Camera showdown: iPhone 4S vs. iPhone 4, Galaxy S II, Nokia N8 and Amaze 4G (video)

Siri's sweet and all, but for many of us that new eight megapixel sensor and f/2.4 aperture lens are what really makes Apple's iPhone 4S an appealing upgrade. We spent the weekend shooting around New York City with the iPhone 4S, along with some other top smartphones -- the iPhone 4, Samsung Galaxy S II, Nokia N8 and HTC's Amaze 4G -- in order to determine just which phone's camera reigns supreme. And in order to capture video and stills with consistent framing among all five devices, we secured each smartphone to that homemade quintuple cameraphone mount that you see above -- it may be an early prototype, but it got the job done. Jump past the break to see the results, and check out our comprehensive iPhone 4S sample gallery below.%Gallery-136711%

The iPhone 4S is a pleasure to shoot with. The camera is ready to capture its first image within a second of launch, and tapping to focus after recomposing is painless and speedy. With advanced options limited to a grid overlay and HDR shooting, its interface may be too simple for some, but third-party apps are available should you want a bit more control. The camera functions identically to its iPhone 4 predecessor, but its f/2.4 maximum aperture (compared to f/2.8 with the iPhone 4) means that you'll be able to snap higher quality photos in low light. Its image quality rivals many point and shoot cameras in most conditions, though if you tend to shoot in the dark, you'll want a dedicated camera with a more powerful flash.

Apple's iOS may offer one of the simplest camera interfaces, but it's by no means the most powerful. Want manual control over exposure, white balance and ISO sensitivity? The Galaxy S II, Nokia N8 and Amaze 4G let you do it all with just a few taps. Overall, we were most often pleased with photos we shot with the iPhone 4S, despite its lack of advanced features. Exposure and white balance were most accurate with Apple's finest, and images were plenty sharp on their own, though not as sharp as those from the Amaze 4G, which appears to add sharpening by default.%Gallery-136709%
Battery life left us slightly less impressed, however. After about two hours of wandering around town, shooting several dozen photos and about 10 minutes of HD video with each device, the iPhone 4S had just 30 percent of battery left. Its predecessor, the iPhone 4 offered much better performance in the battery department, finishing the shoot with 52 percent remaining, even though we also used that device to check email multiple times and make several phone calls. Despite its enormous 4.3-inch AMOLED display, the Galaxy SII took top prize, with 53 percent left when we returned to the office, while the Nokia N8 had 50 percent remaining. And what about HTC's new Amaze 4G? Our around-town photo session wasn't nearly as kind on that smartphone's battery, with just 29 percent left at the end of the shoot.

We were quite pleased with the iPhone 4S's 1080p HD video, which looked smooth, sharp and vibrant. iPhone 4 owners will need to keep in mind that higher-res video means much larger file sizes, however -- a 160MB, two-minute video that we shot with the iPhone 4 tipped the scale at 390MB on the 4S. Those eight megapixel photos take up more space too -- a 2.2MB five megapixel iPhone 4 photo was 3.1MB on the 4S. Check out the table below to see how file sizes stack up against the other cameras in our showdown.

iPhone 4S

iPhone 4

Galaxy S II

Nokia N8

Amaze 4G

Price on contract

$199 / $299 / $399



$389 (unlocked)








Lens aperture






Manual control






Still file






HD resolution






2 min. HD file






Battery left

30 percent

52 percent

53 percent

50 percent

29 percent

For more on Apple's new iPhone 4S, check out our full review.

Update: Images from the Nokia N8 are not in line with those we've captured in the past. We're troubleshooting our device sample and will update this post accordingly.

Update 2: We have added 800-pixel-wide sample images from all five smartphones to the comparison gallery. The original side-by-side 100-percent views were pulled from these images and magnified the problem. Image quality in the scaled versions appear in line with the samples from other cameras.

Update 3: We repeated the shoot multiple times with the Nokia N8, taking multiple exposures for each scene, and noticed improvements in some of the images. We have added a second set of 100-percent views following the original comparison shots for your review, featuring the sharpest of these re-shot images. All images look virtually identical on the device's display, and appear very similar when viewed at 800-pixels wide. It's only when you view each image at a 1:1 pixel ratio (100-percent view) that the improvement becomes immediately apparent. We sincerely apologize for the poor quality of the initial images, which appear to have been the result of motion blur.