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Another aspect of the iPhone that has often been open to criticism is the camera, and I can understand why. The fixed focus, 2-megapixel camera that appeared in the original iPhone was pretty disappointing back in 2007, but when the same camera was implemented in the iPhone 3G a year later, many, including myself were somewhat surprised and disappointed.
This time around Apple has decided to upgrade the camera, which is hardly a surprise given the fact that most of the touch-screen competition are sporting 8-megapixel cameras, while LG has already announced a phone with a 12-megapixel example built-in. So, does the camera in the 3GS measure up to the competition? Errr, no.
The 3GS sports a 3-megapixel camera, which may seem low by contemporary standards, but you shouldn't get carried away with the megapixel numbers game. What you need to remember is that the sensors employed by mobile phone cameras are pretty tiny, so squeezing more pixels onto them is not necessarily going to give you better pictures. In fact, there's every chance that the images will look worse, due to the higher chance of sensor noise.
Unfortunately the increased resolution over the iPhone 3G hasn't really improved the overall image quality. The identical shots of the Liquid Yellow Clio R27 show that neither the 3G or 3GS does a particularly good job of capturing the bright paintwork. I'm guessing that the sensor resolution is simply not the issue with the iPhone camera, and it's the lens that is the limiting factor.
Interestingly the 3G and 3GS seem to lie at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to exposure, with the former tending to overexpose images, giving them a washed out look, while the latter underexposes, thus losing detail in low light areas. Subjectively, the 3GS produces better looking photos, but they're still by no means great, and despite the tendency to underexpose, high intensity areas are often blown out.
The camera on the 3GS also has autofocus, whereas the old camera was fixed focus. The cool thing is that you can set your focus point by simply tapping it on the screen, but again the limitations of the lens mean that despite this feature, you're still not going to get shots much better than the camera in the old iPhone. It's not like the lens is fast enough to experiment with depth of field effects or anything similar, so the defined focus point is somewhat moot.
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