Apple iPhone 6s Review

May 3, 2016 | Amy Davies |


Apple announced its iPhone 6s back in September 2015, marking an update to the previous version of its popular smartphone, the iPhone 6. As with the 6 it is available in a standard version and also a larger, Plus version.

In our review we’ll be concentrating on the specifications, usability and performance of the inbuilt camera(s), rather than commenting too much on its overall use as a smartphone, but if elements of usability are applicable to photographers, that may be mentioned too.

The iPhone 6s uses an iSight camera, which features 12 megapixels. Apple also says that it features a new “state-of-the-art” sensor, a new image signal processor, advanced pixel technology, Focus Pixels, improved local tone mapping and optical image stabilisation.

Another new feature is “Live Photos” - this basically captures a 1.5 second video of the moments before and after the shot has been taken. You can play back the video on the phone, or other compatible Apple devices.

One of the biggest new improvements for the iPhone 6s is the ability to record 4K video capture - you can also record in standard 1080p HD if you prefer. On the front of the camera is a 5 Megapixel FaceTime camera, which allows you to capture self-portraits, as well as for use during video calls.

The iPhone 6s, like all iPhones, does not have expandable memory, and is available to buy in 16GB, 64GB and 128GB varieties. You can also sign up for storage via iCloud, with a small amount for free, and more available to buy via subscription.

Ease of Use

Apple uses iOS for its operating system, which is reasonably dissimilar from Android, but if you’ve ever used an iPhone before, of course you will be naturally at home with the iPhone 6s.

You can access the camera module directly from the locked screen by either pressing the home button, or the lock button and swiping up with your finger from the bottom right hand corner of the screen. This makes it very quick to access the camera when you just want to grab a quick shot. You’ll be able to look at images taken in in the current camera session in playback, but if you want to see any older photos you’ll need to unlock the phone fully.

Alternatively, if you have the phone unlocked, you can use the camera icon to open the camera app. By default, this is found in the top right hand corner of the first home screen, but you can move it elsewhere, if you prefer. Apple has introduced 3D touch for the iPhone 6s, and that’s something you can use at this point. If you give the screen a firmer touch on the camera app icon, you’ll see that you can go straight to “take selfie” “record video”, “record slow mo” or “take photo”. Alternatively you can simply tap the camera app once to dive straight into the standard app.

Either way, once you’ve opened up the app, you don’t have a huge amount of options to work with. Most Android phones give you lots of control over how your image looks, but iPhones are a lot simpler in operation.

Along the bottom (or right hand side) of the screen, you’ll see some different options for quickly switching between the various modes the camera offers. The first option is Time-Lapse, Slo-Mo, Video, Photo, Square and Pano. Simply swipe left with your finger to choose the mode you want to use - we’ll talk about the different modes as we go through the review.

Apple iPhone 6s
Front of the Apple iPhone 6s

On the top of the screen, or to the left if you’re holding it in horizontal orientation, you’ll see that there’s the option to switch the flash on or off, or automatically detect when to use it, the option to switch HDR on or off, or again, automatically judge when to use it, a timer icon, and an icon to switch to using the front camera.

If you use the timer, you can choose between three seconds and ten seconds, the countdown being displayed on screen. When the timer countdown finishes, the camera will take a burst of images for you to choose from, this can be particularly useful for self-portraits to make sure that everyone is smiling, or not blinking.

The final icon you’ll see in this row, if you’re using the standard Photo mode, is the LivePhoto icon. This looks a bit like bullseye and can be simply toggled on or off. When you’ve got it switched on, there’s no difference in how you take the photo, but you’ll notice when you come to play back that you’ll be able to watch a short video. To watch the video you need to press down firmly with your finger on screen. If you don’t do that, it will appear as a normal photo.

To take a photo you can either use the volume down button on the left hand side of the phone handset, or you can use the virtual button within the camera app itself.

Just next to the shutter release, you’ll see an icon which looks like three circles overlapping each other. If you tap this you’ll see a range of different digital effects which you can use to shoot with your photo. These include Mono, to Chrome, to Process, to Instant, to Transfer. To switch off using a filter, press the filters icon again and select the middle option, or “None”.

Apple iPhone 6s
Rear of the Apple iPhone 6s

So now to go through some of the camera modes. Time-Lapse will take a photo at set intervals, and merge them all together in one time-lapse video. This is done quickly in-camera and is a great fun tool for creating videos of sunsets, lots of people / vehicles moving around, and so on. In theory it would also be good for something that unfolds over a longer period of time, but it seems unlikely you’d want to have your phone out of action just to record a time-lapse.

Slo-Mo mode is again pretty self-explanatory. This is a video mode that shoots at a very fast frame rate to capture a slow motion effect. You simply press record and the slow motion video will be recorded. By default, when you play back the video, the first second or so will play at normal speed, then the video will slow down, then speed up to normal again at the end of the video. You can however change the section which is fast or slow, depending on your preference. Again, this is a nifty feature which has some fun applications.

Video allows you to record video. The iPhone 6s can record 4K, but if you want to do that, you need to change the settings from the main iPhone Settings menu. By default, the camera will shoot in full 1080p HD. You should probably remember to change the settings back to 1080p once you’ve recorded something in 4K to save space on your phone - bearing in mind there’s no possibility to expand the phone’s internal storage.

Apple iPhone 6s
The Apple iPhone 6s - Image Displayed

Photo mode takes shots in the native 4:3 ratio, with the ability to use all of the settings we’ve previously mentioned. Square mode takes photos in a 1:1 ratio, priming them ready for an Instagram-like crop. Panorama means you can sweep your phone across a scene to capture an ultra-wide point of view. This is merged together in camera to give you your panoramic shot.

Although there’s not much in the way of manual edits that can be made with the iPhone 6s, you can adjust brightness by swiping your finger up and down the screen to add positive or negative exposure compensation. Changing the autofocus point is achieved by a tap of your finger at the point you need - this will also change the metering as it will meter off where you’re focusing. If a photo is under or over exposing because of high contrast, you can “trick” the iPhone into exposing differently by focusing on a slightly different area of the screen to force it to meter from highlights, shadows, or whatever you need.

It’s possible to download apps from the App Store which give you some more manual control - such as Manual - this will allow you to set your own ISO if you prefer. There’s of course a huge variety of other different camera apps each with different functions and specialities - it’s worth having a look around the store to see what’s on offer, especially as many of the apps are free.

Apple iPhone 6s
The Apple iPhone 6s - Camera Mode

To look at your images you can select the icon in the bottom left hand corner of the screen when in the camera app. Alternatively you can select “Photos” from the iPhone’s main navigation. If you select the latter, you’ll notice that there are several different folders for you to choose from. The phone splits images into Selfies, Videos, Panoramas, Time-Lapse, Slow-Mo, Bursts and any folders you’ve created yourself. There’s also the Camera Roll, which is all photos you’ve taken on the camera in one place.

Once you’re looking at a specific photo, you can make some edits. You can change the angle, or rotate it. You can also change the aspect ratio. You can add the same filters that are available before you take the photo and you can also make slightly more complicated edits in terms of “Light” (exposure, highlights, shadows, brightness, contrast, black point), “Colours” (saturation, contrast and colour cast) and “Black and White” (intensity, neutrals, tone, grain).

The great thing about making these edits is that you can revert to the original shot at any time by clicking the red “Revert” text - even if you edited the photo days, weeks, months, or any given time ago. You can also press a magic wand icon to let the phone decide on what it thinks the best edits should be - this will work well sometimes, but not others.

Apple iPhone 6s
Rear of the Apple iPhone 6s

A final thing to say about looking at photos in playback is that you can press a heart icon to add it to your favourites folder. This means that when you’re looking back through your Pictures, you can jump to a group of favourite images, rather than having to scroll though potentially thousands of other images.

Focusing is generally very quick and in good light, pretty accurate. If the light is very very dark, the camera may struggle to focus, in which case you may want to consider switching on the flash to help the camera focus. Operational speeds are very quick, thanks to a new A9 processor with 64-bit architecture. This means that not only is the phone very quick to use in general operation, but when you’re flicking through images, zooming in on images, or using imaging based apps, such as Instagram.

The iPhone 6s’ retina screen is great and really makes images pop and appear detailed and vibrant. It’s great to look through your images (and others) while using it, and the increase in size from the iPhone 5S is a welcome one. If you prefer, you could go to the even larger iPhone 6s Plus, which is great for viewing images but is a little more unwieldy to use.