20 Comments

Summary:

With the next iPhone revision theoretically only months away, attention is turning again to what we can expect in the form of updates. Obviously, we’re all looking forward to the fourth generation iPhone sporting an octocore A4 processor, 3D OLED HD screen and, naturally, Flux Capacitor. […]

camera_thumb

With the next iPhone revision theoretically only months away, attention is turning again to what we can expect in the form of updates. Obviously, we’re all looking forward to the fourth generation iPhone sporting an octocore A4 processor, 3D OLED HD screen and, naturally, Flux Capacitor. But the question on my lips is — what will Apple do with the camera? Because, let’s face it — something needs to be done.

Both the original iPhone and iPhone 3G sport a fixed-focus two megapixel camera. The iPhone 3GS offers a beefy 3.2 megapixel camera with auto focus, auto white balance and video recording. Even so, the camera in the 3GS is nothing to write home about.

As the saying goes, your best camera is the one you have on you, right now. Your Canon DSLR might have cost a small fortune and produce stunning photos, but it’s pretty much useless if it’s not within reach when you need it. When I leave my house it’s not always practical (or appropriate) to take my pro-kit with me (especially in London where everyone with a camera is considered a terrorist these days).

My iPhone is always where I happen to be. That means most of the time, day or night, my iPhone is the best camera I have. And that’s a pretty galling thought, given how limited it is.

And, I might as well mention now, before the inevitable backlash from fanboys defending Apple from even the tiniest criticism; it’s not an unforgivable crime to point out the iPhone’s failings, and that little camera has always been something of a disappointment.

Bigger Picture, More Noise

The obvious prediction I could make for the next iPhone is an upgrade to a five megapixel image sensor. Those sensors are cheap, they’re proven technology and they could fit into the existing iPhone form. But even if that happened, the results wouldn’t be much better than we get with the 3GS. Sure, they’d be bigger pictures, but they’d just contain more noise than ever before. Y’see, the problem is light; there’s just not enough of it, unless you’re standing outside on a bright sunny day.

In moderately low-light (indoors in your home, for instance) most cellphone cameras would struggle without a powerful flash. Significantly larger, more sensitive image sensors fare better without a flash, but due to their size (and the need for absolute rock-solid stillness when shooting) they tend not to find their way into cellphones.

Some might argue at this point (somebody almost always does) that I’m expecting too much. “If you want to take better photos,” goes the argument, “just use a real camera instead.”

Y’know, three years ago I was so impressed with everything else Apple had accomplished with the iPhone I’d have been inclined to agree. Today, however, my response is a Mosspuppet-inspired “Shut up!” You see, there is simply no reason Apple can’t vastly improve the camera in this device.

Three Steps to Camera Nerdvana

You just knew I had a list of suggestions, right?

Hardware

One easy way to greatly improve the camera’s quality is to use an actual optical lens made from precision-ground glass rather than the current arrangement — a tiny blob of resin atop an image sensor. Just this one change alone would produce far higher-quality images. It would also increase the iPhone’s manufacturing cost, not to mention its waistline — can you see Steve Jobs approving that?

Software

Most cellphone camera software is appalling. Even well-regarded megapixel handsets are often hobbled with fiddly, lackluster camera software (Nokia, anyone?) By comparison, the iPhone’s Camera app is light-years ahead of other manufacturers. And yet, it’s still really tricky hitting that button if you find you must use only one hand. Plus, a more sophisticated camera will demand more sophisticated configuration & shooting options which the current software simply doesn’t offer.

Processor Power

Ever noticed that awkward lag when launching the Camera app and waiting for the iris to open? Or the lag when you hit the ‘shutter release’? The delay is simply the time needed for the app to load into memory, for the auto-focus and white balance to do their thing and for images to be processed, geo-tagged and stored. It all makes sense, but boy could it use a speed-bump. Increasing the iPhone’s horsepower will help enormously, and if the iPad’s A4 processor proves anything, it’s that Apple knows how to make custom silicon that delivers impressive results while remaining power-efficient. We can only hope the next iPhone gets something like an A4…

As it stands, I get a little anxious when I have only my iPhone’s camera to rely on — it makes me feel like I have to settle for second-best those times when I can’t take my beloved Canon DSLR. But it doesn’t have to be this way. And now that Apple has perfected so much else that was once considered ‘wrong’ with the iPhone, it’s about time it focused (ahem) a little more on the camera.

Related GigaOM Pro Research: How Apple’s New Nano Makes Pocket Video Mass Market

  1. hare dare you say anything against apple! What have you produced?

    I hate this type of hypocritical nonsense. Ironic it may be, but helpful it’s not! Satire can help make a political statement, but this is not political. It’s commercial and consumerist. Your satire and neglect are not welcome here!

    Please take down this page. It’s both offensive and factually incorrect. Please do more research before writing about an iconic product by an evangelical company. Don’t just feel guilty, act!

    Share
    1. lol!

      Share
    2. PS – My post was a badly spelt joke. I liked the article!

      Share
  2. Get REAL ! You should be FIRED for suggesting phones should take pictures. After all, these fancy phones don’t even make decent phone calls…

    Share
  3. Paul Raphaelson Monday, February 22, 2010

    Um … it’s time to focus on the iPhones PHONE!

    I don’t have one, but have lots of friends with iPhones. I covet everything about their phones, but I hate phone conversations with them. They’re all muffled and hard to understand.

    My (non-smart) cell phone is below average also … so when I try to talk to an iPhone user, I can’t hear a word they say. Ridiculous. Everything else on that thing works so brilliantly.

    Share
  4. I’d vote for the following in the iPhone 4 camera/video:
    – 5 megapixel at minimum with 3x zoom
    – Video to have widescreen mode.
    – LED Flash
    – Ability to utilize hard buttons on side and top for “self portraits”

    Share
  5. Good post Liam.
    Totally agree on all points.

    I frequently argue with the editor over at MacDailyNews who seems to think that, like you said, you should, “just use a real camera instead.” When the iPhone camera progresses to the point where picture quality rivals a high end point and shoot I’m sure that he’ll admit he was wrong. (ya right)

    There are a lot of camera apps that allow you to touch the screen anywhere to take a photo – surprising that Apple has not enabled this feature.

    I have a Canon DSLR as well. The 7D. Boy – that camera is something else. But I am thinking about selling the 7D and buying the Rebel T2i. Looks like it has the same MPs and video specs for half the price. (Buy an iPad with the rest!) I don’t need the super fast frames per second as I don’t shoot sports.

    What do you think about this plan Liam?

    Share
  6. I always knew you guys were in love with me.

    Share
  7. Christian Bonzheim Monday, February 22, 2010

    How about if we improve the iPhones PHONE, as it sucks. Camera wise apple shud put a front facing camera as well as the back facing for video chat. And for giggles put a screen on the back and front so it looks like u can c through the phone… The only problem then wud be finding your invisible iPhone haha

    Share
  8. I don’t get all the negativity that’s directed at the iPhone camera. Resolution isn’t everything. If you want slr quality pictures get a real camera. As it stands thr iPhone camera is a fantastic point and shoot and has replaced my 3.2 mp digital camera. Flash would be nice but I would be happier if apple just improved the optics and zoom ability, even a 2x or 3x optical zoom would be fine, over focusing on resolution. A 5 mp camera doesn’t mean anything. Nobody is looking at 5 mp pictures on facebook or sending those images to family. Forget the megapixels already.

    Share
  9. Apple will update the camera at their convenience, but I can tell you right now, it will not be anything spectacular. Whatever we have right now “works” for most people, which means it definitely works for Apple.

    However, expect updates to the money making applications and new and improved ways to help you spend your money at the app/itunes store. This is what apple is all about now days.

    Share
  10. When you press the button on the screen, the camera jiggles and the image blurs. Some means of taking a picture other than pressing a button on the screen would help reduce the blurring. I am thinking that the camera app might respond to an audio cue like the word “Cheese” as an optional alternative to pressing the button.

    I am sure there is a third-party app that does this, but the feature really ought to be built into the camera app.

    Share

Comments have been disabled for this post