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Is your cameraphone an oxymoron?

iPhone 3G v iPhone 3GS v Palm Pre

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Pic Review All cell-phone cameras are not created equal - even the three-megapixel cameras in the recently released iPhone 3GS and Palm Pre. And I've got the photos to prove it.

Our recent review of the iPhone 3GS went into some detail about the quality of the camera in Apple's new smartphone. But I also wanted to see how it stacked up against the Palm Pre, how much of an improvement it is over the much-derided camera in the iPhone 3G, and whether upgrading an iPhone 3G from Software 2.2.1 to 3.0 can help that phone's imaging abilities.

So I loaded up four phones and one camera and visited San Francisco's downtown patch of greenery, the Yerba Buena Gardens. There, I took over 200 shots to discover how each performs under ideal conditions: a bright, sunny day.

My test cameras phones were an iPhone 3G running iPhone Software 2.2.1, an iPhone 3G and an iPhone 3GS running iPhone Software 3.0, and a Palm Pre running Palm webOS 1.0.3.

I also brought along an aging Nikon D70 DSLR, just to find out how images from a real camera compare to those from a pocket convenience. I used an AF-S DX VR Zoom-Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED lens and set the Nikon to shutter-priority mode at 1/400 of a second. I set white balance to automatic and ISO to 200. And to be even mildly fair, I shot in JPEG, not RAW.

My findings can be summarized as follows:

  • Upgrading an iPhone 3G from iPhone Software 2.2.1 to 3.0 provides a welcome improvement in image quality. Essentially, image quality takes a step up from "sucks" to "sucks less."
  • The iPhone 3GS's three-megapixel camera is a noticeable improvement over the two megapixel camera in the iPhone 3G - and the differences are much more than mere megapixelage.
  • The Palm Pre's three-megapixel camera takes crisp, well-focused images, but it's a finicky little fellow with maddeningly inconsistent white balance.
  • And here's my "Well duh!" finding: even a five-year-old six-megapixel DSLR could easily out-image any of its phone-based competition, not only in detail but also in overall exposure and color balance.

Let's get down to some example photos - a lot of example photos.

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