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Bad low-light photos on iPhone 6s? Try turning off Live Photos for a better picture


The iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus have new cameras on the front and rear as well as featuring the new Live Photos mode, a combination of photo and short 3 second video, which is enabled by default. The quality of both cameras has been considerably improved, beyond the raw increase to 12-megapixel back camera and 5 megapixel front camera.

However, there have been some reports of customers getting grainy, bad photos on the new iPhone 6s in low-light scenarios, despite Apple touting the new cameras’ improved low-light performance. Whilst its true that you will always get better-looking shots in well-lit environments, it turns out that having Live Photos enabled significantly impacts the photo quality in dark shots. Why?

To take a Live Photo, the iPhone 6s has to be constantly recording video at 12fps. When the photo is snapped, it cannot leave the exposure long enough to capture more light and generate a clearer image for the actual static photo, because of the requirement to continue the video recording. It can’t get the same exposure or ISO that the camera normally can when taking a normal photo.

Therefore, if you are finding that photos taken in darkness or dim areas are not as good as you expect them to be on your new iPhone 6s, try disabling Live Photos by toggling the button in the Camera app top bar. The Live Photos icon will now be white, not highlighted as yellow. The difference in graininess and general clarity can be quite significant.

Because it is enabled by default, you might not have thought to turn it off and get the most out of the iPhone 6s camera sensor. The difference in normal lightning situations is minimal, so for most cases its best to leave Live Photos switched on and get the advantages they provide over ‘normal’ photos.

As well as this tip, note that low-light performance can never be as good on current phone hardware as with dedicated prosumer and professional cameras. Whilst the new iPhones are a big improvement in low-light scenarios, you have to expect some level of grain and blurriness in these conditions. The best photos will always come when a flash isn’t necessary at all.

9to5Mac will be posting a comprehensive iPhone 6 vs iPhone 6s camera comparison soon …

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  1. PMZanetti - 8 years ago

    Confirmation from Apple that Live Photos compromises the quality of the 12 MP still? Because they say otherwise. Might want to took in to this a little more before making such huge assumptions.

    • PMZanetti - 8 years ago

      And FWIW, your photo example does nothing to make the case. They aren’t even close to the same photo, and the “bad” one on the left has more rain on the window at that time, blocking more light.

      • Benjamin Mayo - 8 years ago

        That screenshot is more about the toggling on and off UI, the live viewfinder isn’t affected in the same way as when you actually snap a picture.

      • PMZanetti - 8 years ago

        Then why even post side by side examples in an article specifically referencing a difference between the two, and then claim Oh that wasn’t meant to illustrate that…seriously?

        As far as I’m concerned, Apple has stated the 12 MP still is the exact same quality when Live is on or off, so any opinion to the contrary needs to be backed up with proof.

        I just now shot 2 back to back identical low light photos with Live On and Live Off and there is absolutely no difference between the two. Actually the autofocus may have changed slightly in between shots making the one with Live ON slightly clearer than the one with it Off.

    • ag80911 - 8 years ago

      First thing I disabled when I got the phone – totally useless in my case.

    • Charlypollo - 8 years ago

      Damn. That means that all the bugs and problems in IOS 9 and WatchOS 2 are in my mind until apple confirms them? Should have known since the beginning.

    • MK (@MathiasMK84) - 8 years ago

      Wtf is wrong with you, it only needs basic knowledge in photography and videography to understand why live photos has a limited exposure time and thus needs higher ISO to get the same exposure level, resulting in an image with more noise and less fine details.

    • chrisl84 - 8 years ago

      Lol, waiting for Apple to admit Live Photos isn’t as good of quality as standard pictures…..don’t hold your breath

      • PMZanetti - 8 years ago

        Considering they (Apple) have said specifically that it takes the SAME great photo, provable contradiction to that would be a big deal. So far 9to5 has done nothing to prove it, and I’m interested to know the truth of the matter. Trying to reproduce it here with my own 6s shows nothing of the sort, so I find this article both weak and disingenuous.

      • chrisl84 - 8 years ago

        It isn’t your fault for not understanding the difference in how photos and videos are taken so I will let your ignorance slide….have a nice day.

      • PMZanetti - 7 years ago

        Photos are the same with the feature on or off, despite this bullshit clickbait article. Not your fault you haven’t tried it yourself to find out the truth…oh wait that is your fault.

      • chrisl84 - 7 years ago

        Your idiocy consistently hits levels, stick to making remarks about things you understand like how to use find the window seat on the short bus.

      • Stirling Robert Campbell - 7 years ago

        Ya you don’t know what you’re talking about dude lol

    • Hello PMZanetti, it’s not the first time you make clueless comments, but with this one I can understand why you’re having trouble. The 12MP quality is not affected indeed. It’s the image quality that is, the digital noise you can see on a picture. I won’t get into details about shutter speed and frames per second etcaetera, because I can see you’re not comfortable with photography. Consider this : Turn on your camera in a low light situation (your still, photo camera), then switch to the video camera. You will see that the image will become probably a bit darker. If you are on 60fps video mode, even darker, and if you switch to the slow-motion video camera, it will be much much darker. Well, there you go, consider Live Photos to be equivalent to recording a video (it is actually exactly what it is). So even if the frames per second are very low (12 apparently), it will still be more “needy” in terms of lighting. Thus, it will increase the ISO, and affect image quality.
      In normal/good lighting, you will probably see no difference at all, as the camera is able to shoot a “video” without affecting quality.

      • PhilBoogie - 8 years ago

        Excellent explanation, in an adult manner if I may add. Props to you sir.

      • northmccormick2014 - 8 years ago

        This makes total sense. I could really see that being the case. I get my phone today so maybe I’ll try out some tests and see what I can find! Still, I rarely take night photos so Live photos will still be a neat thing. I’m moving to a new state in a few weeks and I’m excited to capture some moments while driving and doing things that might be harder to do with a single photo.

      • srgmac - 8 years ago

        Thanks for your informative post — is there anything Apple could have done to improve the quality or is it basically that’s what you’re going to get with live photos on any smartphone that has a camera?

      • Nope, I’m pretty sure they did it in the best way possible. And I’m pretty certain that the differences are very very subtle. And by that I mean : the quality of a normal photo (with Live Mode off) will be quite poor as well.
        To try to make it simple : To have a “clean” image on a HANDHELD camera, it’s better to shoot it at 1/30 at least (some will say 1/60, some 1/25), which means one thirtiest of a second. Slower than that, it may get blurry, and it will if you shoot someone that’s moving.

        So : Live Photos won’t let your iPhone shoot slower than 1/12, since it has to take 12 frames per second. But a simple image (with Live mode off) taken slower than that (say 1/8) will very much likely be blurry, except if you’re shooting a non-moving subject and you’re holding your phone very still (on a tripod or pressed against a wall/table). But in that case, Live Photos has no interest at all, does it ? :-)

        Don’t worry, there won’t be a “Livephotosgate”, I’m sure that feature works just fine, it’s just not perfect in any condition – just like videos.

        There’s a comment saying that Nokia did it without compromising the quality, and it’s inevitably false, it’s basic photography.

      • PMZanetti - 7 years ago

        Gotta love when people think they are presented with an opportunity to data dump in a comment, only to look ridiculous due to misuse of said data.

        Great explanation for some other unrelated topic. That’s not the case here. This article is bullshit, and the low light photos on the 6s are provably identical with Live Photos on or off. Nice try though.

  2. Javier Rapoport - 8 years ago

    hhhmmm… wait a minute… 6 days ago you guys say “iPhone 6s + 6s Plus cameras come closer to high-end DSLRs” (
    now you’re saying “note that low-light performance can never be as good on current phone hardware as with dedicated prosumer and professional cameras”…

    sooo… which one is it? are these cameras high-end DSLRs or they can’t even touch “prosumer” ones?

    • chrisl84 - 8 years ago

      Every level headed person knows the iPhone camera is light years behind a DSLR….it takes great photos but only a sucker would actually think it can hang with even a low end DSLR, that goes for all camera phones of course.

    • bhayes444 - 8 years ago

      They never said they were on par with DSLRs. The title “…comes closer to…” Simply implies that it is better than it was and on a scale from: flip phone camera to DSLR quality, it is inching closer to DSLR. The camera is still years and years off. The title is clearly worded, but easily misunderstood. I can take one step on a 5 mile walk and I’ve come closer to the end, but it does not mean I’m there yet.

  3. Lumia930 doesn`t care if it`s live photo or not.
    Quality is the same.
    Apple go to shool.

    • rogifan - 8 years ago

      So one photo on 9to5Mac proves that Live Photos is worse? Sorry, I need more tests than that.

      • srgmac - 8 years ago

        Read Le Super Flux’s post above — it makes sense to me…

  4. Rick Morton - 8 years ago

    I turned off Live immediately, just assuming there could be problems. Kind of silly feature, really. What I’m noticing is slow focussing, which has been touted as having been improved. ?? I’ve waited as much as 5 seconds while the camera tries to figure out what to look at.

  5. chrisl84 - 8 years ago

    The biggest shame is live photos are 12FPS….wtf is up with that? That isn’t a “living” rate representing real life…you do not get fluid motion at that rate that is like a .gif

  6. PhilBoogie - 8 years ago

    On a different, but ‘still’ related note: when recording video we have the option of 4k. Yet the Time Lapse is in 1080, and Slow-Mo is in 720 (or 1080@120).

    • srgmac - 8 years ago

      Excellent video — everyone should watch this! Thanks for the link!!

  7. modeyabsolom - 8 years ago

    Another useful tip – well done.

  8. border1ine - 8 years ago

    I noticed another problem with the camera. I was listening to music and I wanted to take a picture, so I brought up the camera and the music stopped. Just like I was trying to take a video. I checked and I was on photo mode, and live photos was disabled. Then when I quit out of the camera, the music did not automatically start again. I even tried to take a picture directly using the 3d touch menu, and the music still stopped.
    Hopefully this is fixed in 9.1, because it is really annoying.

    • luckydcxx - 8 years ago

      I am on 9.1 public beta 2 and you can listen to music and take a picture with no problem at all.

      If you toggle to video then the music shuts off. The music does not resume after closing the camera app once you switch to video.

  9. I’m with PMZanetti I just took multiple photos in different low light situations with live turned on and off and there was zero change.

  10. hello (@FinalPOS) - 7 years ago

    I moved from Android to Iphone, i am not happy about taking picture, default settings should be to take good picture. I take lot of notes using photo and i am surprised by the quality of Iphone 6s pathetic. Samsung and LG camera are great from that point of view. Try to take picture of notes on dashboard, conference rooms or some hall you will see the difference.


Avatar for Benjamin Mayo Benjamin Mayo

Benjamin develops iOS apps professionally and covers Apple news and rumors for 9to5Mac. Listen to Benjamin, every week, on the Happy Hour podcast. Check out his personal blog. Message Benjamin over email or Twitter.