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Head to Head: The Top Two Camera Phones
After some extensive hands-on time with the iPhone 4 and Droid X over the past few days, I'm ready to give the nod to the iPhone 4 as having the best camera of the two smartphones. It goes beyond image quality, too, as the new iPhone brings more than that to the table.
Shutter lag is non-existent, image and video quality are solid, and the unique extras that the iPhone 4 has in its bag of tricks (tap-to-focus switching while shooting video, quick switching between the front-facing and back-facing camera, scrubbing a timeline to jump forward and back during clip playback, and a 5X digital zoom) take it a step above the competition in both speed and usability.
That 5X digital zoom, which you operate by simply swiping your finger over an on-screen scroll bar, is nicely implemented and quick to react to touch; as with any digital zoom, however, image quality suffers the more you zoom in.
In short, everything works much faster, much more responsively, and with much better results than in previous generations of the iPhone camera. If you find yourself taking a lot of photos and videos with your current phone, the iPhone 4's imaging improvements alone might be worth the jump.
Although the Droid X's ease-of-use and overall image and video quality lag behind those of the iPhone 4, its camera does have a few things going for it. The Droid X has a handful of basic scene modes that you can adjust based on the shooting environment: Landscape, Portrait, Macro, Sports, Steady Shot, Sunset, and Night Portrait. There's also a digital image stabilization setting, but it didn't always do an effective job of combatting hand shake.
The performance of the scene modes is about in line with a lower-end point-and-shoot camera: They're good to have, but don't expect miracles. In Landscape, Sports, and Sunset modes, the flash is forced off; in Portrait, Macro, Steady Shot, and Night Portrait modes, the flash is forced on.
Alas, with the Droid X shutter lag is a major drawback: the physical shutter button on the Droid X isn't quite responsive enough, and even after you press it, you need to wait about a second or so for the phone to capture a shot. A half-press feels like a full press of the shutter button; you really have to press and hold the shutter button to get it to take a photo.
All in all, the Droid X had too many quirks and not enough imaging punch to win this battle. The combination of a lightning-quick shutter release, versatile focusing, good image quality, and top-notch low-light performance make the iPhone 4 the top pick as a camera that's also a phone.