iPhone 4 vs. HTC EVO 4G real-world camera test

I tested video and still photo quality for the Apple iPhone 4 and the HTC EVO 4G running Android. Take a look and judge for yourself which is the best.

I take a lot of pictures. I like to have a little point-and-shoot that I can aim and click whenever I see something interesting, and share those photos on the Internet. Serious photographers approve of my philosophy. "The best camera," they say, "is the one you always have with you."

And I always have my smartphone with me. This year, cameraphones are competitive with good point-and-shoot cameras for image quality. When I started to plan to upgrade my aging iPhone 3G in the spring, one of my top criteria for a replacement was that the new smartphone had to have a great camera.

I compared two of the top-of-the-line smartphones, the HTC EVO 4G, available from Sprint, and the Apple iPhone 4. For a complete comparison of both phones, check out my feature article on Computerworld today. For now, let's talk a bit about the cameras.

Both phones have great cameras. Each phone has two cameras: A rear-facing, high-quality camera, and a front-facing, lower quality camera, for videoconferencing and self-portraits (which the Young People Nowadays call "selfies"). Both cameras also have LED flashes.

The EVO has superior resolution: The rear camera is 8 megapixel (MP), and 1.3 MP front-facing camera. The iPhone front camera was only 5 MP, and the front-facing camera was VGA-quality. (I was unable to find apples-to-apples specs for the camera quality on both phones -- in other words, while I know the megapixels for the EVO front-facing camera, I don't know what it is for the iPhone 4. However, VGA is equivalent to 0.3 MP, according to eHow.com)

Usability was an important criterion for me in evaluating camera quality on the phones. I don't want to mess around with settings, I just want to point the camera and take pictures. For still photos, both cameras were very easy to use, just point and tap a button. Take a look at the image quality, these are photos taken with the default settings on both cameras. The house photos were taken outdoors, of course, and the rose photo was taken indoors. The iPhone photos are first in each pair:

iPhone green house photos
EVO green house photo
iPhone yellow rose photo 2
EVO yellow rose photo

What do you think? I think the iPhone 4 is a better still camera. The colors are richer and the photos are brighter.

For video, the iPhone beat the EVO handily for ease-of-use. The iPhone has a camera app that you use for both still photos and video. You tap an on-screen toggle to choose between them. The EVO has two apps, the Camera and Camcorder app. They both seem to do the same thing, so the duplication is just confusing.

Onscreen controls for the iPhone are dead simple. In addition to the toggle to switch between the still and movie camera, the iPhone has a software button to flip between the front-facing and rear-facing cameras, and another button which switches you between the automatic flash, and setting the flash on and off manually.

The EVO has an onscreen button which brings down a dropdown menu, containing a dozen settings for things like brightness, color saturation, and special effects. The EVO requires two taps, rather than the iPhone's one, to switch between the still and video cameras. The EVO also requires two taps to switch cameras, compared with the iPhone's one.

I set out to do the same kind of test with the video camera as I did with the still camera: Shoot similar video with both, using the default settings on both. At first, I found the iPhone 4 camera to be light-years superior to the EVO 4G -- but then I discovered the EVO 4G, by default, shoots low-resolution videos. I decided that was unfair, so I bent the rules a bit in EVO's favor, to set it to its highest resolution, 720p, same as on the iPhone 4, and shot the test again.

Warning before you watch: I took the video image while I was walking around, rather than standing still. I thought the herky-jerky motion added a goofy quality to the video that I liked, but my editor didn't care for it. Moreover, she said, one of her colleagues, who is prone to motion sickness, actually got ill watching it. I like to think she got ill because of the camera motion, rather than because of me. But I didn't ask.

Watch the video, if you dare:

I think the iPhone quality was better for both the front-facing and rear-facing video cameras, as well as for still images (as we saw above). But what do you think?

To find out more about how the iPhone 4 and EVO 4G compare in all major functions, see my Computerworld feature article today: Real-world testing: iPhone 4 vs. HTC EVO 4G.

And if you want to see a lot more iPhone 4 photos, as well as a couple from the EVO 4G, visit me on Flickr.

Mitch Wagner

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is a freelance technology journalist and social media strategist.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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