Review: iPhone 5s – new digiscoping champion


The new iPhone 5s now comes in a gold option, so if you drop it in the sand you will never find it again.

Every year, Apple releases a new iPhone and one of the great features of their phone is the excellent and always improving camera. It was probably when the iPhone 4 came out that it really started to be embraced by many birders as a great camera to digiscope with, aided by the release of digiscoping adapters from several different companies. A pocket recorder that takes fairly decent photos, plus 1080p video has meant that it is easier and easier to grab quick footage of birds. This is particularly useful for documenting rare birds, but the increasing quality means people are also getting great images as well.

The newest iPhone 5s is no different, and we plan to review it over several posts. This first will be just an overview of the features of the new iPhone 5s that affect how good it works for digiscoping.

The overview

The iPhone 5s is basically the same as last years iPhone 5 in many respects. The same form factor means it will fit in the same digiscoping adapters and cases. Where it differs however, is in an updated camera, faster processor, and fingerprint reader technology.

The Good

Larger sensor, larger aperature and larger pixels. This mean that the camera is letting in more light for a higher quality picture. Even though the camera stays at 8mp, the same as the 4S and 5/5C, the 5S’s sensor is 15% larger, pixels are larger at 1.5 microns, and aperature is f/2.2!

Continuous burst mode. Take up to 999 photos at 10 frames per second. The rapid shooting speed means you can take a series of photos and later select the one with the least blur, or that shows the identification marks the best.

In burst mode a single image shows that represents that set, you can go in later and select your favorites from that set.

In burst mode a single image shows that represents that set, you can go in later and select your favorites from there. This is an awesome way to make sure you get sharp images or one of a bird in the right position!

The slow motion feature of the iPhone 5s is brilliant. You have to start recording in that mode, and it records everything at 120 frames per second. Then, when you are viewing the video you took, you can choose which part should show in slow motion. This will be a game-changer for looking at bird behavior in ways we couldn’t before.

In Slow Motion mode you can chose when to start  and stop slow motion using the slider at the top

In Slow Motion mode you can chose when to start and stop slow motion using slider

Fingerprint unlock. This might not seem like a big deal, but unlocking your phone is way easier with your fingerprint than tapping in a password. This is particularly true if you have the phone mounted sideways on your scope lens. Placing a finger over the home button to quickly unlock means that you are always just one tap away from taking photos and video. You can also program in various orientations and multiple fingers to make sure it quickly unlocks when that picture presents itself.

The Bad

Vignetting. Vignetting is when the image appears in a circle in the center of the photograph. When digiscoping, it is always a goal to reduce the vignetting so you get a full frame image. The iPhone 5s seems to suffer from quite a bit of vignetting, and while this can be reduced by zooming in on the phones camera, digital zoom like this results in a loss of quality.

Really, there are not too many drawbacks to this extremely portable camera!

Examples of the Slow Motion mode.

When viewing these videos, make sure they are viewed at 720p to see the full HD quality, click the gear on the bottom right to change this setting.

Palm Warbler, slo-mo mode-

Vagrant Rufous Hummingbird in western PA

Gray Catbird

Blackpoll Warbler. Changes to slo-mo at 12s

Common Merganser. changes to slo-mo at 4s and back to normal at 16s