iPhone 5 low light mode only works in Apple Camera… so far

Low-light mode, Camera
Same shot with ProCamera

Despite its issues in the new iPhone 5 such as inaccurate framing (see my review of the iPhone 5 camera), Apple’s Camera app is great for two things. It’s handy. You can access it right from your lock screen. It’s also the only camera app that can use the new low light mode of the iPhone 5 camera.

The sensor of the new iPhone 5 camera isn’t that much more light sensitive than that of the iPhone 4S. Apple has added some on-chip image processing to enhance a low-light image and to reduce noise. It looks to be hardware-based on the iPhone 5 only and not software-based in iOS 6.

So far, the the only way to get the benefits of low light mode is using Apple’s Camera app. Shooting the same image using a third-party camera app yields the darker, noisier results expected from the iPhone 4S and older devices. See my sample images above and below.

These images are taken in near-dark light with flash off. You’re likely to not normally be shooting under these conditions or would probably at least be using the flash for closer shots. While image quality is not great in extremely low light, the iPhone 5 Camera app can create photos that are at least usable to capture the moment where other apps and iPhones will create a dark, noisy mess.

I haven’t found a third-party camera app yet that takes advantage of low-light mode. This may be one of those APIs that Apple hasn’t granted developers access to, or the hardware may be so new that devs haven’t had a chance to upgrade their apps to work with the new feature yet. We’ll keep you posted here.

However it’s done in the iPhone, for now, you’ll need to use Apple’s Camera to take advantage of the low-light feature on the new 5. This also means that in low-light situations, you won’t be able to combine the superior focus, exposure and white balance tools of a third party camera app with the great low-light capabilities of the iPhone 5.



iPhone 5 Camera app, low light
Third party camera app on an iPhone 5


About Marty Yawnick 1830 Articles
Marty is a self-employed graphic designer in the Fort Worth/Dallas Metroplex. He is an avid Rangers baseball, Chicago Cubs, Packers and Highbury Arsenal fan. In addition to capturing random moments with whatever camera is close by (usually his iPhone), his other interests include coffee, Pink Floyd, film, music, and traveling in seats 5E and 5F with his fiancé.
  • Miki

    I read this earlier on Daring Fireball's website…quite a disappointment. Hopefully this will be like the volume shutter thing, slowly rolled out to third-parties after the novelty has worn off. Until then, not really a deal breaker…the key tip for shooting with an iPhone was always "have good light" and the native camera is really not that bad. A lot of photographers have done amazing things with the native camera and editing apps.

  • Mike Hardaker

    Nope, like the built-in HDR, this isn't something open to independent developers. The volume shutter thing is slightly different as we've known how to do this—in a number of ways—since before Apple introduced it; the issue there is gaming the system to use the method that the particular reviewer on day your app is reviewed finds acceptable (or just doesn't notice).

    You will get better images (IMO) by adding two stops of light with a longer shutter duration by choosing an app such as 644 PRO or NightCap than by ramping the ISO amplification, however, so it's not necessarily a deal-breaker…

  • Kevin Buchanan

    According to another post at Daring Fireball, developers *can* use Low Light Boost mode. The details are linked off that post.

  • Miki

    Update on the situation: It appears this feature is available to devs after all.

    • Mike Hardaker

      Very interesting. Let's see whether this works and is acceptable to Apple!

  • andrew

    I recently took some very good low light pics with the recently update 645 pro camera app and they looked rather impressive! They were certainly better than the stock camera app after comparison shots. Is 645 not using the low light boost?

  • Superb quality 🙂