My thoughts on Camera+’s iPhone 4S camera comparison test

A few days ago a friend of mine sent me this link – How does the iPhone 4S camera stack-up against other cameras?

Having read the test, yes I agree the iPhone 4S has an awesome camera (for a phone camera), I found the first test very flawed, and one major test missing.

Have a look at the first test. The first two photos look pretty horrible don’t they? All of a sudden, the iPhone 3GS is producing a much nicer image. This big problem with this test is that for the original iPhone and the iPhone 3G, they’re focusing closer than the minimum distance (you can tell this as the back of the table is nice and sharp). A blurry photo like that is always going to look like rubbish. My friend argued that it was a case of “well, if it works on one and not the other, then that’s the test”. I actually don’t agree with this myself. Yes, the minimum focus distance is much closer, but a better test to demonstrate this would be take the photos at the minimum distance for each phone, then show those images saying “hey, look at how much closer you can get to your subject”.

To me this test is like comparing a cheap 90mm macro lens (with a minimum focus distance of say 30cm priced at around $300) to a nice expensive workhorse like the 70-200 f/2.8 (which has a minimum focus distance of say 1.4m priced at around $2100) and saying that the cheap lens is much better on this reason alone. I know which one I’d rather have for the majority of shots.

The big missing test however is the low light test. One of the big advantages of the camera in the iPhone 4S is that it’s a backside illuminated sensor. In layman’s terms this basically means that it can capture a lot more light for the same pixel size, so much better in low light. Yep, the Canon 5D Mk II would kill it (as it should having a full frame sensor), but it would be a lot better than the other cameras on test and would have been interesting to see the noise comparison.

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iOS development frustrations

Popped a new theme on the blog today, was time for a bit of an update. Let me know if there’s any issues.

Now on to the main story.

I’ll prefix this with a note saying that I’m really enjoying iOS development, and the SDK is nearly perfect.

And now on to the frustrations.

When using a UITableView with headers, there is absolutely no way to adjust the tint colour on the header lines. The app I’m currently working on has colour adjustments everywhere and this is the one place I can’t just adjust the tint. To get around this, I had to create a 1 pixel wide image (stretched to the full width) and set the gradient to be similar to the default, but with our colours on it. A nasty hack really when every other control that I’ve come across so far has a tint property.

Popping up a UIPickerView on the iPad is very frustrating. I set the size and nope, it doesn’t resize for me. Ultimately I had to do a hack and create another UIView in the XIB file and pop that up in the correct location. Not too big a hack, but would be nice to click a button, have the picker show up, and hit ok. Much like a combo box does in a web page.

UIWebView doesn’t seem all that stable. If you have it pop up in a UINavigationController stack, then go back to the previous view, sometimes your app will crash. You have to manually tell it to stop loading the page before navigating away.

When using a UITabBarController, it’d be nice if you set the property on the tab bar ‘hidden’ to YES and it would actually hide and resize the main view to fit. In my case, I don’t want the tab bar showing when the iPhone is being held horizontally as it takes up a lot of screen real estate. I’m yet to find a clean way to not show it. I’m doing various hacks like setting the hidesBottomBarWhenPushed on the view to false then forcing the UINavigationController stack to reinitialise itself (by grabbing the whole stack as an array, then resetting it back in), but it doesn’t work all the time (in particular when a couple of screens deep into the navigation).

The simulator has some frustrations too. My biggest one coming from the fact that I’m developing a network app. There is no way to simulate a slow connection or a network timeout from the simulator. I ended up tethering one iPhone to another and toggling the flight mode to have the network drop out, then toggling it back on to have the network come back up. This wasn’t without frustration either, quite a number of times, it didn’t want to reconnect to the phone until I exited the app and headed back into settings (yes, I had “remember this connection” enabled).

Overall however, Apple has done a pretty good job with the iOS SDK, there’s just a couple of frustrating fundamental items missing.

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Thoughts on the iPhone 4S release

I’m sitting here reading all the crying over the iPhone 4S release and wondering why.

Yes, it’s just a spec bump. People were expecting more, but I’m not exactly sure what. Lets look at the current iPhone 4.

Form factor/design, I personally love it. Yep, it’s extremely subjective. I think it makes the old iPhone 3G/3Gs look extremely outdated. Due to the form factor, there have been antenna issues (although not experienced by me).

Screen, wow, what a beautiful screen. The retina display is unmatched by any other phone out there (and I want something with as small a dot pitch on my desktop). Yes, the Samsung AMOLED screen is very nice too, but not as nice as the retina display in terms of resolution. Brightness, the iPhone 4 screen is more than bright enough (being able to read it easily in full sunlight is more than good enough).

CPU & graphics processor, more than adequate. Some things are a tad slow, but everything runs smoothly.

RAM is enough, a little more would be nice however for more caching in Safari.

Solid State Memory – I have the 32Gb model. It fits all my music, apps & photos. I don’t watch video on my phone, if you do then yes, it may be a little small.

Camera – One of the best quality cameras I’ve seen in a phone. 5MP is more than enough for most people with the exception of bragging rights. Suffers a little bit in low light, but any camera with a sensor that small will due to the nature of physics and how the sensors are made.

Now lets look at what has been improved in the iPhone 4S

Form factor – same as the iPhone 4 except now has two antenna’s and will use the one with the highest signal strength – this should fix the reception issues some people had with the iPhone 4.

Screen – same as the iPhone 4 (would be hard to change the resolution/aspect of this without breaking a lot of apps – the doubling of both width and height with the iPhone 4 was brilliant as it makes upscaling work flawlessly)

CPU & Graphics Processor – upgraded in the iPhone 4S (biggest change)

RAM – unknown (hopefully it’s been bumped to 1Gb)

Solid State Memory – new 64Gb version available, awesome for holding lots of video

Camera – 8MP (not a fan of this on such a small sensor – I get the feeling this is just to have similar numbers to other phones out there rather than trying to increase quality), back illuminated sensor (awesome, any little thing to improve low light noise helps – should gain about 1 stop of noise reduction), new f/2.4 lens (another awesome low light feature – unfortunately on a sensor this small, the depth of field will still be quite large).

So basically it’s just a spec bump and fixes a minor design flaw with the iPhone 4. Looking at what is provided, I’m sitting here wondering what you could add to it (hardware wise) beyond this. Some of what I’ve read around the internet this morning have suggested a larger screen (ok, I’ll concede this one as long as it was released in two versions – the size of the current iPhone is perfect for fitting in your hand or pocket, any larger would be an annoyance to many), curved screen (WTF?), not having the rear being made of glass (the way I see it, you’re just as likely to drop it on the front or back, so cracked glass could potentially result – so I guess that would drop the odds by 50%, but seriously, how come people are always dropping their phones?), iOS is old and stale (I’ll touch on this below) and it’s still slower than the Galaxy SII (from my experience, you don’t need as fast a processor to run iOS as you do Android to maintain smooth use – so why not save battery power with a slower CPU).

When you look at the requests, they’re all really minor. To me, it seems more like that people are complaining about it being called the iPhone 4S rather than the iPhone 5.

Ok, so lets touch on a the big iOS feature announced (the rest have been known for months)

Siri – most awesome feature I’ll never use. Only works on the iPhone 4S due to processor needs (some are speculating that the iPad 2 may be able to run it as well due to having the same CPU). Being able to ask questions of your phone in english is awesome (so rather than asking “what is the weather today?”, you’ll be able to ask “do I need to take a raincoat today?”) if it works as advertised – will be interesting to hear the results over the next few days. Why won’t I use it? To be honest, I feel a bit stupid talking to an inanimate object (unless I’m swearing at it because it didn’t do what it was supposed to).

As for iOS looking a bit old and stale. Ok, yeah, it can be a bit compared to Windows Phone 7 (which personally I find hard to use – my brain works in apps rather than tasks – so I think if I want to do something how do I do it, rather than what do I need to do), Android, yep, their little applets or whatever they call them are pretty awesome. I think they also contribute to why Android is slower than iOS.

iOS is getting a number of features that are similar to Android (notifications being the big one), and some features that should have been there since day one (such as requiring iTunes to set up and play around with media on the device – as a photographer being able to organise my photos on the device itself will be unbelievably awesome).

So what could have Apple added to the hardware to blow people away? I’m not sure. The only thing that I could think of was maybe making it touch sensitive from the back as well. Not sure how it’d be used, but I’m sure someone would come up with something.

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My thoughts on the Apple WWDC announcements

Ok, so I figured I’d jot down my thoughts on Apple’s announcements at WWDC09. Normally I’d just chuck this on Twitter, but I don’t think 140 characters isn’t enough :-)

iPhone 3G S
I like that it’s got a speed upgrade and a dedicated 3D processor (I’m actually a little jealous of this one), but that’s about it really (for me anyway).

I’m a bit meh about the Magnometer (compass). I’m sure I’ll eat my words here when a killer app requires it.

The camera doesn’t really bother me. 3MP with crappy optics isn’t going to do much. I hardly use mine anyway, I’d much prefer to use a dedicated camera. Video could be nice, but once again, if I wanted video, I’d use a dedicated one.

Voice control, while a very nice technology, it’s not really practical. You can’t really use it in public without annoying people, and I don’t know about you, but when I’m by myself, I feel a bit stupid talking to nothingness.

All of the rest of the features are included in the 3.0 software update (which I’m actually quite excited about) that is coming out worldwide on the 17th of June (Australia included, their press release was actually incorrect).

MacBook Pro
This one is easy. I am so glad that I bought mine last year! At the same price point that I paid (bottom level 15″ MacBook Pro), you now get a downgraded machine

  • Faster CPU (does CPU speed really make much difference these days?)
  • More memory (Pretty cheap to upgrade RAM too)
  • Longer Battery life (5 hours is enough for me, but this is a nice bonus)


  • Only a GeForce 9400 integrated graphics card. This one is a dealbreaker for me. The 9600, while not the best card on the market, it’s pretty good for a laptop card (especially with Snow Leopard using OpenCL – more below)
  • No Express Card slot. It’s been replaced with an SD slot (which you could have had with an SD Express Card reader).
  • Non removable battery. Not a dealbreaker (how many people actually replace their batteries rather than buying a new laptop), but I think this is a bad way to go.

Snow Leopard
Out in September. This is going to be a fantastic upgrade. Full 64bit operating system. The current OS is 32bit with 64bit extensions (basically to allow addressing of over 4Gb of system memory – ie. This doesn’t just include installed RAM). Going to full 64bit should speed things up quite a bit.

Installation time has gone from 1 hour down to 15min which is a nice change, it’s not a big change in the scheme of things (you only do this once every now and again – much less on the Mac than Windows).

It’s smaller. This one surprised me. I’m currently hearing that the installed size is about 6gb smaller. I guess this is due to not having to have the PowerPC binaries in their apps anymore (Snow Leopard is Intel only). This is a very nice change that a newer operating system is faster and smaller than the one it’s upgrading.

OpenCL. Most people really don’t care about this one, but this is going to give some major performance increases for anyone with a GeForce 8600 or better. Basically your Dual Core system just got a whole lot more cores added to it (think hundreds of slower cores). Now while this won’t double performance in most cases, you will see some major speed-ups.

One that I don’t know which way it’s going (if anyone knows, let me know). OpenGL. Is Apple going to have OpenGL 3.1 (and GLSL 1.3) on this, or will it still be stuck back at OpenGL 2? I’d love to start playing around with 3.1 (some quite major changes) and I’m sure more apps/games would use this if available.

Safari 4

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RSS Feeds

So I was going to blog about a story that came through my RSS feed, I went back to it and lost inspiration.  Maybe because I’m watching TV at the same time.  Anyway, so I changed my mind and decided to write about RSS feeds.

So I’m actually a newcomer to the whole RSS thing.  I never really saw the point of it as I had my daily sites all bookmarked and just visited those.  Every time I tried to do the RSS thing, I ended up disappointed.  Live Bookmarks, Google Reader, they just never really grabbed me.  I think the turning point was when I was reading an article that had a whole heap of pages that interested me, so I started looking around a bit more at readers.  I found NetNewsWire for the iPhone which looked pretty nicely laid out, but it required me to set up a News Gator account (I’ve actually known about News Gator for a while from looking at my website logs, one of my most active IP addresses).

So I signed up, and set it all up on the phone, which is a really nice way to pass the time on the train.  I checked out the website reader, and the funny thing is I hardly use the phone reader anymore.

Anyway, I’ve got a bit off track here, I mainly want to just list my favourite RSS feeds.  Funny thing is, I’ve got some Freelancing websites on there, and I’m not actually a Freelancer (or even really want to be).  I think the main reason why I have them there is for the web site design side.


Freelance/Web Design


You may notice that Penny Arcade itself isn’t up there, but that’s mainly because they are one of the websites I strongly support. I even have AdBlock turned off here (and sometimes click the ads) so they get some revenue.

I have a whole heap more on my feed, but these are the best of them. The best thing I find about feeds is that they’re fantastic for sites that aren’t updated daily. That way you don’t need to visit them all the time to see if they’re updated.

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