Confession time: if there’s something I love almost as much as Disney theme parks, it’s Apple’s products. Ok, my friends and family come closely behind that. I’ve been really excited for the new iPhone to come out since my 4S was getting a little long in the tooth. After picking up the 4.7″ beauty from the Apple Store a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t wait to really see what this phone was made of by taking it to Disneyland. As shown in this Techcrunch review, a day at a Disney Park is a perfect stress test for a phone. I use my phone all the time whenever I’m at Disneyland or Disney World, so I was really interested to see how it held up to all the things I like to do at Disney.

The Screen

The biggest obvious difference for iPhone users will be the bigger screen. I opted for the smaller of the two new iPhones, primarily because pocketability and being able to use the phone one handed ended up being more important to me than the advantages in screen size and battery life of the 6 Plus. I honestly was pretty tempted by the 6 Plus, but in the end I just felt like the 6 was the more sensible choice for me and how I use my phone.


Going from the 3.5″ screen of the 4S to the 4.7″ screen of the 6 is a huge leap. For me, it’s almost all positive. It is a little bit harder to reach some of the top targets if I’m using it one handed, but that’s a minor trade off for how much more information I have on the screen. Whereas before I could see two or three lines of text at a time while writing a note, I can now see 13-14. That makes a huge difference in productivity. I’m actually writing up this review on my iPhone 6.

I was a bit worried that the bigger screen would make it unwieldy to use while walking from attraction to attraction at Disneyland. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case. I opted to get the Apple silicone case, which makes the phone pretty grippy, so I was never really worried about dropping the phone if using it while on the move. However, it’s best to not keep your head buried in your phone while walking around Disneyland, as it greatly increases your chances of walking into a churro cart.

The screen is the best LCD screen I’ve ever used in bright sunlight. This is a huge win for using the phone while at the parks, since bright and sunny is pretty common in Orlando or Southern California. It was never hard to see anything while standing in line with the sun above me, which is extra handy for tweaking Instagram photos.

The Camera

Disneyland Hub -iPhone 6 Photo

This is arguably the most important feature for many people. Whenever I see people taking pictures at Disneyland or Disney World, it’s usually with a smartphone of some kind. While I still opt to lug around a DSLR with me, a smartphone is usually someone’s only camera.

Good thing for iPhone 6 users: the camera is fantastic.

Pictures taken in bright sunlight look brilliant. This is unsurprising, as these are ideal conditions for any camera. However, the iPhone 6 looks very sharp with vibrant colors. For example, look at this picture from my iPhone 6 compared to my Canon 70D.

Disneyland - Halloween Time - iPhone 6 - 1/1800 sec, f 2.2, ISO 32, 4.15 mm

iPhone 6 – 4.15mm, 1/1800 sec, f/2.2, ISO 32

Disneyland - Halloween Time - Canon 70D - 40mm, 1/400 sec, f/7.1, ISO 100

Canon 70D – 40mm, 1/400 sec, f/7.1, ISO 100

Even though this is something of an unfair fight, the iPhone 6 stacks up surprisingly well when compared to the big camera. In daylight, the iPhone 6 is an absolute photographic beast.

Big Thunder Mountain - iPhone 6

Disneyland Cups - iPhone6

While shots in ideal conditions look great, I was even more impressed with the camera’s low light performance. It’s somewhat shocking how good it is. My first stop at Disneyland was Trader Sam’s, which is an extremely dim environment. I took some quick shots, hoping for the best but honestly not expecting much.

Trader Sams - iPhone 6

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The iPhone does a fantastic job in low light. In fact, it’s much better in low light than many point and shoot cameras I’ve used in the past.

A few factors are at play here, but I think most of them can be attributed to the digital image stabilization and the digital imaging processor that’s part of the A8 chip. First of all, when I took the photos into Lightroom, I was surprised to see how low the ISO was for many of these pictures. For many of them, the ISO was around 640, which keeps the images fairly clean. It seems that the digital image stabilization allows the phone to keep the shutter open for longer. For example, this shot was taken at 1/15 of a second.

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Usually, that’s too long of an exposure for me to take handheld and get a sharp image. But through some magic, the digital image stabilization prevented my photo of Trader Sam’s look like I had one too many Shipwrecks. I’ve even taken photos in low light where I feel my hand shaking, but the picture comes out sharp. So because the image is kept stable, the iPhone can have a slower shutter speed, which lets in more light and reduces the ISO in the image. What ISO is there seems to be handled really well by the Digital Imaging Processor in the A8. This all combines for a really clean image in low light. The iPhone 6 Plus has Optical Image Stabilization, which will perform even better in low light than the regular 6. However, most people have reported that it’s not a drastic difference.

The low light performance on the new iPhones also greatly reduces the need to use your flash, which is great news. The flash on the iPhone is ok if you absolutely need it. But as a public service announcement: turn your flash off. It will make your photos look so much better, and 99% of the time you don’t really need it. And, please, never ever ever ever ever ever use your flash to take a picture of a dark ride.

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The camera does have its limits. On dark rides, I found it tough to get a clear shot. Certain scenes in The Little Mermaid photographed fairly well, but I found darker rides like the Haunted Mansion to be a challenge. The Finding Nemo Submarines were a complete no-go. However, dark ride photography is a challenge for my DSLR as well.

A couple of other notes with the camera: HDR is now automatically enabled whenever the camera detects it needs it. This is a great feature for shots where your subject is backlit. The iPhone’s pictures retain a lot of details in the shadows, so they take well to editing. Also, burst mode works really well for capturing action like the final plummet of Splash Mountain, although that isn’t new to the iPhone 6.

All in all, the iPhone is an amazing stills camera. No, it will not replace my DSLR. But it pretty much removed my desire for a high-end point and shoot like the Sony RX100. In my opinion, the iPhone 6’s camera is the most compelling feature of this smartphone.

Video

All this talk about the camera, and I didn’t even mention the video features, which are arguably even bigger improvements from the previous models than the stills.

By default, the camera takes video in 1080p at 30 frames per second. There is an option for 60 frames per second in the Settings app. If you have storage space to spare, I recommend turning this on. 60 FPS footage is extremely fluid, and looks great played back on the iPhone screen. There’s an added bonus where you can take the video into an editor and slow it down to 30 FPS or 24 FPS. This gives you super smooth slow motion shots at full 1080p, which is more than my 70D can do.

How does the footage look? Great. It’s pretty sharp, and colors look vibrant. However, the big standout feature for me was the digital stabilization. As someone who uses DSLRs to shoot video, I know how tough it can be to get smooth looking video. Frankly, this is the best digital image stabilization I’ve ever seen. (Hyperlapse has some even better stabilization, but there are a lot of trade offs in terms of resolution and compression). I’ve taken video where my hands have been pretty shaky, only to watch a buttery smooth shot in playback. It’s pretty astounding. I think great stabilization is a much more important feature than something like 4K for most users. This is the real killer video feature for the iPhone 6, and will make your vacation videos look that much better.

This video is also great in low light, and actually performs better on dark rides than the stills. The camera overall seems to bias towards keeping the image clean, even if it means it’s a little dim. This is the right trade off, in my opinion, as cranking up the ISO would just result in grainy, unusable footage. Combine clean low light video with the IS and you have a winner for taking dark ride videos.

Slow Motion Video is a fun feature. You can record at 240 frames per second in 720p and play it back at 30 FPS. The footage is mesmerizing, and there are definitely some fun subjects at Disney to take slow motion videos of. However, this feature has two big drawbacks. It requires a lot more light for 240 FPS video, so low light performance isn’t as great. The killer issue for me is that the slow motion video just isn’t that sharp. It’s not even the lower resolution of 720p: there’s a lot of aliasing and jagginess to the video. For most people, this won’t be a big deal.

Timelapse is a cool new feature for iOS 8, but, for the best results, you’re going to need a tripod.

Battery Life

I was hoping for a bit more out of the iPhone 6’s battery. Don’t get me wrong: it’s very good. I was able to get through most of the day taking pictures and videos, texting, emailing, looking up wait times and more. However, I got close enough to low battery percentage that I still will bring an external battery with me to the parks.

Extras

While at Disneyland, special contextual icons would appear at the lower left corner of my lock screen. While inside the park, it would be a shortcut to Mousewait, a free app that tells you the wait times at Disneyland. Whenever I was near one of the three Starbucks locations, it would be a shortcut to that app. I believe this may be an iOS 8 feature, although these shortcuts did not appear on my girlfriend’s iPhone 5.

The phone performs really well, with apps loading up quickly. This is to be expected with a new phone, so it isn’t really noteworthy at this point.

I ended up taking 3 GB of photos and video over 2 days at Disneyland on my iPhone. If you are considering getting an iPhone 6, I urge you to get at least the 64 GB model. I think Apple made a huge mistake limiting the entry level to 16 GB. This is frankly not enough space, considering the quality of the camera and the size of apps in 2014.

Conclusion

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I think the iPhone 6 is a fantastic device for a Disneyland or Disney World vacation. Whether you’re killing time while waiting in line with Threes or sharing your pictures of the castle on Instagram, the phone has big improvements across the board. If you’re on the fence, I think the iPhone 6 is worth getting for the camera alone. This is a great device, and I can’t wait to bring it with me to Disney World.