With The iPhone 5’s Camera App, What You See Is Not What You Get

UPDATE: With iOS 7, Apple updated the Camera app to properly show an accurate preview. This article refers to the older version of the Camera app that was included in iOS 6.

The iPhone 5 is being delivered to people around the world today in a flurry of excitement. I’m expecting a knock on my door any moment as UPS delivers mine, and will happily start testing apps on it. Once I get some free time, I plan on taking lots of photos with it, as photography is a big hobby of mine (That love of photography is the reason I made Scout Camera).

I’m a bit puzzled by a design choice Apple has made with the Camera app on the iPhone 5 though:

When you take a photo on the iPhone 5, it’s saved to the camera roll in a 4:3 aspect ratio. Just like on the iPhone 4S, photos are 3264 pixels by 2448 pixels. However, unlike the iPhone 4S, the preview that’s displayed on the screen while you’re taking photos is in a 3:2 aspect ratio.

What this means, is that the final photo will look different than what you saw while taking the photo – with extra pixels on two sides. This image demonstrates the disconnect between what you see in the Camera app, and what you end up with in the final photo:

Photos taken with the iPhone 5 Camera app are larger than what you're shown in the app's preview area

While some people won’t care, and may not even notice the difference – to me it’s a surprising design choice by Apple.

As a form of art, I think it’s important to be able to carefully compose a photo within the frame. To make sure that spacing of objects within the frame are evenly distanced from the photo’s edges. To take a well-designed photo from the start – rather than take a quick snap shot and find out that you need to crop it afterwards to get the photo you really meant to.

This is important stuff to photographers. DSLR camera makers for years have been trying to make what you see in a camera’s optical view finder match what you get in the final photo as closely as possible – with their most expensive cameras typically doing a better job of that than less expensive ones.

I’m guessing that Apple’s reasoning behind designing the app that way, was to keep the black toolbar at the bottom from being ridiculously large. If the Camera app previewed photos at the proper 4:3 aspect ratio, it might look similar to this:

It will be interesting to see how other camera apps handle this in the coming weeks. Will they follow Apple’s lead, and not preview the entire photo? Or design their interface to show the photo as it will look when saved?

While Scout Camera is already available in the app store, the update to add preliminary iPhone 5 support is still waiting for review from Apple. Here’s how it will display the full 4:3 photo on an iPhone 5:

Of course, Scout can also take photos in 3:2, 16:9 and 1:1 too:

There’s that knock on the door – my iPhone 5 has just arrived…