Tag Archive | "camera"

If Seeing Really is Believing… Never Point Your Smartphone’s Camera at an Airplane Propeller

Tags: ,


If I saw this out the window of a plane, I’d be a little bit terrified:

 

This seemingly horrifying scene is the result of the way that images are captured by the sensors that we find in many modern smartphones.

Unlike real film cameras, active pixel sensors (like those found in many smartphones) don’t expose every pixel at the same time, but rather, do so in sequence. While the consequences of capturing photos this way is trivial for most things, objects moving at high speed may seem to exhibit some strange behaviors, like the propeller above which appears to be literally falling away from the airplane.

This is definitely tough to explain with text alone but you may find this visual explanation helpful. In the video, the line that moves from the top to the bottom represents the sections of the sensor that are actively capturing data:

If seeing really is believing… never point your smartphone camera at a propeller while in an airplane!

The Wonder of Mobile: A Look at Software, Services, and Devices of the Past and Present

Tags: , ,


river panoHere I am, sitting on the shores of the Shenandoah River. A smartphone rests in my pocket. Removing it, I fire up an app to take a series of photos, and in seconds, I’ve got a panoramic photo ready for sharing. The simplicity of the processes gives me pause to stop and think about how far we’ve come in the last 10 years. While convergence seemed like a dream to many (and still does to some), for a number of uses, modern smartphones are the convergence devices that we’ve always dreamed about, offering incredible convenience, utility, and value in a single, pocketable package.

From one device I was able to capture, stitch, and wirelessly upload a panoramic photo to instantly share with my friends around the country and around the world, literally from the shore of a river. When it comes to technology, instant gratification is a whole lot more instant than it was 10 years ago.

So I decided to take a look at the process of capturing, stitching, and uploading a panoramic photo – what hardware, software, and services I would need – to accomplish that same task presently, as well as 5 and 10 years ago. Please note that there are likely alternative solutions, but this is how I would have gone about it (please share your experiences in the comments!):

Present:

As mentioned, I used a smartphone, an app, a mobile data connection, and hosted my photo on a free web service, but let’s talk about specifics.

My smartphone of choice at the moment is the iPhone 4, though any smartphone should have access to such capabilities. This gives me the ability to capture each photo, that will eventually turn into the panoramic, at 5MP, and in HDR if I so choose (a photographic technique that was once very complex to perform). I used the awesome and free Photosynth app to stitch together the photo in real time, it was literally done in seconds flat. To host the photo and share with friends, I had a range of choices, including: Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, Twitpic, Photosynth and perhaps hundreds of other free services. Getting the photo to those services is an easy task for my 3G connection which sees around 1 Mbit/s on average. I could have even used a service like PixelPipe to upload my photo once and have it distributed to many hosting services.

Five years ago:

Five years ago, in 2006, the best digital camera I had access to was the 3.2MP camera on my old Sony Clie UX50 Palm Pilot, which actually took decent pictures compared to consumer digital cameras of the time. To my knowledge, there was no application that could stich together a panoramic directly on the device – as it ran Palm OS — and definitely not one that could do it in real-time. I would have to take the photos and line them up manually as I did, then off-load them to a desktop computer later for processing.

I could send each photo via Bluetooth from the Clie UX50 to my Sony Vaio UX180 [tracking page link to UX280, same basic device] right there in the field. On the UX180, a UMPC running a full version of Windows XP, I could process the photos using some desktop software, though the process was much less automated than it is today. Photoshop would be the obvious choice though I believe there were a few free tools at the time as well.

After stitching the photos and cropping the output, I’d need to decide which service I would use for hosting. Facebook did exist 5 years ago, but definitely didn’t support the display of a large panoramic photo. Twitter was just coming into existence in 2006, so most photo-hosting services made with twitter in mind didn’t yet exist. This puts TwitPic, which launched in 2008, out of the picture. Flickr, did exist in 2006, but even in its modern form, the site still limits the maximum resolution to 1024 for the widest side of the photo – not preferable for panoramic photos. More likely than a dedicated photo hosting service, I would have gone to a file-hosting service like box.net to upload my picture in full without any resolution/format restrictions, then sent a public link to my friends through email or IM, wherein they’d download the file itself and view it locally on their computer.

Actually uploading the photo could be done through the EDGE modem that was built into the UX180, and connected to Cingular. Yes, Cingular still existed back then! The EDGE data connection saw transfer rates around 400 kbit/s (50 kbytes/s) and would have taken 10 seconds on a good day to upload the 487kb photo that’s included at the top of this post.

Ten years ago:

analog panoramaIn 2001, things were far different. At this point, using an analog SLR would have been a practical solution. That is, unless I had $4500 to drop on a DSLR like the Nikon D1X, released in 2001, which had a whopping 5.3MP resolution! Or I could go with a more realistic camera like the Sony Cybershot DSC-S75 which was launched in 2001 to the tune of $700. Still, I wasn’t about to drop $700 on the DSC-S75’s measly 3.1MP, so an SLR would have been my tool of choice.

I would have captured the photos with the analog camera on the bank of the river, using manual/mental alignment (and I’d have to hope that I did it well because I wouldn’t be able to digitally review the photos I just snapped). Then I would have waited to get home and have my film developed at a photo shop. With the photos in hand, I would manually align them and glue/tape them together, then use a scanner to capture the whole panoramic into the computer. Of course, the dimensions of the panoramic would have been constrained by the physical size of the scanner!

Sharing would be a whole different story indeed. In 2001, there was no Facebook, no Flickr, no Box.net, and some email providers might not have supported the size necessary to attach the photo to an email. A floppy disk or could have have been used to physically share the file with friends, in lieu of a modern day flash drive, or of course I could have printed multiple copies to hand to friends! But more likely is that I would ask people to come over to see the picture on my old 1024×768 CRT monitor!

How About You?

I only looked back 10 years, but it felt like a serious trip down memory lane. What alternative solutions (devices/software/services) might you have used 5 or 10 years ago to accomplish such a task? Or perhaps there’s something you do every day with your smartphone but would have only been accomplished with an ever complicated workflow as you go back in time; let’s hear it!

HTC Thunderbolt Testing Notes and Camera Quick-test

Tags: , , , , , , ,


IMG_5414If you’ll recall, the HTC Thunderbolt was released as Verizon’s first phone compatible with their 4G LTE network, which provided impressive speeds which are even capable of functioning as a high-end gaming connection for consoles. Beyond the impressive 4G speeds, the phone has HTC’s hallmark build-quality, a good camera, and a great kickstand to boot.

The HTC Sense overlay that takes place of the default Android interface is liked by some, but hated by others. While I don’t hate Sense, I will say that I lean more toward the latter group. Not that I don’t see the value in HTC Sense, they’ve actually build an impressive number of widgets and mini-applications for users to choose from, but I tend to prefer multi-platform solutions (and official ones at that), so that I don’t have to wait for a company like HTC to get around to updating their software to take advantage of updates to Twitter, Facebook, etc. I spoke a bit more about HTC Sense in my HTC Thunderbolt overview video.

Because the Thunderbolt has been on the market for some time, I’m going to give you a quick rundown of notes that I’ve taken during testing, rather than a full fledged review. If you’re looking for a formal review, the folks over at Laptop Magazine have a great one waiting for you.

Notes

  • Haptic feedback motor can’t keep up – if you type too quickly, the motor won’t be able to vibrate the phone as quickly as you type, this makes it feel as though the phone is dropping key presses when it’s really not.
  • Custom skinning (HTC Sense) is visually clunky, especially in the People (contacts) application
  • Twitter for HTC Sense is a nightmare – the widget for the homescreen is called ‘Twitter for HTC Sense’ but the corresponding app is called ‘Peep’ in the application screen; the DM section of which inexplicably doesn’t tell you who sent you the DM, or even the time that it was sent (looks to be a bug). The widget that interacts with Peep shows, at most, three tweets, and has no indication of what tweets have arrived since the last time you checked. You can’t directly click on anything within the tweets of the widget, such as a username or link, instead you have to click the tweet in the widget which launches Peep, then you can go ahead and click on the link or the username.
  • The ‘dismiss keyboard’ button is where the number pad toggle or shift key usually is on other handsets – annoying!
  • The lock button on the Thunderbolt is too small and too flush with the top of the phone. It’s a little bit hard to find with the finger and the feedback should be better.
  • HTC has included a cursor handle to make it easier to move the cursor around in text which is tremendously frustrating to do without such a handle. Thanks to HTC for adding this as it doesn’t get officially implemented into Android until 2.3 (Thunderbolt is running 2.2). It’s oddly inconsistent though; you can tap in the text field to evoke the handle, but if you hold your finger, a small magnifier will pop up and move with you as you move the cursor. It almost seems like they tasked two people to come up with a solution for cursor selection then accidentally implemented both.
  • When looking from a high angle, there is backlight leakage at the bottom of the LCD screen, and at two small points under the capacitive buttons.

0621111756a0621111756b

  • SMS doesn’t vibrate the phone by default which seems a bit silly (dig through the settings and you can fix this)
  • Thanks to HTC Sense, many of the default icons have been changed visually for no reason that I can think of, other than to be different, which isn’t a good thing if you are trying to cater to users who are already familiar with Android (perhaps they are going for people already familiar with Sense?).
  • I may rag on HTC Sense a good deal, but if you like to customize your phone, it has a number of great themes and options to do so.
  • Between the keyboard and the predictive input pop-up, little room is left for what you’re actually looking at on the screen.
  • The space bar on the landscape keyboard is off-center which causes me to hit the period key frequently when I meant to hit the space bar.
  • The Thunderbolt’s kickstand is top-notch and springs up and down with satisfaction. As a bonus, it also holds the phone up in portrait mode which is great for video calling. Sadly, HTC missed a golden opportunity with the stand. They should have placed the micro-USB port on the bottom of the device so that it could sit in landscape with the stand and be an excellent bedside alarm clock/info center while charging. Unfortunately they placed the micro-USB connector on the ‘bottom’ of the phone when the stand holds it in landscape, which blocks the micro-USB port.

IMG_5418

IMG_5422IMG_5420

  • HTC added four arrow keys to the already clunky keyboard which take up lots of space and I’ve never desired to use them.
  • You can calibrate the keyboard for a better typing experience, which is something that I haven’t seen any other phone manufacturer allow you to do (it’s unclear whether or not this calibration affects keyboard input only, or all touch input {I would hope the latter}). After calibration, typing on the Thunderbolt’s keyboard is a better experience than most Android phones. Unfortunately this advantage is counteracted by the fact that the Thunderbolt’s screen is overly sensitive. It’s quite easy to press a key by holding your finder near the screen without actually touching it (and issue I’ve found on other devices as well). This means that accidental key presses can (and likely will) occur during fast typing.
  • At 4.3” the screen is too large in my opinion, especially when asked to reach all the way up to the status bar for notifications, then all the way down to the capacitive buttons.

Camera

In my review of the Nexus S, I noted the following about the device’s camera:

What you see is not what you get. It’s very hard to visualize exactly how your photo will turn out after you press the capture button. Pictures are often suddenly brightened after you hit the capture button. Shooting good photos with the phone would be much easier if the viewfinder gave a more clear idea of what will actually be captured once you pull the trigger.

I’m very happy to report that the Thunderbolt is the opposite of the Nexus S. When you hit the camera button, you can be assured that what you see on the phone’s screen is exactly what you’re going to capture. This makes it much easier to snap good photos. Noisy low-light photos and the lack of an HDR mode makes the Thunderbolt’s 8MP camera still inferior to the iPhone 4’s 5MP camera.

The Thunderbolt is capable of capturing great photos given the right conditions (as with many smartphone cameras). Here’s a few unedited sample shots I took with the phone (click to enlarge):

IMAG0006

IMAG0007IMAG0010

IMAG0008

IMAG0020

IMAG0043

The colors could pop a bit more on some of these photos, but it does work in daylight as a great point-and-click camera.

Editing HD Video with Movie Studio on Android 3.0 / Motorola Xoom [video]

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,


xoom androidTablets increasingly seem to want to go from companion device to dedicated device, but there’s a lot of catching up to do in terms of productivity before that can actually happen. Today, most modern smartphones are capable of capturing 720p video, that means that if a tablet wants even a chance at being a standalone device, it’s going to need to at least be able to edit those files.

Android 3.0 (honeycomb) comes pre-baked with a Movie Studio application which wowed the press with what appeared to be full-fledged video editing on the tablet. But now that the Xoom [tracking page] is available to the public, we have to ask (and I can’t believe I haven’t seen people be more critical about this): Is the video editing really up to the task? You be the judge:

Incidentally, this video was shot, edited, and processed on an iPhone 4 (but not uploaded, damn YouTube file size limitations!).

Video Recorded Entirely with Nokia N8 Shows Off Its Camera Capabilities

Tags: , ,


n8 macroNokia has a long history of building quality cameras into it’s phones. Chippy swears by his trusty N82 as a pocket camera, and I was very impressed with the N900’s camera. Nokia’s latest phone, the N8 is certainly living up to the family name.

We’ve seen the N8 used to shoot the cover of a magazine, and now it’s been used to shoot a short but entertaining video with impressive quality. Using a macro lens and a telescope, the entire following video was recorded with the N8, check it out:

N8 dreams [“Night” dreams] from keirux on Vimeo.

This makes me want a pocketable steady cam rig!

iPhone 4 Auto-HRD Comparison and Tips for Use

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,


final shotMy apologies for not getting to this post sooner. Apple released a very cool HDR mode for the iPhone 4 with the iOS 4.1 update. As tempting as it was, HDR wasn’t enough to get me to jump on the upgrade right away and I instead decided to wait for 4.1 to be jailbroken. But now that iOS 4.1 has been freed of Apple’s restrictions and I’ve had some time to play with the iPhone 4’s HDR mode, I’d like to share with you some comparison photos and tips on get the most out of the feature.

First up, let’s talk about what HDR does and how it works on the iPhone.

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. HDR photos fuse together shots of multiple exposures to get the most exposure detail out of a given scene. The idea is that in one shot, a static exposure could lead to a particular area of the photo being under-exposed (too dark), or over-exposed (too bright). By capturing multiple exposures and selectively combining them into a final photo, you can achieve a photo that is more realistic to what is being seen by the human eye as each part of the photo is exposed properly.

How does it work on the iPhone? I don’t have access to it’s inner workings, but from my testing, I have happily concluded that this is actual HDR, not simulated. I say “actual” in the sense that the iPhone 4 is fusing multiple photographs into one, rather than taking a baseline shot and doing some post-effects to simulate HDR. The selection of the various exposures of each photo and the fusing/alignment of the photos together is all handled automatically; the algorithms that power this process are very good. Unless you are trying to capture moving subjects, you’ll probably never find a poorly fused or aligned photo.

Snapping a photo with the HDR mode takes barely longer than taking a regular photo which is very impressive. The aligning/fusing process takes just a few seconds after the shots are captured. There is a very high rate of return when it comes to quality shots because of how quickly each of the individual photos are captured. With a slower capture process, the HDR mode would be subject to any slight movements during the duration of the capture process. If Apple wasn’t able to make HDR photo capture this quick and have such a high return of properly aligned/fused photos, they wouldn’t have implemented the feature.

So what does it actually accomplish? Let’s take a look:

1010 (2)

6 6 (2)

1 1 (2)

44 (2)

9 (2)9

It’s important for me to note that most of the above examples are some of the more drastic ones that I’ve seen. You should be able to see how the improperly exposed areas are removed and replaced with properly exposed regions from other shots. The overall effect tends to be more natural looking photos with more accurate lighting and more detail revealed compared to under/over-exposed photos.

Apple isn’t usually one for options, but you can actually toggle to keep the original photo and the HDR shot in your photo roll if you’d like (you’ll find this options in the Settings app). This is handy because you can compare the two afterword and decided which you like best. I tend to leave HDR mode on all the time. The process is that quick and simple that it’s worth it to keep it turned on for every shot.

Knowing how to utilize HDR on the iPhone 4 can help you capture the most properly exposed photos. Here’s how I do it:

With HDR mode enabled, I use tap-to-focus (which focuses and adjusts exposure) to select the darkest park of the scene. This blows out anything that’s lighter than the darkest part, but the HDR mode seems to compensate better by decreasing exposure on the blown out portions of the scene (as opposed to increasing exposure on the darker/under-exposed parts). I used this technique on the first photo, which combined very dark and very light areas, in order to dramatically demonstrate HDR capabilities.

By recognizing this and using it to our advantage, it’s possible to take shots that capture photos that are exposed properly across all parts of the scene, and recreate a scene with much more detail and depth than is possible with a single photo. I hope to see similar implementations on upcoming competitor devices, but I’d be surprised if they were this good.

Four Galaxy S Phones and Four Cameras

Tags: , , , , , , , ,


galaxy s phonesTnkgrl mobile couldn’t have better timing. While I just finished up my Samsung Fascinate review, here comes tnkgrl with a great comparison of the four big carrier Galaxy S phones.

Tnkgrl puts the Fascinate [tracking page], Epic [tracking page], Captivate, and Vibrant side by side with photo and video comparisons and offers her usual experienced commentary on their performance. Head on over to her site to check it out the full range of photos and videos.

Samsung Galaxy Tab Sample Videos, Specifications, Original Download

Tags: , , , ,


I messed up! Many Tab owners will end up doing the same too because of the position of the built-in mic. When taking videos in a classic ‘mirrored looser’ hand shape you need to be careful. Here’s the effect in my first video uploaded direct from the Galaxy Tab.

Note the muffled video then watch this one. Much better! The quality is actually quite good. It’s H.264 at 720×480 with a 64kbps AAC soundtrack for a total 4.2mbps bitrate. That’s why you don’t see any ripping or wobbly effects. The original file is even better. Bear in mind this one was taken in difficult conditions. I could make a much better video in sunlight! The LED lamp helps though. File analysis from KMPlayer included below.

The question remains though – why not 720p? Continuous auto-focus would have been nice too.

File details. (Download original here) Can someone explain why this is marked as NTSC? I thought that was for analogue format, not digital.
Format : MPEG-4
Format profile : 3GPP Media Release 4
Codec ID : 3gp4
File size : 40.6 MiB
Duration : 1mn 20s
Overall bit rate : 4 239 Kbps
Video #2
Format : AVC
Format/Info : Advanced Video Codec
Format profile : Baseline@L3.0
Format settings, CABAC : No
Format settings, ReFrames : 1 frame
Muxing mode : Container profile=Unknown@12.3
Codec ID : avc1
Codec ID/Info : Advanced Video Coding
Duration : 1mn 20s
Bit rate mode : Variable
Bit rate : 4 173 Kbps
Width : 720 pixels
Height : 480 pixels
Display aspect ratio : 1.500
Frame rate mode : Variable
Frame rate : 29.804 fps
Minimum frame rate : 6.211 fps
Maximum frame rate : 1 000.000 fps
Standard : NTSC
Resolution : 24 bits
Colorimetry : 4:2:0
Scan type : Progressive
Bits/(Pixel*Frame) : 0.405
Stream size : 40.0 MiB (98%)
Audio #1
Format : AAC
Format/Info : Advanced Audio Codec
Format version : Version 4
Format profile : LC
Format settings, SBR : No
Codec ID : 40
Duration : 1mn 20s
Bit rate mode : Variable
Bit rate : 62.4 Kbps
Maximum bit rate : 67.4 Kbps
Channel(s) : 1 channel
Channel positions : C
Sampling rate : 16.0 KHz
Resolution : 16 bits
Stream size : 609 KiB (1%)

Never Judge a Camera By Its Megapixels

Tags: , , , , , , ,


As nearly every smartphone is expected to have a camera these days, there is an important lesson that people must heed. Cameras are more complex than a simple megapixel rating. It’s a common belief that when it comes to megapixels, bigger is better. But I’m here to tell you that you need to look deeper if you are basing your smartphone decision on which has the best camera. Megapixels have their use. A pixel dense picture is great if you want to crop it down and still retain good quality, but beyond that there is more to be considered.

Case-in-point, the Droid 2 [portal page] and the iPhone 4 [portal page]. Both phones have 5MP sensors. This means that they capture 5 million pixels in a given image. Both phones might capture the same number of pixels, but the quality and size of the sensor dictates how accurately each pixel is sampled and how much light it can capture. Another important factor is focus. Without a good focus algorithm (and no ability to manually focus), you’ll end up with a blurry shot no matter how many megapixels your camera can capture.

To demonstrate this, have a quick look at the two photos below. One is taken with the iPhone 4 and the other with the Droid 2. Both were taken under the same lighting conditions and were focused as accurately as possible (click for full size):

2010-10-12_12-37-44_59

photo (1)

You may have to click for the full-sized images to see, but the image taken with the Droid 2 is blurry and has inaccurate colors.

This is a result of the Droid 2’s camera not being able to capture as much light as the iPhone 4, as well as the inability to focus as accurately. This is all despite the fact that both phones have the same megapixel rating.

But what can you do if you don’t have the phones to try before you buy? A bit of research may go a long way if a camera is important to you. I’d recommend checking Flickr’s camera page. Find your desired smartphone and then browse the photos to get an idea of the photos that the phone is capable of taking. And of course we’ll always do our best to give you camera comparisons and tips right here at Carrypad.

Detailed iPhone 4 vs. Droid X Camera Comparison

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,


2010-08-09_19-29-18_983 IMG_1899

While I dropped some test images and videos comparing the iPhone 4 and Droid X myself, I wanted to highlight and article over at tnkgrl Mobile which has more comparison info and a detailed write-up of the strengths and weaknesses in the cameras of each phone. If you are looking for a phone with a good camera, you are definitely looking in the right direction with the Droid X and iPhone 4, but between those two, finding which one fits you might just depend on which type of user you are.

Droid X vs. iPhone 4 Camera Test (video and stills)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


While the Droid X [portal page] beats the iPhone 4 [portal page] in a straight-up megapixel to megapixel comparison by 3 megapixels (Droid X’s cam is 8 MP while iPhone 4’s is 5 MP), the iPhone 4 uses a fancy back-illuminated sensor, which enhances it’s ability to capture light, according to Apple.

The Droid X supports 720p HD recording, just as the iPhone 4, and interestingly, the Droid X has a mechanical shutter. The Droid X also has a dedicated two-stage camera button which focuses and captures, as well as a dual-LED flash. The iPhone has a single LED flash. Additionally, the Droid X can upload HD video directly to YouTube, whereas the iPhone 4 has to have the video put onto a computer and uploaded to YouTube for HD quality (Apple plans on updating this at a later time, so it’s a software restriction, not hardware).

Below I’ve taken some shots with both the Droid X and the iPhone 4 for comparison. The videos were both taken from the respective devices and uploaded to YouTube through a computer, just to ensure that no compression was taking place during the phone upload process.

Because this is a camera comparison post, I’ve bumped up the click-through pictures to a larger than usual resolution, so be sure to click on them for a more detailed view.

General

2010-07-20_14-58-59_401IMG_1879

Macro

2010-07-20_15-00-39_36IMG_18802010-07-20_15-02-37_611IMG_1882

High Light

2010-07-21_15-44-03_187IMG_1903

Medium Light

2010-07-21_15-44-37_101IMG_1904

Low Light

2010-07-21_15-48-05_917IMG_1908

Low Light (with flash)

2010-07-21_15-48-29_394IMG_1907

Video

If you have a powerful computer and you’d like to watch these videos side-by-side, give this link a try. Slower computers will likely stutter if you try to run both in HD at the same time.

The iPhone has somewhat of an unfair advantage as it has auto-exposure adjustment, while the Droid X requires manual adjustment in the settings menu of the camera app. All pictures taken with the Droid were at an exposure of 0 (it ranges between -3 and +3) but just for comparison’s sake, here is the Low Light Droid X shot with the exposure turned up to +3 along side the same iPhone 4 Low Light shot that you saw above.

2010-07-21_15-50-13_470IMG_1908

It’s hard to say which of the two has a better dynamic range, but the iPhone 4 seems to have more vibrant colors (not necessarily more accurate, however). The iPhone 4’s HD video also looks noticeably better than the Droid X’s in terms of sharpness and framerate, though the Droid X doesn’t seem to focus its camera before shooting HD video which is somewhat odd.

Super Phone Cameras – My Choices and Tips

Tags: , , , , , ,


X10 takes N82 Sony, Samsung and Nokia have been leading the market for high quality cameraphones for years now and if you’ve been following my N82 story, you’ll know that even after 2.5 years I’m still finding it hard to find a replacement for the amazing optics, sensor, flash and mechanics of the N82 camera.

It’s not just about mega-pixels. It’s never about the megapixels. 12MP might bring you some digital zoom le-way and a better large-format print but that’s about it. I wrote a semi-private article about assessing smartphone cameras [reproduced below] a few months ago and you’ll see how complex the situation can become if you’re really looking to replace that compact camera; And many people are.

It’s not just about image quality either. It’s about ease-of use, sharing, longevity, geotagging, communities and having a camera and video cam with you at every opportunity. I have literally thousands of pictures that I’ve taken with the N82 that I would never have had the chance to take with a compact camera. There are thousands of people out there that have used smartphone cameras in difficult situations too. Car accidents, citizen journalism, wars and then there’s the possibility to go live to thousands of people with applications like Qik and Ustream. Compact cameras generally have better quality optics and the very important mechanical zoom but there are still good reasons to have a cameraphone.

The new player on the block is the Apple iPhone 4 and I have to confess that I’m interested. It comes at a time when I’m deep in the middle of looking for a new cameraphone solution before my N82 dies. I’ve done some analysis on the iPhone4 pictures and although I can’t comment on the new software yet, I can comment on the sensor. It doesn’t seem to be a huge leap forward in quality. In sensitivity terms it appears to have a 1-stop advantage over the 3GS and of course, with the high resolution, is likely to product better prints but that’s not significant for most people. In fact, it’s rather disappointing given the hype that came from Apple on the backlit sensor. [Update: I estimate that the iPhone 4 is only giving users 1 f-stop advantage. That’s double the sensitivity but not a huge difference in the real world] We’re talking ‘good’ and ‘top quartile’ here but not top 5. I’ve seen better results from the N82, N86, Satio, N8, XT720, Omnia Pro, N900 and I suspect there are a few other Samsung and Sony phones out there that will beat it.  For me, the iPhone 4 brings software rather than quality and that’s a valid reason to choose it if the image quality is acceptable to you. Ignore this report though. It compares the iPhone 4 to some superphones for sure but if you’re interested in quality cameraphones, that’s not the list you need to be looking at.

The Samsung Omnia Pro had an excellent camera but fell short in a few important areas. Windows 6.5 is not exactly the best OS for photographers, it only comes with LED flash and, as with many smartphones, the open lens proved a grease-magnet and long-term quality issue. The Xperia X10 is a similar story too. Then there’s the Sony Ericsson Satio which had a good camera and flash but turned out to be a terrible phone. Currently it looks like the Nokia N8 is going to set new standards but for me, that Symbian operating system isn’t something I’m getting too excited about now that I’ve had some good time with Android. Again, the lens is open on that N8.

Given that I’ve settled on Android as the best mobile OS for me (I’m a Google user, I’d be stupid to choose anything else!) there’s one phone coming up that might take the title for me. I don’t expect it to have the quality of the Nokia N8, a phone likely to raise the bar significantly, but it looks to be a nice all-round solution. You can check out some Flickr galleries taken by Asian owners of the XT720. I’m a little worried about what could be a plastic lens (this image looks either smudged with finger grease or the result of a plastic lens) but as far as Android phones go, it looks to be good enough that it could replace the N82 although I have promised myself that I will test the N8 too.

Here’s my list of things to think about when choosing a cameraphone:

  • General image quality (lens quality and sensor quality more important than megapixels)
  • Low-light photography (without flash) A sensitive sensor means not having to use flash. A natural lighting wash is often better than a pinpoint flash. It also means that the camera can choose higher shutter speeds and therefore produce sharper images.
  • Flash. For very low light images, flash is required. Xenon flash make a great choice not just for its power but for it’s short duration that can ‘freeze’ images. A long duration LED flash can result in blurry images if the subject is moving. LED lamps are the only choice for low-light video work.
  • Preview screen (both indoor and outdoor) I make a lot of mistakes on my N82 purely because I can’t see what is in focus and what isn’t. A big, high-brightness screen is a superb way to secure a better ‘hit’ rate.
  • Access to controls. Touchscreen devices can make accessing camera options easy. Check out how many presses you need to make to turn the flash from ‘auto’ to ‘red eye.’ for example.
  • Type of controls.  If you want to get creative you’ll need access to focus controls, ISO, aperture, shutter speed and white balance but there are some other features that are good. How about automatically taking 6 shots at a time? Or being able to detect movement. Some of these features are gimmicks, some are useful.
  • Pre-focus. Make sure that the camera is able to pre-focus by pushing the shutter release button down half-way. If you’re able to prepare for a shot like this, the duration between pressing the shutter release button and the camera taking the image can drop dramatically. A near instantaneous press/capture is obviously ideal.
  • Touch capture. With touch-capture, you can tap on an area of the (touch) screen to influence the focal point. It can also be less ‘shaky’ than using a mechanical shutter release button. Be aware that touch-capture will not give you the ability to preview the focus.
  • Speed to remove device from pocket and start camera. THere’s nothing worse than waiting for a device to come out of standby and waiting for the camera application to start. Having a shutter cover rather than a case saves time. Having a quick unlock feature saves time. Fast software saves time.
  • Quick review. Being able to see the photo you’ve taken is critical. Often the shutter sound does not correspond exactly to the time the image was taken. If the preview takes 2 or 3 seconds to appear it’s annoying for both you and your subject.
  • Transfer of photos (online, usb bluetooth, tv) Think about where you need to send your photos. Do you use Flickr. If so, think about a phone that uses 3G with a fast upload speed (HSUPA or HSPA for example.) Make sure the transfer process can be run in the background. Also think about USB transfer speed. For Facebook, make sure you can install an application that supports image uploading or that the Facebook website allows you to upload from the phone.
  • Lens cover.  The value of a lens cover can not be overstated. A greasy, scratched, dusty lens is the last thing you want.
  • Geotagging. Geotagging isnt just for fun, it helps you to organise your photos based on places. A fast GPS lock or use of network location services can help.
  • Overall size of device. If it’s too big you might have to put it in your bag.
  • Price. Clearly price is a major consideration.
  • Apps. Think about third party software. The iPhone has a number of good camera applications that can be used for different scenarios. On-cam video editing is becoming a theme too as processing power increases.
  • Future. Phones can often get better over time. Firmware gets improved and a phone that may have been slow on first release might get upgraded. A phone older than 18 months is not likely to get regular firmware updates.
  • Build quality. A cameraphone WILL take a beating. Think about moving parts and exposed ports.

Choosing a mobile phone based on camera capabilities is not how most people will go about the process of choosing their next mobile phone but I know that there are many of you out there that put the camera capabilities high on the list. I hope the tips help you and if you’ve got any other Super CameraPhone tips or thoughts (how’s that Evo, DroidX doing?) please let me know in the comments section below.

If you are interested in cameraphones, check out these two bloggers. They’re as mad about mobile phone camera’s as I am!

Steve Litchfield – All About Symbian, Twitter

Tnkgrl – Tnkgrl Mobile, Twitter

iPhone 4 vs. iPhone 3GS Camera Test, Video and Photos

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


cam In the keynote that announced the iPhone 4 [Portal page], Steve Jobs told the world that the iPhone 4 features a 5MP camera. A decent bump from the previous iPhone 3GS’s 3.2MP camera, but still a far cry from some of the latest phones out there which are rocking 8MP cameras (see: HTC Incredible). Jobs was quick to also say that the iPhone 4 uses something called a back-illuminated sensor which is designed to capture more light than traditional smartphone sensors, to enhance low light performance. The iPhone 4 is also capable of recording HD video at 720p (1280×720) at 30 FPS, according to Apple.

Here I’ve got some comparison photos and videos from the iPhone 4 and iPhone 3GS cameras:

Video Recording

At the end of the video there is a link to the same video taken with the iPhone 3GS. Make sure you are watching in HD.

Real HD video and flash (YouTube) HD video are a bit different. The raw file is certainly of a better quality than what YouTube is showing, but you should still be able to get the gist of it.

Photos

I’ve taken a variety of shots with the iPhone 4 and iPhone 3GS. Be sure to click on photos to enlarge them for full detail. The iPhone 4’s flash is turned off in all photos. The iPhone 4 takes photos at a resolution of 2592×1936 while the iPhone 3GS takes them at 2048×1536.

General Use

iPhone 4 iPhone 3GS

Close Ups

iPhone 4iPhone 3GS iPhone 4iPhone 3GS iPhone 4 iPhone 3GS

Extreme Close Ups

iPhone 4 iPhone 3GS

Low Light

iPhone 4 iPhone 3GSiPhone 4 iPhone 3GS

Extreme Low Light

iPhone 4 iPhone 3GS iPhone 4 iPhone 3GS

For one, it looks like the iPhone 4 has better contrast than the 3GS. This is particularly apparent in shots of the pen, where there is a more broad range of blacks and whites in the iPhone 4 shot; on the corresponding 3GS shot, you’ll notice that the darkest black on the photo appears to cover more area instead of fading through a series of shades as the light and colors change.

Probably the best picture to see the difference in resolution is of the belt in the Close Ups section. This was semi-dark shot and the iPhone 3GS’s photo suffered because of it.

Special back-illuminated sensors are great, but just how much better is the low light performance on the iPhone 4? I might be able to dig up a technical answer, but let’s look at what it means in real world terms. Take a look at the first two photos in the Extreme Low Light section. On the iPhone 4 shot, you can see the lilies toward the bottom of the pond a bit better than the 3GS shot. Additionally, the pond’s surface is not as noisy in the iPhone 4 shot as it is in the 3GS’s, due to the enhanced low light performance.

Is this really a significant improvement? I would put my money on the fact that the majority of iPhone 4 users will not notice the difference between the iPhone 4 and iPhone 3GS cameras when it comes to photographs. Most user’s photos will either stay on the device, or be uploaded or sent somewhere at reduced quality. But for those who really use their camera, I think they’ll be quite please with the iPhone 4’s camera. On the other hand, the HD video recording capability on the iPhone 4 is a pretty clear improvement. The flash is also something to consider, though because the iPhone 3GS doesn’t have one, we didn’t use it in these shots (if you are interested in flash info, you’ll find it in our upcoming full iPhone 4 review).

Carrypad Sites and Partners