While camera-phones may never go head to head with the performance, speed, and overall image quality of dSLRs, there’s a lot of improvements being made to them. And, if you’re already spending hundreds of dollars on a phone, do you really need to purchase a separate point-and-shoot camera if the pictures come out looking relatively the same?
For many, the answer remains a yes because the image quality isn’t equal, with phones lagging far behind. Most quality point-and-shoot cameras offer larger, crisper images with a host of helpful features still unavailable on current generation phones.
But it looks like that may be changing thanks to the iPhone 4s, which seems aimed at budding as well as on-the-go photographers (well, at least the ones who don’t need a dSLR).
While the iPhone 4s may appear visually identical to its last generation sibling, Apple says the 4s is all new on the inside. The two highlights are the new dual core processor (the A5 — featuring faster graphics, processing speeds, and more efficient battery life) and the improved still and HD video camera system.
The iPhone 4s Camera
The iPhone 4 has already won a number of image quality comparison tests with its 5 megapixel camera. But the 4s will bump up to an 8 megapixel CMOS sensor (3264 x 2448 pixels), a full 60 percent more pixels than the previous camera. The sensor itself is a next generation backside illumination model, which Apple reports has a 73 percent sensitivity boost over the one found in the iPhone 4. However, megapixel ratings aren’t always an accurate benchmark of image quality; especially in smaller senors like the ones found on phones, increasing pixel counts can often reduce, rather than increase, image quality. Helping to ensure those 8 megapixels are used to their fullest, the iPhone 4s has all new optics — a custom, five element lens with a larger f/2.4 aperture.
CMOS sensors are particularly susceptible to chromatic and color aberrations from infrared light, but the iPhone 4s has a hybrid infrared filter to protect your photos. The 4s also has an improved LED flash (which can be turned off). The only real drawback in the new camera system is that the lens is a little longer (aka, a little more telephoto), so you won’t be able to get as wide-angled a shot as you could in previous cameras.
But it’s not just the lens and sensor that’ll make for a better camera. The iPhone 4s also features new hardware and software in the form of the A5 Chip and iOS 5 (the phone’s operating system, which will also work on the iPhone 4 and 3GS models). The A5 chip is faster (zero shutter lag), and hosts a built-in image signal processor Apple says is “just as good as the ones found in dSLR cameras.” This new processor, coupled with the lens and sensor, means better contrast, allowing for noise-free darker images as well as not-blown-out bright pictures.
New to iPhone photos will be an actual shutter button (the phone’s volume up button) as well as tap tofocus or control exposure settings. There’s also an all new Face Detection feature that knows the difference between group and portrait shots — it can balance and optimize exposure for up to 10 faces. A new feature to enable taking pictures much faster, users will be able to open the Camera app right from the iPhone’s Lock Screen.
iOS 5 allows for on-the-fly editing (crop, rotate, enhance, and red eye removal) — all features that once required a separate application. HDR photography fans will love the built-in HDR functionality which, unlike so many cameras these days that only approximates HDR, takes three separate photos and combines them on the fly, saving both the original (middle exposure) as well as the HDR shot in your photo album. Albums, of course, can be arranged and organized right on your phone.
The iPhone 4s (and iOS 5) will offer Photo Stream via its iCloud service. New photos will automatically sync over all your devices (iPhones, iPod touches, Macs, PCs). Owners can also choose to upload new shots to the web (Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter) or stream them to HDTVs via AirPlay and AppleTV. iMessage, MMS, and email picture messaging remain available.
Here’s a look at two “unretouched” iPhone 4s sample shots:
Pretty nice, right? To see more samples (and higher resolutions), head over to Apple.
iPhone 4s HD Video Recording
Full HD, 1080p video recording is one of the best things about CMOS sensors paired with newer image processors. This is an upgrade over the iPhone 4’s 720p limitation. Video on the iPhone 4s will, of course, include the same improved bright and dark recording capabilities of the still images as well as improved auto white balance and temporal noise reduction.
Because smaller cameras are easier to shake and jostling, making for sometimes nauseating results, an all new video stabilization system has been built into the iPhone 4s along side and a tap focus system, which allows for changing focus during recording. Also new, users can select “start” and “end” points for all of their clips, or if actual editing is required, you can download the iMovie app to cut together short films right on the phone. And once your future Oscar winner is complete, stream it to your HDTV via AirPlay and Apple TV.
So there we have it, the new iPhone 4s and all its new digital camera / cinematic capabilities. Given the focus and improvements, Apple seems to be focusing on shutterbugs. The question remains, will this be enough of a point-and-shoot camera for you, dear Steve’s reader, to jettison your point-and-shoot. I’d love to get your opinion in the Forums or on our Facebook page.