It was a tough decision, but I decided to upgrade my iPhone 3G to the iPhone 3GS. I wasn’t sure if the new features would be enough to justify the purchase, but I figured I should be able to sell my iPhone 3G on eBay and recoup a good chunk of the cost. So I pre-ordered the phone, and got it delivered to me last Friday morning.

I’m not going to do a full-fledged review because I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of those already. Gizmodo has a really good in-depth review, and so does Engadget if that’s what you’re looking for. Instead I really wanted to focus on the camera, and then briefly throw in my thoughts on some of the other features.

–The Camera–

They bumped up the resolution of the camera to 3.2MP, but the thing I love the most would have to be the auto/manual focus capabilities. I’ve never seen a camera that would let you choose which spot you want to focus on simply by touching it on the screen, but I’m sure that will be the next big thing on point-and-shoot cameras. Combining this with some camera-specific apps I found (more details in a later post) will make this a valuable device to be carrying in my pocket.

I have quite a few friends who ended up grabbing the iPhone 3GS, and one of the first things there’s always comments on is the quality of the images. Some are surprised at how good they turn out, while others say it could be a lot better. I think for a phone the camera is pretty darn good… except in low-light situations where a flash is a must-have.

I took some time to walk around Millennium Park in Chicago since it’s right down the street from where I work, and along the way I took some pictures. I didn’t just take them with the iPhone 3GS though, I also took the exact same photos with my Canon XSi Digital SLR for comparison sake. The iPhone doesn’t really let you adjust any settings when taking photos, and so I decided to set my DSLR to fully automatic mode in the spirit of keeping things fair. I did my best to split each of the photos so that you can really see the differences when they are side-by-side.

The “Bean”
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Garden/City View
garden.jpg
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Concert Hall
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Flowers
flowers.jpg
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As you can tell from the example photos the iPhone 3GS isn’t the best camera, but it’s pretty good for those times you don’t have a dedicated camera on you. One thing I did when taking the photos above is I let the iPhone focus on the center without manually adjusting it. I noticed, however, that if you’d tap the screen to focus on a different part of the photo that the brightness would also adjust accordingly. So after you get used to working with the iPhone’s camera you might be able to take some pretty nice photos.

–The Other Features–

Here’s my quick thoughts on the other new features:

  • Speed – I didn’t think the speed increase would make that much of a difference, but it does. Hearing a stat like “2 times faster” doesn’t really put things into perspective until you sit down to use it. Everything is snappier… switching between apps, loading websites, playing games, and so on. Plus there’s double the amount of memory, and because of that I noticed Safari has never unloaded from memory. That means the websites I was viewing when I closed the browser will be there (without refreshing) the next time I open Safari.
  • Video – There is no doubt in my mind that this will become my primary method for capturing videos. Previously I had used a point-and-shoot camera for taking videos since I don’t like hassling with a bulky camcorder, and I love having a video stored as a single downloadable file. Given the amount of free space I have on my iPhone I’ll be able to save hours of video.
  • Voice Control – I think I’ll be surprised at how much I’ll use this. I tested it out on a few contacts, and also for controlling my music, and overall it worked pretty well. What makes this useful for me is that I can activate this even when my phone is locked by holding down the Home button, or by holding the button on my headphones. So I really don’t have to take the phone out of my pocket to call someone if I’m already listening to music. Now if only it would read the name/number to you when receiving a call with your headphones on.
  • Maps – Having the map rotate in the direction you’re facing was also a big selling point for me. Working in downtown Chicago it can be tough to figure out which way the GPS wants you to go when you’re walking since the little dot doesn’t move very fast. This makes finding your way when walking a lot easier, but I noticed that a lot of things seem to cause interference with the compass causing it to be inaccurate at times.
  • Support for Apple In-Ear Headphones – I bought Apple’s in-ear headphones a few months ago because they had some really good reviews, and I have to say they are the most comfortable pair of headphones I’ve ever owned. The main reason I got these headphones was because they supported hands-free calling with the iPhone, but the volume up/down buttons never worked since this was a hardware limitation. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that all of the buttons on the headphones are now fully supported on the iPhone 3GS.

I was running the iPhone 3.0 software on my iPhone 3G about a week before I got my new phone. Apple definitely tuned the overall performance of the software with this release, and combining that with the new hardware makes it that much faster.

There are also a lot of little things around the operating system that I’ve noticed, and I really like. Such as being able to display the remaining battery level as a percentage (on the iPhone 3GS only, apparently because previous iPhones didn’t have an accurate enough battery meter). Or the fact that when an SMS/MMS fails to send it just places an exclamation point next to the message, but it will still let you keep entering more if you want. Before if a message failed to send you’d have to wait to send that one before you could try sending another.

Overall I’m really happy that I upgraded because I use my iPhone for hours everyday when commuting on the train. For some people the upgrade may not be worthwhile, but I spend more time on this than I do my personal computer. So it’s a device that I like to keep up-to-date.

Feel free to jump into the comments and shoot us your thoughts/questions on the iPhone 3GS.

There Are 39 Comments

  1. Awesome snapshots… I didn’t realize the iPhone 3GS’ camera was that good! Thanks for taking the time to do this.

  2. I’m wondering if the Canon is just THAT bad.

    I upgraded from the first gen to the 3GS, so I’ve noticed a big difference. I find myself using it all the time now, for things that I used to wait until I got home to view, like YouTube and viewing all the links on my twitter feed. Hopefully I can sell my old phone on eBay too. :)

  3. I was absolutely surprised with the photos you submitted. Canon must be ashamed of its DSLR cameras after seeing some of Apple’s iPhone 3G S photographs. It is unbelievable how clear they are.

    Thank you for sharing this information with us.

  4. Excellent! I have been looking for a gadget to take short impromptu videos and photos and looks like this is it! I bought the 3G on release day last year and sold it for 250Euro in about 30mins of posting the ad! So although have had to use a backup motorola phone fo rth elast week, getting the 3GS on friday will solve all my needs! (well apart from an apartment in the bahamas and a large amount of cash!)

  5. Which lens did you use on your Canon? The lens is usually the most important piece on a DSLR. The quality difference doesn’t seem that big indeed – surprising! Can’t wait until I get my 3GS.

  6. The camera is amazing, I also upgraded from a 1st gen, and the difference is huge! The spot-focus/metering is the way every camera should operate from now on. And the difference in the speed of everything makes the phone so much more enjoyable. I’m very happy with this purchase!

  7. I like the camera if I had a chance to use it. I upgraded to a 3Gs from the 1st gen phone and my camera freezes after about 24 hours. I can fix it with a restore but the Camera Lens Cover gets stuck. The camera is then rendered useless. Apple’s solution is to set it up as a new phone, but I don’t want to lose all my customizations and contact photos etc. Anybody else experience this problem?

    • Actually, i have just now and im looking for a way to fix this as well. I’ve tried reseting it. But that doesn’t work.

  8. Omar Upegui wrote:
    I was absolutely surprised with the photos you submitted. Canon must be ashamed of its DSLR cameras after seeing some of Apple’s iPhone 3G S photographs. It is unbelievable how clear they are.

    Canon doesn’t have anything to be ashamed of. I was just trying to demonstrate that given the right lighting the iPhone is actually a pretty darn good camera. You also have to remember that when you blow these photos up there is quite a bit more detail in those taken by the Canon due to the larger sensor in the camera.

    Change wrote:
    Which lens did you use on your Canon? The lens is usually the most important piece on a DSLR. The quality difference doesn’t seem that big indeed – surprising! Can’t wait until I get my 3GS.

    I was using the Canon EF-S 18-200mm. It’s a really nice telephoto/wide-angle lens. Here’s more detail on it: [dpreview.com]

    Rich wrote:
    I like the camera if I had a chance to use it. I upgraded to a 3Gs from the 1st gen phone and my camera freezes after about 24 hours. I can fix it with a restore but the Camera Lens Cover gets stuck. The camera is then rendered useless. Apple’s solution is to set it up as a new phone, but I don’t want to lose all my customizations and contact photos etc. Anybody else experience this problem?

    Huh. No, I can’t say that I’ve had that problem. And I haven’t heard of anyone else with the same issue.

  9. Hmm.. ultrazoom against no zoom. Thanks for the info, now I can judge the quality difference better :) (I’m not surprised the quality is quite comparable now – the Canon lens is good, but lenses with large zoom ranges do have their trade offs).

  10. Change wrote:
    Hmm.. ultrazoom against no zoom. Thanks for the info, now I can judge the quality difference better :) (I’m not surprised the quality is quite comparable now – the Canon lens is good, but lenses with large zoom ranges do have their trade offs).

    Yes, but when you’re comparing it to a phone who’s lens is half the size of a dime I think it’s rather impressive. I have three lens in total (one that doesn’t zoom at all), and the results in automatic mode are still about the same.

    If they add the same camera to the iPod Touch (which is currently the rumor) the price of the device will almost be the same as what a point-and-shoot camera is. As long as the results of the iPhone camera can compete with most point-and-shoot cameras they are in good shape. After all, we aren’t looking for the iPhone to replace our DSLR’s.

    As they say… the best camera you have is the one you have with you at the time you need it.

  11. Absolutely true! P&S cameras can take fantastic photos, the one behind the camera is still the most important factor :) What the iPhone is doing is impressive indeed. I’d rather have this at 3MP than something (often much) worse at 6+MP.

  12. I went out and shot a few photographs with both the new iPhone 3Gs and the previous 3G to compare the cameras. I have to say the new one is vastly superior and the tap-to-focus is a lot of fun.

    [shutterstation.com]

  13. I also have the problem with the lens in the camera app being stuck closed. I have seen a few others asking about this on the web, and most all seem to be people who upgraded from a previous phone, and the suggested answer is to register the phone as a new device in iTunes.

    Well, I *did* register it as a new device when I got the phone, because I wanted a full reset of the new 3GS settings, and my camera STILL locks up the lens in the app when I try to use it, making the photographs and video unusable.

  14. Does anyone know how to zoom on the iphone 3GS?

  15. Just search in Appstore for Application to zoom. But it just only a digital zoom. I suggest some App for you for photography which I really like it such as Polarize.

  16. hi,

    great review, thanks for sharing

  17. Spot metering has been available on Sony Camcorders for the last 5 years!!!!!

  18. Your canon camera must be terrible quality to take photos like that… I am not calling the iphone but the quality of the iphone picture was about how i imagined it to be… out of focus and not that good… However the camera comparrison I was shocked at.

    Well you havent convinced me to go for the iphone and certainly not convinced me to ever buy a canon camera

  19. is everyone that gullible? its all so obviously fake. the ’3gs”s shots are just XSi shots with the ISO in a different setting. Don’t fall for this diehard apple fan’s tricks. he probably gets tipped for this post

    • Darn, you caught me. *sigh*

      Maybe if you followed the site a little closer you’d realize I have nothing to gain by “manipulating” the images.

  20. I iPhone’s camera is good, and it should be relatively good to mny considering some digital cameras cost less than $200.00, while the iPhone (despite being much more versatile) sells for several times this amount.

    PS does anyone know how to crank-up the resolution to full 3.2MP on the iPhone?
    right now the resolution on mine is shooting at 800×600 (0.5MP)

  21. Jade Bryan Jardinico

    Pity on you guys. Sony Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung are much better. It just happens that all you have is iPhone to compare to Canon. Anyways. iPhone is dying, and Android is rising.

    • Well said jade. For the rest of the world we had mobile imaging marvels even before the iphone was discussed as an idea!!

  22. When in the world will you guys rise up? Looks like none of the admins hav eva used high end Nokia phones. Or ever heard of something called carl ziess. Google for it.

  23. I have just got an Iphone. All the photos are coming out looking like a film negative. Are their settings you can change somewhere or is the camera faulty?

  24. Hello everyone, I took the time to read everybody’s post as a current ?phone 3GS owner and a user who has gone through most of the mobile technologies (hardware&software) available today.

    First I need to say that everybody’s right in their own opinion and they have a right to be (comparing the different opinions posted here on how good or bad the ?phone is). I have also read most reviews on my device (3GS) before I went out and bought it and I’ve definitely seen the bad movie syndrome in some (this is the type of syndrome that occurs when you go to a bad movie and you recommend it to everyone else around you when you know yourself it’s certainly horrible). I have also seen some really objective reviews and comments.

    First of all, the cameras on all cell phones is just a bonus, we need to get that straight. If you’re so much interested in taking pictures you need to get a good camera. This is NOT the device’s main function. If you need to or want to shoot videos, go out and get a camcorder.

    As to why I chose to buy an ?phone is simply because it works for me. I like the apps and I find them useful, I like the big screen with the nice browsing and I use it a lot. And finally, I really think it’s enough and satisfying for me based on what I use it for.

    On a personal note tho, I really believe Apple could have taken some time on the basic functions of a new generation cell phone (such as being able exchange objects with other bluetooth devices, not just other iphones or assignin your choice of MP3s as your ringtone, radio etc.).

    I respect everybody’s opinion and want to say again that it’s probably best for everyone to find the right device for themselves considering what they want in their phones.

    Thanks for all you guys input and let’s keep each other (all of us tech junkies out there) informed of what’s going on …

    Peace from Turkey …

  25. Pure propaganda by Apple.

    I’ve used the iPhone 3GS extensively. Other than the lousy battery life, the camera sucks. Pictures look good on the iPhone. But when you put it on a computer, the resolution sucks big time.

    My other Blackberry 8320 has better picture taking quality than Apple’s iPhone 3GS. When you bring the picture out of the Blackberry 8320, compared to the same snapshots done by the Apple iPhone 3GS, the Blackberry 8320 does a better job.

    Oh…let’s not forget…iPhone 3GS has no flash for night time shots. Blackberry Curve and Bold series has flash so night time picture taking is awesome. Apple iPhone 3GS is just waaaay over-rated.

    • I was very disappointed to see the pictures I had taken at night did not turn out – why is there not a flash in iphone 3GS – seems crazy not to have one..

  26. Thanks for the comparison. I found this very helpful.

  27. When I look into the lens on the 3gs, it appears like a negative. Is there a setting that is off?

  28. Yeah, I was most surprised too!

  29. Try printing the pictures. even simple 4×6 prints are horrible. What looks good at 72dpi on a computer screen is not what it looks like in a print which is 300dpi.

  30. My iPhone 3GS camera used to have flash but doesn’t anymore. Can somebody please help me get it back because I am very confused. Thanks. X

  31. hello was just wondering whether or not you can change the settings on the iphone 3gs so you can take pictures in black&white and sepia?

  32. Nice article, congratulations.
    I’m sorry for the dumb doubt, but how do I adjust into Iphone 3GS the resolution, ISO, Aperture, and so on like on XSi? I didn’t find any options into the iPhone camera just the button to take shot.
    Thanks.

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