Just how bad is the iPhone camera?

One of the main complaints aimed towards the iPhone is that camera is deemed to be crap. Having just taken possession of an iPhone, I thought I’d do a quick comparison. It’s only fair to compare the iPhone with another mobile – comparisons and expectations with digital SLRs or compacts are pointless.

My previous phone was a Sony Ericsson k800i of 2006 vintage, so two years older than my iPhone. It has a 3.2 megapixel autofocus camera, compared with the iPhone’s static focus 2 megapixels. Not that image resolution has anything much to do with photo quality – clarity of the lens, and accuracy & size of the sensor are far more important. These are the comparison shots:

Poppy taken with iPhone
Poppy taken with an iPhone
Poppy taken with k800i
Poppy taken with a k800i

The shot was taken hand-held, lit by daylight through a window, but conditions were fairly dark (late afternoon in mid-Winter). Both cameras reported an aperture of f/2.8, with the k800i reporting a shutter speed of 1/15 (the iPhone doesn’t record the shutter speed).

For me, on this non-scientific, one-off comparison the iPhone wins. Contrast (in particular the blacks) is better on the k800i, but the lighter areas are blown out. This is particularly noticeable in the detail of the cushion and the white areas of Poppy’s fur. The iPhone could do with a little more contrast, but the mid-range detail is much better than the k800i. Here’s a full resolution comparison. I’ve reduced the k800i to the same size as the iPhone.

iPhone photo detail compared with k800i
iPhone on the left, k800i on the right

In this shot, the detail captured by the iPhone seems far superior to the k800i, despite the higher resolution of the latter. This may not be a precise comparison as there seems to be a lot of post-processing applied by the k800i, possibly through its digital image stabilization. But that said, in real world use, this photo is typical of what I’d use a cameraphone for: shots of people and pets in poor light conditions; not tripod-mounted still-lifes.

So in this one example, the iPhone wins over my old phone. Sure there are newer and better cameraphones than the k800i (the k850i for starters), but at least the iPhone seems an improvement over what I had previously. When I want to take a photo in even lower light (a pub) or of a macro subject (food) I’m sure I’ll be thinking differently, but for the moment I’m pleasantly surprised.

The iPhone is now the fourth most popular camera on Flickr so if you want to judge for yourself how good or bad it is, there’s plenty of photos by which to do so.