Apple just announced the new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus with a redesigned 12 megapixel camera. For those of us who rely on their phones as a behind the scenes camera or use this as our backup camera, this is a good thing.

Processor and Physical Improvements

Sure, many will pay attention to the megapixels, but it’s what you do with them that matters. Apple promises that the new phone has a new image signal processor that works with iOS 9 to provide better temporal and spatial noise reduction. They also utilize an improved local tone mapping option for better contrast. Also suspected are improvements in how the camera handle HDR as well as what can be done afterwards in Photos for OSX.

The increased resolution of 12 megapixels is welcome and it appears that the faster processors will make the device snappy. A touchscreen with haptic feedback (think vibrations) should make it easier to operate the camera by touch (useful when shooting at unusual angles).

Camera Improvements

The front camera was also upgraded to 5 megapixels and incorporates a new technology called Retina Flash. The Retina Flash will use your screen as a true color flash and illuminate the image by using a custom display chip that allows the display to flash three times brighter than usual.

Unfortunately, the image stabilization features of the iPhone 6 Plus are still only available in the iPhone 6s Plus. It seems that they haven’t figured out how to shrink the optical image stabilization into the smaller form factor. However those of you concerned about reports of bending of the larger phone (big phone + small pockets) it seems like Apple has addressed making a stronger case.

The new 12mp camera allows 4K video for the first time natively in an iPhone (previously you had to use select apps and the performance was buggy). And with iPhone 6s Plus, optical image stabilization is now available for videos, so you can shoot smoother videos in lower light.

A New Kind of Image

With the release of these new phones comes an entirely new photo: Live Photos. On the surface, nothing changes and you can quickly capture a 12mp image. But a live photo allows you to relive the moment by adding motion and sound – about 1.5 seconds to the front and back of the photo. Think of it as a photo wrapped in a few seconds of audio and video around it.

A still photo captures an instant frozen in time. With Live Photos, you can turn those instants into unforgettable living memories. At the heart of a Live Photo is a beautiful 12?megapixel photo. But together with that photo are the moments just before and after it was taken, captured with movement and sound.

You can bring those moments to life anytime simply by pressing anywhere on the photo. And you can view Live Photos on your other Apple devices, too.

– Apple

When scrolling through your photo library, Live Photos will come to life with a subtle move letting you know its not just an ordinary image. You can also set your lock screen to a Live Photo, giving your phone character every time you turn it on.

My Thoughts

Apple made sure to point out that a Live Photo is not a video. So, what is it? How does it transfer out of your phone’s camera library to be archived on the computer? I take a ton of photos and video on my phone… so much so that I have to offload files to my image library on my Drobo nearly every week. With the release of Mac’s new OS X El Capitan coming soon, we should see support for Live Photos in Apple Photos but probably won’t see support for them in Lightroom any time soon.

As noted above, optical image stabilization is only available in the iPhone 6s Plus version. Will I need a tripod to make the video clips on each end stable enough so it’s even worth while? I’m also concerned about how Live Photos will handle flash. You lose the effect of a flash to freeze an image if it’s a constant light source. The good news is Live Photos can be toggled on and off with a single touch when in the camera mode, by pushing the three circles on the top of the screen.

See Some Sample Images

You can view the Shot on iPhone image gallery on Apple’s website here. For samples of the new Live Photos, visit the iPhone Camera page here and scroll to the Live Photos section.

Pre-orders for the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6 Plus begin on September 12, 2015 and the devices will ship on September 25th.

Once we get a unit in hand, we’ll begin testing. It should be interesting to see if Live Photos catches on in the coming months and what the workflow looks like.