The camera interface plays a big part in the shooting experience. So essentially what it all boils down to is the following: camera features and user-friendliness.
The Camera Features assessment takes into account the features that the camera masters - it includes stuff such as shoot modes (macro, burst, panorama, frame, collage), flash settings, available preset scenes, ISO setting and some other extras such as on-screen guidelines, face detection, manual focus and camera stabilization. We also take into account the actual looks of the camera interface - the eye-candy aspect of things is important too.
Perhaps the User-Friendliness of the interface is probably the more complex thing to assess. It takes into account things such as the way settings are ordered, the available shortcuts for the camera functions, the visual pointers showing the specifics of each setting, etc. It may sound like a subjective assessment, but you have no choice but to rely on our experience with cameraphones and digital cameras and trust our judgment.
In terms of Camera features all of our contenders seem to have their own quirks. All of them seem to have a pretty identical set of standard settings such as white balance, adequate preset scene modes, self-timer, color effects, and exposure compensation. Most of them macro shooting modes, while the ones that don't usually don't need it. The Nokia N95 8GB has also a Sharpness and Contrast settings that neither of the others has.
ISO setting is available in all cameraphones - it's useful when you want to minimize the noise by flicking it down at the lowest setting or when you want to freeze the action in a low-light environment by flicking it up at the max setting. By the way, if you are a person that refuses to touch any setting that has a fat abbreviation on it, you might as well go with the Scenes shooting modes as they do all the appropriate settings for you.
The flash settings are also pretty identical - they all have auto mode and red-eye reduction mode. The Sony Ericsson K850 only suffers a bit from the fact that you cannot use its xenon thingy as fill flash. This setting is needed when you want to use the flash as a fill light for shooting portraits when there is a bright background behind the subject. The same issue goes for LG KU990 Viewty, too. Note that the score doesn't take into account the actual flash performance but only the settings associated with it.
When it comes to Burst mode almost every cameraphone has its own solution. The Sony Ericsson K850 uses the BestPic mode where it takes up to 9 images in a row at the highest resolution. Once they are taken, they are pretty easy for reviewing as the phone doesn't save them before you've chosen the keepers. The Nokia N95 8GB has its Burst mode with up to 6 high-res images however it much slower than the BestPic mode and the phone saves all images before you even have the chance to review them. The Samsung G600 captures up to 15 images in a rapid succession however they are only in QVGA resolution. The LG KU990 Viewty takes up to 10 quick successive shots and the user can choose which ones to save, but they are not taken in the maximum resolution possible but in 1280 x 960 pixels (1 megapixel).
Taking panorama images is a fun way to capture the full grandeur of landscapes. While it does take some skill taking those shots, all of our contenders made it easier for you by automating the whole process of stitching the images together. The Sony Ericsson K850 takes panorama images of up to three shots but all the shots are taken in VGA resolution - quite inadequate really. The Samsung G600 also has a Panorama mode but again shoots up to three shots in VGA resolution. Nokia N95 8GB is even worse - there is no Panorama mode. You can buy a third-party application that enables it but the individual shots are taken in up to QVGA resolution. The LG Viewty scores best here as its Panorama images consist of three individual shots each with 1 megapixel resolution.
Each of the cameraphones has its unique feature to make it stand out of the crowd. The Sony Ericsson K850 features a built-in accelerometer that records information in the picture taken so that every image viewing program can rotate it automatically afterwards.
Speaking of accelerometers, the Nokia N95 8GB also has that but there is even more. Thanks to the built-in GPS and some free third-party software you can get your photos geo-tagged or a.k.a. GPS-tagging. Later on when you upload them to a geo-tag-enabled photo sharing website you can show your friends exactly where you have taken those cool shots. Nokia N95 8GB has one more feature that none of the other cameraphones has - it allows taking images at a predefined interval. Those are great for making time-lapse movies of slow moving objects.
The LG Viewty also has some aces up its sleeves. Beside manual focus, it also offers image stabilization which you can use when taking pictures.
The Samsung G600 along with the N95 8GB can visualize a grid overlay on the viewfinder. You can use the grid to help compose your snapshots like a pro - the photography composition rule-of-thirds states that you should place your main subject either along these lines or at the points where they intersect. The rule-of-thirds also applies to landscape shots. There you should have the sky occupying either one third or two thirds of the frame. But having the gridlines is not important enough to bring any changes in the assigned ratings.
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The camera interface looks are not that important for the camera functionality. We, however, feel that they are an essential element of a make-or-break cameraphone deal. When looking at what our contenders have to offer we pretty much think we have a clear-cut winner.
Looks are a subjective matter so everyone should decide for themselves. However we find the Sony Ericsson K850 to be superior in terms of the interface looks. The Samsung G600 is a close second, while the Nokia N95 8GB and the LG KU990 Viewty are next in queue.
Samsung G600: 5/10 • LG Viewty: 7/10 • Nokia N95 8GB: 6/10 • Sony Ericsson K850: 7/10
User-friendliness is the next aspect we assess. You would have no choice but to rely on our experience with cameraphones and digital cameras and trust our judgment, since without a proper study involving focus groups and such, it still remains a highly questionable matter.
The Sony Ericsson K850 scores nicely when it comes to user-friendliness. We generally like the whole setup where you have a toolbar with the available settings and all the options come up as pop-ups. The Samsung G600 follows exactly the same pattern, while the Nokia N95 8GB and the LG Viewty stray from that rule.
With camera settings getting more complex than ever, it's pretty important that all of those should have some straightforward explanation in the camera interface. The settings should also have their names clearly shown, otherwise finding the needed setting turns into a guessing game for an inexperienced user.
The Sony Ericsson K850 manages that requirement with an unexpected ease. The Samsung G600 has clear names for the available settings, but no explanation of what they do. The Nokia N95 8GB has nice explanations for what each individual setting does and there are some tooltips to help you get your way around the main settings toolbar - but only after you highlight an icon. The LG Viewty is the worst of all as most of the settings are represented with icons with not that clear meaning, plus there is no explanation whatsoever - nevertheless we think a touch-based user interface could hardly be laid out any different.
Samsung G600 camera interface
Having a huge amount of settings on that settings toolbar we spoke of earlier is not that user-friendly too. So every cameraphone has a second settings menu that takes care of the least used options. That's ok with us, however picking the right ones to put on the main toolbar is of crucial importance to the user-friendliness of the device's camera. It seems like that all of our contnders have fared great in this respect, so we are calling it a draw here.
Sony Ericsson K850 camera interface
Having the right shortcuts at your disposal is a key thing in order to operate with the camera settings quickly and efficiently. We are used to those on entry-level digital cameras, but mobile phones have much more features than a regular camera and fitting dedicated camera keys is not a feasible task. Yet, all of the handsets allow some sort of shortcutting your way through the most important settings, so that you don't miss that precious opportunist shot.
LG Viewty camera interface
The Sony Ericsson K850 packs some nice backlight icons on the regular alphanumeric keypad so that you know your way around. It's probably the most comfortable solution we've seen so far on a cameraphone. The Samsung G600 also has an extensive list of available shortcuts, however you have to memorize them by heart or use the camera help menu to see who's doing what.
Nokia N95 8GB camera interface
The Nokia N95 8GB has no shortcut keys whatsoever except for the digital zoom control. And finally, we can't really expect any hardware shortcuts from the LG Viewty as it doesn't have much hardware keys. Nevertheless, it packs one, which allows you to start the image stabilization mode - and of course there is the ring on the back that allows you to control the manual focus and the digital zoom.
The LG Viewty, as well as K850, also has a nice dedicated slider for toggling between photo and video capturing. The Nokia N95 8GB has a dedicated key for starting the image gallery, too
Samsung G600: 7/10 • LG Viewty: 4/10 • Nokia N95 8GB: 6/10 • Sony Ericsson K850: 8/10
Update: The LG and Nokia score points in this category are now swapped, as due to a mistake, they were not correct.