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HolidayBuyer's Guide

Ferry Building San Francisco

Transamerica Building

Artist Steven Leslie

Downtown flags

Champagne bubbles

Looking up Califronia Street

Zooming up California Street

Tomatoes at the Ferry Building

Bike rentals

Close up of sunflower

Transamerica Pyramid

Transamerica photo at full zoom

Mushrooms

Mushrooms with fill flash

Barbary Coast Trail

Looking down on Union Square

Zoomed in on Victoria

Close up of Lotta's Fountain

Hot Chili Olive Oil

Streetcar and bikes

Bay Bridge

Fisherman and a seagull

Fine detail in broken glass

Artwork in Union Square

It's only 5 megapixels, but during iPhone 4's launch, Steve Jobs specifically noted that when it comes to image quality it's not all about how many pixels you have. The backside-illuminated (BSI) camera sensor with large pixel sizes allows it to deliver excellent image quality under normal lighting conditions.

There's no optical zoom on the iPhone 4 and the size of the image sensor is smaller than the tiny ones used in compacts, but this new camera is approaching point-and-shoot quality, and may drive some people to ditch their pocket cameras and look to the newest iPhone for everyday snapshots.

After spending a few hours walking around San Francisco, I'm pretty pleased with the images. Under optimal bright lighting, it's outstanding and even in low light, you can see how the backlit sensor helps by sending more light into the sensor. The blacks look very good, avoiding the common grain, noise, and discoloration common in point-and-shoot cameras from just a few years ago.

Take a look at some of my test shots from the streets of San Francisco with the iPhone 4. (These images were opened in Lightroom to crop and straighten, but no sharpening or color correction was performed.)
Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by James Martin/CNET
One of the most notable elements of these images from the iPhone 4 camera is the clarity of the blacks. Even in the shadows at the bottom of the image, the blacks have great tone and color range. Often, mobile phones suffer from excessive noise or color distortion in the black tones, but the iPhone 4 seems to handle the low end of the light spectrum well thanks to the bright backside-illuminated (BSI) sensor.
Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by James Martin/CNET
Steven Leslie, an artist who works with recycled wine bottle cork, at his stand in Justin Herman Plaza in downtown San Francisco.
Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by James Martin/CNET
One a very windy and cold day in San Francisco, the iPhone 4 has no trouble freezing the motion of the blowing flag, while still capturing incredible detail.
Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by James Martin/CNET
Even the tiny bubbles in this glass of Champagne are clearly visible and incredibly sharp, focusing well even at a distance of only a few inches.
Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by James Martin/CNET
A classic view of San Francisco, looking up California Street from downtown, along one of the city's famed cable car lines.

In the next image, taking from the same spot, you can see the full power of the iPhone 4's zoom.
Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by James Martin/CNET
This image, taken from the same spot as the previous photo, shows the quality of the iPhone 4 camera at full zoom.
Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by James Martin/CNET
Inside San Francisco's Ferry Building, a foodie's heaven, soft light from skylights gives these heirloom tomatoes excellent lighting, and under these conditions, the iPhone's camera performs very well.
Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by James Martin/CNET
Bikes for rent from Bike And Roll sit along Market Street waiting to take tourists on a cruise of the city.
Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by James Martin/CNET
Even at close distance, the iPhone 4 focuses very well.
Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by James Martin/CNET
The iconic Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco. The next photo is taken from the same spot at full zoom.
Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by James Martin/CNET
This image is taken from the same spot as the previous one and shows the top of the Transamerica Pyramid 850 feet up.
Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by James Martin/CNET
A box of mushrooms in the Ferry Building food market.
Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by James Martin/CNET
I attempted to use the flash on this photo, and like many mobile phone cameras, it had trouble balancing the color temperature differences between the flash and the natural sunlight, resulting in odd yellow and green tones.
Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by James Martin/CNET
Bronze medallions embedded in San Francisco sidewalks take visitors along the Barbary Coast Trail, a walking tour that connects the city's most important historic sites. The detail in this photo is impressive.
Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by James Martin/CNET
Looking down on Union Square from the top of Macy's. In the center of the photo is a tall column topped with a statue of Victoria, goddess of victory, a monument commemorating the victory of Adm. Dewey in 1898 at Manila Bay during the Spanish--American war. In the next photo, I zoomed in on the top of the statue from the same location.
Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by James Martin/CNET
The image is a 100 percent zoom on the top of the statue of Victoria in Union Square, taken from the same spot as the previous photo.
Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by James Martin/CNET
A close up detail shot of Lotta's Fountain at the intersection of Market, Geary, and Kearny streets in downtown San Francisco.
Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by James Martin/CNET
Hot Chili Olive Oil on display in the Ferry Building in San Francisco.
Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by James Martin/CNET
A streetcar rolls past two bikes parked along Market Street in downtown San Francisco.
Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by James Martin/CNET
A view of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge on Thursday afternoon in the San Francisco Bay.
Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by James Martin/CNET
Fisherman and a seagull sit on a pier in the San Francisco Bay.
Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by James Martin/CNET
Fine detail is visible in the broken glass of this storefront window along Maiden Lane in San Francisco.
Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by James Martin/CNET
Fine detail visible in artwork shown in Union Square.
Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by James Martin/CNET
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