Home > iPhone > More Impressions of the iPhone 4: Cameras & Display

More Impressions of the iPhone 4: Cameras & Display

July 4th, 2010

2Phones 05

I got to shoot the phone in daylight this morning, and had time to do a few more comparisons between the 3G and the new phone. Then Sachi and I went to Iruma and I tested it in taking movies and photos.

Even if I had not read about it the previous night, I would have quickly noticed a flaw with the iPhone 4’s camera: under certain indoor lighting conditions, the 4’s camera (in movies as well as stills) shows a strong yellow tint, very distracting. Hopefully, Apple can fix this with an OS update.

On the brighter side, I was relieved to find that I will not be nearly as limited in taking movies as I thought. The movies taken by the iPhone 4, despite being a high-def 1280 x 720 and 30 fps, only take up 80 MB per minute–less than I expected. That means you could take 12.5 minutes of video per GB, and if you have 10 GB free (which I currently have on the 16 GB device), you could shoot up to 2 hours of video on this thing without saving it to a computer. I was worried that the 16GB model might not have space enough to take more than five or ten minutes of video; I worried needlessly. Images, at the 5 MP resolution of 2592 x 1936, take up anywhere between 1 to 2.5 MB.

My observations, thoughts and impressions of the Camera capabilities of the iPhone 4 are below the fold. I’m putting it all there because the post is pretty long and has a lot of images.The Screens

Side by side and from arm’s length, the two don’t look that much different much of the time.

2Phones 04

Certainly, at this resolution, the screens don’t seem to vary much:

2Phones 02

The form factor is the greatest difference seen at a distance in comparison of depth:

2Phones 03

You can see how the rounded back of the 3G/3GS can really bulk up the device. And I have to say, that was one of my pet peeves about the 3G whenever I tried to type–put it on a flat surface, a common habit when you want to use two hands to type, and the phone would rock with every tap. The flat phone form works much better in instances like that.

Photos taken with a DSLR also display pretty differently. Here’s a shot of our wedding cake, full-size first and then zoomed in:



But take a look at a shot showing just part of each screen–not hard to see which is the 3G and which is the iPhone 4:

Cu02 3G

Cu02 I4

I think part of the secret of the screen’s quality is that in addition to having smaller pixels, there seems to be less space between the pixels, even relatively speaking. This avoids the “screen door” effect, allowing for a more coherent image much like one printed in high quality on a piece of paper.

Here’s another comparison, even more noticeable when we get a little closer in:



The images at full size, 3g at the left; click each to see a larger version:

Cu10B Cu10A

The Cameras

When taking pictures with the iPhone 4 camera, you will first notice that it has a slightly wider field of view than the iPhone 3G. Here are a few images to show this, scaled down to 450 pixels wide:

Pups1 3G 450 The 3G

Pups1 I4 450 The iPhone 4

Here’s a shot out our balcony window:

Winreg 3G 450 The 3G

Winreg I4 450 The iPhone 4

It’s immediately evident that the iPhone 4’s images are better, but one might assume it’s because the 4 has a 5 MP camera, much better than the 2 MP camera on the 3G. But when I take a non-scaled-down bit from the same area of each image above–pixels represented to scale–you can see an even more striking difference, if anything:

Windet 3G 450 The 3G

Windet I4 450-1 The iPhone 4

As you can see, the image taken with the iPhone 4 is much sharper.

Both cameras have iOS4 installed, and so I tried 5x digital zoom, with similar results–though, of course, with the digital zoom, you’re just getting a cropped image increased to full-size, something I consider pretty useless. Therefore, I am not going to try to show you the results–just take my word that they’re crummy enough to make it a worthless feature. Just take a normal photo and crop it and you’ll be better off. There are free apps you can download which will crop and even straighten out photos you’ve taken; just get one of them instead.

The iPhone 4 does a much better job than the 3G with close-ups. I know that the 3GS did better as well, but I don’t have one around for comparison. Below are pictures from the 3G and the iPhone 4, respectively, taken at about the same distance, then scaled down to the same size. Again, not hard to see the difference:

Ppcu 3G 400 Ppcu I4 400


As I noted above, the movies work out very nice, save for the sometimes yellow hue under indoor lighting. Here is a 320/480p version of a video taken by the iPhone 4, just a 13 second clip of me holding a Shiba Inu puppy. A full-720p version on YouTube is available here, and I am adding a 7MB file version in 720p if you’d like a downloadable version and something less compressed by YouTube, which lowers the quality a bit.

You’ll get an idea of the quality, though not 100%, of what indoor filming is like.

For a sample with better lighting, here’s another 13-second clip from our bus ride from Iruma Station to Costco and the Mitsui Outlet Park. (As a side note, the bus made recorded announcements in English and Chinese in addition to the standard Japanese; the English is just barely starting at the end of this clip. Don’t know if that’s normal for the area or is specific to the buses going to the outlet mall.) Again, here is a special page playing the video in true 720p, and a downloadable file (about 10 MB this time) also in 720p.

You can plainly see that it is possible to take pretty good-quality movies with this. Add the ability to edit with iMovie for iPhone, and then to upload to YouTube or Mobile Me, and you get a pretty potent tool. In addition to having a a single device which replaces a music player, a PDA, a cell phone, a game console, an ebook reader, a GPS unit, and a small computer, it now does a decent enough job at replacing your video camera as well. The higher-resolution still camera on the iPhone similar displaces the need for a camera, at least for those who use standard digital cameras. The quality of both cameras is now sufficient for most uses.

I think back to our honeymoon last year in Europe, and how I was always lugging around my DSLR and my video camera, and how it was usually such a pain to do so. The DSLR is nice, but it’s big and hangs around your neck like a signpost saying, “I’m a tourist!” and the video camera was not much more convenient. The DSLR allowed me to switch to a zoom lens, but that involved fishing the other lens from my bag, swapping it out, and then having to be careful about all the settings. When I wanted to take video, I’d have to fish out the video camera and set that up as well. For most of the images and videos I took on that trip, the abilities of the iPhone 4 would have served quite reasonably; I could have left the hotel with about 5 pounds less gear, could have avoided the hassle of changing from one large device to another, and when switching from video to still or vice versa, I could have just tapped the screen and Bob’s your uncle. True, many DSLRs today take 720p video or better–but they’re still big and clunky and even sometimes embarrassing when you want to stand out a little less in a foreign country. To be able to just whip out your cell phone and everything’s there would have been a nice luxury.

Another point which I noticed personally is that most of the videos taken with an iPhone 4 which I see elsewhere online tend to be shaky as hell, and true enough, when you’re always moving the iPhone around, it can get unbearably shaky. But it is possible to take smooth (or smooth-ish) videos with the phone–you just have to be aware and make and effort to control how you hold and move the camera. Bottom line, however, is that Apple should release a software or hardware update at some point that allows for image stabilization, as most people won’t know how to or simply won’t be able to hold the camera in just the right way to make for better movies. Peripherals to look for: a tripod mount for the iPod, or some sort of low-cost steadycam rig.

By the way, a tip about iPhone 4 videos and YouTube: not only will the iPhone 4 send a scaled-down version to YouTube, but even if you upload the video to your computer and send it to YouTube via a browser, it still won’t be available in 720p high-def. The reason why is the “mov” format; for some reason YouTube won’t generate a full-quality version of those files. A workaround is by using the free app HandBrake; convert the iPhone video to an “m4v” file first (there should be little or no loss in quality), and then when you upload to YouTube, the video will be available in HD mode. HandBrake will save in “m4v” mode only if you go to the preferences and, under “General,” tick the check box which says it will use the “iPod friendly” “m4v” file extension for mp4 files.

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  1. Geoff Kransdorf
    July 7th, 2010 at 20:09 | #1

    As an Android (HTC Desire) users, I was struck by several things when I played with the iphone4 at Bic Camera

    1. The screen is incredibly sharp, but looks too small next to newer phones. A 3.7 or large screen would be a big improvement.
    2. The single home button is just as lame as the single button on Mac mice. A proper back and menu button would be much more convenient.
    3. The main screens are just wasted space. Live widgets that update would be a lot more 2010.
    4. It still feels very much like an iphone (albeit a fairly quick one). So the transition from an older iphone would be trivial. But coming from Android or something else, the stuff that you dislike is mostly still there.
    5. Bic had the phones in a big ugly case for display. Still, the shape didn’t seem very comfortable to hold.
    6. Why is the keyboard still so bad? They can’t manage to fit punctuation on the main keyboard at all? Coming from a Swype keyboard, it was painful.
    7. No matter what anyone says, it looks slippery and fragile to me, with all that brittle glass front and back. I wouldn’t use it without a case.

    In all, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who wasn’t already an Apple nut. There is better hardware (and software) out there now, and in 6 months it will be even farther behind.

  2. Luis
    July 7th, 2010 at 23:09 | #2

    All this is mostly a matter of taste. What you write above is similar to any A vs. B argument–Mac vs. Windows, Playstation vs. Xbox, Kirk vs. Picard, whatever.

    (1) I prefer resolution over size; size can be compensated with where you hold the phone–seriously, a few inches closer, there’s no difference except being able to say, “but mine is bigger!.” (2) Physical buttons are so passe–what do you think a touchscreen is for? The iPhone has all the buttons it needs, when it needs them. (3) A matter of preference; I dislike screens that move around, just like with web pages. Badges are just fine. Your mileage may vary. (4) Not sure of all you mention, but my transition was a significant one–to suddenly get the screen, the better still camera, the Hi-def video camera, the front-facing camera, the flash, the better (for me, at least) form factor… and the CPU and full functionality of iOS4 with the folders and multitasking and, well, you get the picture. None of that is life-changing; it’s just much nicer to have around. If that’s what you were getting at. (6) Agreed; Apple needs to update the keyboard (especially on the iPad–WTF?). (7) People have been talking about slippery since the original iPhone. I don’t get it. Never had a problem. The case for me is insurance and comfort, not because the phone was slippery for me.

    A lot just depends on what you’re into. I have the disadvantage here of not having held and used an HTC Desire, so I can’t compare it. But I can read. How about the poor battery life? How does it look in sunlight? Touchscreen accuracy? The quality of the apps available (numbers may/will change, but quality of apps is often complained about)? How about the quality of the speakers? The large screen, smaller front-face gripping area, and more buttons also means more accidental button presses, no? Etc., etc.

    Frankly, I’m getting tired of the whole Apple-Fanboy fixation. Read all the sparkling reviews of the HTC and you could come to the exact same conclusions by (a) liking something else better, (b) focusing on the bad points of the other thing, and (c) seeing people rave about the one you don’t like.

    How about this: we both have gadgets, we both love them, we’re both happy. 😀

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