iPhone 4S camera sensor actually capable of 4K 24p video

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The new iPhone 4S camera

iPhone have chosen Omnivision’s OV8830 sensor for their iPhone 4S and the module has a surprise up its sleeve along with some some quite startling technology we’re not unfortunately seeing on the consumer handset itself.

Can’t wait for the jailbreak!

According to the official sensor specs on the Omnivision website the sensor can run at 24fps in 8MP mode, that is 3264 x 2448 in 4:3. Amazing!

Sony were speculated to have provided some of the sensors or possibly the front facing camera but at the moment this doesn’t appear to be the case. A big win for the Taiwanese Omnivision.

Since this sensor is 4:3 (photographic) rather than in a 16:9 video aspect ratio it has more vertical lines and less horizontal – and so would only be capable of 3K video if enabled by the software and cropped to 16:9 but in terms of outright performance there is no denying this sensor is a beast.

8MP @ 24fps = 4K video. That 8MP is (roughly) the same resolution pixel-for-pixel that a RED camera pumps out when it does 4K at 24p with a resolution of 3,840×2,160.

Instead of Apple implementing 4K video (probably due to memory and heat issues) the sensor uses this nice video output resolution advantage to enable electronic image stabilisation (EIS). The image processor then scales the high resolution output of the sensor to 1080p or 720p.

Scaling down the sensor output of 8MP or 4K to standard full HD is done by 2 x 2 binning. This method of scaling is better than a Canon DSLR (line-skipping) and similar to how the Sony NEX 5N resolves 1080p – but not as good as the GH2 which has a more advanced method. We shouldn’t be expecting very much moire and aliasing on the iPhone 4S according to Omnivision:

“The sensor’s binning functionality with post-binning re-sampling filter minimizes spatial artefacts and removes image artifacts around edges, delivering clean, crisp color images.”

“The high data-output of the sensor allows other advantages. No image lag for shutter-less designs, continuous shooting [up to 30fps at 6MP and 24fps at 8MP], minimized rolling shutter effect and real-time image capture with no lag between resolutions.”

The sensor size for the new iPhone 4S is 1/3.2″ – only a little smaller than the usual 1/2.6″ compact. With a close focus and F2.4 aperture you can get some nice background blur – yes, even though it’s a phone not a DSLR!

The sensor is also better in low light. It has a backside illuminated design (BSI) like in modern Canon and Sony compact cameras. The lens is also new featuring a maximum aperture of F2.4 and 5 elements.

The camera module measures just 8.5 x 8.5 x 6 mm.

Seriously impressive!

But why don’t we (quite) have the full capabilities of the hardware available to us?

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About Author

British filmmaker and editor of EOSHD, Andrew works in Berlin on his own self funded filmmaking and video projects.

21 Comments

  1. If I remember correctly, didn’t the iPhone had some of the worst rolling shutter around.

    But wheather or not those specs are true or not, I would have no intention to (buy?) use it for filmmaking, as imagine turning up on set of a film shoot with the iPhone, people would begin to wonder “what the hell man”, or “are you kidding me”

  2. Well – it goes without saying that you wouldn’t normally shoot a feature on a phone but for the creative arts the best camera is the one you have on you. I cherish some of my iPhone snaps, it has acted as a life-documenter and now it can do decent video I might document subjects with it when I don’t have my DSLR. I feel a creative project with this could be pretty interesting. Plus for news gathering and social media, the quality of those (sometimes historic) videos are going to be far better now.

    BTW rolling shutter will be far better on the 4S because it is corrected electronically and the rolling shutter is much faster, the sensor reads quicker.

  3. I agree. I’ve taken more photos with my iPhone than I took calls. Most of those photos would have looked a lot better with a real camera, but then; who would take out their dslr in a Kayak and quickly snap a shot of some swans drifting by, without losing your peddle (as I did recently) or fear for water-damage?

    But it would be cool if a real manual version of something like Hipstamatic would come along where you don’t just slap on a filter but actually could manipulate exposure, saturation, etc.

    that said; AE-lock, F/2.4, 8 Mp, wish my contract ended this year and not next…

  4. Perry Morris Jr. on

    Well, looks like the Red Scarlet video capabilities will have to catch up with the iPhone 4S. At the moment, the red Scarlet is still only vaporware! LOL!

  5. Camera+? That is pretty good for manual exposure and filters, saturation, picture profiles. I use it more than Hipstamatic now because it also saves the original unprocessed shot and you apply the filters afterwards. Emotionally I miss Hipstamatic, logically I believe in Camera+. Weird huh?

  6. 4:3 sensor? no problem. 4:3 is a 2x anamorphic’s best friend, no? ;-)

    Seriously, though . . . someone should hack the crap outa the thing and see if they can get that hi-res 24p going. I could see it with a smaller anamorphic onboard . . . P&S anamorphic, anyone?

  7. You make this thing sound more appealling than Apple do with mention of that sensor. I’m seriously considering replacing my S95 and Android phone with one of these. An app like Filmic Pro would perfect for video with 24P, 25P, exposure and focus lock.

    Is there a way to disable the phone on iPhones?

  8. tuliocampregher on

    On the contrary, shooting a film on an iPhone becomes a promotion on itself.
    Park Chan-wook shot Night Fishing on an iPhone 4. so you get it.
    Seing that an app for the iphone is more likely than a Hack for the NEX7, iphones will be used more and more.

  9. Even if someone comes up with a hack, what would you record the stream on ? I don’t think the internal memory’s up to the task of actually being able to record a 4K stream. And until someone can find a way to plug an SSD to the iPhone… So, sorry to say, but dream on, guys !

  10. amila ckumarasinghe on

    So canyou guys please let me know if you know the actual focal length of the video recording in iPhone4S? i mean what r the focal lengths on wider end and zoomed end eq to 35mm ?

    Thank you . .

  11. iPhone 4S VS Canon 5d MKII Video Camera Side by Side Comparison
    Check out the video here:

    http://vimeo.com/30606785

    ** You can download the full 1080p video if you register to Vimeo(free). It’s a good encode, compressed but very good.

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