Motorcycle vibrations can damage cameras on iPhone

[German]Motorcyclists should think twice before buying modern smartphones with image stabilizers and mounting them as a navigator on the machine. iPhones in particular seem to have a problem with vibrations on the machines, as this can permanently damage the camera components for image stabilizer and auto-focus.


I don't have an iPhone or a motorcycle, but the whole thing is logical. Apple issued a warning on Sept. 10, 2021, about vibrations that can damage iPhone cameras. Vibrations with high amplitude oscillations within certain frequency ranges, especially those generated by powerful motorcycle engines, can affect the performance of the camera system, Apple writes. Apparently, damage to such devices has accumulated over the years, so the problem has now been explicitly addressed.

Image stabilizer and auto-focus as a problem

The background: the camera systems of some current iPhone models include technologies such as optical image stabilization and closed-loop autofocus. These systems automatically compensate for motion, vibration, and the effects of gravity, allowing users to focus entirely on taking a photo.

With optical image stabilization (OIS), a gyroscope detects that the camera is moving. To reduce image movement and the resulting blur, the lens moves according to the angle of the gyroscope.

In addition, some iPhone models have closed-loop autofocus (AF). This feature compensates for the effects of gravity and vibration to ensure sharp images, videos and panoramas. With closed-loop AF, built-in magnetic sensors measure the effects of gravity and vibration and determine the lens position so that the compensation movement can be precisely adjusted.

This is great technology, and both the optical image stabilization and closed-loop AF sensors on the iPhone are built to last. However, as with many consumer electronics that incorporate systems like OIS, prolonged direct exposure to strong vibrations within certain frequency ranges can degrade the performance of these systems and result in degraded image quality for photos and videos. In plain language, this means: The elements in question can suffer permanent damage if they are exposed to these vibrations for a long time.


Apple's recommendations

It is recommended by Apple not to expose the iPhone to strong vibrations for a long time. The background is that the iPhones are probably also sometimes mounted directly as a navigator on the handlebars of the machines. Apple writes about this:

  • High-power or high-volume motorcycle engines generate intense high-amplitude vibrations, which are transmitted through the chassis and handlebars. It is not recommended to attach your iPhone to motorcycles with high-power or high-volume engines due to the amplitude of the vibration in certain frequency ranges that they generate.
  •  Attaching your iPhone to vehicles with small-volume or electric engines, such as mopeds and scooters, may lead to comparatively lower-amplitude vibrations, but if you do so a vibration dampening mount is recommended to lessen the risk of damage to your iPhone and its OIS and AF systems.
  • It is also recommended to avoid regular use for prolonged periods to further lessen the risk of damage.

OIS is available on iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s Plus, and iPhone 7 and later including iPhone SE (2nd generation). Note that the Ultra Wide camera on iPhone 11 and later doesn't have OIS, nor does the Telephoto camera on iPhone 7 Plus and iPhone 8 Plus.Closed-loop AF is available on iPhone XS and later, including iPhone SE (2nd generation).

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