Apple iPhone 6s Plus Review: More Of A Good Thing

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iPhone 6s Plus Camera and Live Photos

For many people, a smartphone with a crappy camera (or two) is hardly worth owning. That's never really been the case with the iPhone, at least with the rear camera, and these days both the rear iSight and front FaceTime cameras are really good. That remains true of the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, which sport upgraded sensors on both ends.

5MP FaceTime HD Camera

There's a big increase in megapixel count when going from the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus to the iPhone 6s or iPhone 6s Plus. The latest iPhones now sport a 5-megapixel front-facing shooter, up from 1.2 megapixels, for taking bigger and more detailed photos. It also has what Apple is calling "Retina Flash," a feature that detects the ambient lighting around your mug and then adjusts the "True Tone" flash on the display accordingly. This is powered by a custom display chip that allows the display flash to illuminate three times brighter than usual.

What all these fancy terms translate into are better selfies in less than ideal lighting conditions. You can also record 720p HD video using the FaceTime HD camera. Other features include an f/2.2 aperture, exposure control, burst mode, the ability to set a timer, and face detection.

Apple iPhone 6s Plus FaceTime Selfie Apple iPhone 6s Plus FaceTime Selfie Inside

It's possible to take some really nice shots with the FaceTime HD camera, which is great if you're a Snapchat junkie or otherwise love to take selfies. The camera does struggle a bit if there's a lot of sunlight on the subject, which tends to lead to some funky coloring as you can see in the image on the left, but the shots are still serviceable.

The image on the right was taken inside with limited lighting. There isn't a lot of graininess, which bodes well for taking photos in real world scenarios (as opposed to a lab with ideal lighting).

12MP iSight Camera

Apple also increased the number of megapixels on the rear iSight camera. It's now a 12-megapixel shooter, up from 8 megapixels in the previous generation. As before, the iPhone 6s Plus ups the ante with optical image stabilization, a feature that's not found on the non-Plus model.

Beyond raw megapixels, the iSight camera uses a new "state-of-the-art" sensor and a new image signal processor. What it all boils down to is a better camera that's capable of taking brilliant photos. Here's a look.

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The iSight camera does a great job of capturing colors and making them pop. As always, lighting is key, though the iSight camera is also fairly forgiving in situations where the lighting isn't optimal, whether it's too much or too little. It also is adept at focusing on an image up close in the foreground while subduing the background with a subtle blur.

Is the camera good enough to replace your DSLR? Of course not, that's crazy talk. However, the typical user will find that it easily negates the need to carry around a dedicated point-n-shoot. The lone exception is if you need the kind of high powered zoom that some pocket cameras possess.

You can also record 4K video with the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, which support 3840x2160 at 30 frames per second. Slo-mo video support is limited to 1080p at 120 fps and 720p at 240 fps. The same is true of Apple's Cinematic video stabilization -- it works in 1080p and 720p, but not 4K. However, one neat thing about recording in 4K is that you can take 8MP photos while doing so.

Live Photos

The new iPhones introduce a nifty Live Photos feature. What this does is capture brief moments before and after the actual snapshot -- 1.5 seconds worth on both ends. This is best served when swiping through your camera roll. As each photo comes into view, there's a quick animation. It could be a head turning to face the camera or a dog biting down on a bone, or whatever else you happened to capture. It truly does bring your photos to life.

3D Touch allows you to view the full three seconds of vid, er, Live Photos (Apple insists they're different than videos) by pressing and holding anywhere on a snapshot. It's a feature that has potential to be awesome, but ends up being a little too choppy. There's certainly enough horsepower underneath the hood for smooth playback, but it just doesn't happen, likely as means of limiting how much storage Live Photos require. As a result, it becomes more of a gimmick to give your friends iPhone 6s/6s Plus envy than something you'll actually use on a regular basis.

Apple iPhone 6s Plus Live Photos

So, just how much storage does the Live Photos feature use? During the iPhone 6s launch event, Apple said that Live Photos work "in a space efficient way so they don't take up much more room." That's not always the case. In some instances, enabling Live Photos can take up twice as much space, or even a little bit more.

In the photo of the blue Honda Fit above, the original snapshot gobbled up 3.08MB of space while the accompanying clip consumed an additional 3.80MB. That's a total of 6.88MB for a single shot. In the photo of the white dog, a crazy brained terrier named Winter, the original photo took up 6.32MB of space and the accompanying video another 4.03MB. It varies from shot to shot.

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