The inclusion of a 5 megapixel camera on the new iPhone 4 remedies a long-lamented shortcoming: Apple's phone cams have far underperformed the competitors in its class. If the first batch of images off the device are any indication, Cupertino has more than made up for lost time. Apple posted what it claims are unretouched photos on its website
, and the quality is, frankly, stunning.
The iPhone's rear-facing camera is reportedly manufactured by Korea's LG Innotek
, and - as Steve Jobs said from the stage at Moscone Center yesterday - they didn't just cram more pixels onto the same sized chip, but instead made the whole chip bigger. As a result, the camera achieves a pixel pitch (space between sensing elements) of 1.75 microns, which brings it to about the level of a decent point and shoot camera. A higher pixel pitch gives better signal-to-noise ratio, dynamic range, and low-light performance. So while the iPhone 4's cam is not about to replace your DSLR, it might be good enough to take the place of a pocket camera.
Some evidence in this regard is in the photos Apple is showing off on its website. These are obviously pictures that were specifically chosen to show the camera's imaging qualities under ideal conditions, so what you mostly have are shots taken in broad daylight with good contrast. Even given those caveats, however, the camera performs very well. Apple is saying that the photos on its website are unedited images straight from an iPhone 4, and Gizmodo (who as you may recall has no reason to love Apple
) has taken a look at the EXIF metadata
. The one photo they analyzed appears to have been taken in full-automatic mode, and is slightly over-saturated and over-exposed, which Giz notes is similar to the way Nikon cameras process their images.
However, the mystery remains of how these cameras will perform in darker conditions. The low-light images on Apple's website are not specifically noted as being unretouched, and you would think they'd make a big deal out of them if they were. The back camera has (finally!) a built-in flash and backside illumination for better low-light imaging. The back-illuminated structure of the sensor means that incoming light doesn't have to pass through circuitry before reaching the light-sensitive components. The sensors used on the current iPhone, for example, have wires and components in from of the collection layer, which blocks some photos from getting through, making a darker and noisier image. So backside illumination - on paper at least - should make iPhone 4 images brighter and cleaner.
We're just going to have to wait and see how the camera does in the dark. Even so, the quality of the images under optimal conditions means that at least some of your camera pics - and videos - will be comparable to those taken by dedicated point-and-shoot or flip cameras. Which is pretty good for something that fits in your front pocket.
Take a look at Apple's gallery here
image via Apple