Yes, the iPhone 4S is pretty darned good for a smartphone camera, but people are getting a bit too misty-eyed over the quality.
We've been flooded with well-meaning comparison images, some pitting the iPhone against some high-end still and video cameras from companies like Nikon and Canon.
Today, the makers of the great little Camera+ app sent us some shots comparing the original iPhone, the 3G, the 3GS the 4, and even the lust-worthy Canon EOS 5D Mark II, which sells for a paltry US$3000+.
The tests show two of the old iPhone cameras out of focus, which isn't exactly fair. No, those cameras didn't have tap-to-focus, but it was possible to get some pretty fair macro images. I've done it. Also, at the small size the images have been presented, it's not a surprise that the iPhone 4S looks pretty good against the big Canon. The differences start to show up in full resolution, and when the more expensive camera images are not heavily compressed.
Same with some of the video comparisons I've seen. The iPhone 4S is shown against a semi-pro camera, but in a very small video window. Try viewing the output of both cameras on a 50" monitor and then we'll talk about it.
If you really want to compare still cameras, try low light imaging, and blow the frames up so we can see the resolution and the noise.
I don't expect the iPhone 4S camera to surpass, or even closely approach, the results of a high quality DSLR -- and neither should you. I do think the 4S camera is the best one Apple has offered, and likely the equal of the best of the Android cameras. Earlier this year I got some very nice photos in Monument Valley with the iPhone 4, so I know that Apple is crafting some nice cameras. I also think the 4S can give a really good account of itself against some of the low-cost point and shoot cameras, and that's a pretty compelling argument for the iPhone 4S. It's also the view of the Camera+ folks.
If your expectations are not inflated, you'll love the camera Apple has lovingly produced. The images are sharp and the color fidelity looks excellent. On an already great phone, this camera is something of a bonus. Just don't expect miracles.