Phone Cameras Compared
As smart phones progress, people will demand high-quality cameras be built in so they don’t have to carry another device. We’re not there yet. None of the phones we tested are built specifically to replace a standard point-and-shoot camera, but we still conducted tests to determine quality and speed of the built-in cameras to determine how far each one has to go before it could replace a point-and-shoot.
A few notes about each phone’s camera: only the LG enV Touch, Nokia N97, and Palm Pre have flash built in, and only the N97 and enV Touch have auto-focus. All of the phones except for the Palm Pre have dedicated camera buttons.
The enV Touch comes with a multitude of camera options that the other tested devices lack, including brightness settings, an excellent panoramic picture option, smile recognition, and even a business card reader that uploads information directly into the contacts list (our tests on several business cards weren’t impressive, but the idea is sound).
The N97 features a slew of traditional point-and-shoot features, such as exposure, white balance, contrast, and sharpness settings. A sequence mode lets users take multiple pictures, one after the other, and even the ISO (light sensitivity) settings can be adjusted. White balance and color tones can also be set for video.
To test the quality of the cameras, we took pictures in three general settings: high light, warm light (inside), and low light. We then examined all the resulting pictures (you can view them in the slide show), for contrast, color correctness, and picture quality.
Click on the image to see the full slideshow of comparison photos between each phone model.
The N97, enV Touch, and Pre offered good to excellent quality outdoor daytime photos. Both the Pre and enV Touch took very vibrant and colorful pictures. The N97, in comparison, seems to have duller colors and a blander overall picture.
Here is an enV Touch photo taken indoors with no flash:
Indoors, both the Impression and Instinct took decent pictures, but neither provided much clarity or definition. On their respective screens, the pictures look fine, but at their actual sizes on a computer, they don’t look good. Without flash, the N97 takes warm pictures that offer less contrast than the Pre and enV Touch do. Images are slightly blurrier as well, regardless of the 5 MP lens. The enV Touch didn’t perform as well as we expected without flash indoors, though the Pre offers an excellent picture.
Here is an N97 photo taken indoors with flash:
With flash, the enV Touch has a slightly better picture with more color, but it also gets some colors wrong and responds to bright light harshly. The N97 does an excellent job of bringing out the color and minimizing external light with its incredibly bright flash. Still, the Pre once again does a spectacular job with a very pronounced picture, though its flash is perhaps too bright and whitens some of the elements in the image.
Here is an N97 photo taken outdoors with flash:
Outdoors at night, the Instinct does not perform well. Images are blurry and pixilated in darker sections. The Impression does a better job and provides a higher-quality image, but it also is pixilated in the darkest parts of the image. The Pre suffers horribly from pixilation without flash and is utterly useless without flash in the dark. Both the N97 and enV Touch shot well even in the harsh conditions, with the enV Touch giving a warmer image and the N97 providing color-correct photos.
Here is a Pre photo taken outdoors with flash:
With flash, the enV Touch completely whitens the picture, lighting both the foreground and background. Brighter parts of the picture are lost because of this, as is much of the color. The N97 does a spectacular job of making dark images seem like they were taken in the day and manages to keep both the light source properly colored while not overpowering the rest of the image. However, colors are less vibrant and the contrast is dulled. The Pre does the same, but to a lesser extent, preserving much of the contrast.
The Pre is incredibly fast to start the camera and to take picture after picture. Start time for the rest of the phones is consistent, from four to five seconds. Taking multiple pictures quickly with most of the phones is very easy, especially with the N97, which ordinarily is just as slow as the enV Touch, but has the sequence option that enables users to take up to 18 pictures, one after the other.
All of the phones were designed for camera use and each is comfortable to hold when taking pictures. The Instinct S30, because it is so light, is harder to hold steady with one hand and its dedicated camera button isn’t very pronounced. Because the Pre uses the touchscreen as a button to take pictures, it isn’t as comfortable as the other phones, but after a short time, we were used to using it. The N97’s camera cover helps bring peace of mind that the lens won’t be scratched.
For video recording, the Instinct S30 provided very blurry and pixilated recorded video at low resolutions. The Impression is better, providing decent video that is worth watching on Youtube. The enV Touch provides cool picture quality and does a good job for video recording, while the N97 takes warmer videos, but does so at higher resolutions.
The Palm Pre does not support video recording.