Samsung Epic 4G vs Apple iPhone 4 vs Motorola DROID X - the camera comparison

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Introduction and Interface
UPDATE: You can now read our Samsung Galaxy S II vs LG Optimus 2X vs Nokia N8 vs Apple iPhone 4 Camera Comparison!

Introduction:


Smartphones have been evolving steadily from their humble business oriented roots from a few years ago to the ultimate convergence device on the market which have been encroaching on playing fields generally held captive by specialized functioning products. One specific area that cell phones are constantly closing the gap on is the camera department – especially with smartphones which seem to encompass a host of functions. Cell phones are easily compact and now utilize some decent sensors internally which can make you consider about ditching that traditional point & shoot you've been putting away more often of late. This past summer, we've been treated to a host of new current generation smartphones that pack a wallop in the camera department due to their ability to shoot stunning images and videos that can be appreciated by those who took them. Naturally, there are individuals out there who really want a well rounded smartphone that can take not good, but great images! So we've taken the three best smartphones from this summer which we've seen take the best pictures and pit them against one another to see which one really can out gun the other. And to compare the images produced by these top-end smartphones, we've included shots from a 12.1-megapixel Panasonic Lumix FZ35 camera.



Interface:

Nowbefore we get right into the gritty action, we need to compare thedifferent interfaces that each handset offers, because as you know, itplays a key role in truly providing that exact point & shootexperience.

Between the three handsets, the iPhone 4by far employs the most simplistic interface which doesn't add anylevel of personality to the experience of taking photos. There are onlythree icons lined up on the top edge which enable you to set the flash,turn on HDR photos, and switch to either the front or rear cameras. Оnthe right pane, you'll find the on-screen shutter key, icon to get intothe gallery app, and an on-screen switch to shoot videos or photos.That's about it! There's actually no scene modes, options, settings, oranything – nothing! Then again, the iPhone 4's overall straightforwardand simplistic attitude radiates in every aspect of the phone; cameraincluded. The thing with the iPhone 4 though is the fact that it hastouch to focus, meaning, you touch an area on the display and it'llautomatically focus on it – at the same time, adjusting the exposure tobest take the shot. Although the constant change of exposure can resultin good or bad images, you simply have to play around with touch focusto get a handle of getting the best shots.

The photo gallery onthe iPhone 4 has remained unchanged since the original's inception,which can be regarded as a good or bad thing, but luckily, it functionsas it should. However, it's almost hard to fathom that the iPhone 4 isincapable of even editing photos on the go without the need ofdownloading an app. You can only trim lengthy videos you've recorded,but that's pretty much the extent of its editing capabilities; sadly.However, there are some wonderfull image editing apps in the App Store,like Photogene for example, that pack a great amount of options to letyou enhance your images.


If you're looking for an eclectic mix of features to appeasethat inner amateur photographer inside of you, then the Samsung Epic 4G'svast options and modes will surely cater to your desires. The interfaceitself hosts a bevy of setting modes that easily blows away the onesoffered by the Motorola DROID X. At the same time, the presentationwith its listing view and associated icons will easily allow anyone totake images without feeling too overwhelmed. Without a doubt, thededicated two-level shutter key will aid those who want thattraditional point & shoot feel, but it's supplemented with touchfocus as well. Additionally, there are just some other novel featuressuch as blink detection packed with the Epic 4G. And for those who area bit more comfortable with the ins and outs of camera settings, theEpic 4G allows you to set the ISO, white balance, and exposure.


With its processing prowess, the gallery app onthe Epic 4G exudes all of the graphical eye candy that one would expectwith a handset packing a 1GHz Hummingbird processor. Not only does itemploy some 3D-like effects as your tilting the phone left or right,but it executes it so flawlessly to make you appreciate the addedeffects. Since it's an Android powered device, sharing media content issuch a joy since you'll have the ability to instantly share it with ahost of services – like SMS, Twitter, Picasa, Facebook, and email. Inaddition, there are a couple of editing options you can apply on aphoto – like rotating or cropping them. Sure it's nothing too fancy,but it's still more than appreciated over what the iPhone 4 has tooffer. Videos on the other hand don't get anyone love seeing you can'tedit them in any way directly on the smartphone.


Finally, we've got the mechanical bucket of DROIDness with the Motorola DROID X– which of course flaunts its specs on paper with its 8-megapixelcamera with dual-LED flash. Similar to the Epic 4G's interface, the onein use with the DROID X offers a decent mix of shooting modes – but notmore than the Epic 4G. Instead of being presented with a list view whenchoosing a specific mode, you'll have to swipe between the optionsbefore you simply stumble upon the one that's perhaps to your liking.Still, the whole process seems a bit laborious and prefer the easy tojump into presentation of the Epic. As a whole, the interface is prettymuch in line with most handsets out there, but it's clear from acursory look that it doesn't radiate the Epic's depth of features –while still standing above the simplistic nature of the iPhone 4.


Since the handset is bathed in Motorola's new skin, the gallery app alsotakes advantage of the peppy speeds of its 1GHz OMAP processor. Whenheld in portrait, both photos and videos are presented in a grid-likeview which makes it super easy to swiftly jump to specific shots.However, tilting it sideways to landscape, we see the interface showingoff its processing prowess as content is reeled with a 3D like effectto it. Yeah it's nice and all, but we really wish it were moreresponsive; meaning that it has a tendency to continue scrolling afterclicking on a specific image. Hands down, the DROID X owns the photoediting department with its insane amount of options which includethings like effects, resizing, cropping, brightness & contrast,color & saturation, and frames. It'll easily make editing on the gosuch a breeze on yourself. Not stopping there, there are even somelengthy editing tools at your disposal for videos – like resizing,removing audio, and extracting a frame. So if you really want to getproductive without the aid of a computer (or third-party software),you'll most likely find the DROID X to be more than satisfactory forachieving your needs. As for additional image-editing software forAndroid, the currently-available options are much less than what you'llfind for iOS, but there are some good offerings, like PicSay.






Landscape Shots:

This is one area where it was difficult to see any huge degrees in variances between the handsets as they all are equal in performance. Colors looked pretty subtle in the images taken of the big city during a somewhat cloudy day. However, it's worth noting that HDR produced by the iPhone 4 cleans up the shots to make them look slightly brighter – with some emphasis to the missing detail seen in the regular shot.



Even in the images of the trees with the crystal clear blue skies hovering above, which was actually a sunny day, there isn't necessarily one handset that produces a better image than the others. Again, we see that all three are equal in this area.


Finally, we took an image of a playground set with the sun in the direct path of our shot, and as you can see, the level of detail doesn't vary greatly between the three. With the Epic 4G and DROID X, we notice that the exposure is more in line to what we actually perceive when looking at the scenery, but unfortunately the iPhone 4's image looks too overexposed. However, it appears as though that the HDR shot corrects it by adjusting the exposure accordingly which does well in bringing out the natural color tones of the image.



Honestly, if it weren't for the iPhone 4's HDR functionality, there isn't a noticeable difference between the landscape shots we captured with the three smartphones. We'd guess that it would be difficult for just about anyone to find any major variances if the images were transplanted to an actual 4” x 6” photo.


Outdoor Shots:

While capturing the beauty of the great outdoors, we are once again greeted to a similar performance between these three high-end handset contenders. Glancing at the photos with the fountains spewing water all around with people sitting idle nearby, there are barely any major advantages that can be seen with any of the shots by looking at it with the naked eye. The exposure is pretty on par with one another as the colors of the trees in the background are naturally green in tone, while the buildings further in the background aren't drastically different in appearance. Surprisingly though, the HDR image doesn't seem to push any serious improvements over the iPhone 4's original shot – granted though, the buildings in the background offer more detail at the expense of making the overall shot look darker.





Video:

As we all know, these three smartphones are able to shoot 720p; which of course will provide plenty of detail. But that's where the similarity ends as the iPhone 4 and Samsung Epic 4G are able to shoot videos at a rate of 29 fps in conditions with good lighting. As we tried to capture videos in low lighting situations, we soon found out later that it drops drastically to 23 fps. That's actually the same rate that the Motorola DROID X is capable of recording in all scenarios. Without a doubt, you can visibly see how the DROID X has a minor jerky movement to it as video is played back – while the iPhone 4 and Epic 4G looks comparably the same with their smooth movements. However, we did find that Epic 4G retains the same white balance and exposure throughout the recording process. Conversely, the iPhone 4 completely jumps around with its exposure as you move from one area with a specific level of lighting to another. Moreover, the iPhone 4 has one key advantage over its Android rivals – it has the ability to allow you to change focus level during a recording. Sure it's definitely a nice thing over the fixed focus mode of the Epic 4G and DROID X. Overall, we have to say that it's a close finish between the iPhone 4 and Epic 4G when it comes to supremacy in video recording, however, the DROID X's results are astounding in their own regards, but doesn't quite meet the level of the other two.













Alternatively, we shot another video at dusk when natural light was beginning to become scarce, and we notice some dramatically different results between the three. Thanks to the iPhone 4's back-lit sensor, it shines once again as we're presented with a good looking visual, plenty of detail, and smoothness to make playback enjoyable. It easily takes the trophy in this category way ahead of the other two handsets. Now with the Epic 4G, its detail is on par with what the iPhone 4 is able to muster – like the buttery frame rate and good looking details. However, there is a moderate level of noise which is noticeable in playback. Sure it doesn't deter from the overall good quality, but it's blatantly discernible. Finally, there's the Motorola DROID X which unfortunately falls behind – way behind to tell you the truth. Of course it shoots in 720p, but that doesn't always dictate quality. Chugging along better than most phones at 23 fps, there is a considerate amount of noise to be found with its recorded videos – which clearly takes hold of its performance.











Late afternoon:

As we began to take additional photos toward the late afternoon and close to the evening, we see in another image with a small fountain in front of a restaurant, that all three look extremely close to one another. However, some clarity is lost in the fountain when you look closer to the images taken with the iPhone4 and Epic 4G – while the DROID X manages to retain some detail with the fountain. Colors lacked any vibrancy in the scenery which is mainly due to the lower amount of natural lighting present in the shots – which doesn't indicate a clear cut winner. When looking at the HDR image, we see a similarity with the DROID X as you can visibly see the individual streams of water emanating from the fountain.




To top it off, we took two consecutive shots close at dusk of a library with a small open area with trees next to it. When you zoom into the shot of the large sign on the front of a building indicating that it's a library, you can see that the iPhone 4 is still able to produce slightly more detail which can be found with the clearer looking “Princeton Public Library” sign. Plus, you can see also that the brick columns of the library have a sharper appearance to them over the DROID X and Epic 4G. Actually, the best shot was captured with the HDR image which distinctly increases the exposure to reveal additional detail unseen with the other shots, although, the whole shot does look rather noisy upon a closer look.




Night Shots:


For this one, we took a shot of a building at the night which was illuminated with various light sources. We see that both the iPhone 4 and Epic 4G closely resemble one another as we notice a nearly identical color production from both. Not too far away, the Motorola DROID X does look almost the same as the other two, but you can tell that its colors are faintly washed out looking. Still, it's a nice looking image if you look at all three from a far distance. Upon closer inspection, specifically the area above the arched railing where the light is illuminating what appears to be a lookout area, you lose all of the detail in that area due to the lights shining from within it. Though, the HDR photo once again clears up the shot to reveal plenty of detail that was unseen previously. This is just another example at how the iPhone 4's HDR images compensate the original shot to better substantiate the missing details hidden amongst the photo.





Indoor Shots:

Whenever there are situations where lighting might not prove to be the most abundant, we see the iPhone 4 hard at work in painting the best looking images. In the images of a bar constructed out of ice, you can tell that the colors tones between the handsets vary differently at a moderate level. Starting with the Motorola DROID X, it stands alone at one end of the spectrum with its subtle color tones, which in fact, looks somewhat pale, but is able to capture some details that are missing on the shots with the other two. The Epic 4G is perfectly content in the middle with its nicer looking colors over the DROID X, but like the iPhone 4, it loses some detail in the ice bar due to the slight increase in exposure. Finally, the iPhone 4 presents us with the most natural looking colors, but as we stated already, misses the mark in terms of fine detail found on the ice bar. However, the HDR image manages to rub off some of that over-exposure in the ice bar to reveal the definitive words of “Holiday Spectacular” residing on it.



In the deepest confines of a restaurant bar, you can see that you lose complete visibility with the image produced by the Motorola DROID X – though, you can still make out the computer terminal at the bar. It only gets slightly better with the results from the Epic 4G, but still makes it rather difficult to visualize any detail. Thankfully, the iPhone 4 is able to produce a tolerable shot that's able to shed light on some of the things missing with the other two. But of course, the HDR image complete overhauls the entire environment as it looks more illuminated over its rivals.


The same quality can be seen with the image taken of a painting at the wall of the same restaurant. With the iPhone 4's HDR image, we are able to see every nook and cranny – despite the lack of lighting at the restaurant.






To test out the strength of the flash on each handset, we took images at various distances from our subject in complete darkness. Now what we like about the Samsung Epic 4G in this area is that it will turn on the flash as you attempt to slightly press down the shutter key – this of course happens as it will try to focus in correctly. Once it is able to get it just right, you press it down to take the shot with the flash on. This of course is the process you'd want to see happen when you're trying to take shots in dark, but the iPhone 4 completely throws you in the dark; literally! Instead of turning on the flash to gauge the focus level, it appears as though that it happens the moment the flash slightly turns on – which is for a brief moment before illuminating to its brightest. As for the Motorola DROID X, it mimics the Epic's process as it'll turn on the flash momentarily while trying to focus.


When it comes down to quality, we definitely like the images produced with the Epic 4G since it's neither under or overexposed. It's perfectly balanced between the three while still retaining some good detail and accurate looking colors.



Macro Shots:

If it's fine detail that you wish to capture, then macro shots are the kinds of thing you'll want to look at when gauging how close you can shoot an object while still retaining some sharpness to your images. We took photos of flowers up close and personal both indoors under artificial light and outdoors in the glory of the sun. Touch focus surely has a leg up in this department solely due to its relative ease of clicking an area anywhere on-screen to instantly auto-focus. The iPhone 4 and Samsung Epic 4G didn't have any problems snapping up images in close proximity to their lens as they produces some wonderful fine-looking pieces of art. In the first image with the yellow flower, not only is it sharp in detail, but colors are still magnificently reproduced as we see some vibrant tones between the two. Although it looks like the DROID X can still focus in on objects at a reasonable distance, the results from its macro shot wasn't quite to the same level found with the other two. Sure it's closer to the flower, but as you can tell, it doesn't necessarily capture the intricate details of the flower – plus colors seemed to lack the correct saturation level.



The last set of macro shots we took were also indoors under bright lights with the shell encrusted box. From a cursory look between the three, the iPhone 4's regular shot was able to produce the most natural looking colors while still being able to focus in on a specific area. Detail is more than abundant with the iPhone, as with the Epic 4G, but the colors greatly differ from one another. With the Epic, is looks slightly more overcast in tone which is also evident in the shot taken by the DROID X. Thankfully, all three are able to blur out the Gameboy Pocket in the background to considerably place all of the attention squarely on the shell box.




Conclusion:

We're moving into an age where smartphone users are becoming more social than ever; especially when social networking sites are deeply ingrained with the integration of modern smartphones. Honestly, we're getting to that point where most people will easily prefer keeping their usual point & shoot camera at home in favor of using their handset. These three devices surely are the best in bringing that movement into full force as they are able to undeniably produce stunning looking images that even blow away some entry-level dedicated digital cameras out there.

When it comes down to overall quality, with most people simply wanting to instantly shoot photos without the hassle of choosing specific settings, the iPhone 4 still seems to take the crown. Not only does it work insanely good in low lighting conditions, which the other handsets failed in doing, HDR photos are there for backup to clean up shots that reveal additional details.

However, some people would rather have something that's more balanced – and that reward would have to go to the Samsung Epic 4G. By far, it proves to have a well rounded mix of features and performance to provide versed camera users a level of flexibility to cater to specific conditions.

Finally, the Motorola DROID X might not have been able to keep with the with Epic and iPhone 4 in terms of quality, but when comparing it to devices on Big Red's lineup, it still shines brightly. Plus its massive screen will make it a joy to view photos and watch videos on the go.

Here's a table showing how each handset performs in each category. The best handset in a category receives three points, while the worst performing gets only one. The "Overall" column sums us the results from all categories.



CameraphoneInterface Landscape and outdoor Video Night Indoor Flash Macro Overall
Epic 4G
3 pt
3 pt
2 pt1 pt2 pt3 pt2 pt16 pt
iPhone 4
1 pt
2 pt
3 pt3 pt3 pt1 pt3 pt16 pt
DROID X
2 pt
3 pt
1 pt2 pt1 pt2 pt1 pt12 pt


Samsung Epic 4G vs Apple iPhone 4 vs Motorola DROID X - the camera comparison:

UPDATE: You can now read our Samsung Galaxy S II vs LG Optimus 2X vs Nokia N8 vs Apple iPhone 4 Camera Comparison!


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