I was little severe about the new camera in my blog post about the new iPhone 4, because I was a little disappointed by the photographs it produced, compared with my compact Canon S90, and because I assumed it would be a while before existing iPhone photo apps would be updated by their developers to take advantage of the new five-megapixel resolution, which produces photographs of a size of 2592 × 1936 pixels, up from the iPhone 3GS’s 1536 × 2048 (3,1 MP). I’ve had a little more time to test the phone camera against those assumptions, and I’m finding that I’ve perhaps been a bit pessimistic.
First, if you look at the bare statistics, the quality leap from the iPhone 3GS to the iPhone 4 is impressive. It really is getting close to the point where the camera you always have with you becomes as good as best (smaller) cameras.
This is a picture taken with my old iPhone 3GS. Remember this was my camera of choice for the past year and I took some rather good photographs with it:
The story changes entirely with the iPhone 4:
This is still some way, of course, from the results produced by the Canon Powershot S90 to which I compared it in my initial iPhone 4 review:
It’s certainly true that the camera, in some light conditions, produces sub-optimal results. Focusing is supposed to automatically adjust exposure and the white balance, which is why no controls are provided to do so manually when you shoot [i]. The trouble, which shows in the above picture, is that it doesn’t adjust the white balance very well. This can be an issue or not depending on the light conditions in which the photo is shot.
This, however, is not really a hardware issue. It looks like the iPhone 4 BSI sensor is manufactured by Omnivision, meaning Apple has finally chosen to go for hardware sufficiently good to rival with relatively decent compact cameras. This is important because the image is being captured on a high-quality piece of hardware [ii], and Apple’s existing software is not yet making the most of it (a familiar story with Apple, who have a history of rushing out their latest toys equipped with sexy or at least sexy-looking hardware, but before the software works optimally).
As EETimes points out about this higher-end sensor:
It is a relatively modern choice compared to image sensors in past iPhones, and it supports backside illumination.
This means that in theory, the new iPhone is running hardware good enough to produce RAW images that would be unaffected by the defective default software. Of course, regardless of what happens under the hood, at present all you have access to, if you take a photograph on the iPhone 4, is a jpeg image incorporating some loss in quality; but you can process that image using software to correct the defects:
The good news here is that, contrary to my fears, existing iPhone apps seem capable of working on the high-resolution images produced by the iPhone 4 without loss, meaning this processing can be done on your phone rather than on your Mac.
The apps I use most to process iPhone photographs are Photo fx, Camerakit, EffectsLab and PureCarbon, all of which saved at 1536x2048 on the iPhone 3GS. I’ve tested these four on the iPhone 4, and to my surprise they all save pics at the new, higher resolution, despite the fact that only Photo fx appears to have specifically been updated for iOS 4:
I suspect this may have something to do with the fact that making iPhone apps capable of saving in higher resolutions has been addressed, by most developers who offered it for the iPhone 3GS, by removing any resolution cap, or at least setting sufficiently high that it isn’t yet hit at 5MP.
Since multitasking, which what most developers are rushing to offer to make their apps compatible with iOS 4, isn’t really an issue for photo processing, it looks like those using the new phone will be able to benefit immediately from its improved resolution even when using their existing apps after all. Applications specifically tailored to the new model are just beginning to appear, the first interesting one being Incredibooth, which uses the front camera to take a photobooth strip of images that you can then save, share on Facebook or send by email. Others will doubtless follow.
I’ve yet to test the iPhone 4 camera in low-light situations, but the addition of a flash obviously will helps in extreme cases, if used judiciously in combination with the higher quality sensor._______________
- Unlike Android cameraphones, many of which provide granular control over this and other settings when taking pictures. [↩]
- According to UBMTechInsights, “By examining the image sensor package and by comparing the die photo and specifications to our die image library, we have identified the 5 MP image sensor as the Omnivision OV5650 with backside illumination technology.” [↩]