The Apple iPhone 5 camera

I’ve reluctantly retired my iPhone 5. I say reluctantly because it was a great phone, at least in terms of its size, usefulness, and usability. What caused me to retire it was one too many hardware problems. I’ll spare you the litany of woes. Suffice it to say that I’d had it with its unreliability. But the iPhone 5 camera was pretty darn good.

iPhone 5, left, next to the phone I had before it, a Palm Pre

That’s what I am writing about here — the iPhone 5 camera. I shot thousands of photos with it, because it was the camera that was always on me, and it was a perfectly competent point and shoot camera that occasionally delivered brilliance.

I got my iPhone 5 on the morning it was released in 2012. The first photo I took with it? A selfie, of course. I still have that shirt.


It was a great selfie tool.


Actually, I shot people with it more often than with any other camera I’ve ever owned.

IMG_3019 proc

The iPhone 5 did surprisingly well in low light. I loved using the it to capture sunrises and sunsets, and I wasn’t afraid to use it indoors without flash.

Marsh nee Sears

The iPhone 5 did reasonable close-up work.


It was also a great road-trip companion. I shoot mostly my Canon PowerShot S95 while I’m on the road, but the iPhone 5 had two great uses: if I wasn’t sure I’d remember exactly where I took a shot, the iPhone 5 would do that for me, because it geotagged each photo. And it was great for letting me update Facebook or text friends with what I was seeing, from the scene.

Brick Route 66
On the Dixie

But mostly I used my iPhone 5 to say, “I’m here, doing this, right now.” It was a whole new use of a camera to me: a way to casually record a moment, and if I wanted, to communicate it wordlessly and immediately to anyone I know. This led me to take all sorts of shots I never would have otherwise — shots that, years on, invoke memories I might otherwise have lost.

IMG_1221 proc

My iPhone 5 captured most scenes with great sharpness and color. Sometimes, when I shot a scene with my wonderful Canon S95 and followed it with an iPhone 5 shot to grab geolocation, I liked the iPhone shot better! And focusing by touching the screen is brilliant and works flawlessly.

But the iPhone 5 camera isn’t perfect. Highlights blow out with it all the time, as you can see in many of these photos. And it can be hard to hold steady. Firing the shutter is accomplished by either an on-screen button or by pressing one of the physical volume buttons on the phone, and none of these is placed conveniently. And the Apple software that automatically uploads shots to my computer doesn’t always work.

I’ve used this camera less and less lately because the lens had become dinged and scratched, and those marks showed in all my shots. When I had yet another hardware problem with it recently, I threw in the towel and upgraded to an iPhone 6S. It was stupefyingly expensive — my desktop computer cost as much. But I vastly prefer iOS over Android, and I’m taken with the cameras Apple makes. But memo to Apple: my new iPhone had better be a paragon of reliability, or I’ll defect to Android and never look back.

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22 responses to “The Apple iPhone 5 camera”

  1. Jason Shafer Avatar
    Jason Shafer

    I have been carrying an iPhone 5C. Your uses, description of its picture quality, and annoyances with it are identical to how I would describe them. It also seems many of the pictures I take with it are quite grainy, primarily when looking at them in iPhoto.

    Mine, too, is dying a slow, painful death with odd happenings and its ongoing claim of having no storage space despite my having zero apps and 25 pictures on it. With it being employer supplied, I suspect a new one will be arriving in the near future.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yeah, sounds like you have the gremlins too. My iPhone 5 failed out of the gate and had to be replaced. Then an iOS update fried the SIM card, believe it or not. Then the battery had had to be replaced, and the earpiece died, and now the battery is acting stupid again. whee.

  2. davidvanilla Avatar

    Proving once again that good pictures are as much the result of the artist’s eye as they are of any other factors. Personally I have no clue as to how even to turn on an iPhone. Or any other “smart phone” for that matter. I could be missing something.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      You’re not.

  3. urbanhafner Avatar

    These days my iPhone (5S) is the only digital camera I own and the one I use for family shots. It’s perfectly adequate although the ergonomics are really bad. I always feel that it will fall down if I’m not careful. But hey, I always have it with me.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yeah, that’s really it. I took my parents to visit my older son at college on Sunday, and I got a group shot of them with the only camera on me: my iPhone 6S. There are photos I just wouldn’t have but for the wafer-thin camera in my pocket.

      1. urbanhafner Avatar

        Some day I want to have a small digital camera with a real finder. Ideally with a fixed lens as well. But for now the iPhone is good enough.

  4. J P Cavanaugh Avatar

    Wow, your iPhone really delivered as a camera. Those shots you share here are gorgeous. I hope its replacement serves you as well.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      When you take 5,000 photos with a camera, you’re bound to get a few that work out!

  5. George Denzinger Avatar
    George Denzinger

    Oddly as a guy who works in the graphic arts, I have owned and used plenty of Apple equipment, but never an iPhone. My wife has an iPhone 5S and I have to agree that the camera seems to do a great job. I have a rather mundane LG Android that works pretty well, but the camera is no great shakes. Kind of like the situation you describe, the buttons to activate the shutter are not very ergonomically friendly. Due to that, I find myself taking less pictures all the time. I don’t know, maybe I should get over my cheapness and try an iPhone next time…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      They’re stupid expensive. If you’re ok with Android, I say stay with it. There are Samsungs with great cameras onboard, and you’ll pay less.

  6. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    I’m consistently amazed at the quality of the iPhone camera pictures…my sister went to India and that’s all she took, and her pictures had so much better color than my pro Nikon stuff on “autocolor”, that I thought: unless you need a high rez file, why would you even bother dragging heavy stuff around?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve become addicted to shooting my Canon S95, a tiny camera if there ever was one, in RAW mode. My iPhone can’t do that! I dunno, I’ve got a mental block on using the iPhone for something serious like a trip overseas. I don’t know why. But when I go to Ireland later this year, my Canon S95 will be along. So will a film camera TBD.

  7. Mike Avatar

    Lots of great shots in that collection. Pocketable and automatic is a hard combination to beat.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks Mike! Part of the reason I stayed with Apple for my new phone was because the camera is supposed to be even better than before.

  8. Steve Miller Avatar
    Steve Miller

    Was that Brian Profitt toasting you?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yes it was. We’ve been friends since, gulp, 1979.

  9. Sam Avatar

    Great post on the iPhone 5. I had mine for 3 years, recently upgraded to the 6s. Despite the reliability issues you stated, which frustrated me too, I’m not convinced my new 6s takes better pics. I’ve got some great shots out of the 5 as well, it actually replaced some of my point and shoots!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yeah, the 6s seems to do about as well as the 5 as a camera, so far. Which ain’t a bad thing.

      1. Sam Avatar

        Not a bad thing at all Jim. The only thing is that my 6s seems to have ever slightly more lag which seems to happen because it’s trying to get focus. In reality, it’s less than a second most of the time, but it’s enough to cause me to miss the moment. It’s quite noticeable between my 5 and 6s.

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