Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

Evolution of the iPhone camera, from the original to the iPhone 6

Updated Dec 19th, 2018 9:05PM EST
iPhone Camera Quality

If you buy through a BGR link, we may earn an affiliate commission, helping support our expert product labs.

Though the iPhone today is capable of taking absolutely breathtaking photos, that wasn’t always the case. The original iPhone came with a rather pedestrian 2 megapixel camera that performed horribly in low light settings. Even for its time, the camera on the original iPhone left much to be desired.

But over time, Apple eventually realized that a stellar camera could be much more than a feature to be checked off on a box. Flash forward to 2015 and the iPhone camera is now a key selling point and cornerstone of Apple’s iPhone 6 marketing campaign.

DON’T MISS: Canon has an insane 250 megapixel sensor that can read lettering on a plane flying 11 miles away

With Apple later today expected to unveil the best iPhone camera to date, complete with a 12 megapixel lens and the ability to shoot 4K video, we thought it’d be interesting to take a quick stroll down memory lane and examine how the iPhone camera has evolved with each subsequent release.

First up, we have the OG iPhone. Released all the way back in 2007, the original iPhone was undoubtedly a seminal product whose release ushered in the modern day smartphone era. While the first iPhone undoubtedly changed the way we interact with and use our phones, it didn’t really offer much of anything exciting in terms of camera quality. Equipped with a fixed-focus 2-megapixel camera, the photo quality here was far from exceptional.

Following the original iPhone was the iPhone 3G. As the name gives away, the key feature on the iPhone 3G was 3G connectivity, a well-received improvement over the original. With the iPhone’s second iterative release, Apple was still so busy adding new features — both in hardware and software — that it still didn’t have much time to spend on enhancing the device’s camera. The result? The iPhone 3G came with the same 2 megapixel camera as its predecessor.

With the iPhone 3GS, released in 2009, Apple finally got around to providing some incremental improvements to the iPhone camera. The 3GS camera incorporated a 3 megapixel lens while also adding the ability to autofocus. Other features allowed users to tap-to-focus while also providing more options to adjust various exposure settings. On top of that, the 3GS camera finally allowed iPhone users to record video. While the iPhone 3GS camera was a huge step forward, it still wasn’t at a point where it was heralded as best-in-class. Still, it was evident that Apple was finally starting to take iPhone camera quality seriously.

The following year, Apple introduced the iPhone 4, an upgrade that Steve Jobs famously called an A+ upgrade. Relative to its predecessor, the iPhone 4 is arguably the biggest leap forward in iPhone camera functionality that we’ve seen to date. Sporting a 5 megapixel camera sensor on the back, the iPhone 4 also introduced improved zooming capabilities alongside the introduction of LED flash. What’s more, the rear facing camera was capable of recording HD video in 720p quality. Also of note is that the iPhone 4 was the first iPhone model to include a front-facing camera. Naturally, FaceTime video was one of the key selling points of the iPhone. Taking a step back, the Phone 4 was arguably the first iPhone release that signaled Apple’s commitment towards stellar camera photography.

In October of 2011, Apple rolled out the iPhone 4s with Siri was positioned as the device’s key selling point. Still, there were a number of interesting and compelling camera upgrades included in the mix as well. With the iPhone 4s, Apple opted for an 8 megapixel lens on the back that was capable of shooting video in full 1080p HD quality at 30 fps. Also notable is that the new camera sensor Apple included on the iPhone 4s boasted the ability to let in 73% more light. The end result was a stark improvement in low-light performance. Additionally, thanks to the device’s A5 processor and some software magic, the iPhone 4s was able to take photos in quick succession faster than ever before. Other 4s camera features of note included improved aperture and real-time stabilization.

With the iPhone 5, Apple kept the same 8-megapixel lens first introduced on the iPhone 4s. Still, there were a number of great new camera features Apple managed to incorporate. In addition to improved low-light performance, the iPhone 5 camera was touted as being able to capture photos 40% faster. Additionally, the front-facing camera was updated to include support for 720p video capture. The iPhone 5 was also the first time Apple used sapphire to cover the camera lens, thereby preventing scratches from manifesting and ruining photographs. The iPhone 5 camera also boasted improvements to macro photography and HDR quality photos. Lastly, the iPhone 5, thanks to iOS 6, was the first camera to support panoramic photos.

Next up, we have the iPhone 5s. Like previous models, the iPhone 5s retained the same 8-megapixel rear facing lens. The lens, though, did feature a larger aperture, improved color balancing (thanks to dual-LED flash) and a step up in the ability to auto-focus. Other notable camera improvements included 10fps burst mode and the ability to shoot slow-mo video at 120 fps.

And lastly, we have the iPhone 6. Per usual, Apple upgraded the camera when it released the iPhone 6, introducing the ability to shoot 1080p HD video at 60 fps, slow-mo video at 240 fps, and time-lapse video to top it all off. As far as the front-facing iSight camera goes, it was bolstered with an 8 megapixel lens with improved low light performance. Other camera enhancements of note included improved optical image stabilization (on the iPhone 6 Plus only), better face detection, more granular exposure controls, and faster autofocus.

Looking ahead to the iPhone 6s, expect an already incredible iPhone camera to get even better.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.