Why Is The iPhone Camera So Crummy?

Posted:
in iPhone edited January 2014
was amazed that the 2008 iPhone will not have an improved camera. the iPhone camera can't take a decent photo unless (1) you have really good light, (2) you are in the focal range which is soft and deep, and (3) you don't jiggle at all and blur it. so about half the time, forget using it. i know, i've tried.



you'd think a company that prides itself on hardware would fix this out of pure shame. there are plenty of good phone cameras available they could use instead. they could charge extra for a 'pro' model. does Jobs just hate picture taking, or what?
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 36
    icfireballicfireball Posts: 2,594member
    I posted this in another thread:



    Quote:

    As a photographer (by hobby, not by profession), I own a dSLR (Nikon D80, I'm hoping to upgrade to the D300 if I can sell my D80 for a decent price and have enough money), and a few compacts for portability/casual shooting. That info isn't really related, but it just provides background for my perspective. It always bothers me when people have high expectations for cell phone cameras. For the same reason that I have shitty (compared to my dSLR) point and shoot cameras is because there is a benefit to having a portable camera where you don't care so much about picture quality but rather just getting SOMETHING that looks ok. In this sense, I feel that SLRs are to compacts as compacts are to cell phone cameras. The point of a cell phone camera is not to get great photos, but just to capture a moment of spontaneity, or for the phone features (i.e. pictures for contacts). It will be a long time before cell phones are even par with even point-and-shoot cameras, and I don't think they'll ever replace them entirely.



    A few reasons why camera phones suck:
    • Cost. Good cameras are still expensive: the better the camera, the more expensive. Of course point-and-shoots are not all that expensive as stand-alone products, but as part of a cell phone, you're talking about a pretty good percentage of a camera's component cost. Cell phone makers don't want to integrate a great camera if it's half the component cost of the camera.

    • Size. It's true what they say. Size does matter. A cell phone, unlike an a camera, unlike a iPod (unless you have an iPhone!) you take everywhere and you need almost everywhere. It matters to people if they're carrying around a hefty and bulky brick in their purse or pocket! Good cameras are heavy, and good cameras take up space. Space that's really critical in a product like a cell phone.

    • Optics. What does sex have in common with lenses? The bigger the better. Jokes aside, larger lenses have far superior optics. That means better, sharper pictures. You simply can't have a big lens in a cell phone. That would be like a this (south park reference, viewer discretion advised).

    • Light. Cell phones do poorly in low-light settings causing dark, blurry, or shaky photos. Again, this has to do with size. Many cell phone sensors don't actually have a real aperture, but rather a digital aperture. As in, the cell phone records what the sensor sees for a given period of time, but no aperture is physically opening or closing. This is a good thing in one sense because it means the aperture is always at it's maximum so the most light is getting to the sensor and the light is adjusted digitally though the sensor. But what's bad about this is that the sensor is really small so not a whole lot of light is getting there. New sensor technologies are drastically improving low light performance in cell phone camera chips, but the techs not to market yet and is still more expensive). Also having to do with light, flashes are generally too weak to be effective, and even if they are strong enough, they're too close the the lens causing bad color and red eye.

    • Resolution. High resolution is good because it captures more detail, allows you to crop later (therefore not require zoom), and generally lends to better quality photos. But the best resolution with the worst optics and lighting still makes for a shitty picture. You're essentially wasting great resolution when there ain't the mojo to back it up. That's why I always laugh when I see these 10MP point-and-shoot cameras with tiny lenses because those cameras are so much worse than a 6MP dSLR. It's like having a super efficient air conditioning unit with the least efficient coil. The entire efficiency is limited by the (lack of) efficiency of the coil. Also, another important thing to note is that you have to QUADRUPLE the megapixel to DOUBLE the resolution. A 10 Megapixel camera is not twice as good as a 5 megapixel camera, it's 25% better (in terms of resolution).

    • Performance. This is becoming much less true every day, but it's still a mild concern. And that is to say that powering a good camera requires extra juice that's already being taken up by other functions of a cell phone: talk time and more and more, data, entertainment (music and videos), and the internet.

    Sorry for the long and laborious-to-read post, but I thought I might explain my thoughts fully. And for the reasons above, that's why I'm happy Apple isn't wasting money putting a 5MP sensor in the iPhone. In the future better cell phone cameras will be a good upgrade path, but not now.



  • Reply 2 of 36
    I just don't get it. Why do people want such great cameras on cell phones?



    I've used my iPhone camera maybe 3 times since I've owned it. Is it my DSLR? Absolutely not, but it gets the job done. The photo opportunites that would present themselves for an iPhone shot are not needing great quality.



    It's not like you're a photographer, going to do somebody's wedding pictures or senior pictures...and show up with an iPhone....
  • Reply 3 of 36
    It's very simple. Apple cheaped out on the camera module and spent the (vast) sums of money elsewhere.
  • Reply 4 of 36
    aegisdesignaegisdesign Posts: 2,914member
    Yeah, yeah, yeah, camera phones suck. "Use a DSLR if you want a decent photo"... Snore.... Zzzzzzzzz.....



    The point isn't that camera phones suck, it's that some suck more than others and the iPhone camera is quite high on the 'this sucks' pile for no particular reason. It's not a terribly thin phone or small so it's not like they don't have space for a 3.2mp sensor, some decent glass and a flash to at least bring it up to merely 'sub-average' performance for an expensive phone. Oh, and a shutter button!



    The point with ALL camera phones is as mbradley67 put it - you've usually got a phone with you when the opportunity arises for a quick snap BUT the iphone is terrible at quick snaps.



    Saying that, how many weddings have you been to lately where most of the guests are using cameraphones to take pictures?
  • Reply 5 of 36
    icfireballicfireball Posts: 2,594member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by aegisdesign View Post


    Yeah, yeah, yeah, camera phones suck. "Use a DSLR if you want a decent photo"... Snore.... Zzzzzzzzz.....



    The point isn't that camera phones suck, it's that some suck more than others and the iPhone camera is quite high on the 'this sucks' pile for no particular reason. It's not a terribly thin phone or small so it's not like they don't have space for a 3.2mp sensor, some decent glass and a flash to at least bring it up to merely 'sub-average' performance for an expensive phone. Oh, and a shutter button!



    With the iPhone it's about space and money. The iPhone is packed really densely and there really isn't any room to add extra camera components like a flash, larger lens, larger sensor, etc. On the money side, sure Apple could make a few changes to the iPhone's camera, but those changes wouldn't make a big tangible differences AND it would cut into people's profit margins.



    Quote:

    The point with ALL camera phones is as mbradley67 put it - you've usually got a phone with you when the opportunity arises for a quick snap BUT the iphone is terrible at quick snaps.



    Saying that, how many weddings have you been to lately where most of the guests are using cameraphones to take pictures?



    Actually, most people use their regular compact point-and-shoot digital cameras at special events like weddings. The only time a cell phone camera is great is for the times you don't think about caring a camera with you.
  • Reply 6 of 36
    aegisdesignaegisdesign Posts: 2,914member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by icfireball View Post


    With the iPhone it's about space and money. The iPhone is packed really densely and there really isn't any room to add extra camera components like a flash, larger lens, larger sensor, etc. On the money side, sure Apple could make a few changes to the iPhone's camera, but those changes wouldn't make a big tangible differences AND it would cut into people's profit margins.



    I'm sorry but I don't think that reasoning washes at all. The iphone is freaking huge as a phone and phones much, much smaller than the iPhone manage it - Sony W890 for example.





    Quote:
    Originally Posted by icfireball View Post


    Actually, most people use their regular compact point-and-shoot digital cameras at special events like weddings. The only time a cell phone camera is great is for the times you don't think about caring a camera with you.



    I would say that about 70% of the people taking pictures at the three most recent weddings I've been to have been camera phone users, not cameras. Perhaps it's just my social circle but that's what I see.
  • Reply 7 of 36
    icfireballicfireball Posts: 2,594member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by aegisdesign View Post


    I'm sorry but I don't think that reasoning washes at all. The iphone is freaking huge as a phone and phones much, much smaller than the iPhone manage it - Sony W890 for example.



    The phone is large, but the components are packed very tightly, unlike in some smaller phones.



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by aegisdesign View Post


    I would say that about 70% of the people taking pictures at the three most recent weddings I've been to have been camera phone users, not cameras. Perhaps it's just my social circle but that's what I see.



    Most of the photos my friends post on facebook are from regular cameras, not their camera phones.
  • Reply 8 of 36
    alfiejralfiejr Posts: 1,524member
    for me anyway, i'd use the iPhone camera a lot for taking impromptu photos of friends at social occasions or when we are just out and about - the classic snapshot. my gang loves that (i don't want to get in trouble, but culturally speaking many are Asian/Asian-American, and yes, that makes a difference - snapshots are almost a social obligation). but i can't drag a point-and-shoot pocket camera around with me everyday. so having one built into the phone is really meaningful to me.



    the Sony W800 i used to have had a better camera. and it was a lot smaller phone than the iPhone. like icfireball said, i don't expect a good camera. just would like something not so bad. since many snapshots are indoors or in the evening, dealing with lower light is more important for that than resolution.
  • Reply 9 of 36
    irelandireland Posts: 17,751member
    The iPhone needs a 3.2MP camera with a flash, end of.
  • Reply 10 of 36
    thttht Posts: 4,030member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Alfiejr View Post


    was amazed that the 2008 iPhone will not have an improved camera. the iPhone camera can't take a decent photo unless (1) you have really good light, (2) you are in the focal range which is soft and deep, and (3) you don't jiggle at all and blur it. so about half the time, forget using it. i know, i've tried.



    you'd think a company that prides itself on hardware would fix this out of pure shame. there are plenty of good phone cameras available they could use instead. they could charge extra for a 'pro' model. does Jobs just hate picture taking, or what?



    I'm pretty sure Jobs likes picture taking, but his sensibility w/respect to camera phones are that they are crap, and doesn't want to try to do the camera features games unless they have to(*). However, there are likely are multiple, more germane reasons though for the lack of high camera phone features on the iPhone: Apple doesn't own the multiple multimedia chain on MS Windows since iPhoto and iMovie don't ship for MS Windows; the aforementioned tradeoffs with device volume, thickness, battery life, time-to-market, quality, etc.; and who knows, maybe they aren't designing the iPhone as a camera phone, who would think that? All of these have nothing to do with what Apple's CEO thinks, but rather technical and marketing issues.



    (*) I'm pretty sure Jobs wants the iPhone to be Hasselblad quality with lots of fancy features, it just that other things are deemed more important. It could be they want something nice, but can't technically do it yet. If they do add better camera features and video features, I'm also suspecting that iPhoto and iMovie will ship for Windows XP/Vista; or at least, Web app versions.
  • Reply 11 of 36
    thttht Posts: 4,030member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Alfiejr View Post


    the Sony W800 i used to have had a better camera. and it was a lot smaller phone than the iPhone. like icfireball said, i don't expect a good camera. just would like something not so bad. since many snapshots are indoors or in the evening, dealing with lower light is more important for that than resolution.



    Actually, if you look at the specifications, the SE W800i is ~15% larger by volume than the iPhone. It is smaller by planform area (from the front), but it is 20 mm thick, not including the camera protrusion for the lens.



    Aegisdesign has a good choice with the SE W890 which has a 3.2 MP camera, but without flash or autofocus. It's like the iPhone but with 3.2 MP instead of 2. The W890 is a really really thin phone at 10 mm (2.3 mm thinner than the iPhone 3G). It also has front facing camera too. The Samsung Omnia, on the other hand, has a 5 MP camera with flash in a 12.5 mm thick package containing basically everything. The Omnia is a beast, but the camera is I don't know, not well balanced. It's got a puny lens and I imagine its got to have a lot of noise with its pictures. It looks like on the hairy edge where noise would start degrading the picture.
  • Reply 12 of 36
    alfiejralfiejr Posts: 1,524member
    that's a good point that, without a Windows iLife tie-in Apple was not motivated to emphasize the iPhone camera. but MobileMe is a big new push by Apple now, and one thing that such services are used for extensively is photos. the WWDC demo of MobileMe showed them moving photos around with it - outdoor action snapshots drawn from an iPhoto folder - but they were too good a quality to have been taken with the iPhone (no one picked up on that)!
  • Reply 13 of 36
    icfireballicfireball Posts: 2,594member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Alfiejr View Post


    that's a good point that, without a Windows iLife tie-in Apple was not motivated to emphasize the iPhone camera. but MobileMe is a big new push by Apple now, and one thing that such services are used for extensively is photos. the WWDC demo of MobileMe showed them moving photos around with it - outdoor action snapshots drawn from an iPhoto folder - but they were too good a quality to have been taken with the iPhone (no one picked up on that)!



    No one was claiming the photos were taken from an iPhone! Most of the photos were supposed to have been taken by a camera, put onto a computer, and then put onto an iPhone.
  • Reply 14 of 36
    aegisdesignaegisdesign Posts: 2,914member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by THT View Post


    Aegisdesign has a good choice with the SE W890 which has a 3.2 MP camera, but without flash or autofocus. It's like the iPhone but with 3.2 MP instead of 2. The W890 is a really really thin phone at 10 mm (2.3 mm thinner than the iPhone 3G). It also has front facing camera too.



    I could have sworn they added a flash over the older W880 but anyhoo, my point was more that even in the really thin phones (and the iPhone isn't one of those), the camera is at least on paper better and I was expecting they'd have picked the game up since the earlier phone which was given plenty of criticism.



    I just find the whole 'cameraphones suck' defence fanboy-ish when other companies manage to put increasingly decent cameras in their phones. It's an obvious weak point of the iPhone and rationalising it away as Apple having other priorities is a poor excuse.



    Just look at what Sony are doing with their Cybershot series - sure they're thicker but they're now cramming in 8.1mp sensors, decent flash and making it look sexy too...



    http://blog.se-nse.net/2008/06/10/re...905-aka-shiho/
  • Reply 15 of 36
    alfiejralfiejr Posts: 1,524member
    yeah, that was my point. the iPhone camera was too crummy for Apple to use for that MobileMe demo, even though the iPhone was the big hype of that day, and how it easily it works with MobileMe was what they wanted to show.
  • Reply 16 of 36
    thttht Posts: 4,030member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by aegisdesign View Post


    I could have sworn they added a flash over the older W880 but anyhoo, my point was more that even in the really thin phones (and the iPhone isn't one of those), the camera is at least on paper better and I was expecting they'd have picked the game up since the earlier phone which was given plenty of criticism.



    I just find the whole 'cameraphones suck' defence fanboy-ish when other companies manage to put increasingly decent cameras in their phones. It's an obvious weak point of the iPhone and rationalising it away as Apple having other priorities is a poor excuse.



    Just look at what Sony are doing with their Cybershot series - sure they're thicker but they're now cramming in 8.1mp sensors, decent flash and making it look sexy too...



    http://blog.se-nse.net/2008/06/10/re...905-aka-shiho/



    Fanboyish? You do know you're posting in AppleInsider? It's no different from Symbian-Freak, Crackberry, or MSMobiles. It's the nature of the beast.



    After being exposed to cell phone culture for awhile now, I can pretty much tell you that Apple will never implement high feature camera functionality. Not like what you see with other camera phones. Why? It's too complicated. All they want is for the user to whip out the phone, point, then shoot. No need to worry about the many many options that are available to point-n-shoot cameras. For the functionality they want, they don't need much. I can see a time when they'll add auto-focus and flash, but my hunch is that they'll be automatic, no need to think features.



    If the focus is such simplicity, no need to waste resources implementing high feature camera features.
  • Reply 17 of 36
    nofeernofeer Posts: 2,422member
    the camera quality doesn't matter to me it could have a 1mpx camera. now getting video i guess would be nice, but i'd rather have a front facing camera like on my macbook just enough for video conferencing.



    i don't buy a cellphone for its camera....phone#1 internet#2 syncing with other apple stuff #3 gps #4

    i want an integrated solutions phone...one that makes my life easier and less complicated easy to get info and share with others, sync with my mb's and keep me and my wife/family in sync and not lost . many would do this-- iphone is best....oh where is camera quality on my list....next page please.



    i thought the apps store was to open june 27th....hmmmmm i do need voice dialing but that's part of the "phone" functions
  • Reply 18 of 36
    thttht Posts: 4,030member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Alfiejr View Post


    yeah, that was my point. the iPhone camera was too crummy for Apple to use for that MobileMe demo, even though the iPhone was the big hype of that day, and how it easily it works with MobileMe was what they wanted to show.



    Actually, one can upload a picture taken with the iPhone to mobileme through the typical pop-up list of commands. I don't know if it is over-the-air (seems wasteful at 200 kbit/s upload on HSDPA or 400 kbit/s on WiFi) or if it is sideloaded from one's PC.



    Like the news awhile ago that iPhone picture uploads on Flickr took the top spot among phones, I'm projecting the iPhone 3G will build upon that lead. Simplicity has its advantages.
  • Reply 19 of 36
    jensonbjensonb Posts: 529member
    Okay, you really want to know:



    It's a Music Phone. Not a Photo Phone. Want to know why that's a distinction? Look at Sony Eriksson, they have Music Phones (Walkman Phones) and Photo Phones (The K-Series). They have feature overlaps sure, but Ws are better for music Ks are better for Photos. Yes, the iPhone is pretty advanced, but first and foremost it's a Music Phone. The camera is just an obligatory feature.
  • Reply 20 of 36
    aquaticaquatic Posts: 5,602member
    EVERYONE uses the camera in their phone. Apple should add flash and make the optics a bit better. End of discussion, as some have pointed out.



    Perhaps even more importantly, they should add video. How can it have a camera but not do video? Can't they just update the software so it does video?



    The iPhone should be the best at everything. It can be. And I bet it will be, by the time I get around to getting one in a year. I mostly hope it does video.
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