The iPhone and its camera
I have an iPhone 6S Plus, top of the 6-series range. As a keen photographer, a user of a splendid full-frame 36 megapixel DSLR, I despised people I saw photographing possibly important events with their phones. God, I thought, for even just a couple of hundred you could go out and buy a decent little camera and get better results.
But from time to time I whipped out my phone for a quick pic of something or other and, grudgingly, agreed that perhaps the picture quality actually wasn't bad at all. Clarity/sharpness were lacking, and there was a decided loss of dynamic range when compared with the K-1's results, but nevertheless, the pics were usable. That's not to say I'd photograph my daughter's wedding with my phone, no, but for quick shots of my grandson feeding the ducks it was fine.
The iPhone and its camera
Apart from sharpness and dynamic range, picture size is a factor. Pentax K-1: 36 megapixels, 7360 x 4912 pixels per pic. iPhone: 12 megapixels, 4032 x 3024. No comparison, the K-1 pics are 3 times the size. But just hang on for one second .... my first digital camera was 2 megapixels; my first really good and quite expensive DSLR boasted a massive 6 megapixels - and it was good enough for professional wedding photography, so back then the iPhone would have been considered to be quite extraordinary!
With my Pentax I shoot in RAW. I won't describe what RAW fully and totally means here, but suffice it to say that a RAW image consists of unaltered bytes sent directly from the camera's sensor to the data file on the memory card; no in-camera processing of sharpness, contrast, colour or whatever, just raw unadorned bytes. It's a digital negative, if you like. Shoot in JPEG and the camera will say, hmm, a bit dark, could do with a bit of sharpening, etc, etc. The trouble with that is that the software in the camera was designed by a nice little Japanese chappie, who, though very clever, may not have the same tastes as you, and the camera's computer may not be awfully powerful. But with RAW YOU make the decisions; you open the RAW file in something like Capture One or LightRoom and YOU adjust the contrast and the sharpening. Instead of buying an off-the-shelf suit which sort of fits, you're buying the material and going home to measure, cut and sew it into a perfect suit. My Pentax has two memory cards, and I have it set to send the RAW to one and the native JPEG to the other. Later, at home, I use the quick JPEGs as previews, but the JPEGs later developed from the RAWs are an order of magnitude better. I wonder what sort of suit we could make from an iPhone RAW? I bet it's going to fit fifty times better than a native iPhone suit!
Yeah, yeah, yeah, but RAW from an iPhone?
But, I hear you say, the iPhone doesn't do RAW - I've searched the menus in vain - so where is this discussion leading? Agreed, we've established that RAW is "better" (for want of a better word) than JPEG! And certainly, we can, using standard RAW editors, do a certain amount of work on JPEGs too, but it's not the same as taking a RAW into Capture One and really getting it perfectly adjusted. This: the native JPEG just simply doesn't contain the quality in the first place, so if you try to, for example, sharpen it you'll only be sharpening what will forever be intrinsically unsharp. You can't polish poop.
At this point we can elevate iPhone photography to a whole new level........
The iPhone DOES do RAW!
No it doesn't, you mutter. Yes it does, I mutter back. BUT the iPhone's own Camera.app refuses to acknowledge that fact and will only give you a JPEG. To go RAW you have to use a different app, a third-party one.
There are several apps which will give you RAW, and I've tried quite a number of them, but I've finally settled on MuseCam. And guess what? It's free! If you look at their website you'll see that the app permits you to dick about with exposure, ISO, shutter speed, all that sort of stuff, before taking the pic. I personally don't use any of those features, preferring to let the camera decide, knowing I can fool around with the look of the pic within wide margins back home, in Capture One. Rather like my Pentax, it stores both a RAW and a JPEG at the same time, enabling you to compare what would have been against what you can finally achieve.
(After a photography session using MuseCam you'll need to use your Mac's Image Capture program to get the pics off the phone - .DNG and .JPG are the extensions. Then, the DNGs into your preferred RAW managment application.)
So recently I took the Pentax and the iPhone to Greenham Common, scene of much of my walking and snapping expeditions, and my first outing with MuseCam. I doubled-up most of the pics with both camera and phone so I could compare. Here are some results. NOTE: I've resized all of the examples to fit the web page.
The original JPEG from the iPhone.
The iPhone RAW, developed and manipulated to taste using Capture One.
Spot the differences? First off, the original was too bright - I reduced the exposure a little to bring it down. Second, I thought it was a little "cold" for my tastes, so I warmed it up a trifle. Finally, a touch of sharpening to bring out the details. In these reduced-size copies the sharpening isn't too obvious, but read on .....
This is cropped sample from the native JPEG of the log, but at 100% of its original size.
And this is the same crop, but from the developed and manipulated iPhone RAW.
Compare those last two. Where the JPEG is mushy and indistinct, we've been able to bring out a lot more detail from the RAW. Look at the cracks in the wood; look at how individual blades of grass have emerged from the indistinct green mush. Look how the blown-out lightest areas of the wood in the JPEG have been brought under control in development, getting detail which is lacking in the JPEG. Look at the dandelions - now flowers; previously yellow blobs.
To me, these improvements are substantial. RAW turns quick and almost-good-enough pictures into much more acceptable results, well worth, in my opinion, the extra time it takes to go in and adjust and develop them. iPhone RAW: the only way to get really acceptable results from your iPhone, if you just care to take the trouble.
Just for comparison
But for the purposes of fair comparison, I'm bringing you here the same picture as obtained by the Pentax: native JPEG, developed RAW, and crops from both:
The two cropped versions - the last two - have been further reduced, as even the crop at its original size was just too big for web use.
I'll leave you with ...
Finally, I'll leave you with a couple more iPhone examples. These are full resolution (ie, not resized) crops of the same central area of a bigger picture.
The first is the original straight out-of-the phone and the second is the manipulated and fixed version taken from the RAW.
Difficult to argue against RAW isn't it?