iPhone 4 Camera: Worst Phone Camera Ever?

Coal Miki-Restall highlights some astonishing white-balance issues.

UPDATE, Friday 6th August:

See Coal’s latest post here: http://www.restall.org/2010/08/iphone-4-camera-update.html

He has made some discoveries which are sort of encouraging but the WB capabilities of the camera are still far from perfect and Apple is still silent as to the whole topic.

Original post: Thursday 5th August 2010:

I read Coal’s post today and immediately asked him if I could re-publish it here, so glaring was the issue he was trying to highlight. Watch the videos below and the problem with the white-balance on the iPhone 4 is quite impossible to ignore.

I’m very keen to know from other iPhone 4 owners if you are having the same problem as Coal, as he has received no word from Apple despite repeated enquiries. So far the company does not acknowledge the problem.

If you have an iPhone 4 and are having the same problem as Coal, please leave us a comment.

Here’s Coal’s article: see the original version here

iPhone 4 Camera – Worst Phone Camera Ever

“Now I don’t normally work in superlatives like this, but it was necessary to balance Jobs’ own enthusiastic appraisal. Perhaps the title should more accurately read “iPhone 4 Camera – Handles Warmer Colour Temperature Lighting Such As Tungsten Worse Than Any Phone Camera I’ve Ever Owned, And I’ve Owned A Fair Few” which I would absolutely stand by, but if you’ve read this far then you already know that so there’s little point going back and changing it now; and if you haven’t read this far, then I can say anything I want about you and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. How do you like them apples?! I guess you’ll never know.

In fairness, the iPhone 4 camera performs quite reasonable in daylight conditions. The spirit of the one-touch enhance that was touted in iPhoto nearly 8 years ago to make up for the somewhat lackluster picture quality of your typical digital camera seems to have been included giving pictures that most of the time need no post processing.

However, once you step in from the sunshine and find yourself under tungsten lighting of about 3000 Kelvins or less, that’s when the faults start to really show. The best way to explain the problem is as follows: sunlight has a very bluey hue, whereas tungsten lightbulbs as found in typical family abodes have a very orangey hue. Our eyes being connected to our brains perceive both as looking “normal”. A camera only sees the light as is, so those daylight scenes actually look really blue, and those tungsten scenes actually look really orange. Thankfully, digital cameras normally come equipped with an “automatic white balance”* which compensates for this making both scenes appear the way we’d expect to see them.

This is demonstrated well by the video below (courtesy of Bunnyhero).

See how orange the tungsten lit room appeared? See also how the camera compensated after a moment to make it appear normal? See how blue the other room appeared on emerging from the bathroom? This is what the “automatic white balance” does, and on the older iPhones it clearly did it well.

Now compare to a near identical video taken with an iPhone 4.

As you can see, it makes absolutely no attempt to compensate for the warmer lighting conditions. Whatsoever. Did the manufacturers forget to switch the AWB on? Is it broken? Does it even have AWB? Despite the iPhone 4 being available for more than a month now, Apple have been very quiet on the subject, with support reps claiming they’ve not heard of such a problem.

Well this is a problem, and despite a buzz of documentation early in July, very little has been mentioned of it since. So I guess it’s down to me then.

*Many digital cameras also allow manual white balance whereby you can set to daylight, tungsten, fluorescent and various other presets, set a custom temperature in Kelvins, or simply supply a white reference to lock the colour temperature to. In professional applications a manual white balance is normally preferred. The iPhone 4 does not have a manual white balance option.”

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