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iPhone 6S and 6S Plus up resolution to 12MP, video to 4K, with new Live Photos animation

Apple’s flagship phone is finally taking a leap in resolution. For the first time since the introduction of the iPhone 4S in 2011 with its 8 megapixel sensor, Apple has increased image resolution 50% to 12MP for the iPhone 6S series. The new iPhone's front camera also got a bump to 5MP from 1.2MP.

With today’s announcement, Apple’s Phil Schiller emphasized a number of improvements related to image quality, a leap to 4K video, and a new still and video hybrid feature called Live Photos that now becomes the default way to capture photos for the new iPhone.

On the image quality front, Apple introduced image sensor improvements, including a 50% increase in pixel count to 12MP. While conceding that the pixels are smaller and closer together, which can often reduce quality, Schiller says that Apple has managed to improve overall image quality with richer detail. He discussed how Apple’s new sensor produces less grain and color noise through a process called Deep Trench Isolation, while also providing better color accuracy.

Video resolution has been improved to 4K, with 8 million pixels of detail. Schiller showed off video that was captured with the new iPhone camera, emphasizing that the footage was taken straight from a 6S camera, edited only with iMovie on the phone itself.

Apple Live Photos

The most interesting addition was Live Photos. The new feature produces a new kind of image that mostly lives as a still, but when activated by a slight force touch, the photo animates with a couple of seconds of motion and sound. One example shown was an iPhone lock screen showing a still image of a child (see below). When the user slightly touches the photo, the girl moves and smiles for a couple seconds. Live Photos will also work with the Apple Watch.

Live Photos
Live Photos using 3D Touch

Live Photos will capture by default anytime a user takes a photo, taking up "not much more" space compared with a normal photo. When swiping through the camera roll, each Live Photo will show the still photo, preceded by a couple seconds of motion captured just beforehand. Apple's new iPhone 6S camera page has examples to view. In addition, Apple discussed the new Live Photo Developer API, with news that Facebook will support the new image type "later this year."

Apple also announced improvements to its True Tone flash system for rear camera photos, claiming improved color accuracy to match the color of the ambient light in the room. In addition, for the front camera Apple introduced Retina Flash, a feature that bathes a selfie subject with light from the iPhone's screen.

Overall, Apple's new camera features, especially 4K video and Live Photos, may provide eye-catching selling points as users consider a phone upgrade.

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