How the iPhone camera has improved over the years

By , May 10, 2013

iPhone 5 promo video (back, black, camera closeup 001)

The iPhone may be one of the most popular cameras in the world today, but it hasn’t always been like that. The original iPhone (and the iPhone 3G) had just a 2MP camera, with no flash, putting the handset well behind the competition in terms of photo-taking.

Since the 3G, however, Apple has made sure to update the phone’s camera with ever iteration. It went from a 3.2MP sensor to a 5, and then to 8. And wouldn’t you know it, someone has created an image showing its improvement in picture quality over the years…

The following image is made up of several photos taken by Lisa Bettany, and compiled by Reddit user camerack:

all iphones quality

It’s pretty cool to see how the iPhone’s camera has evolved over the years. Each picture looks better than the one before it in some way or another, whether it be sharpness, lighting, saturation or color. It’s especially noticeable on the right-hand ‘detail’ side.

And according to the rumor mill, the next iPhone isn’t going to break tradition. Recent reports suggest that the ‘5S’ will look similar to its predecessor, with upgraded internals and an improved camera system. We’ve heard the sensor could be as big as 13MP.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/cameron.nelms Cameron Nelms

    3GS is really good with zoom!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000603361739 Osama Muhammed

      theres a tweak in flex for infinity zoom

      • Gorgonphone

        infinity??? OMG thats a lot lol

    • Ahmadjoon

      I think 3gs is one the best iPhones!

      • http://www.facebook.com/cameron.nelms Cameron Nelms

        I think it may be! :D

  • http://twitter.com/DominicMartin Dominic Martin

    NONONONONO we do NOT need more megapixels! This is one thing that HTC has realised and has done really well with the ONE’s camera! Nobody needs that many megapixels and it just ruins image quality!

    • Kurt

      You only need 8+ megapixels if you are going to print them out and print them out to poster size. If you are going to do that, get a real camera. My camera roll takes up way too much space on my iphone because each picture is so big. I wish we had 3-5 meg cams with image stabilizer like the Lumia has. And concentration put into image quality. Or at least, let us choose the size we want to take the pictures at. Some may still want to take large shots and then crop it. Choice is a good thing.

      • RarestName

        On my mother’s Galaxy Note I can choose the megapixel size. I believe there’s a tweak on iOS which can do the same thing as well.

      • Kurt

        +1
        yeah i know. i didnt want to mention how the galaxy phones can do it. if i did i would have been down voted like crazy. I didnt know about the iOS tweak, I’ll try to find it. Thanks bud!

      • Gorgonphone

        ummmmmmmm fact is you still can choose a higher quality setting than the phones physical max available by its hardware so what is you pony..?? and iphone 5 wins the phone camera wars against all phones that matter..

      • Kurt

        Lumia 920 has the best camera hands down.

        We are talking about lowering the megs, not increasing them. and what the hell does this mean, “…so what is you pony?” Actually, don’t bother answering that. I don’t care.

      • Gorgonphone

        Umm no one cares about any luminas dude most media professiknals still chise iphone 5 over all other phones soo

      • Altaykai Yamada

        Dont forget that thats your opinion, OK?

      • Gorgonphone

        Its fact thats its my opinion and true… You can think and say anything u want

      • Dan

        I think that’s joejonsen, he can’t tell the difference between opinion and fact

      • yahmed

        Camera tweak on cydia

      • http://twitter.com/int3nsive Int3nsive

        Better than choose the megapixel size, it’s taking pictures with the native resolution and than downscale (crop) them after.

        It Preserves much better the details and quality than taking them directly with a resolution that it’s not native.

      • Gorgonphone

        cropping and downsampling are very different things..lol

      • http://twitter.com/int3nsive Int3nsive

        Yes, I know.. I miss the “or” before the “crop” ;)

      • Gorgonphone

        false profesional digital canera are 32 MPX plus for super high res and large format images..

      • Dan

        I may be mistaken since I don’t have an iPhone anymore, but can’t you adjust the mega-pixels on the camera? If not on the native app I seem to remember on camera apps you could.

      • Kurt

        Not on the native app. Apple’s native apps are very limited. I don’t know any 3rd party apps that can adjust the mega pixels. But maybe?

      • Kurt

        You have a Touchpad right?

    • Gorgonphone

      more pixels is great for marketing though..lol

    • Falk M.

      At first people thought more MP was better, then they started to think more is worse.
      Folks, more MP is neither better or worse.

      The MP can make your life easier on huge print outs if the rest of the camera and the post processing USE those MP and don’t ruin the image’s fine quality.

      If Apple put a larger sensor in their iPhones you can be sure as hell that the rest of the camera will get improved on as well making the quality yet again top-notch for a smartphone.

      And speak for yourself, you might not need more MP, but I sure as hell will take all the resolution I can get, because I can still downscale my pictures, but I can’t upscale them and get more quality.
      Comparing Apple to HTC? Boy, I won’t even start on that.

      Some folks like being able to crop a picture and not end up with a particular element of the picture looking like it was taken with an iPhone 3G or 2G…

  • http://twitter.com/VuilzakFrak Bram

    Can’t remember the 3GS being such a big step forward. I thought the iPhone 4 was!

    • http://twitter.com/int3nsive Int3nsive

      The iPhone 4 was because of the display. When we took pictures and watch them on the phone, they looked better than the 3GS because of that.

      • http://twitter.com/VuilzakFrak Bram

        IPS and HiDPI display was indeed awesome.

        I looked it up; The i4 was the first iPhone with LED flash, had a much better aperture, is able to record 720p and has a backside illuminated sensor(?).

        But being able to focus is definitely a must.

      • http://twitter.com/int3nsive Int3nsive

        Yes, iPhone 4 has a better camera indeed, but the 3GS it’s not bad at all and you can focus just like the iPhone 4.

        You can’t only focus on the 3G… without the “S” :)

    • Gorgonphone

      the 4S was the first good iPhone camera..

  • Fraz Someone

    Is it just me or did the 3GS give the best results here? :O

    • TomND

      Just you. Look at the dynamic range. The highlights are completely blown out.

      • Gorgonphone

        lol 3gs camera was ver amateur when you open the file on PS on a reference monitor you instantly see it..

  • http://twitter.com/rick5up Ricky

    The 3GS has the only white colour hahaha funny

  • http://twitter.com/rick5up Ricky

    The guy actually has all iPhone O.o

    • http://twitter.com/VuilzakFrak Bram

      Maybe. Here at home we have an old 3GS laying around, i use the 4, my mom the 4S and my dad the 5. It’s not that hard to find friends with a 3G or the original one. :)

      • Gorgonphone

        i have access to 3 iPhone 1s…lol slowwww ass crap

      • http://twitter.com/VuilzakFrak Bram

        And I’m complaining about the 4 haha!

  • http://twitter.com/wamid Mohammed Shehab

    I think the 3GS shot was overexposed. I noticed that apple has tried to concentrate on giving natural colors in the camera. WYSIWYG. I have always compared the i5 with other cameras and it seems that Samsung just increases the saturation and it makes the photos look vibrant but not natural.

    • Gorgonphone

      3gs cam was very messy

  • http://twitter.com/JacobsLiveCA Jacob S

    Out of 6 which picture has the real color? Or is yet to be revealed by the upcoming upgrades by Apple? LMAO

  • http://www.facebook.com/jamesheckiii James Heck III

    This was initially published on Lisa Bettany’s blog over six months ago. She’s a professional photog and one of the devs of Camera+.

    She does this comparison each time a new iPhone is released.

    • Kurt

      I remember the photo shots of the skeleton key from last year or the year before. I wonder if she did that one too. I think it was posted here on IDB.

  • http://twitter.com/burlow burlow

    not much different since the 3GS. impressive.

    • Gorgonphone

      fasle.. the 5 camera is clearly better that 3gs 4 and 4s… only thing missing now is proper lenses

      • http://twitter.com/burlow burlow

        the 5 camera is marginally better. If you were to shuffle 5 pictures, one from each camera, I bet you’d have a hard time labeling all but the 2g/3G.

      • Gorgonphone

        Actually no… I have owner 3gs 4..4s and 5 and the 5s exposures are superior especially when it comes to image editing and pronting at 300 dpi

      • Kurt

        image stabilizer is needed, thats one of the reasons videos with Lumia 920 are the best and why iphones and others suck

      • Gorgonphone

        Lol if only someone cared about the lumina… Lol the sorry thring gets less live that the crappy galaxy s3 lol

      • genXhippie

        Plus, an Xenon flash with a LED light (for video, not picture taking).

      • genXhippie

        “only thing missing now is proper lenses”
        Not only, what about stabilization and an Xenon flash, so there is no more blurry pictures due to movement(s)

  • http://www.facebook.com/dante.arellano1 Dante Arellano

    More quality means more memory 16 gbs is readiculous in these times apple move on or let us plug in esternal memory please.

    • Gorgonphone

      Repovable memory is towo slow

      • genXhippie

        No, removable memory to not too slow. That sounds like something Apple would say, just so they can justify not providing us with this option. Give us the feature and we’ll choose on our own whether not to use it or not. ;)

  • MarcPhilippeB

    great comparison

  • http://www.facebook.com/jawn.weedbix Sandy Cook

    A popular camera? It’s a popular phone with a camera. Anyone who cares at all about photography isn’t going to use a phone’s camera

    • Darek Slaby

      Actually according to Flickr the iPhone has the most popular camera in use today beating out standalone cameras. That’s not to say it’s better than all other cameras it just means it’s the most popular one in use today.

      • Gorgonphone

        Exactly lol

      • http://www.facebook.com/jawn.weedbix Sandy Cook

        People are using the camera on the phone because it’s handy. The phone is popular, the camera is just along for the ride. Not exactly a popular camera

      • Darek Slaby

        It still makes it the most popular camera in use no matter how you spin it.

      • http://www.facebook.com/jawn.weedbix Sandy Cook

        Not at all, sorry champ

  • http://www.facebook.com/pez.granite Pez Tickles

    were the later pics taken with HDR ?

  • inf3rn0

    Hope someone in the smartphone industry will begin to investigate further on optical zoom..a feature that ALL phones as far as I’m concerned lack. Correct me if wrong.

  • http://twitter.com/klouud Timothy Polumbo

    I just want to be able to take low light pictures – my 4S produces very very grainy pix inside.

  • Joe B

    Cool!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ken-Hoey/1647349971 Ken Hoey

    All cellphone cameras have improved over the years and tell the same story. This article is redundant. It should read How cellphone cameras have improved over the years…not just iPhone! smh

  • http://www.facebook.com/naju.najeeb Naju Najeeb

    i think iphone 4s better

  • http://twitter.com/D_r_G_r_e_g Greg S

    Try taking a photo of moving objects. My wife’s iPhone 3G outperforms my 4 & 5 when taking photos of our son.
    Her photos are never blurred by arm or head motion. Mine always.

  • Hyr3m

    She hasn’t moved her guitar in all those years? j/k :P

    So basically they changed it twice and improved the “firmware”(/filters) thrice… and it’s still shyte compared to what’s “out there”…

    I’ve heard tales a bit more glorious…

  • http://www.facebook.com/jawn.weedbix Sandy Cook

    Your figures don’t negate my point at all. Better luck next time Tiger

    • Darek Slaby

      As I’ve said before, the iPhone has the most popular camera but that doesn’t mean it’s the best camera in the world. Two different thinks. Next time do a little research before making ignorant statements.

  • Ankush

    folks, I think the 3GS’ camera was average when it came out, but got better with subsequent iOS updates, specifically iOS 5.