The iPhone 4S – Point-And-Shoot Camera Killer?

Apple Featured iPhoneography News Point and Shoot

The iPhone 4S - Point-And-Shoot Camera Killer?Apple announced the iPhone 4S today. There’s been a lot of grumbling on the Internet about how the 4S isn’t much of an upgrade but I don’t agree at all. Although the number “5″ isn’t in the name and it looks like an iPhone 4, the guts of the new iPhone have been given a pretty nice overhaul – especially the camera, which has a better image quality, better optics and better processing. The iPhone 4S camera has an 8-megapixel backside-illuminated CMOS sensor, a new 5-element lens with a fast f/2.4 aperture and the new dual-core A5 CPU delivers 1080p full HD video and shortens shot-to-shot time to only 0.5 seconds. Looks pretty damn good to me – especially compared to my ancient iPhone 3.

iPhone 4S Camera

For reference, here’s a table comparing the iPhone 4S and iPhone 4 camera features and specs:

iPhone 4S Camera iPhone 4 Camera
Sensor 8-megapixel backlit CMOS 5-megapixel backlit CMOS
Processor Dual-core A5 CPU A4 CPU
Video 1080p full HD at 30 FPS 720p full HD at 30 FPS
Lens f/2.4 aperture f/2.8 aperture
Auto focus Tap to focus Tap to focus
Face detection Yes No
Flash LED flash LED flash
Image Stabilization For video None
HDR Built-in HDR capture HDR capture with third-party apps
GPS Image and video geotagging Image and video geotagging

According to Apple, the new iPhone 4S camera has 60% more resolution, captures 73% more light and has a 33% faster capture rate. Those are significant numbers. More light and more speed are key measures of a better camera. The iPhone 4S can take 3x as many photos in the same amount of time and get useable photos in lower light than the iPhone 4. The new lens has 5 separate elements and a brighter f/2.4 aperture. It’s not something that people usually consider but the tiny little lenses on camera phones are one of their weak links so the new lens, which Apple says is engineered for sharper photos, is a welcome improvement. Reading between the lines it also looks like Apple has refined the exposure programming and image processing for more detail and better photos in a wider range of lighting conditions.

So is the new iPhone 4S a point-and-shoot camera killer? I don’t think so. Camera phones – no matter how good – aren’t a replacement for a good point-and-shoot camera. One of the main differences between a “real” camera and a camera phone is the size of the sensor. I’m not talking about megapixels here – it’s the actual physical dimensions of the sensor that count. In order to keep your iPhone (or any other camera phone) pocket-sized, a very small sensor is used. A smaller sensor means smaller pixels and smaller pixels mean more noise. Point-and-shoot cameras also have bigger lenses with optical zoom and adjustable apertures. The bigger optical elements have better resolving power and an adjustable aperture offers more creative depth-of-field control. The bottom line is, a current, comparably spec’d point-and-shoot camera should deliver noticeably better image quality than the iPhone 4S. And I haven’t even gotten into camera controls…

Although the iPhone 4S camera is a big improvement over the iPhone 4, I don’t see it, or any other camera phone, replacing a good point-and-shoot camera. Especially since the Eye-Fi Mobile X2 wireless SD card now allows me to transfer photos from my camera to my iPhone and then post them to Twitter and Facebook, regardless of where I am. Yeah, that means I have to carry my phone and my camera. But that’s a small price to pay for the quality and control of the pocket superzoom cameras I’m using these days.

Even if it’s not a point-and-shoot camera killer the iPhone 4S looks pretty sweet to me. There’s no doubt it’s going to produce better photos than the iPhone 4 and definitely better than my iPhone 3.The question isn’t whether it will replace my point-and-shoot or not. I’m a photographer first and I admit to being a bit of a camera snob. The real question is, how often will I use it instead of the point-and-shoot and will I regret using it instead of a real camera? I’m looking forward to finding out.

Official iPhone 4S Camera Page >>

About the author: Photo-John

Photo-John, a.k.a. John Shafer, is the managing editor of and has been since the site launched back in 1999. He's an avid outdoor enthusiast and spends as much time as possible on his mountain bike, hiking or skiing in the mountains. He's been taking pictures for ever and ever, and never goes anywhere without a camera.

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  • Charlie (Anbesol) says:

    I have long since replaced my “point and shoot” camera with my iPhone. For me, the features of a point and shoot needlessly fill the gap in between my M43 and my iPhone (a 3GS, at that!). By the time I’m using a Point and shoot, I may as well be using my M43 (an EPM1). If I were to fill the gap, it would be with a TOUGH camera! At least then, it offers something that isn’t just a pointless semi-bridge of the two categories of cameras.

  • Photo-John says:

    Thanks for the comment, Charlie. I understand where you’re coming from. I still prefer having a good pocket superzoom that I can grab out of my pocket. And like I said, the Eye-Fi card meets the main purpose I had for a camera phone – being able to post photos from the trail or an event.

  • Patia says:

    The Eye-Fi technology is cool but if all you’re doing is posting to Facebook and Twitter, why not skip a few steps and just shoot it with the iPhone? Oh, OK, maybe you’ll eventually want to do something else with that photo.

    I guess I’ll keep carrying my point-and-shoot for the superzoom and quality — and hauling the DSLR on “outings” — but I’m looking forward to uploading quick-and-easy photos from my new iPhone 4.5, I mean, 4S.

  • Omer says:

    Without a zoom, it won’t replace most people’s point and shoots. Besides, the Samsung has a pretty good camera too

  • Photo-John says:

    Thanks for the comment. Omar. I agree about the zoom lens. Right now I really like the pocket superzoom cameras. The Canon PowerShot SX230 HS I’m using now has a 14x zoom lens, manual exposure controls and useable image quality to ISO 800. You’re not going to get anything like that from a camera phone.

  • daveO Orozco says:

    Hey John,
    Good review…I forwarded it on to my sons and sister-in-law. I bought my 4 just to have a camera phone with more than 3 megapixels and not have to carry both a camera and phone and have been so happy I did. That was this Spring, now I must upgrade to the 4s as soon as I can.

  • Photo-John says:

    Glad you liked the article, Dave. To be fair, it’s not really a review. I haven’t actually had the phone in my hands. And I hope you did read it all the way through and notice that I think it’s worthwhil;e carrying both a camera phone and a point-and-shoot camera. There’s stuff you just can’t do with a camera phone – especiially good mountain bike photos. Although it does sound like they’ve improved the iPhone 4S for action photos. Still no real zoom, though…

  • CJ says:

    Time for an upgrade from my iPhone 3

  • ian drury says:

    I think that there is a place for a phone camera esp as iphoneography has caught on in a big way, enabling users to be very creative using an iphone with some extra help from selected apps like camera= and hipstamatic, snapseed etc.
    i’d personally like to ‘roadtest’ an iphone to find out how iIwould use it as a camera for my own style of photography, alas the cost to ‘try’ one is still to expensive for me at present !

    Unless someone has one to “lend” me or donate to me, all in a good cause !

  • Alan Davis says:

    I got the new iPhone 4s first thing I could the morning it was released. Thankfully, I didn’t even have to stand in line. I spent the last 2 years using a Droid phone for e-mail, twitter, angry birds, utilitarian photos, texting and as little web and video as possible. I say as little because although it was designed to stream web/video it was too slow for real world use. Additionally, I called the photos I took with it “utilitarian” because even the best ones were full of grain and too small to use for anything more than a twitter post. I have no idea how the iPhone 4 performed, but I must say that my initial impression of the 4s model is very positive. I took some photos today with and without the HDR processing (which thankfully doesn’t look like a lot of HDR images look) and holy cow they look nice! There is a little grain in there (you have to keep the pixel peepers appeased!) but it looks to be more pleasant and organic than the harsh look of the Droid grain. Even when I shot a pic indoors and pushed it in iPhoto the shadows did a half decent job holding their own.

    Will it replace my point and shoot camera? (Currently a Lumix LX5) I doubt it, but the biggest reason I doubt it is because my LX-5 still has a zoom lens, which the iPhone lacks, and it’s also a lot easier to hold for picture taking (I think my finger had a staring roll in about 10% of the photos I took today!). The LX-5 still has a faster lens & therefore should still be superior in low light – which is where I have had the greatest success using it. I doubt the iPhone 4s will be able to compare when lurking in dark shadows. In good light however, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between a lot of P&S images and the iPhone 4s. I have fairly high standards as far as image noise, lens distortion and image quality go, taking that into account I imagine that for the vast majority of the iPhone purchasing public the 4s will easily replace the P&S.

  • Patia says:

    Took some photos today with my new iPhone 4S. They’re pretty good for a cell phone — but the quality is no match for my TZ4. (There’s no zoom, either, which is so limiting.) The iPhone will be fun for uploading pics to Facebook to show people where I am, but a point-and-shoot killer it ain’t.

  • Photo-John says:

    Get yourself the Eye-Fi Mobile X2 card, Patia, and you can upload photos from your Panasonic, through your iPhone, to Facebook.

  • Patia says:

    Errr, I found out the iPhone 4S camera DOES have zoom. But it sucks.

    I want one of those cards. I will go add it to my Amazon wish list now. :-)

    Are there point-and-shoot cameras with built-in wi-fi or mobile capability?

  • Photo-John says:

    There’s no optical zoom. It’s digital zoom, which essentially just interpolates the image file. That kind of “zoom” is to be ignored. There are point-and-shoots with built-in Wi-Fi but I don’t know if they’re designed to interface with your phone. Plus, then you’re locked into one camera. Definitely buy the Eye-Fi card. It’s one of my favorite new pieces of gear from 2011. I use mine all the time. You won’t regret it.

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