These days almost every mobile phone comes with a built-in camera. Although they are unlikely to replace a good quality, standalone digital camera, some of the latest mobile phones take excellent photos.
Manufacturers would have you believe it's all about megapixels, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Whether a camera is 5- or 10-megapixels doesn’t make much difference — what we're interested in is a camera that produces minimal image noise, takes sharp, clear photos in sunlight, and has at the very least an effective LED flash for low-light photography.
In this camera phone showdown, we take a look at some of the best camera phones currently available in Australia.
The Sony Ericsson Satio was highly anticipated due to its touch screen and Symbian operating system, but the star of the show here is its 12.1-megapixel camera. Offering a Xenon flash as well as smile detection, panorama and Best Pic modes, the Satio's camera is one of the best we've seen. It takes clear photos with excellent colour reproduction and the Xenon flash works well in dim lighting. Its performance in good lighting situations can even be compared to a standalone digital camera — photos have minimal image noise compared to those taken by most mobile phone cameras and snaps are crisp and sharp at their standard size.
Nokia's N86 may look like a smartphone from a few years ago when compared to a certain touch-screen smartphone of the Apple variety but it still possesses a pretty good camera. In addition to an 8-megapixel sensor with a Carl Zeiss lens, the N86's camera has autofocus, a nifty sliding lens cover and a dual LED flash. Its colour reproduction is excellent and photos taken outdoors in strong light look excellent, though it does struggle in low-light conditions, despite the flash.
The Samsung HD Icon is marketed on its ability to record high-definition, 720p video, but it also takes excellent still photos for a mobile phone. The HD Icon's 8-megapixel camera comes with a dual LED flash and its speed is very impressive — it takes just two seconds to start the camera application and there is minimal shutter lag when taking photos. The Samsung HD Icon produces sharp and clear photos outdoors with minimal image noise. The only real downside is that photos in low-light conditions aren't as impressive — the dual LED flash isn't powerful enough. The lack of a lens cover is also annoying.
LG's Viewty Smart may not be a smartphone but its built-in camera takes impressive photos. The 8-megapixel camera with LED flash and Schneider-Kreuznach lens is at the heart of this camera phone. The camera interface is almost identical to that of the LG Arena, though the settings menu is particularly impressive. It’s a rotating dial similar to those found on regular digital cameras, so using this camera phone is simple. An on-screen slider on the left switches between photo and video recording and a row of commonly used settings are found on the side of the display, including scene, flash and macro functions. The LED flash is almost useless in dark conditions, though photos in good light are very impressive for a camera phone, exhibiting minimal noise and good colours.
Nokia is renowned for producing good camera phones and its flagship N97 is another good example. The N97's 5-megapixel camera has a Carl Zeiss lens with a slide-up cover, but it lacks a Xenon flash; Nokia opted for a dual LED flash instead. Photos taken are excellent for a camera phone, though the flash's performance is rather disappointing in dim lighting. Pictures taken in sunlight are a much better story though, with excellent colour and sharp edges. Its sliding lens cover is handy at protecting the lens when the camera is not in use, and unlike previous models, it doesn’t accidentally open when the phone is slid in and out of your pocket.
Coming soon? Samsung Pixon 12
Billed as "the world's first 12-megapixel camera phone" the Samsung Pixon 12 has already been launched in many overseas markets but was beaten to the punch by Sony Ericsson's Satio in Australia. Nonetheless it remains an impressive looking device, at least on paper. Aside from the 12-megapixel sensor and Xenon flash, the Pixon 12 actually looks like a camera first and a phone second — it has a protruding lens, a dedicated button that lets it quickly go into camera mode even when the phone is locked and has dedicated zoom and shutter buttons. Samsung hasn't confirmed local availability, only saying that if it does indeed get released in Australia it "won't be in 2009." That’s a shame. Thankfully, we've managed to get our hands on one anyway and will have a full review published very shortly. So be sure to check back and see how it stacks up against the competition!
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