White iPhone 4 vs. Black iPhone 4: Do They Have Different Cameras?

It's no Duke Nukem Forever, but the recently-released white iPhone 4 is one of those products that seemed it would never actually come to market. Originally slated for release in June 2010, the white version of Apple's iPhone 4 fell prey to delay after delay, and it didn't hit stores until late April 2011.

Apple never released an official statement specifying why the white iPhone 4 was so slow to get out of the gate, but there's never a shortage of rumors or speculation when Apple's involved. According to the Cult of Mac's Leander Kahney, who cited "a source with connections to Apple who asked to remain anonymous," camera-performance issues were a big reason for the delay. More specifically, the iPhone's white glass case allowed light to seep back into the body and flood the camera's sensor, producing overexposed photos.

"A source with connections to Apple who asked to remain anonymous" isn't exactly the gold standard in terms of qualified attribution, but Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak is about as good a source as it gets. During an interview on The Engadget Show earlier this year, Wozniak said that pictures taken with his prerelease modded white iPhone 4--made with "defective parts" from Apple's first production run on the white iPhone--took "bad flash photos" that didn't match up to those taken with the black iPhone.

Once the white iPhone 4 finally became available, an early tear-down of the white iPhone 4 by a Japanese-language blog revealed that the camera module was noticeably different from the one found in the black iPhone 4. The white iPhone's camera lens looked to be a bit more recessed, possibly to reduce the distance between the glass and the sensor and eliminate or reduce the light-leakage issue.

So What's the Big Deal?

White iPhone 4 test shot
Black iPhone 4 test shot
For most people, none of that really matters. What does matter is whether one color of iPhone 4 or the other is better for photo and video quality; with the iPhone becoming the most popular photography device on Flickr, that's a more important question than it may seem on the surface.

In last year's hotly contested smartphone camera battle, we rated the black iPhone 4 as having the best camera overall among smartphones at that time.

We were eager to see if the white iPhone 4 had the same photography chops; now that it's here, we ran it through the same image-quality tests as its predecessor. Here's the shocker: Based on PCWorld Labs' standardized image- and video-quality testing, the different flavors of iPhone 4 produce slightly different flavors of photos and video.

The differences are most dramatic when using each camera's flash to snap portraits. The white iPhone 4 produced noticeably different skin tones and color depth with the flash enabled than the black version of the same phone. On the video side, the white iPhone 4 produced slightly sharper footage, with better contrast and brighter colors in low-light situations.

This doesn't necessarily mean that the camera's lenses and sensors are different. The white iPhone 4's flash may illuminate subjects differently due to reflection off the phone's bright backside; the software responsible for adjusting white balance and exposure settings may be optimized for one iPhone's flash photos but not the other; the difference in camera module construction may have noticeable results in the images; or it might just be that the two test phones we used were built differently. But for what it's worth, our tests showed differences between the two iPhone 4 cameras.

To gauge how differently each iPhone 4 camera's images looked, we snapped test shots with a white iPhone 4 and a black iPhone 4, both loaded with iOS 4.3.3 firmware. We printed out unmarked sample images shot in our standard lab-testing environment for photo quality and showed them to a panel of seven editors. Five of the seven editors said that the test shots taken with the white iPhone and those taken with the black iPhone looked as if they had been shot with different cameras. Of the remaining two editors, one said that the test shots looked as if they might have been taken at different flash intensities, and the other said that in-phone image-processing software might have been handling the images differently.

Everybody's eyeballs are different, so why not see for yourself? Click through to the next page for the sample images and video from each iPhone 4, along with comments from our panel of seven editors.

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