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Breaking Wednesday, June 30, 2010, 05:00 pm PT (08:00 pm ET)

iPhone 4 Review: 3 - Camera Photos & Videos


iPhone 4 vs iPhone 3GS: video

When taking video, iPhone 4 captures a wider aspect ratio in full motion 30fps, 720p high definition (1280x720); iPhone 3GS only captures VGA resolution videos (640x480). This results in a bigger file: a 13 second video taken by both cameras of the same subject (panning across the view from the top of Dolores Park) resulted in the iPhone 3GS creating a 6.2MB file at 3.6Mbps, while iPhone 4 created 17.1MB file recording at 10.5Mbps.

Video quality captured by iPhone 4 is tremendously better than Apple's previous iPhone 3GS, as the still frame detail below demonstrates. The Retina Display of iPhone 4 amplifies the differences considerably, presenting a very sharp rendition of the photos and videos captured.

Video recording can also make use of the LED to illuminate the scene, but even without the lamp on it takes pretty decent video even in limited lighting. The Camera app also now supports tap to focus while recording video on iPhone 4, although this might be tricky to use while taking handheld videos.

iPhone 4 park video


Apple bundles easy to use trim editing controls right into the Camera app, and also offers a pretty amazing version of iMovie for cranking out polished clips with titles and automatic transitions. The new iMovie app is exclusive to the faster iPhone 4; it was recently reviewed by Chris Smith of T3, who runs through its workings in the video below.



iPhone 4 video rated best, particularly in low light

In its aforementioned smartphone comparison article PC World reported, "iPhone 4 also led the charge when it came to video quality, and this part of the battle wasn't even close. Video quality shot with the iPhone 4 in bright light was rated as Very Good, showing smooth motion, bright colors, and accurate white balance. But low-light video shot with the iPhone 4 is the real story, as its ratings didn't just run circles around the low-light video performance of the other smartphones, but also of the Samsung and Sony point-and-shoot cameras."

Compared against a Flip Video MinoHD, the report said "the Flip showed sharper and more-colorful footage in low light, but when it comes to phones (and even some full point-and-shoot cameras), the iPhone 4 is a go-to device for low-light video."

Other comparisons show the iPhone 4 video camera blowing out the picture when the camera is pointed at a strong light source, a problem that dedicated video cameras like the Flip do a much better job of handling. There's still reasons why you might want to record video using a Flip, or of course, a higher end consumer camcorder. Audio might be a prime reason; iPhone 4 has a small mic that isn't going to catch audio as well as a camcorder.

Apple gets serious about camera quality

With its camera now taking pictures competitive to a point and shoot and videos approaching those captured by standalone digital video cameras, iPhone 4's well performing still and video cameras make it hard to consider wanting to carry multiple devices. It will also prevent users from leaving the iPhone platform to find a phone that also takes decent pictures, as Apple's previous offerings were never competitive cameras.

There's still room for iPhone 4's camera to get better in software. Apple will hopefully address the obvious feature of being able to invoke the Camera app using a physical button, and third parties are likely to take full advantage of the new, low level photo and video camera access iOS 4 affords them to create alternative camera apps.

Apple has exposed full public access to iOS 4's new AV Foundation (used by both Camera and iMovie), which provides developers full camera hardware access and control, raw pixel camera recording, support for setting exposure and white balance, and frame accurate video editing. In addition to creating alternative capture and editing apps, the software access will also help software developers to create new and improved apps that feature bar code scanning or augmented reality.

The final part 4 of our iPhone 4 review will look at additional software details and features of iOS 4.