5MP beats 8MP: iPhone 4 camera beats all in smartphone ‘competition,’ including Droid X

Invisible Shield for Apple iPhone 4!“Camera quality is a competitive area for the current crop of smartphones,” Heather Kelly reports for Macworld.com. “With each new device, the gap between phones that happen to have cameras, and actual point-and-shoot cameras, shrinks.”

“To accurately see how good the iPhone 4’s 5-megapixel new camera really performs, we put it through the same battery of tests we use for point-and-shoot digital cameras, and rated it against other cutting-edge smartphones, including the new Droid X,” Kelly reports. “The iPhone camera is 5MP, but as Steve Jobs pointed out in his WWDC keynote, megapixel count alone doesn’t equal good images. Two of the smartphones we tested against the iPhone had higher megapixel counts, but they still scored lower on image quality tests.”

Kelly reports, “We compared the iPhone 4’s camera [5MP] with an iPhone 3GS [3MP], three other smartphone cameras, and two pocket point-and-shoot cameras. For the video portion of the test, we threw in a Flip Video M2120 for good measure. The other smartphones we tested were the EVO 4G [8MP], the Droid X [8MP], and the Samsung Galaxy [8MP]. The point-and-shoot cameras tested were the Sony DSC-WX1 [10.2MP] and Samsung HZ35W [15MP].”

“Unsurprisingly, the two point-and-shoot cameras came in first in our image quality tests,” Kelly reports. “The next best camera, and the highest scoring of all the smartphone cameras that we tested, was none other than the iPhone 4.”

Read the full report here.

MacDailyNews Take: What we wrote yesterday: “More megapixels do not mean better images… It’s not just the resolution of the sensor that determines the final image quality. It’s the device’s color management, optics, image-processing tech, the lens, etc.; it all contributes to the image quality. iPhone 4’s images will be measured against these devices with their ‘bigger numbers for ignoramuses’ and iPhone’s images will be found to have higher quality. As usual. Watch and see.”

And, for those of you reading this on a fake Mac or fake iPhone: If you want to ascribe bias because this report is from Macworld, you’re simply not being honest with yourself. Independent tests will soon confirm these results. As usual. Watch and see.

21 Comments

  1. its also related to the size of the sensor area and the number of pixels crammed into that area. If the sensor size remains constant, at a certain point as the pixel count rises the image quality will decline because to fit, the pixels have to be made smaller and smaller, and this reduces their quality in a number of ways. The lens size and the amount of light allowed in has a great impact as well.

  2. People just don’t understand quality. Apple does their best to provide their customers with the highest quality experience and product and that’s something that can’t be quantified using feature matrices that these self-important bloggers and analysts love to use to try and discredit Apple’s design decisions.

  3. I was well aware of the megapixel marketing BS years ago, so I went with a P&S;which had lenses and processors worthy of the pixel count.

    However, what made an even bigger difference was image stabilization, which dampened slight movement when taking pictures. The difference was very noticeable in lower-light shots when you didn’t *want* the flash to go off and saturate the scene (so the shutter was held open for longer, and became more susceptible to motion blur), and especially when taking video. I doubt I could watch high-def 720p video for very long without this.

    I don’t know if Apple could have included image stabilization in a cell phone camera lens, but in a review of the Flip HD camera (a direct competitor for your pocket space) Engadget specifically pointed out lack of IS as a serious flaw.

  4. Also wondering, for those with iPhone 4s already: is the camera lens covering plastic or glass? The 3GS’ is easily-scratched plastic of course, and if the 4’s is as well I’m wondering why, since the entire back is already glass.

  5. @Steve516;

    Steve Jobs mentioned in the keynote that they specifically kept the pixel size the same, they only added pixels, thus adding to the area taking in light. That could well be one of the things making a difference!

  6. @mossman

    I’ve had my iPhone for 2 days and the camera lens already has a scratch on it, so I’m guessing it isn’t glass. 🙁

    Before anyone claims it, I wasn’t rough with the phone in any way. It has been in my pocket, by itself, when I’m not using it.

  7. “More megapixels do not mean better images… It’s not just the resolution of the sensor that determines the final image quality”

    Actually, MDN is making a common mistake here. The myth is megapixels equal resolution. It does NOT. Megapixels is just the number of red-green and blue pixels. Resolution is something completely different. One does not equal the other, and there’s no relationship between the two.

    Sensor electronics generate heat, and when the pixels are really small, the heat overwhelms the light photons, rendering those pixels unintelligible. Remember the Signal-to Noise ratio in stereo specs? Yep, it’s the same thing here, when pixels get small, the noise goes up and can overwhelm the signal.

    Currently, the bottleneck in image quality for cellphones is not pixels, it’s all the other stuff, just as Steve Jobs said. It’s pixel size and photons and moving the electronics away from the sensor, etc.

  8. Usable, practical functionality – that’s what Apple provides. You can’t always define that with numbers. I am not expecting my camera to substitute for a DSLR. But it sure is nice that the iPhone appears to essentially provide the video capabilities of a Flip. Nice…

  9. @mossman
    I purchased the Camera+ app which adds, among other features, Stabilization. It works. This app is a nice addition to my 3GS. There are a lot of similarly-named camera apps. Camera+ is from the company, “tap tap tap”.

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