Apple addresses purple camera flare

October 8, 2012

Apple addressed a common complaint about the iPhone 5’s camera with a message on its support pages over the weekend.

The problem: “a purplish or other colored flare, haze, or spot” when shooting into a light source just off-frame. According to Apple, it is on every generation of the iPhone and happens when a light sources hits the smartphone camera at a particular angle.

Apple said that it’s caused by a “reflection off the surfaces” in the camera module and onto its sensor.

PC Magazine’s Jim Fisher noted late last month that Apple is right in saying that the iPhone 5 is not the only smartphone with this problem.

Fisher did a “Purple Flare Shootout” with the iPhone 5, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, Samsung Galaxy S III and HTC One S. In his tests the the iPhone 4S and Galaxy S III did the best at cutting down violet tinge when shooting into a light source— though he said the iPhone 5 was the “worst offender of the bunch.”

Apple made a number of changes to the camera sensor in the iPhone 5 meant to improve low-light performance and snap faster pictures. The company also put a new, scratch-resistant crystal made of Sapphire in the sensor.

When it comes to being scratch-resistant, the crystal appears to be doing its job: in the iFixit teardown of the iPhone 5, the lens remained undamaged when the crew directly scratched it with a pair of steel tweezers, then ran sandpaper and keys over the back. But Fisher and others have theorized that the sapphire crystal covering or other coatings on the lens may be what’s exaggerating the purple flares.

As the problems seem to be more prevalent with the iPhone 5 than the iPhone 4S, the clues do point more strongly at a hardware quirk than a problem with Apple’s new operating system, iOS 6. The company’s explanation makes no mention of the software or a software fix.

Speaking of a fix, the solution Apple offers is fairly simple: move your hand.

Moving the camera “slightly to change the position,” or “shielding the lens with your hand” should reduce the problem or get rid of it altogether, the company said.

As problems go, this seems like a fairly easy one for users to address themselves — even if the fix may read like a repeat of the infamous “don’t hold it that way” solution that Apple’s late co-founder Steve Jobs offered for antenna problems on the iPhone 4.

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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