iPhone 4 camera is "stunning," say reviewers

Early iPhone 4 reviewers are amazed at the quality of images and video they're getting with the device's built-in cameras. The speed and sensitivity of the camera are "nothing short of stunning," says Boing Boing's Xeni Jardin.

I experienced far fewer "lost moments," those dead shots that happen when you've tried to grab just the right instant, and instead you end up with a photo of several instants after the right instant. I brought my iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 to the Venice Beach skate park, to take shots of fast-moving skaters in those magical aerial moments, just before a swan-dive into the belly of the bowl.

She provides links to "real trophy jpegs" acquired on her photo safari.

Xeni also praises the iPhone's built-in flash, although she also notes it's just a tiny little phone flash, no rival for pro equipment.

"I'm very, very excited about the video capabilities in iPhone 4," she says. "I've spent the last few years of my life working in web video, so forgive me if I 'squee' here."

She adds:

The iPhone 4 is released alongside a mobile version of iMovie ($5), so you can edit clips into iMovie projects with transitions, music beds, stylized or simple transitions, and templated themes ("travel postcard," for instance). Export your final product at medium (360p), large (540p), or HD (720p).

Video snobs may pooh-pooh the notion of editing on a mobile device (which requires a vastly more simplified and less powerful editing toolkit than one has with FinalCut Studio on an 8-core Mac Pro), but hey, a few years ago these same people were also pooh-poohing the notion of shooting video on a mobile device.

What this means to me: if I'm traveling, I can shoot, edit, and produce little reports or impressionistic video vignettes from the field without having to have even a laptop. That is a very big deal for some people (fine, by "some people," I really mean, "me"). And for non-videobloggers, it means you'll now be getting lots more annoying (but visually good quality) home movies of your relatives' Hawaiian vacations in your in-box.

When you're video editing on the iPhone 4, there's a theme sound library to work with, and you can even add songs from your iTunes/iPod library as music beds (ahem cough awesome but surprising, given the possible copyright conflicts ahem cough).

Xeni has more discussion of the video, along with a great video she shot on a bike ride to an LA skate park:

This kind of video reminds me of why I live in Southern California: You can ride your bike along beautiful, palm-lined roads to see fantastic stunts performed by gorgeous, fit young people on skateboards.

Not that I ever do any of those things -- but I can if I want to.

To improve camera quality, Apple is using a new backside-illuminated sensor for its camera that's more sensitive to light, combined with improving the hardware from 3 megapixels to 5, writes Engadget's Joshua Topolsky, who describes the resulting photos as "stunning," with few focus or low-light problems, autofocus that works well, speeded-up time required to take photos.

"In general, we'd have no trouble using the iPhone 4's camera as a stand-in for a dedicated camera," he says.

The onboard 720p video camera worked well also. "Everything we shot looked crisp and mostly artifact-free, and we didn't see any hiccups in the 30 FPS rate Apple claims, even in lower light," Topolsky writes.

The Engadget review includes a video shot entirely using the iPhone camera, entitled "A walk in New York City set to Ominous music." It looked pretty good even blown up to fit my 24" desktop display (made me a little homesick, actually). I'd embed it here but Engadget doesn't have an embed code.

The iPhone has a second, lower-resolution front-facing VGA camera for its FaceTime video calling application. "It actually does a fine job of capturing your face during video calls, and worked surprisingly well in low light, but it's not going to win any prizes for being the most advanced shooter on a handset. It does provide for some interesting angle options when it comes to video shooting, and we expect a lot of people will be taking advantage of the weirdly video game-like perspective. All in all, it looks good, but it's pretty utilitarian," Topolsky says.

The New York Times's David Pogue is less enthusiastic about the iPhone's camera. He describes it as "better, though it's still no rival to a real camera."

The camera looks like a major selling point for the iPhone 4; the availability of easy photo-sharing on Twitter and Facebook makes people hungry to do more photography and video using Internet-connected cameras. I'm looking forward to getting my iPhone 4 in two weeks.

Mitch Wagner

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is a freelance technology journalist and social media strategist.

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