The Tear-down of the iPhone: Photos and Camera

by rmtwrkr

This is a strange review to do for me, as I just cannot get past the idea that if you really want to take GOOD photographs you need a GOOD camera. One that is primarily designed for such a purpose. Still, its handy to have a camera in your pocket, and there is a plethora of mobile/smartphones that can do it. So how does the iPhone’s camera measure up in the real world?

From a industrial design perspective, the iPhone’s camera is a breakthrough. Why? Because its not bullshitting about its power. Have you noticed how most modern cameraphones love to have huge, plastic surroundings around the lens aperture? This is to ‘look’ more…serious about taking photos. The actual size of the CMOS sensor/lens is usually around 3-5mm across. I detest fakery, and therefore I detest most designs of cameraphone due to its generous helping of PLASTIC and its use of usually printing some useless bullshit like ‘f=5.25mm 3.2 MEGAPIXEL 1:2:8’. What use is this information in the real world limitations of a cameraphone? After all its not like you can calibrate or attach lenses to the thing is it? The iPhone refuses to play in this petty childlike one-upmanship game by saying: nothing. Just a tiny lense (2MP) with NO writing around it, that is about 6mm across. Nice. Now there is a lot of complaints about the camera being ‘only’ 2MP. And it has no flash. But then again the iPhone’s camera is not trying to be so serious as the other guys, so it doesn’t have to prove anything. The photos that are taken are IMHO good enough for a cameraphone. Sure, picture quality could be better, but at what cost? If you look at most higher-pixel cameraphones (I’m thinking SE K800 / Nokia N95 / Samsung G800) they are thick as bricks, normally to accommodate the larger plastic surrounds and lens covers. And they still are no match for a thinner point-and-shoot camera. And the performance of these devices is so bad i.e. time-till-ready, flash-recharge, time-between-shots that it really is not worth the hassle to me. Another observation is that the iPhone camera has no settings. None. Just point, and press the camera button. While this can be a bit limiting in some circumstances like low-light settings, in reality I do not know anyone who has a different cameraphone actually USE the settings on the phone for the most part. They also just point, and click. If you want to take amazing quality pictures with good usable settings, really, get a camera. If you want to just grab pictures on the go, you can use the iPhone, and it will look ok (as long as you have good light, all cameraphone perform badly in poor light regardless of a ‘flash’ or not). Check out my Flickr pagelink at the bottom of the page to see some creative shots taken with the iPhone.

The Photos application is standalone from the Camera application. But it also integrates into the Camera app, to see the ‘roll’ that you have taken with the iPhone. The rest of the photos in come from iPhoto (on the Mac). Within iTunes you designate what iPhoto albums to sync across, then when you actually sync iTunes optimizes (basically reduces the size) of the photos to best fit the iPhone’s display. As a result you can have hundreds of photos on your iPhone, taking up very little space. There is a slideshow mode, just like in iPhoto. You can also email photos, assign to contacts or set as wallpaper. Its very clearly laid out UI-wise, and thus there is not any learning curve to using the application. Oh, and you can also ‘swipe’ the screen to move through the photos. This is the ‘WOW’ factor at work again. All in all, the is a joy to use, and far better designed than many other cameraphone’s ‘Gallery’ apps.

Next: YouTube and iTunes Music store.