Last year, I wrote The Amazing iPhone Camera Comparison using an iPhone 4, 3GS and 3G. This year, I am doing the same thing with the iPhone 4S and 4. Being able to compare the quality from the two cameras has given me a huge respect for the iPhone 4S – the quality difference is amazing and makes the iPhone 4 feel like a toy.
For the tech specs below, I included my numbers from last year’s post and added the ones for the 4S. Most of the numbers came from directly observing the EXIF data off of the photos, which included shots of the sun (for max shutter speed, etc) and a dark closet (for highest ISO, etc).
For the real-world comparison photos, I carried both the iPhone 4S and 4 around at the same time for about six days and took a wide variety of photos, trying to match the composition on each phone. Most are from the UCLA campus. I fully expected to get some weird looks, but the fact that the camera launches so much faster in iOS 5 means I was usually done with both phones in a matter of seconds.
|Tap to Focus||no||yes||yes||yes|
|Macro (approx.)||16″ | 41 cm||3″ | 7.5 cm||3″ | 7.5 cm||3″ | 7.5 cm|
|Shutter Speed Range
||?||1/10 – 1/28000||1/15 – 1/30000||1/15 – 1/?|
||?||64 – 1016||80 – 1000||64 – 800|
|Angle||wide||wider||3.85 mm||4.28 mm|
The max shutter speed didn’t come up in the EXIF, which I assume is just a bug. The most obvious features are the higher resolution and wider aperture. Less obvious is image stabilization and a larger sensor.
How do I know the sensor is bigger? Well, the EXIF data says the focal length is 4.28 mm on the iPhone 4S, versus 3.85 mm on the iPhone 4. In my comparisons, I discovered that the field of view was identical in both models. If the sensor size in the iPhone 4S was the same as the iPhone 4, a longer focal length would result in a zoomed-in photo when compared side-by-side. That’s not the case, which means the sensor must be bigger to compensate for the longer focal length.
Ok, time to look at examples.
All photos below and in the full comparison gallery are straight form the camera – no cropping or editing of any kind. Except for the 100% crops below, obviously. I chose to display photos here that best highlighted the points I was trying to make, but have a look through all of them to see what you think – iPhone 4/4S Comparison Gallery
With the additional megapixels and bigger sensor, fine details are much better.
It’s not as if you can see individual pine needles or anything, but it’s pretty close. The photo on the right is more of a dark blob, while the iPhone 4S shows texture in the needles and definition in the branches.
While this was shot in bright sunlight, the iPhone 4 image looks much noisier and is pretty flat. The iPhone 4S has nice clean, contrasting lines.
Color is something you adjust to, like when you get sunglasses that have a yellow tint. After a short time you just don’t notice, but then when you try on a different pair with a different color tint, it’s dramatic. At first I felt like the iPhone 4S color was way too yellow, but now I feel like it’s simply more accurate. The iPhone 4′s color is too saturated – too blue and too magenta.
In both examples, it’s pretty obvious that the iPhone 4 takes some very reddish photos. I’m still thinking that that the iPhone 4S is a bit too yellow, but it’s definitely more accurate to what my eye sees than the iPhone 4.
Dynamic Range, Contrast
For a camera, dynamic range is the brightest light and the darkest shadow that it can capture at once. Anything brigher is a blown-out highlight. Anything darker is black.
As you can see, the iPhone 4S has a much better range than the 4 – a lot of the iPhone 4 photos have darker shadows and blown out highlights. In other words, they’re more contrasty. Higher contrast does tend to make the colors pop, but it’s not as natural-looking. I appreciate this, because you can always edit the photo to add contrast – virtually every camera app and photo-editing program does this – but there is no substitute for a quality original photo with the details preserved.
The new phone performs amazingly well in low light. It’s almost as if there’s image stabilization, but Apple only advertised that as a feature for video. Regardless, I’ve gotten some amazing results considering the less-than-ideal lighting situations.
Both pairs of photos below were shot at the same shutter speed – 1/15 for the drinking fountain and 1/30 for the loading dock. The iPhone 4S pictures are tack sharp. The iPhone 4 pictures are terrible.
Be sure to check them out at the original size in the gallery if you want to really see the details – iPhone 4/4S Comparison Gallery
Long Live the Future of Camera Phones
Like I said, this makes me excited for the future. Sure, it’s no match for my Canon S95, but I’d say it matches the quality of my old Canon SD400, which was my old compact before I got the S95.
One area where Apple could really spice things up is to allow manually control of the camera for things like long exposures. There are apps that claim to do things like that, but they’re all software-based – affecting the photo after it’s already been captured. If Apple allowed the user more control over the camera then they would really be giving point-and-shoots a run for their money.
What do you think? Do you agree with my fantastic observations? Leave a comment!