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The 10 Key Improvements to the iPhone 4S Camera

Dan Marcolina, author of iPhone Obsessed, shares the ten hardware and software improvements to the iPhone 4S that will let you take photos better and faster than ever before.

Come see Dan Marcolina at the West 14th Street Apple store in New York City, 7 pm, December 5.

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1. The Eight Megapixel Improved Backside Illumination Sensor (Keep in mind my book iPhone Obsessed was all done with the iPhone 3s, which is only a 3 megapixel camera).

The creative benefit is that more details in pictures allow larger prints, and zooming into and cropping sections of images don't get pixelated as quickly. You can create images that are as good as most point-and-shoot cameras, and you can use this extra detail to your advantage when composing a picture, as the subtlety of overlapping lines and texture allows another level of composition. See a great comparison here.

The downside is that the low-fi quality of mobile images was sometimes where the charm was, but you can always down-sample an image for working on it. Also, I have found that putting an effect from certain apps at the higher resolution does not give it quite as strong of an effect.

2. Lens Quality Is One Half Stop Faster (2.4 instead of 2.8 on iPhone 4)

The creative benefit is that quicker shutter speed lets you shoot in lower light, plus the DOF blur effect is a bit more pronounced.

3.  Five Element Lens with Hybrid Infrared Filter 

The creative benefit is sharper pictures, truer color, and less fringing and distortion. The downside is that IR photography people can no longer get that sought after effect.  Read more about the IR filter here.

4. Faster Processor (twice as fast as the competition)

The creative benefits are that it allows 30 percent faster picture taking, because sometimes picture possibilities are fleeting. Faster app processing means you can try more ideas faster.

5.  Real-Time Stabilization Uses the iPhone's Gyroscope to Smooth Out Movement

The creative benefit is less hand movement blur. Quick street shoots become more controllable.

6.  Capture An Image With The Volume Button And Also Use The Headphone Button On The Wire!

The creative benefit is more natural shooting, or sneak a picture a bit more easily with the wire as a remote control.


7.  Face Detection Recognizes and Sends the Focus to the Face When One Is in The Scene 

The creative benefit is that perhaps some creative face tracking app will come out of this.

8. Get Easy Access to Your Last Image by Swiping to the Right from the Camera Screen

The creative benefit is when you cannot really see the screen too well from the angle you are shooting or sun is too bright on the screen, you can quickly swipe and inspect the focus, composition and exposure of all the previous pictures you shot. And tapping once brings up the camera again.

9.  You Can Turn on the Grid in the Viewfinder

The creative benefit is that it helps you keep lines straight on buildings, etc., and is good for handheld HDR to help keep the 2 exposures aligned.

10.  Double Tap the Home Screen to Open the Camera (you can even bypass the passcode)

The creative benefit is that you never miss the moment.

(I don't include the HDR software function as an asset as the images using this setting have not impressed me and actually look worse then just the regular single image).

What Shots I Have Tried

For me, the lower light capability has opened up 50 percent more shooting possibilities (keep in mind I am coming from the 3s). For instance, indoors or in stores with dusk or morning light allows me to capture softer subtler moments. When combined with Slow Shutter App, some pretty neat things can happen. A lot my techniques in the book and app are expanded because you can discover more and different situations to apply them to.

More megapixels allows me to shoot more images of the sort I might shoot with my full frame Canon DSLR, revealing a story and composition through layering of details rather then shying away from "rich" images. Also, with more pixels and without a telephoto zoom lens, I can zoom in and crop an image to get a better composition.

Still, this is no substitution for a true long lens image from a full frame DSLR with incredible low light performance, true depth of field, and and great layers of detail that help tell the story.  But there are workarounds.  Consider this.

I do think point and shoot cameras will soon be eclipsed by the mobile phone cameras. This will happen when they can perfect ideas like this for a zoom lens, and as players like Schneider get involved with refined products like iPro Lens.

The ability to manipulate and share anywhere with apps will never be as prolific or universal or as cheap on a "point and shoot" as it is on an iPhone.

Some cool new apps that I plan to feature soon are:

  • Big lens (a DOF blur app with grate control and different preset looks)
  • Slow Shutter (extend your picture taking into the dark by overlaping multiple exposures to build up exposure)
  • Scratch Cam (this update allows for fine tuning image effects)
  • Orasis ( a different take on HDR with a little more natural look and feel)
  • Blurb Mobile (for building online stories with your pictures and sounds and videos)
  • FilterForge2 (for working with multiple layers in high res)
  • PS Touch (Photoshop touch for the iPad and Android tablets gives you unparalleled control of compositing images and sending the layered results to Photoshop for more refinement)

The instant availability of shooting with an 8-megapixel camera you always have in your pocket and the cheap organic creative discoverability of working with apps along with instant sharing and stealing of visual ideas via social networks like Instagram has just opened the door for many more creative minds to explore without preconceived rules or hardware limitations. In the hands of professional artists with a sense of style and vision or in the hands of the intuitive first timer, this combination of factors can only lead to a rapid flow of new forms of image making.

This intuitive exponential remix of fine art, alternative processing, illustration and computer graphics is hard to pin down, but I believe it has created a distinct and undeniable new art movement that is about to overflow into galleries and museums. It is an exhilarating time in photography's history--one that levels the playing field and can be shared by a wider range of people then ever before.

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