The Apple iPhone 6s camera

25 comments on The Apple iPhone 6s camera
5 minutes

The Apple iPhone 6s is easily the best phone (read: Internet device with a camera) that I’ve ever owned. It was robust and reliable for the five years I owned it. But thanks to Apple’s planned obsolescence, it had received its last major iOS update. In time, apps I rely on would stop updating, too. Some of them would eventually stop working.

Courtesy Apple. (I never photographed my iPhone 6s!)

I could have comfortably gone another year with this phone were I not having battery issues. The original battery was justifiably worn out when I replaced it in early in 2020 after four years of service. But before the end of the year, my new battery wasn’t holding a charge all day anymore either. I don’t think that battery was faulty. Rather, I think my phone just strained to keep up. After five years, advances in iOS and apps probably place much heavier demands on the phone, which strain it considerably.

Another new battery would probably have lasted another year, which would have been a cost-effective solution. But Sprint, my carrier, offered me a generous trade-in value if I upgraded to a new iPhone 12. I bit, and now own an iPhone 12 mini. It’s slightly smaller than the 6s. I like it, because I’m no fan of giant phones.

The 6s was the camera I always had with me, and I’ve made thousands of photos with it over the five years I owned it.

The camera on my previous phone, the Apple iPhone 5, was surprisingly good. The 6s’s camera performs much better in low light, which made it a much more useful tool for me. It also has more megapixels (12 vs. 8 for the rear camera, 5 vs. 1.2 for the front camera) and a slightly faster lens (f/2.2 vs. f/2.4).

The 6s’s camera is full of settings and modes, but I only used a couple of them. It has a square photo mode that I used a lot. I sometimes used panorama mode, where you sweep the camera across a scene for an ultra-wide view. Otherwise I used default settings.

For simple sharing, such as in text messages or on Facebook, I used the images straight off the camera. But I liked some images enough that I lightly enhanced them in Photoshop and uploaded them to Flickr. I post-processed all of the images you see here.

I don’t always have a regular camera on me when I come upon a beautiful scene. When that happens I press the 6s right into service. Or maybe I do have one of my good cameras along, but I want to share the photo online right away. Then I shoot the scene twice, including once with the 6s.

Central Park
At Purdue
Orange Beams
World Trade Center
Circle Tower
Mail Station

Another kind of photo I made with my iPhone 6s is “Look where I am/what I’m doing/what I see right now!” Because I can share these photos right away, I take a lot more of them than I would if I had a regular camera on me at all times.

Iron Maiden in Chicago
The American House
Beauty Is
At Willett Distillery
Anthrax Concert
Rainbow in Downtown Indy
Inside the Cadillac Palace Theatre
McCormick's Creek SP
Maker's Mark
Purple dusk

The 6s is, of course, a fabulous selfie machine.

Car selfie
Us at the Bungalow
Me, Margaret, Damion
Wedding day

The 6s was also an easy choice when I needed to quickly document something for this blog.

Verichrome Pan
Instant prints
proc IMG_2563

The Apple iPhone 6s camera has some faults. First, thanks to its rounded edges, the phone is slippery as hell and hard to hold. I dropped this phone more than once while trying to make a photograph with it. My iPhone 5 and my iPhone 12 mini both have flat edges that make the camera easier to grip. Still, any iPhone’s innate thinness makes it harder to grip than even a small, dedicated point-and-shoot digital camera.

Second, the lens is wide. Apple doesn’t list its focal length, but it feels like a 28mm lens on a 35mm camera. I prefer a narrower focal length, such as 35mm or even 50mm. You can zoom in pretty deeply, but it’s digital zoom. The phone interpolates pixels as best it can. The images generally look good on the phone, but at larger sizes the interpolation shows up as mottling. If you click this image and view it full size on Flickr, you’ll see what I mean. I suppose it would make an acceptable 4×6 print.

New Harmony, IN

Finally, even though its low-light performance is improved over the iPhone 5, it’s still limited. But it’s far better than nothing when you want to capture a memory. On the night I went to an Iron Maiden concert I made a few dozen photos with my 6s, but only this and one other photo was usable.

Iron Maiden

Most phones have good cameras in them today. The Apple iPhone 6s is no exception. It’s lovely to so easily carry such a capable camera. It’s always ready to go.

Mark IV
John Mount
Stairs at the Palmer House

The Apple iPhone 6s camera served me well for the five years I used it. I always wished its sides were flat and the phone thus easier to hold as a camera, like both my iPhone 5 and now my iPhone 12 mini. Otherwise, I wish this phone could have lasted another 5 years as I was otherwise satisfied with it. I’m sure my new iPhone 12 mini’s camera is better in noticeable ways, and I’m sure I’ll come to appreciate it. But so far this new phone isn’t so much better or exciting than the 6s that I feel its cost is justified.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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25 responses to “The Apple iPhone 6s camera”

  1. yuri rasin Avatar

    Hey Jim, i’m pretty sure you will notice the difference when you start shooting with the 12, much better quality and some new features.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      For the everyday things I shoot, the 12’s camera is as good as the 6s’s. I look forward to low-light work with the 12, however.

  2. J P Avatar

    I have never had an iPhone but the cameras in my succession of Blackberrys and Androids have improved with each new one. I have been quite pleased with the camera in my Samsung Galaxy S7 – which is becoming quite elderly. I will have to make a jump soon, I fear.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Isn’t it funny how phones can be elderly after just half a decade?

    2. Shirley B. Avatar
      Shirley B.

      I upgraded from an S8 (same camera as yours) to an S20 last year. Camera is even better. Especially in dark conditions. I hope you’ll be even more pleased with the newer camera.

  3. arhphotographic Avatar

    Greetings . I think you have exposed, pun intended, the reasons why camera sales are down and why phone cameras are sufficient for most people’s needs.
    I find my phone camera great for when I take things apart and want to know how to put them back together again.
    Many thanks for the post.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Oh yeah, that’s a killer use of a phone camera. It’s a use nobody would have thought of before. The phone camera has opened up new vistas in photography for sure.

  4. tbm3fan Avatar

    Fortunately I don’t use a smart phone.Mine is simply a phone that only does calls and text if I remember to carry it with me which I don’t ever manage to do 90% of the time.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I don’t like or actually need a phone in my pocket. I don’t even let it ring. What I have is a camera and Internet device in my pocket. That’s useful to me.

  5. marcusterrypeddle Avatar

    I have the 6s Plus. Great phone, but too large and, as you mention, slippery. I’ve dropped mine quite a lot and once had to get the screen replaced. My own fault for not putting a rubbery case on it, but cases tend to detract from the nice design.
    I usually edit my iPhone photos in the phone by applying one of the Photo app’s filters. Silvertone gives a good look for black and white. I might add a bit of contrast as well.
    You saw Iron Maiden and Anthrax in concert? Efilnikufecin!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I replaced the screen on my 6s after the second drop and major crack. Doesn’t cost that much, really. I don’t do cases on mine either.

      I’m a metalhead going way back!

      1. adventurepdx Avatar

        I ran over my iPhone 8 with my bike and it still survived!

  6. adventurepdx Avatar

    I’ve had an iPhone 8 for a couple years. It’s a decent camera, and it inadvertently caused me to get into film photography!

    Y’see, I’ve owned a smart phone since the end of 2012. At the same time I owned a digital compact camera, as the cameras on my two Android phones were adequate at best. Then my girlfriend gifted me the iPhone 8 at the end of 2018. The camera was so much better than what I had before in my phones. And the resolution was the same as the Lumix point and shoot I also owned (12 MP). The only thing the Lumix could do better was optical zoom, and I didn’t need that often. So I thought “Maybe I should get a better digital camera?” But I wasn’t thrilled with the price tags on the better options. So I decided to try out film again. And here I am!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      If only the iPhone had a 50mm equiv. lens. I’d probably never use my digital P&S ever again. I know the iPhone 12 max has one, but egad, that thing is huge.

      1. adventurepdx Avatar

        I think different focal lenghts is the main advantage of a digital point and shoot. After using the camera on the iPhone 8, I can see why digital P&S sales are in the toilet, and the existing camera companies are big on high-end cameras.

  7. Steve Mitchell Avatar

    It is irritating how quickly these devices run out of puff! My Galaxy S7 is beginning to show signs of battery fatigue – everything else about it is still absolutely fine, and the camera is amazing for what it is. But I am resigned to the fact that I will likely need to replace it sometime in the next year :(

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yeah, how many $800 devices have a four-year life expectancy? Exactly one: a phone.

  8. brandib1977 Avatar

    I love having camera access in my pocket for walking around pictures. In fact, I find myself using it more and more. Sometimes I pack my camera with the 75-300 and then use my phone for the wider shots.

    Also, I took your advice and tried to have my phone battery replaced but Best Buy says the battery is fine. They suggested that the newer apps simply draw more battery than the older versions. They recommended that I come back when the situation worsens and to consider a new phone. Sigh.

    But I tried!!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m shocked that BB wouldn’t replace your battery! Sorry to send you on a fruitless pursuit.

      1. brandib1977 Avatar

        Oh, gosh, no! Don’t apologize! I loved the idea as it appealed to my very frugal side and I had an appointment so it was pretty quick. They won’t replace the battery until it’s at or below 80 percent capacity. They claim mine is at about 90 but I can’t leave home without a charger.

  9. Sam Avatar

    Great review of a great phone! That was my main phone for years and I saw it as a do almost anything take anywhere camera. By the end the battery life was so bad it became almost useless but we all know Apple planned it!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s a crazy cycle, buying an $800-1000 phone every four-five years.

      1. Sam Avatar

        True but I think it’s better than how the camera makers got us to buy an upgrade every two to three years during the early days of digital. Today luckily everything including the phones are so good we don’t really need to do that.

  10. aagctt Avatar

    i am still using my iphone 6s. The same one that I got back from pickpockets on a subway train in Athens back in October 2016.
    I have too many cameras to justify buy new iPhone for better image quality and shoot envelope.
    Not looking forward to the day I have to upgrade the phone as well as the Macbook Air from 2011. They are both still adequate for my daily non-work needs :)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Don’t hurry. I upgraded to a 12 and I don’t like the camera as much as I did the one on the 6s.

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