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Apple iPhone 3GS vs. Palm Pre camera

iPhone 3GS sample pictures (slide show):

Pre sample pictures (slide show):

OK, you’re probably thinking this is a bit of an unfair comparison – although the Apple iPhone 3GS camera lacks an (arguably useless) LED flash, the Palm Pre camera lacks the (absolutely essential) auto-focus, as well as video recording…

But, other than the difference in camera and storage specs, the missing GSM/UMTS radios, and the limited selection of apps, the Pre provides 95-105% the iPhone 3GS user experience and features a QWERTY keyboard – that is pretty impressive!

People currently looking for a subsidized über-phone in the US are going to compare the iPhone 3GS and the Pre (and perhaps even the T-Mobile G1 and the Blackberry Storm). So what about the 3 megapixel camera on each device?

The iPhone 3GS camera improves significantly over the iPhone and iPhone 3G by adding auto-focus (with macro) and video recording. It’s the only other phone (beyond the Nokia N93i) that features continuous auto-focus during video recording. The resulting pictures are a little soft, but color balance is excellent. The sensor is somewhat noisy, but good image processing helps.

The touch to focus feature is nice, but the associated spot metering is hit and miss, with some shots getting overexposed. I’d still prefer a dedicated 2-stage shutter button for better grip and control. I’m also wondering why the iPhone 3GS email client still downsizes pictures to 800×600 pixels, making it impossible to send original pictures to Flickr, for example.

It’s a shame that the Palm Pre camera lacks auto-focus (and lacks a macro, in particular). Nonetheless, the resulting pictures are quite nice, especially with proper lighting. There’s a decent amount of detail, and color balance is good. Low-light performance is rather poor, however.

It’s possible to record time lapse videos with the Pre, since image processing takes place in the background, but that’s no substitute for proper video recording. Hopefully, this is going to be remedied soon.

To wrap this up, here are a couple of iPhone 3GS sample videos (download original #1, download original #2):

Update: (Feb 28, 2010) Palm just added video recording support to the Palm Pre. Here is a sample video (download original):

8 thoughts on “Apple iPhone 3GS vs. Palm Pre camera Leave a comment

  1. The stopping power and lighting power of a flash is never to be considered or argued useless in photography.

    I didn’t know the new iPhone had such a good camera, I’m used to the previous version.

    However, it needs a flash. I guess the phones don’t really specify the exposure time… That would be good to know, because if we’re out at a bar with friends…One of us is walking away with blurry photos and one of us isn’t. Being a photography, my money is on that flash.

    Of course if I wanted print quality photos of the night, I also wouldn’t be using a phone =)

    Nice research, thanks.

  2. Putting aside features, I’ve compared 50 to 100 iPhone and Pre photos, many of the same subject/location/lighting. The Pre consistently produced better photos. (I had the Pre for about 50 days before I switched to iPhone – I may switch back)

  3. Is the continuous auto-focus feature for camera only or also video? You seem to indicate that for both but not so sure about that.

  4. Both photo samples look great for each phone. The Palm Pre photo appears to be slightly clearer and brighter though! I’m currently trying to get this phone since I just lost my Samsung Reclaim. I use Sprint, so an iphone is out of the question.

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