iPhone Day!

Yesterday, I woke up at 6AM morning to head over to the Apple Store at Pioneer Place in Portland, OR. It was “iPhone Day” after all and there was a 128GB silver iPhone 6 Plus with my name on it somewhere in that store. Fortunately, I successfully preordered mine last Friday and somehow managed to be the very first person in the Reservations line, whereas the line for the day-of purchasers literally wrapped around the entire city block. But based on the global news reporting on this launch, no one should be surprised.

The Face Off Details

Now, there is no shortage of reviews, Op-ed pieces, and social medial posts covering the iPhone 6 and how it is either better or worse than various other Android counterparts. For the most part, juxtaposing phones and opining about who copied who and which OS is better really makes my eyes glaze over. However, I was extremely curious as to how the iPhone 6 Plus compared with one of its closest Android counterparts, the OnePlus One, in a very particular area. I think it’s safe to say that the one place where the iPhone has consistently outperformed just about every other competitor is with its camera and I was eager to see how the new iPhone 6 Plus stacked up against the OnePlus One in what I consider to be the Everyday Shooting Scenario.

In essence, I wanted to see how the cameras on each phone performs in one of the most common environments: during midday with blue skies and a big, bright ball of Sun. On top of that, because the iPhone 6 Plus defaulted to having Auto HDR turned on, I turned on the Auto HDR function of the Google Camera app that I used, as well. And so, during lunch yesterday, I took my dog Kodak to ‘Happyland’ aka Thousand Acres Dog Park near Troutdale, OR. For this face off, I only used the rear camera and left every setting untouched. The only intervention I made was to “touch-to-focus” on a particular object when necessary to achieve as much parity between image sets as possible. Every photo presented here is straight out of camera and resized to 2500px on the long end at 72ppi. No editing has been done at all. So, how did both devices stack up? Well, let’s move onto my 100% subjective analysis.

Test 1 – The snapshot

As you can see in this first example, the iPhone 6 Plus put out a photo that had much more natural color and tone. The OnePlus One version does have rich tonality but the colors are punched way too far for my taste and there does seem to be a boost in clarity. Now, I can understand that there simply are lots of people who like this particular look. However, casting all judgements aside, it just seems like the iPhone puts out a much truer photo.

Test 2 – The ber dynamic range shot

My next test was to see how both devices handled shooting a scene that likely has the greatest dynamic range possible: straight into the sun. What’s interesting here is that I find myself wishing to have the best of both images. The iPhone does a superb job of handling the sky. The sun is appropriately represented and the blue sky is consistent and smooth. However, the shadows seem a bit muddy. Now, the OnePlus One handles the darker areas really well. There is plenty of detail and the colors look good. Unfortunately, it totally obliterates the sky and turns it into one of those awful HDR renditions that make purists reach for their pitchforks. So in this case, I feel that neither outperforms the other.

Test 3 – The blue sky shot

Now, this comparison does a perfect job of illustrating Apple’s stranglehold on mobile phone photography. If you watch the Apple Keynote where the iPhone 6 was announced, Apple Sr. VP of Worldwide Marketing, Phil Schiller, makes it a point to bring up how well the camera sensor handles noise reduction while also preserving blue skies. This was a hallmark test conducted because blue is one of the trickiest colors for digital camera sensors to manage. In this case, though, the iPhone 6 Plus just skewers the OnePlus One on all counts. It’s just a better photo all around.

Test 4 – The macro-ish shot

Next up, I wanted to see how both cameras compared with a macro-style shot. Neither camera has a specific macro mode but both do a very respectable job of focusing close up. I did run into a few instances when the iPhone abdicated to focusing at the center despite me touching the area to focus whereas the One always focused where I touched. However, once again, the iPhone 6 Plus puts out a much more natural looking image and handles highlights and shadows very nicely.

Test 5 – The 100% crop shot

My final test was comparing a set of images at 100% crop while overlaying the full image for reference. The iPhone does a much better job with wrangling in the bright spots of Mt. Hood while also doing an admirable job in keeping the sky noise-free. The One actually does a good job in presenting nice, warm tones throughout the foreground, however it falls pretty flat with preserving the details of the mountain and also introduces a ton of noise in the sky.

So there you have it.

My goal for this face off was not to extoll the virtues of one camera over the other. I don’t see a point in telling you whether one is better than the other because mobile phones and the platforms that they run on have become such a personal thing that it is really the responsibility of the individual to determine which one meets their needs best. In the context of this face off, though, the iPhone 6 Plus consistently provided me with images that I found very appealing. Which begs the question: if the only camera you have is your smartphone, shouldn’t that be the primary criteria for you? I hope this face off helps you decide.

Featured Image materials sourced from Apple, OnePlus, and CC0 Public Domain Art