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Performance and Image Quality:

Despite its name, the iPhone 5 is the sixth iPhone, and in the five or so years since the original model has launched Apple has had ample opportunity to polish things up pretty nicely. As such, the iPhone 5 doesn't really present any nasty surprises as regards its performance. Running iOS6, the iPhone 5 operates very quickly, very reliably, and in favorable conditions it is capable of great results. 

The touch-to-focus interface is all-but-ubiquitous these days, and very intuitive. Autofocus acquisition is nice and quick in daylight, and not bad in low light either. In most situations, under a mixture of lightting, AF is completely accurate. Face Detection works well when there are faces in the scene, but we've found that it has a tendency to detect faces that aren't there. Architectural details, the wheels of cars, clock faces... normally this isn't a big issue (sometimes it's hilarious) but if you're getting consistently odd exposures of a particular scene, it's worth checking that the iPhone isn't metering from a face that isn't there. 

Daylight. Low ISO

As we'd expect, the iPhone 5 is at its best in bright, sunny conditions. Although some luminance noise is visible in areas of plain tone (especially blue sky) detail capture is high, and exposure is almost always completely accurate. On the rare occasions when an image is completely 'off', exposure locking via touch and/or switching to HDR mode usually does the trick. 

Excellent detail in this ISO 50 shot - look at the diamond mesh of the fencing visible in the 100% crop to the right. 
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Even at base ISO sensitivity though, noise is obvious in areas of plain tone, like the blue sky in this shot. 
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At its best, detail capture from the 8MP iPhone 5 is hard to tell apart from dedicated cameras. Exposure is nice in this scene, too. 
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A tricky scene, taken under mixed artificial and natural light, but the resulting exposure is neutral, well-exposed and very detailed. 
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'Purple Haze'

Only a few days after the iPhone 5 became available, people began reporting an issue with a mysterious 'purple haze' appearing in photos taken with a bright light source just outside of the frame. There has been a lot of speculation to what may be causing this phenomenon. Some theories revolve around sensor blooming and chromatic abberation, some speculation centers on the new sapphire glass element in front of the lens.

The so-called 'purple haze' issue is most obvious when the adjacent area to the flare is quite dark, which is a scenario that is actually quite common in low light situations where you may have a single bright lamp in an otherwise dark room. It can also be triggered by shooting towords the sun, or with any particularly bright light source at or just beyond the edge of the frame. 

iPhone 5 - studio
iPhone 5 - outdoor (afternoon sun)

The most likely cause of the iPhone 5's purple haze is probably lens flare and internal reflections in the camera lens assembly. All lenses are succeptable to lens flare to some degree, and as you can see from the images at the top of this page, the iPhone 4S isn't immune either (ditto the iPhone 4 and competitive smartphones from other manufacturers).

For a detailed look at the so-called purple haze issue, take a look at our quick review of the iPhone 5's camera, published at

Low Light, High ISO

Apple claims that the iPhone 5 offers improved low-light performance compared to the 4S. It certainly offers a more twilight-friendly ISO span, up to a nominal ISO 3200, compared to a maximum of ISO 1000 in the 4S. 

This shot was taken under artificial light, at ISO 800 with some daylight bleeding in from the window. As you can see, detail capture isn't as high as it is at ISO 80, in daylight, but it's not bad.
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This is an HDR shot, taken several hours after sunset, of the moon. At small sizes (web and social sharing) image quality is perfectly acceptable, but viewed close up it is obvious that at ISO 3200, resolution is relatively low. 
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This ISO 2500 shot is well-exposed, and white balance under street lighting is impressively neutral, but like the ISO 3200 image, above, pixel-binning is reducing critical resolution, as you can see form the 100% crop to the right.
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An ISO 800 shot taken under very challenging low-intensity halogen light. The color balance is unpleasantly magenta and low-contrast detail is somewhat smudgy, but resolution is noticably better than the pixel-binned output of ISO 1000 and above. 
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Compared to iPhone 4/4S

The camera modules of the 4S and 5 are different, but it seems likely that they're based on similar underlying hardware. From our testing we can see that the iPhone 5 is certainly applying more noise-reduction to areas of plain tone than the 4S, but up to ISO 1000, there's very little difference between the iPhone 5 and its predecessor.

This scene was lit with a single tungsten bulb. Focus was set manually (by touch) from the bauble in the center of the image. All three phones selected an ISO sensitivity of 800. 

Click on the thumbnails below for the full-sized original images.

iPhone 5 (100% crop - high contrast )
iPhone 5 (100% crop - midtone)
iPhone 4S (100% crop - high contrast )
iPhone 4S (100% crop - midtone)
iPhone 4 (100% crop - high contrast )
iPhone 4 (100% crop - midtone)

The iPhone 5's trump card in poor light, compared to the 4S, is its additional ISO sensitivity span, which goes up to ISO 3200. To get the iPhone 5 to shoot at its very highest ISO sensitivity settings, the light has to be extremely low. For the examples below, we moved our single tungsten light progressively further away from our still life, gradually decreasing the amount of light falling on the scene.

ISO 800
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ISO 2000
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Based on what we've seen here, and in our real-world shooting, it does look like the iPhone 5 employs pixel-binning at ISO settings higher than ISO 1000, and subsequently upsizes the resulting images to 3264x2448 pixels (8MP). Notice how sharpness drops signifncantly between ISO 800 and ISO 2000. This appears to be more than just increased noise and more aggressive noise-reduction.

Try as we might, we couldn't get the iPhone 5 to select ISO 1600 when capturing this scene, but in supplemental shooting we've established that the switch occurs between ISO 1000 and ISO 1250. Images captured at ISO 1000 are noisy but relatively sharp, and images at ISO 1250 and above are smoother, brighter, but much less detailed, suggesting a loss of true resolution (rather than just a masking, caused by noise and NR). Image quality remains extremely similar between ISO 2000-ISO 3200. 

This isn't a bad thing though - arguably in fact in a camera of this type it's quite the contrary. Although we'd love DSLR-level high ISO performance in a cameraphone, it's an unrealistic expectation. By combining the signals of neighboring photosites in this way, the iPhone can capture images in light much lower than its predecessor the iPhone 4S, and the drop in pixel-level image quality will probably be unnoticeable when the images are used for social and web use. 


Total comments: 16

Maybe I missed it, but there's no discussion about the horrible distortion at the top and bottom edges (in portrait ).


Why are so many pictures up-side-down?


There is a Fix for the Purple Haze, Just rotate the phone upside down and shoot it as normal, the purple haze is gone. :-) I tried it and and wanted to let all of you know...


a little tip I read somewhere, is that you can use the control on the headphones to trigger the shoot, thus minimizing camera shake.

1 upvote

"For all DxOMark Mobile data presented on we're showing only the '8MP equivalent' values, which gives us a level playing field for comparison between phone cameras with different megapixel values"

Wow. Just wow.

If you did that for normal cameras imagine the uproar......

Why not just report the best each camera can do?


Excellent review. It's great to see serious attention on the cameras that most of us use most of the time.

The Nokia Pureview comparison is fair but for the future I'm more interested in comparisons to phones that are closer in size and weight.

The Nokia 808 is more than twice the volume of the iPhone 5 and about 2 oz/57g heavier than the iPhone 5. (Illustrated here: )

That's like carrying a second phone and 10 US quarters to get the better camera.

What's the best camera phone in same size and weight class?


"The Nokia 808 is more than twice the volume". No it's not. Your link does not work but I plugged the two phones in. Height and width are the exact same shape, it's a bit thicker with a bump for the camera sticking out that is a lot thicker. To get twice the volume you must be calculating the volume of a box it would fit in. But it's not a box, It's like a slightly thicker iphone with a bump sticking out and given the variation in phone shapes I would consider it in the same class.

1 upvote

You're right, my first rough estimate was overzealous. Here are the exact values:

The Nokia 808 is 73.2% larger and 50.8% heavier than an Apple iPhone 5 based on both company's published specs. (The 808 is 95.50cc vs iPhone 5's 55.12cc. The 808 is 169g vs iPhone 5's 112g.)

That seems like a big difference to me based on my experience with other devices. However, I have not held them in my hands so I value your opinion. Do you think these specs suggest they are in a somewhat different category? That is, the 808 comparison is interesting but other devices closer in size/weight should be included in the future?

Edited 4 minutes after posting

I've always been a big fan of dpreview, so it's great that now you decided to start testing smartphones.

Are you going to test apps, too? I'm a big fan of this one:

And it would be great to have a dpreview-caliber review about it.


I've been taking pics with my iPhone 5 for the past week.. it does very well for it's sensor size, but when I put it up against my Nokia 808.. things don't look so good, especially at night..

Here is my little test from couple of days ago:

skydrive gallery:

Reg Natarajan

Great gallery. Nothing beats seeing back to back comparison results, and you're right, the Nokia is vastly better.


Thanks for the samples. The 808 sure bests the other 2 cams. But the N8 also does quite well, it can be PP'd still very well. Just the contrasts are a bit low, thats it.


Great gallery! The last two images really drive home the difference.

1 upvote

hmm, I don't see that the iPhone 5 image is that much better than the One X or the S3. It may just about have slightly better resolution, but not in the parts where it's overly bright in the highlights in comparison, indeed in some places, it's the worst of the 4. I'd also say the colour is as much on the warm side as the others are on the cool.

Looks to be a rather biased review tbh.

In my own order of preference, looking at the overall image, I'd choose in the following order...

S3 - most balanced, but less cool than the iPhone is warm
iPhone5 - too warm
808 - soft/suffering from haze
One X - very warm, too dark in the shadows

Barney Britton

We also incorporate DXO's test data when drawing our conclusions. And we'll have an S3 review online very soon so you can take a more detailed look at how both cameras compare.

1 upvote

What you consider as haze and softness on the 808 is just the very defensive approach on in-camera tweaking. As I found out with the N8, this haze and softness can easily give perfect pictures in PP.
A lot of headroom.
Cant do with Apple phone cams, as I tried.
Might be the same with the S3, already showing lots of sharpening artifacts, so dead end.

1 upvote
Total comments: 16
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