Here’s a quick look at how numbers tell a story that’s both true and false at the same time. The new iPhones, the 6s and 6s Plus, have the best cameras Apple has ever installed into a product. 12MP sensor. 4K video capture. What’s not to like? It’s the best ever, right? Wrong. The iPhone’s camera is mediocre and there are many that are better.
What Is Truth?
A website called DXOMark has been testing cameras for many years, including Apple’s recent iPhone models. The company called the iPhone 6 the best ever. What of the latest, the iPhone 6s?
Not so good. Mediocre, in fact. Wait. What? How is that possible? It’s all in the math. Here’s a DXOMark graphic which tells the tale visually (the iPhone 6s score is the green bar).
When I first saw the graphic and read the details, I thought ‘Wow. How could that happen? The iPhone 6s ranks lower than last year’s iPhone 6.‘ If you read other stories online you’ll only see the headlines and first few paragraphs that decry the new iPhone’s mediocre standing among other smartphone makers cameras.
What’s going on? Well, as it turns out, reading the fine print can be important, not only in contracts and pre-nuptials, but in news releases, too.
First, what’s being ranked is not the photos taken from a smartphone. All that’s being tested is the image sensor inside the phone. As a comparison, Apple has never gone megapixel crazy with the iPhone, and even 2015’s new 12MP sensor isn’t all that great. But that tells only a portion of the story.
Today’s smartphone cameras, and, indeed, even most DLSRs and mirrorless cameras, are as much about software as hardware, and that’s especially true of Apple’s iPhone models which feature custom software which helps the image sensor generate what are arguably superior photos. DXOMark doesn’t measure the photo or the software; just the sensor.
Second, a big or even superior image sensor does not necessarily mean a better photo. Apple knows that software may be more important than lens or sensor, and the iPhone’s photos and movies are an indication that Apple’s methodology works just fine, thank you very much.
So, what’s the deal? Buried in the fine print might be an ulterior motive for DXOMark’s testing methodology. You see, DXOMark is also connected to DXO, the company that sells camera add-ons for the iPhone. Buy a DXO One device, attach it to your iPhone, and you get better photos (so says the advertising). Is it possible that there’s a minor conflict of interest in the DXOMark camera rankings?
The most popular smartphone camera on the list is Apple’s iPhone models, both of which have mediocre scores and rankings, but both of which are prime targets for the DXO camera add-on which, amazingly, is sold to improve the iPhone’s photos.
Lies, damned lies, and statistics indeed.