Shedding Light on a Low-Light Situation

One of the biggest and most anticipated improvements in the iPhone 5 revolves around the camera. Smartphones in general have become the de facto "point and shoot" that people carry around, and why not?  They're always in our hands/pockets/purses anyway, so why bother with anything else?

In the past, the answer to that question basically boiled down to "because they take better pictures."  So when Apple says they're upgrading the iPhone camera, people listen!  I know I was super stoked about it, iPhone Life-ers!  And I still am, except for one thing:  low light photography.

I’ve been feeling a little underwhelmed in that department. I first noticed it when taking a picture of a particularly awesome looking steak I had ordered at a restaurant. The photo was disappointing and I couldn’t figure out why! (Yes, I admit it. I’m that guy and I occasionally take a picture of my dinner because YOU NEED TO BE JEALOUS.) 

I was feeling kinda lonely since everyone else seemed to love the improvements. I was happy to finally see that I wasn’t alone! As NBC News states: "... Apple has promoted its camera as improved, going so far as to say that the new A6 chip has an image signal processor that can deliver more brightness to a picture, up to two full stops. In our real-world and controlled testing, we have not seen any significant difference."  And Consumer reports agreed, saying, "The claimed improvements of the iPhone 5 in handling low-light shots were not apparent in our tests." 

So, what gives? 

A blog post hinted at the possible reason for the varied impressions. Basically, at the iPhone 5's launch, only the native camera app had access to the extended ISO range capability of the improved hardware. 3rd party camera apps did not have the proper software calls to leverage ISOs above 800 (the old maximum). So users who loved their apps (like ME!) never saw the improvement.

A day after the news broke on daringfireball, a hint at what was going on behind the curtain was revealed by another app developer, Jim Rhoades:  "However, after posting a thread (developer login ID required) to the Apple developer forums I’ve learned that 3rd party developers CAN take advantage of this special ‘low light boost mode’. (Thanks Apple!)" Within a few more days, he had updated his ScoutCamera app to take advantage of the new information.

Right now the only other 3rd party camera apps that support this extended ISO range are TapTap's Camera+ v3.5.1and ProCamera v3.8.1.

Certainly, app developers are aware of the situation (and now we are too), but not all of them have indicated that they’re planning on including the same high ISO capability--Instagram is a heavy hitter that comes to mind. I guess for now we’ll all just have to take a picture using a different app, and then send it through Instagram (or whatever). This is a pretty klunky workflow, but until developers roll out the changes, there isn’t a whole lot we can do about it, iPhone Life-ers!

Leave a Comment