Camera Zoom by KendiTech has been holding strong on the App Store’s top 100 list. In reality, there’s no wonder that an app offering a zoom function on the iPhone would be doing so well as this is a feature that most iPhone users wished the iPhone had. Well, now, through the Camera Zoom app, you can have it today.
Nearly every camera on the market, be it in a cell phone or not, has some type of zoom capability built in. Most (real) cameras have a combination of optical zoom and digital zoom capability that offer the photographer some flexibility in their photo snapping experience. However, everyone also knows that the only type of zoom worth having is optical zoom, since this leverages the lens to do the zoom work and allows the camera to use the full megapixel capability of the sensor for each image taken. Digital zoom, on the other hand, is where a camera will take the same resolution image at every zoom level, but then process the image by cropping and enhancing the result to give the user the effect of true optical zoom. So, in essence, the further you zoom in on a digital zoom system, the less effective pixels of the sensor you are using and your final result would have less detail in it.
Being a photo buff myself, I’ve scoffed at the Camera Zoom app since it hit the app store, since you wouldn’t catch me using digital zoom on any image. I much prefer to take my pics on my 3GS and post-process them in Photoshop (or even PhotoForge) where I have greater control and can sharpen them as necessary should I decide to crop them. So, needless to say, I have been putting off for some time to try out Camera Zoom.
Upon launching Camera Zoom on your iPhone, you are presented with a familiar camera interface but with one exception: the presence of a slider on the bottom edge of the screen. Since the app is called “Camera Zoom” it’s not hard to figure out what the slider is for – zooming. The first thing that struck me as odd however, is the focus/metering square of the 3GS is off-center (not touching the screen). When I compared the interface to the actual camera app, the image on Camera Zoom is already slightly zoomed from the original app and cannot but zoomed out to match that of the real camera app.
Taking pictures is easy, as one would expect. Simply slide the slider to the zoom you want, and touch the camera button on the bottom of the screen. If you have a 3GS camera, you can also touch the screen to focus / meter and then take you picture. The interface becomes a little odd here, since it appears as though the camera zoom app is actually zooming the camera interface in order to achieve the visual zoom effect. This makes for a rather odd experience when using the app.
The other issue I had with the app is that when previewing pictures, the preview function looks just like the camera roll in the real camera app, but does not have nearly the same functions. For example, you can preview a picture, but that’s it. No other controls or onscreen functions are provided. To email pics or copy/paste etc you will need to close Camera Zoom and launch the camera roll.
I did a series of photographic tests, to which only a couple of them are included in this review. The only real test worth doing is to compare the quality of the images coming from Camera Zoom to images coming from the real camera app, at different crop and zoom levels. The oddities that I mention above while, well, odd, don’t prevent one from taking zoomed pictures with the app. So, from here on out we’ll look at the end results.
My results after a few tests were actually rather surprising. The app appeared to perform rather well at digital zooming the image and achieved results that were on-par with my own post-processed images. There’s no doubt that the app is doing its own post-processing of the image in order to get a decent result after cropping away all the unused pixels. Looking at the pics below, you can see that the two images are very similar. On the left, is an image taken using the camera app and then post-processed (crop and unsharp mask) in PhotoForge and on the right, an image taken using Camera Zoom (no processing except for size). Here’s the results:
Cropped and unsharp mask in PhotoForge
|Camera Zoom No processing except size.|
As you can see, the two images are near identical. Both images exhibit significant noise artifacts (to be expected considering the dim lighting conditions and the amount of crop done to achieve the ‘zoom’ level). However, one cannot discount the ease of which it is to use Camera Zoom without having to post process. This is, in my opinion, the only reason why someone would use this app. For everyday, casual shooting the app works great. Digital zoom is easily and effectively achieved. However, if you care at all for image quality, then you’ll likely be the type to not even want to use digital zoom under any circumstance, even on your phone. For those I say, post process, to everyone else I say Camera Zoom is a great alternative.
Part 1 of 2, Still Picture Mode:
In 2007, while other phone manufacturers were producing cell phones with 5MP cameras or higher, Apple chose to launch the original iPhone with a week 2MP, fixed lens camera. Then in 2008, with the introduction of the iPhone 3G, Apple chose to leave the camera untouched essentially continuing with the same lousy camera they introduced with the first iteration iPhone while disappointing many iPhone users (myself included). With the release of the iPhone 3GS one of the biggest improvements that previous iPhone users will see is the new 3.2MP camera.
|Taken at the Gateway Mall in Salt Lake City, looking northward toward the Apple Store.|
Finally, with Apple’s third installment of the iPhone they have chosen to improve the onboard camera, and improve they did. Granted, the megapixel count didn’t increase much (it’s now 3.2MP vs. 2MP), but they introduced a few key features that makes this camera shine: autofocus, spot focus, spot metering and more. Images from the new iPhone 3GS are considerably sharper, have noticeably more detail and are easily worthy of printing by your favorite photo printer (I wouldn’t say that for the first two iPhones) so long as you stay in the smaller sizes (3×5 or 4×6).
If you’ve read many of my posts before then you will know by now that I’m kind of a photography buff, so this post was not only necessary for me to write, it was also a lot of fun to produce. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve taken my new iPhone out on a few photo outings. I’ve tried to lug around my old iPhone too, for comparison sake, and you’ll see below that the results are pleasing and in many cases startling.
Let’s take a look at the technical specs of the cameras offered in the iPhone:
|iPhone||iPhone 3G||iPhone 3GS|
|Spot Focus (touch screen)||No||No||Yes|
|Spot Metering (touch screen)||No||No||Yes|
|Image/Video Geo Tagging||No/n/a||Yes/n/a||Yes/Yes|
|Image Size||1600 X 1200||1600 X 1200||2048 X 1536|
|Pixel Count (MP)||1,920,000 (1.9)||1,920,000 (1.9)||3,145,728 (3.1)|
|Video||No||No||Yes, VGA (640×480) 30fps with Audio|
Camera Controls, Spot Focus, Spot Metering
One thing to notice immediately is that with iPhone OS 3.0 the interface has changed somewhat. Now you see a small thumbnail of your previously taken picture in the bottom corner. On an iPhone 3GS, you also see a slider button to toggle between video and still mode (video functions to be covered in a later post). However, what’s more is that you now get the focus square in the middle of the screen when the camera is focusing and adjusting aperture.
|iPhone 3GS Camera Interface|
|Note the still/video toggle and also the small square in the image which is where I touched on the screen for spot focus/metering|
Touch anywhere on the screen and that is the spot that the camera will focus and take it’s metering from. This is a very cool function, one that we will likely see in high-end dSLR cameras in the future (mark my words!) and you saw it here first!! (well, on your iPhone 3GS first). Why is this function so important and cool? Well, with any typical camera these days, in order to “spot” focus or “spot” meter you must point the center of the camera at the point that you want to focus/meter, half press the shutter button, re-frame your subject then follow through on the shutter release. Well, not with the iPhone 3GS. Simply frame you subject, touch the screen where you want focus to be, and touch the shutter release button. Wrong exposure? No problem, just touch somewhere else and allow the phone to re-focus and re-meter that spot then retake the pic. Here’s a couple of samples to demonstrate this feature:
|iPhone 3GS Spot Focus/Metering Demo|
|Focus/Metering on Tree
Note the detail in the tree.
|Focus/Metering on Flower
Note the detail in the flower.
|Focus/Metering on Desk||Focus/Metering on Window|
If you are a macro photographer then you will appreciate the new minimum focus distance of the new iPhone 3GS’ camera. Macro shots, albeit not as sharp as even a P&S camera, are now possible.
|Comparison Macro between iPhone and iPhone 3GS.|
The new camera offered in the iPhone 3GS is a significant step up from the previous two offerings. Now, having said that, I wouldn’t call the camera superior to all phone-mounted cameras, but it is a refreshing improvement. If you’re a hardcore photographer then by all means, don’t consider this camera for much of anything. However, if you’re a photo buff and like to experiment and would find value in these new features, then this will be a nice improvement to your phone.
- Significantly better than previous iPhone cameras.
- Spot Focus and Metering are welcome additions, and make using the camera function much more enjoyable.
- Auto focus is finally here.
- Video (See follow on post that will discuss this in greater detail).
- Much improved detail in images (due mainly to auto focus)
- 150% more megapixels than previous iPhone cameras, although 3.2MP is nothing to scream about.
- Much improved low-light capabilities, albeit far from what I’d like to see.
- Still lags behind the competition in camera resolution.
- No flash.
- Still not a point and shoot replacement (yes, I know it’s a phone first – it’s all about device convergence).
- Ity, bity, tiny lens. Until this is bigger, not much here will change.
- Still no physical camera buttons for shutter release or even to switch to camera mode. You must use the touch interface.
- No self-timer.
Post your feedback in the comments, I’d love to hear what you think. Also, if you liked this post, there are many similar others so take a poke around.
Note: All images in this post are © Copyright 2009 by Rob Lyons and AppChatter.com.