On iPod touch 4G’s Low-Resolution Rear Camera + Rear Mic

On iPod touch 4G’s Low-Resolution Rear Camera + Rear Mic 1

When Apple released the iPhone 4, praise for the phone’s redesigned rear camera system was universal: the company had made the wise choice to focus on pixel quality rather than quantity, including improved low-light capabilities and color rendition, resulting in nearly point-and-shoot camera-quality pictures and videos. It seemed like a foregone conclusion that the rear camera on the fourth-generation iPod touch would be similarly powerful, potentially replacing the need to carry both a pocket camera and the iPod at once.

On iPod touch 4G’s Low-Resolution Rear Camera + Rear Mic 2

But as we learned yesterday, that didn’t happen. Instead, Apple went with an iPod touch camera that has lower resolution than any iPhone—including the original model—at 0.69 Megapixels (960×720) for still images, and 0.92 Megapixels (1280×720) for video. The first-generation iPhone had a 2-Megapixel still camera, and the most recent one has a 5-Megapixel still camera. It’s unclear whether Apple is using a 1280×720 sensor in the iPod touch and cropping off the left and right sides of the video image for still images, the most likely scenario by a wide margin, or whether it is using a 960×720 sensor and upscaling it on the sides for video, which would be quite unlike Apple, but not inconceivable.


On iPod touch 4G’s Low-Resolution Rear Camera + Rear Mic 3

This matters because the sensor inside will critically affect the quality of both the still images and videos that the iPod touch captures relative to the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4. Our screenshots show how Apple significantly crops the iPhone 4’s 5-Megapixel still camera when it switches the device into 720p video mode, losing not only the top and bottom of the still frame, but also some of the left and right. Consequently, when you hold an iPhone 4 steady and flip between modes, you need to step backwards a little when shooting a video to capture the same left and right details that the still camera would have grabbed. Apple may be doing this to get the highest-quality pixels from the best part of the iPhone 4’s lens and sensor during video shooting, or there may be other reasons.


On iPod touch 4G’s Low-Resolution Rear Camera + Rear Mic 4

On the iPod touch, this appears to be different. If the sensor has only 1280×720 pixels, literally every pixel is being used when it records video, and rather than still pictures looking better than videos as they do on the iPhone 4, they’ll look like chopped-off versions of video recordings, missing 160 pixels on each side. To get a sense of what that would be like, take a look at the last of the pictures here from the iPhone 4. (By default, Apple fills the iPhone 4 screen with a cropped version of what the video camera is actually recording, rather than the full wide frame. Underpublicized is the fact that you can tap twice on the video to see everything that’s really being grabbed at once, complete with letterboxing on the top and bottom of the screen, shown two shots above.) For the iPod touch 4G, what you’re likely to get as a still image will be closer what you see on this last shot—the same image as two shots above, minus the left and right sides. Unlike the iPhone 4’s camera, the still image won’t look much better on a computer than it does on the device’s screen. This is probably the reason Apple hasn’t shown off galleries of iPod touch photos as it did with the iPhone 4.

According to Apple, the iPod touch is using a backlit sensor, so the color rendition and low light performance will hopefully be closer to the iPhone 4 than earlier iPhones, which took comparatively grainier and muted photos. There’s a tap-to-adjust exposure feature, but seemingly no tap-to-focus, which suggests that colors will look fine but depth of field won’t be possible. Apple’s new high dynamic range (HDR) feature in iOS 4.1 may enable patient users to make lemonade from otherwise lemony iPod touch shots, too. Since the sensors aren’t the same between devices, it’s even possible that the videos may look way better on the iPod touch than on the iPhone 4; a sample on Apple’s site shows a beautiful (but slow-moving) scene from nature, cropped to the touch’s screen. Hopefully it’ll actually be that impressive in real-world use.

On a related note, we’re also really wondering how the new iPod touch is going to handle FaceTime, given that it appears to lack the dual microphone system of the iPhone 4—there’s a tiny microphone hole located on its back, by the rear camera. Given the way that sound waves travel, it wouldn’t be shocking for audio to sound a little muffled when using the front camera, but then, perhaps Apple has come up with a smart way to process sound. We’ll let you know what we discover during testing.

  1. It’s likely that the new case had insufficient depth for another camera module. Lack of tap-to-focus is due to the depth of field of lens being sufficient for the low-resolution sensor, thus allowing a fixed-focus rather than auto-focus lens. That is, the softness due to imperfect focus is dwarfed by the resolution loss due to … lack of resolution in the first place.

    BTW, the statement “depth of field won’t be possible” is nonsensical. Every lens/sensor combination has a depth of field as a basic property. Plus, no iPhone allow you to control this beyond setting the subject distance itself (and thus obtaining whatever depth of field the fixed lens aperture and the subject distance gives you, without any additional control).

  2. The new iPod Touch is great overall – but I really, really was looking forward to an iPhone4-style high-quality still camera on the back. It’s unfortunately a deal-breaker for me, so I’ll just keep waiting until the iPhone is available on Verizon…

  3. I have the 5th gen iPod Nano (which shoots only SD video) and while the compression and low resolution was horrible, I found it truely invaluable as an in-your-pocket, always ready video camera. I never gave much thought to the flip camera style of video prior to that and now, I think it does have a place in my imaging arsenal.

    As for stills, even the iPhone 4 (while closer to a good solution) is not going to replace a good digital camera in my opinion. The fact that the iPod’s still resolution isn’t as good just doesn’t bother me that much because I wasn’t the excited by the specs on the iPhone 4’s stills either.

    I AM excited about the addition of HDR with iOS 4.2. I hope apple embraces other computational photography techniques as well. I recommend everyone check out the Frankencamera project that was presented at this year’s SIGGRAPH conference to get an idea of where this technology can go. They were implementing things on an inferior Nokia phone. On this iPhone, computation photography could be powerful and place the device in a league of it’s own distinguishing it form both SLRs and point-and-shots all together. A new class of camera!

    Disclaimer: I do not own an iPhone so I have no first hand experience. I like your comments though and agree whole heartedly with the quality over pixel quantity comment.


  4. I am excited about the new iPod Touch because of the cameras. I have been holding off because iPod’s were no more than a MP3 player with games to me. Even the NDSi has a camera. Now the new ipod touch has two cameras and 3 gyroscopes and it is even thinner. I couldn’t resist this high tech device any longer and had to place an order. GPS capability or a 3G network connection would have been nice but maybe next year…

  5. I’m confused about your cropping and 720p examples. Whether I use my video camera function in ‘cropped’ or letterbox the resulting file is exactly the same. I don’t believe the phone is actually cropping anything when recording, just when you use the screen as a viewfinder.

  6. 4: The iPhone 4 and iPod touch will both produce 1280×720 videos, but they differ in stills. Whereas the iPhone snaps stills that have way more detail and also a wider angle than the video camera, the iPod touch will snap stills with less detail and seemingly a narrower angle than the video camera, akin to comparing the last two pictures above.

  7. I am still going to get the new iPod touch, maybe the camera is lower quality but still i have a 5 year old 3 MP camera that isn’t worth a damn I’m sure the new touch will seem like an upgrade and add the fact i carry my touch every there I go it will be handy

  8. @Jay (#8): Well, it’s only slightly lower quality in terms of megapixels (0.7 vs 0.9), and it’s very likely Apple did this so that still photos would be produced in a normal 4:3 aspect ratio, which is what almost every point-and-shoot camera on the planet uses, rather than a 16:9 still that would result from the HD resolution. My HD camcorder takes 16:9 stills and it’s always weird trying to work with those photos, especially when uploading to services like Facebook that clearly expect a 4:3 image (and note Facebook would downscale a 1280 x 720 image to 720 x 405 anyway, so you’d end up losing more vertical resolution than on a 4:3 image, which would land at 720 x 540).

  9. Wow, my freaking LG Env had a better camera than this thing. What gives? I was actually thinking of using this a an on-the-go camera/uploader but not even 1 megapixel?


  10. I’m wondering if it will be possible for some brilliant developer to create an app that will use all the pixels for the Touch’s still pictures (for Cydia release, perhaps).

    I couldn’t believe that the camera is of lower quality than video. It doesn’t make any sense. My only guess is that they didn’t want to step on the toes of the people that are still using the iPhone 1st Gen. But let’s face it, if they haven’t upgraded by now, that phone would have all it’s paint rubbed off it.

  11. Apple said they couldnt put a 5 mp camera in the new touch because of the new thin design I say BS I have the HTC Evo phone which is just as thin and sports a 8 MEGA PIXEL camera. Do they really think we are all fools They are supposed to be a leading company in design and manufacturing. With Apple its all about the allmighty dollar not what the consumers want. and lets not forget they had camera issues for a year now with the new touch and instead of finding a solution they just went ahead and produced a unit with a cheap outdated camera with less then 1 MP in 2010 Come on Appple!!!! I waited for a year for this new touch and I am very dissapointed and its also a deal breaker for me!!!

  12. @Rory (#9): The HTC Evo spec page says it is .49″ thick (wow, half an inch…thick phone!). The new Touch is .28″ thick. It seems like Apple is not a fool here; and maybe you should read the specs. Megapixels REALLY aren’t everything. A well designed low Megapixel sensor will often outperform a high Megapixel sensor when using very small lenses. Lots of fuzzy pixels aren’t always useful. Of course I wish the Touch had the full iPhone 4 camera; but I also want the Touch to stay inexpensive…so compromises have to be made. I have a feeling the Touch camera will be surprisingly good for video, and that Touch users will use that a lot more than stills.

  13. Wow, how anal are you people?! The new iPod touch is only 0.28 inches thick. The tech does not exist to fit a high megapixel camera into this space. Stop your whining!

    Most people will take pictures to post on Facebook or some other online gallery. So 0.7 megapixels are certainly adequate for this application. If you take photography even half-way seriously, you’ll use a proper camera such as the Canon S90.

  14. C’mon guys – hasn’t anyone noticed by now the “red-headed stepchild” effect the iPod Touch has been suffering from in comparison to the iPhone? The two platforms have always been vastly different in features and performance. Apple keeps it that way for a reason- selling a user an iPod Touch is a single revenue transaction. Selling them an iPhone means a steady stream of monthly fees for the next two years and mostly likely longer. Given this I’m actually surprised to see Apple put many of the iPhone 4’s features into the touch such as retina display, facetime, etc. If you need a better camera go buy the iPhone or carry one in your pocket.

  15. @Darren (#14): While I agree with the basic premise that the iPod touch is deliberately being kept scaled down in comparison to the iPhone, the reasons you suggest are not entirely accurate. The iPhone has not been a steady stream of revenue for Apple since the first-generation iPhone back in 2007. With the original iPhone, Apple worked out a revenue-sharing deal with AT&T, and presumably some of the other international carriers. With the release of the iPhone 3G and all subsequent models, the carrier-revenue-sharing model was abandoned in favour of the same subsidy model used by every other manufacturer — the carrier pays the full price for the device outright, and then marks it down for customers in exchange for a long-term commitment from the customer.

    In short, Apple doesn’t see a nickel from anybody once an iPhone has been sold. Of course, iPhones, like all cell phones, are priced significantly higher than most people realize as the carrier subsidy usually knocks the price down to something quite inexpensive in exchange for a two- or three-year fealty to the carrier. The contract-free price of an iPhone 4 is well over $600 (although at least outside of the U.S. you can generally buy it unlocked for that price).

    Manufacturers have long been accused of overpricing hardware due to the subsidies offered by carriers, since the carrier will happily pay more for a phone than the average consumer would, especially since they can then use that discount to encourage customers to commit to a long-term contract. Apple is likely no different in this respect, which means that the iPhone probably provides higher profits for them.

    However, It’s also important to remember that the iPhone is in the only market that Apple is still really competing in, so even leaving profits aside, there’s definitely an incentive for Apple to encourage more iPhone sales than iPod touch sales. Jobs would much rather stand up on stage and boast about how many million iPhones have been sold.

    In short, the iPod touch has always been designed as the product for those who cannot or will not buy an iPhone. This is also why it’s clearly targeted at a younger market — how many teens have parents who are willing to sign an iPhone contract for them, and how many college-aged kids can actually afford one themselves?

  16. What people seem to be missing here is the point I have raised elsewhere – when taking photos with a sub-megapixel camera, the ability to crop the said photos is non-existent.
    Why would you want to crop the photos? Because there’s no room for an optical zoom, so in order to see the subject matter (if you are more than a few feet away) you’ll need to crop the photo (or use “digital zoom”).
    On a higher-MP sensor, you get more pixels, with which to play…so you can crop (at least a little) before you end up with a squared-off, pixelated mess that’s indistinguishable from a fuzzed-out witness on a crime show from TV.

  17. I had the first generation ipod touch and I thought it was great. I was one of the first to buy it and it was impressive and it became the number one ipod of the line up and it still holds true. Nevertheless, this summer I passed the ipod to my daughter. I felt I could not be without the ipod. It is simply the best music player on the planet. So it was unavoidable. I could not complaint because this has to be the most worthy upgrade of the ipod touch line up. I already ordered it on amazon and can’t wait. Even with a low resoltuion camera worthy of posting on the web it is still worth it.

  18. Hey if the new iPod records video in HD, wouldn’t recording a video, pausing, and then taking a screenshot give you a better still?

  19. #19
    To quote Jesse’s reply (#97) to the same point (#95) on the “Yikes! iPod touch’s Rear Camera Capped at 960×720 Stills!” article –

    “Uh, no. The iPod touch screen is only 960 x 640—lower than the 960 x 720 capabilities of the still camera. In other words, this method would produce a 0.6 megapixel photo.”

  20. hi!
    i just got a new ipod touch 4g and whenever i take a picture the result of the sicture is that its flipped. is there something wrong with it? or is that apart of the new thing?

  21. r u serious?! so the camera isnt THAT good. BUT the ipod touch ISNT specifically for that so i’d be thankful that they put ANY camera

  22. The camera looks to be pretty awful. I would have loved one nice high quality camera instead of 2 crappy ones, and GPS. But I am ordering anyway, as this is still the best device out there. Maybe I can resell and buy next years model with the above features without too much of a hit to the wallet. This is my first Apple product, so it was enough to entice me to buy!

  23. Hi. I’ve been planning to buy the new Ipod touch. What are the disadvantages? I’ve been reading some articles about it and some are not pleased with its features. This is my first time buying such gadget so I want mine to be worth it. please help me. Thanks! 🙂

  24. So the ipod touch 4g is a downgrade in camera quality?! I was so looking forward to it. Looks like they’re trying to encourage us to just get the iphone :/

  25. I am really kinda sad, but I still love the iPod Touch. I can’t decide whether to buy a new iPod or phone. If Verizon gets the iPhone, all problems will be solved. PLEASE APPLE/VERIZON! So many people HATE AT&T’s network. And so many people on Verizon want the iPhone. They will make A LOT of money is they do that.

  26. When I use the flash eyes appear white and make my pictures look weird. What can I do to fix that? I got the I pod 4. Thanks

  27. iPod touch does not have a still camera, it only has an HD video camera and that is all. The “still photos” are just video frames. It’s an iPod nano with Retina Display and apps, not an iPhone without the phone.

  28. I am looking for the best microphone for iPod 4G. Device in 4G is so poor I can’t hear it. I only need it for taping interviews so needs to pick up speech within 8 feet. Any suggestions?

  29. Terrible quality on still photos. I love the ipod touch 4, but kept thinking, ok the lighting was off or I moved, but every picture comes out really poor. Then I learned they snuck in a less than 1 mp camera in while advertising full HD video and the iphone advertising 5mp still. I wrongly took all this advertising to mean ipod 4th touch would have 5mp still camera. This is my 1st and only disappointment with apple and it takes a little shine off apple for sure.

  30. Too bad the itouch is useless to me to “scan” bills and any other document in a quality you could actually make sense of the results. This would be necessary for the use of Evernote, the reading of small QR code, the scanning apps…
    May be in the next version in sept 2012?

  31. My ipod 4th generation takes great outdoor pictures, but really bad indoor pics. My only complaint about this product. We can only wish for a better camera with future ipod generations.

  32. The camera is disappointingly bad for stills (I thought it was an iPhone without phone capabilities) but better than nothing if you see a great sight or a UFO.
    Also it seems to be more like a small tablet computer rather than a purpose-designed mp3 player, I thought an iPod would put audio playing first not just as one use among many for the device. But, an mp3 player with internet and internal speaker (and basic camera) is a pretty good tradeoff.

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