The 5 megapixel snappers of the two devices in question are not their key selling points. You can get better still imaging on a phone for half the price. Yet it doesn’t hurt to have a quality camera on board and with the specs so evenly matched it was inevitable that we will compare them.
The iPhone 4 sets off to a good start here with its LED flash. Not that it is that much good with its limited range but the Galaxy S has nothing to offer in return so it’s still an advantage.
As we said in the introduction, despite the similar specs the two cameras actually have completely different outputs. The iPhone 4 doesn’t process its photos much, fighting with chroma noise, but leaving luminance noise alone. The Galaxy S on the other hand tries to eradicate all kinds of, which given the qualities of the cameraphone sensors easily results in lost detail.
So the iPhone 4 gives you slightly noisier but more detailed images, which depending on your preferences might be a good or a bad thing. We don’t mind some luminance noise in our images (it is certainly far less objectionable than the colored chroma noise), so we are siding with the iPhone here.
However what we do mind is the iPhone 4’s tendency to overexpose and oversaturate the camera shots. In more contrasty conditions this leads to irritatingly blown highlights and even in less uncomfortable conditions leaves to negative side effects. For example take a look at the crop of the flower – the iPhone 4 shots lacks any detail, because the oversaturated red channel has clipped. Apple have obviously tuned the camera for on-screen use only compensation for the slightly undersaturated display output. Somehow it hasn’t occurred to them that getting images to look fine on the iPhone4 screen would ruin their viewing on any other screen.
On the other hand if you are only used to looking at photos on you smarphone’s screen the boosted colors will probably impress you more than such defects will bother you. Still there’s little point in 5 megapixel cameras if you are to only look at photos on your mobile, so we are leaning towards the Galaxy’s take on the color processing. We gotta note however that there are times such as this sunset, where the iPhone 4 oversaturation provides for an extra striking image.
Finally there’s another issue with the iPhone 4 camera. It tends to get the color balance wrong more often than not. Even in the world of mobile phones, which are famous for their poor color accuracy the iPhone 4 overly saturated yellow-tinted shots can look really bad.
And as luck would have it the conditions in which that phenomenon is most pronounced are not quite so rare. Those include outside shots on a sunny day and indoor photos with bulb lighting in the room. The second case is much worse, the photos ranging from bad to downright unusable.
So as far as image quality is concerned it’s about even between those two. The iPhone 4 gives you more detailed and more saturated images that in proper lighting look much nicer. However camera tuning is all about compromises and the one the iPhone makes here is reliability. So while the Galaxy S photos sometimes will go down to being okayish, the iPhone 4 shots can get really ugly.
However the Samsung Galaxy S has an advantage here that helps it to the victory. Camera interface is almost completely absent on the iPhone but the Samsung I9000 offers a whole load of settings in a nicely thumbable tabs.
You get different scenes and effects for the rookies and more advanced settings like metering, contrast, saturation and sharpness for the more experienced users. So if you fiddle with them for a while you could probably achieve result close to what the iPhone can give. Going the other way around isn’t possible though. Not to mention that the Galaxy S offers extra features such as self-timer and face and blink detection.
iPhone 4: 6/10 • Samsung I9000 Galaxy S: 7/10