Best camera phone around?

HTC released its impressive T-Mobile MyTouch 4G Slide Android smartphone with much fanfare over the camera quality. The hardware has excellent low-light solutions and a sensor to improve a photo's contrast and dynamic range, HTC said. The camera has zero shutter lag, too. In fact, HTC went ahead and called it the most advanced smartphone camera out there.

"Advanced" can mean a lot of things. It can refer to sophisticated specs, to the quantity of hardware and software options, and to the internal science behind the camera software's processing prowess. It's true that the MyTouch 4G Slide has a gorgeous camera interface loaded with modes and options, including some great editing features you can use before and after taking shots.

I'm no photographic guru, but in my initial tests, the camera, though very good, certainly didn't steamroll other great camera phones. In fact, I saw evidence of shutter lag and delayed image processing, a concerning flash issue, and some images didn't seem as clear or rich as they should have for a camera meant to blow away the competition. So I ran more tests with some of the MyTouch 4G Slide's more-notable features, and compared them with shots taken from other great phones.

In the interest of keeping this slideshow at a manageable size, I often included comparison shots from only the best competing handset. With the exception of resizing photos, the pictures have not been digitally altered.

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Photo by: Josh Miller/CNET / Caption by:

Color and texture

The MyTouch 4G Slide (top; 8-megapixel camera) and Apple iPhone 4 (bottom; 5-megapixel camera) have notably wider camera angles than the other camera phones tested (the 5-megapixel Samsung Focus and 8-megapixel Samsung Galaxy S II). The MyTouch's is slightly wider, as evidenced by the cars' greater visibility in the top shot. The murals' texture and richness came through on both phones, but the MyTouch colors were truer to life.

Outdoor, even lighting.

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Photo by: Jessica Dolcourt/CNET / Caption by:

Smile shot

Smile shot is a neat feature that engages the shutter the moment it senses a smile. We used it here; however, the Samsung Galaxy S II has it as well.

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Photo by: Jessica Dolcourt/CNET / Caption by:

Ghosting

HTC claims zero shutter lag on the MyTouch 4G Slide, the elapsed time between the moment the onscreen or hardware shutter control is pressed and when the camera captures the image. Perhaps HTC was able to create those shots, but when we noticed lags in processing time, my colleague Josh Long and I tested more thoroughly. We each took turns jumping, pressing the shutter before the jump to gauge if the camera captured the scene before we began to rise (there was some lag.)

Josh also took this picture by holding the shutter button at the left while panning the camera steadily to the right. This "ghosted" result shows image artifacts. Look to the left and you'll see a shadow of my head replicated near the car. The tree trunk on the right is duplicated as well. There's also a noticeable line that horizontally bisects the image. While this image contains the most pronounced ghosting, other shots we took like this also indicated some lag time. That's fairly normal with smartphone cameras, but we wish HTC had tempered its claim.

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Photo by: Josh Long/CNET / Caption by:

HDR mode

ClearShot HDR is one of the MyTouch 4G Slide's flagship camera features. HDR (high dynamic range) takes three shots at different exposure levels and recombines them to offer a possibly more balanced and nuanced image. It's also known for helping out in low-light situations. Here, the MyTouch 4G Slide cast an orange hue on the scene while in HDR mode. The iPhone 4 (right), took a darker image that nevertheless had better color fidelity.

Indoor, very low light.

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Photo by: Jessica Dolcourt/CNET / Caption by:

Editing options

One of the neatest things about the MyTouch 4G Slide's camera is the proliferation of editing tools that are integrated into the camera experience; you don't have to venture forth to third-party apps for touch-ups. I applied the phone's auto-enhance tool to the photo on the left; the photo on the right is untouched.

Outdoor, even lighting.

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Photo by: Jessica Dolcourt/CNET / Caption by:

Contrast: Uneven lighting

Dark blacks and bright whites are a measure of image quality for both screens and images. The MyTouch 4G Slide produced the image on top, and the Samsung Galaxy S II produced the image on the bottom. The Galaxy S II provided better contrast and more vibrant green leaves to my eyes, but the MyTouch brought out the red in the needles that I also liked.

Outdoor, dappled lighting.

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Photo by: Jessica Dolcourt/CNET / Caption by:

Lower outdoor light

I shot a series of images on a woodsy hike to see how well the various cameras fared. From left to right, we have the MyTouch 4G Slide, the Samsung Focus, and the Galaxy S II. The Focus brought out rich reds and greens with its 5-megapixel shooter, but overboosted the green colors. Nevertheless, it did a great job pulling out the nooks and crannies in the knotted wood of this hollowed tree trunk. The Galaxy S II did well defining edges; look to the branched needles in the middle of the trunk.

Outdoor, low but even lighting.

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Photo by: Jessica Dolcourt/CNET / Caption by:

Macro mode

This pretty planter box flower serves as the perfect backdrop for testing out macro mode. The MyTouch 4G Slide is on the left, the middle is the Galaxy S II, and the iPhone is on the far right. The iPhone has no specific macro mode, but generally does a nice job focusing in. Here, however, it completely overblows the colors, producing a piercing pink. Notice how the stone slab in the bottom left color are more evenly matched on the other phones. Since the MyTouch makes for warmer reds, the flower looks best on it. The MyTouch also did very well with focus and detail.

Outdoor, even lighting.

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Photo by: Jessica Dolcourt/CNET / Caption by:

Front-facing camera

Front-facing cameras are notoriously unflattering, so I hope you all appreciate the effort here. I held the camera fairly close to my face. From left to right, we have the MyTouch, the Galaxy S II, and the iPhone 4. The latter pulled out the most red and shadow. When I saw the photos at full size (I had to shrink them to fit this slideshow), it was clear that the MyTouch produced a flatter, less focused, and less detailed image than the other two. In other words, I came out pre-airbrushed (maybe not such a bad thing!). Since the Galaxy S II has a 2-megapixel front-facing camera, and the MyTouch has a VGA camera, it's not surprising, and I thought the MyTouch did a good job overall.

Indoor, natural and fluorescent lighting.

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Photo by: Jessica Dolcourt/CNET / Caption by:

Panorama

The MyTouch 4G Slide's SweepShot mode is a fancy way of saying panorama. Similar to other smartphones, you press the capture button and rotate slowly to fill in the image. The MyTouch did a nice job with this suburban front yard.

Outdoor, variable lighting

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Photo by: Jessica Dolcourt/CNET / Caption by:

Panorama, compared

You'll recognize the photo above as the MyTouch 4G Slide's. The photo below belongs to the Samsung Galaxy S II, which works similarly, but takes a total of eight defined shots to capture a wider vista that's about twice the area. Sometimes I'd prefer more; sometimes less. Note how the two cameras also process color a bit differently. The MyTouch 4G Slide tends to enrich reds, while greens look more verdant (and less yellow-green) on the Galaxy S II.

Outdoor, variable lighting.

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Photo by: Jessica Dolcourt/CNET / Caption by:

Portrait mode

Portrait mode was a disappointment in my studio test shot, and tricky artificial lighting may have something to do with it. The MyTouch 4G Slide is on the left; its portrait mode automatically blurs the background behind the subject. The Galaxy S II is on the right. The typical differences in the way images are processed also rears up here, with extreme color differences for the same shot. Although both photos looked crisp from the phone screens, the Galaxy S II proves more in focus once I transferred the shots to the computer.

Indoor, artificial lighting.

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Photo by: Jessica Dolcourt/CNET / Caption by:

Action mode

Since my models refused to play soccer for my test shots, we resorted to the high fives and shows of strength prevalent among the CNET team. The MyTouch on the left obscures Jamie's face, which isn't as appealing as the blurred high-fiving hands. The Galaxy S II, on the right, did a better job preserving features during my photo shoot. And yes, these are the best of a long series of shots. Ultimately, anyone who uses action mode on any camera should expect that some shots will come out better than others.

Indoor, artificial studio lighting.

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Photo by: Jessica Dolcourt/CNET / Caption by:

Night shots

Night modes were fairly poor on both the MyTouch 4G Slide and the Galaxy S II, but then again, most digital cameras face the same challenges. As usual, the MyTouch washes the scene in orange; colors were slightly truer (but still dull) on the Galaxy S II.

Outdoor, nighttime.

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Photo by: Jessica Dolcourt/CNET / Caption by:

Flash issue

In addition to steeping photos in oranges and reds, our review unit of the MyTouch 4G Slide has the annoying propensity to deny flash when the battery dips to a certain point. But for this review unit, flash was disabled while the battery meter shone red for low battery, but also yellow, and even green. Even after disabling power settings, I still didn't manage to manually override the flash issue. Still, even without flash on, the MyTouch 4G (left) produced a clearer shot of this multimedia mural than the Galaxy S II (right), also in night mode without flash. The highlights also come from cars passing by.

Outdoor, low lighting.

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Photo by: Jessica Dolcourt/CNET / Caption by:

No flash and flash

Just for fun, here's the same scene with the MyTouch 4G on the left, in night mode without flash, and the Galaxy S II on the right, in night mode with flash. The red coloring on the teeth reflects car headlights.

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Photo by: Jessica Dolcourt/CNET / Caption by:
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