lens is able to accept. So, an f/1.8 lens is far brighter than an f/5.6 lens. In the iPhone’s case, I want to see a super low aperture, somewhere in the f/1.4 range. Now the tradeoff with a wider aperture is that the depth of field gets very shallow. However, since the iPhone’s lens is placed so closely to its sensor, this will not be much of an issue. A wider aperture means better low light sensitivity, and it’s something that the iPhone 5 could really use to gain a stronghold on the point-and-shoot market.
In an ideal world, a team of engineers would design a lilliputian-sized set of telescoping lens elements to be used in a miniature zoom lens barrel fit for the likes of cellular telephones. While a minute 10x optical zoom lens is at the top of my wish list, I know that’s not going to happen within the cell phone market any time soon. In the meantime, I’d like to see the iPhone 5 ship with a set of lens converters similar to the OlloClip attachments. If Apple fortified the iPhone 5′s lens with a set of threads, various conversion lenses could be screwed on, like a macro, telephoto, wide-angle and fish-eye.
Yeah, I know there are applications out there that provide image stabilization, but I want it in the hardware. I’m talking about optical (lens-based) image stabilization. Optical Image Stabilization is the best method in most cases because it isolates the lens element to combat shake. Electronic Image Stabilization chomps away at resolution and is not as effective. This is a lot of microscopic engineering, but a camera nerd can dream, can’t he?
iPhone 5 Camera Jacket, or “iJacket”
One of my least favorite things about cell phone cameras is trying to hold the darn things steady. Every iPhone or any other smartphone I’ve attempted to take pictures with has been undersized, and I’ve never felt at home with taking camera phone pictures. Even though the volume button on an iPhone can be used as a “shutter button,” it’s still not enough to make me want to put down my point-and-shoot. So, I propose a “camera jacket,” or “iJacket.” This would be the cell phone equivalent of a DSLR grip. It would come equipped with a battery pack and connect right into the iPhone 5′s charge port. The iJacket would contain a shutter button, command dials, and a touchscreen LCD, and it would slide right over the iPhone 5′s front LCD. The iJacket would also sport a miniature hot shoe for mounting iPhone-specific flashes, and it would offer Mic and Headphone jacks for video production. My invention would essentially convert the iPhone 5 into a killer diller photo and video machine capable of snuffing out the current point-and-shoot flame.
Manual Controls, Dammit!
It’s bad enough that the current iPhone can’t zoom worth a hoot, lacks native image stabilization and has a terribly awkward body that prevents most people from taking pictures properly, but the thing is an arid desert in Manual Control Land. As a result, you can’t play with the shutter speed or aperture, and you can’t adjust the ISO in low light. I’d like to see these controls natively on the iPhone 5. Also, I want to see a Sweep Panorama mode, several built-in image effects and filters, and various other odds and sods like white balance and a self-timer. We should not have to rely on the App Store for these things!
iPhone 5 Camera Predictions
While the aforementioned idealizations are fine and dandy, the reality of a majority of them even making it to the iPhone 5 is highly unlikely. So until the future arrives and Apple buys my iJacket concept for $100 million dollars (they’d most likely steal it or take me to court and then steal it), I believe we’re going to be saddled with incremental upgrades in the camera department. This is because the iPhone 4S was awarded with significant upgrades in terms of the camera’s sensor and optics. If anything, we might see an upgrade to a 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor to compete seriously with the point-and-shoot market, and I don’t see much of a change in the iPhone 5′s lens. Maybe Apple will stretch the megapixel count out to 10 or 12, but it will certainly not be as wild as the 38-megapixel Nokia 808 PureView. I reckon camera controls will still be kept to a minimum, allowing Apple to push camera application sales like hot cakes at a Knoxville Waffle House.
One thing I can see Apple getting involved with is Face Recognition. Ideally, the iPhone 5 would keep a digital Rolodex of your favorite contacts by storing their faces in a list. When the camera recognizes a face from the list, their name will appear under their face in real time, along with other information about the person. The iPhone 5 taking the picture then offers the option to upload that picture directly to that person’s Facebook profile, email, or flickr account. So if one of my friends took a picture of me on an iPhone 5, that image could automatically be uploaded to my Facebook account right after the shutter button simulation sound. There’s still an untapped world when it comes to the marriage of cameras and wireless connections, and Apple will likely lead the charge.
But I don’t have my hopes up. Yes, I’ll be one of the millions replacing my iPhone 4 with a shiny new iPhone 5, but I’ll still keep a point-and-shoot in my pocket and a DSLR slung around my neck. Unless of course, Apple buys my iJacket for $100 million dollars.