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HolidayBuyer's Guide

Outside the CNET office: iPhone 4S

Outside the CNET office: iPhone 4

Hayes Valley corner: iPhone 4S

Hayes Valley corner: iPhone 4

Linden Alley: iPhone 4S

Linden Alley: iPhone 4

Downtown at night: iPhone 4S

Downtown at night: iPhone 4

My dinner: iPhone 4S

My dinner: iPhone 4

Dim room with flash: iPhone 4S

Dim room with flash: iPhone 4

Statue on the Green: iPhone 4S

Statue on the Green: iPhone 4

Using the zoom: iPhone 4S

Using the zoom: iPhone 4

At the market: iPhone 4S

At the market: iPhone 4

Studio shot: iPhone 4S

Studio shot: iPhone 4

Though it doesn't have the hype of Siri, the iPhone 4S' camera is one of its best features. Now with a resolution of 8 megapixels, the iPhone 4's shooter offers huge improvements over the iPhone 4's. It has an f/2.4 aperture lens, a sensor that allows 73 percent more light than the iPhone 4 camera, a hybrid IR filter for better color accuracy, and improved auto white balance.


I know that's a lot of techno-babble, so to show just how the iPhone 4S is different, I shot a series of 10 photos using both phones. I then showed the photos to Lori Grunin, CNET's senior editor for digital imaging. She was quick to reply that the iPhone 4S is vastly superior to the iPhone 4 in several ways. White balance is much better and the memory colors (greens and blues) are far more accurate. She also said that the tonal range for the 4S is more open, which gives the images a lower contrast and shows more detail. That's the brief scoop, but I added more observations throughout the photo gallery.

Here you can see that colors in the iPhone 4S image are very sharp. There's also great detail and little image noise.

Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET
The iPhone 4 photo is good as well, but there's less color range and background objects are slightly blurry.
Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET
I shot this photo in the shade during the late morning on a bright, sunny day.
Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET
The iPhone 4 also captures enough light, but the reds in the banner and the stoplight are faded and there's less detail in the clouds.
Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET
As in the previous two photos, you really see the difference in how the phones capture clouds and the bright sky.
Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET
With the iPhone 4, the sky isn't as blue and the cloudy areas are blown-out.
Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET
Lori said that these night shots are a mix. The 4S looks like it's using a slower shutter speed, so there's more shake than from the 4, but the color and exposure are better. Note that the individual light points are pretty distinct and that even the tall building in the background is adequately lit. On the downside, the whole image has a grayish tint.
Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET
The image shows how less successful the iPhone 4 is at capturing light. The light points are fuzzy and they have a yellowish and less-natural color. The tall building is too dark and the street signs are unreadable even though I didn't use a flash. Lori also added that the cameras may be metering slightly differently.
Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET
This was my heirloom-tomato-and-melon salad in a brightly lit restaurant with no flash. It tasted as good as it looks.
Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET
The iPhone 4's less detail in the tonal range is visible here. For example, the plate wasn't so blinding white.
Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET
Even with the iPhone 4's improved sensor, the iPhone 4S' flash can be too overpowering.
Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET
The iPhone 4's flash is bright as well, but there's less color accuracy.
Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET
In these images you can see again that the iPhone 4S is better at capturing smaller details like the clouds and the intricacies in the statue.
Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET
The iPhone 4 hardly does a bad job, but the image is darker and the building looks more green than white.
Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET
I shot these photos with the zoom about halfway in. Lori said it shows how the iPhone 4S is simply choosing a slightly brighter exposure in some cases. But even the iPhone 4S can't correct the increased image noise from using a digital zoom.
Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET
On the iPhone 4, the pixels are more visible. By the way, if you live in San Francisco, eat this pizza.
Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET
I did not use the flash here either. Lori pointed out this photo as the best example of how the 4S has better accuracy and exposure and is better at handling the saturated colors.
Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET
With the iPhone 4 the letters on the signs aren't as readable, and the colors, especially on the peaches and apples, look like they should be in a cartoon.
Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET
In our standard studio shot, the colors on the iPhone 4S photo are far more accurate.
Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET
With the iPhone 4, however, the wall has a sickly yellow color. Admittedly, the fuzzball on the extreme left is different.
Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET
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