One of the features we were most looking forward in the DROID was the 5-megapixel autofocus camera. After having middling experiences with previous Android smartphone cameras, we were very hopeful that the DROID would buck the disappointing trend. But even using Android 2.0's updated camera interface to push out 5-megapixel pictures, the results were, well, a mixed bag.

We decided to let you guys compare a few shots we took with the Motorola DROID and Sprint HTC Hero to show you the differences in performance. Since both pack 5-megapixel cameras, it's a fairly even playing field. The results are interesting, to say the least. The camera on the DROID performs pretty well in good conditions--outside, under perfect weather and perfect lighting conditions it can actually deliver some awesome shots. However, the story is completely different when taken indoors, it seems like the DROID simply manages light poorly and focuses on the wrong image leaving indoor shots looking hazy and blurry. Funnily enough, the Sprint HTC Hero is the exact opposite. Read on for more!

Check out Android Central's Motorola DROID camera test after the jump!

Before we get started, it's important to note that independent of picture quality, the DROID is much more fun and easy to use as a camera. The rectangular shape of the DROID plays into this as does having a perfectly placed dedicated camera button, a substantial flash, and an updated camera interface. The Sprint HTC Hero lacks all of those features and is significantly much more sluggish in taking pictures when compared to the DROID. Now on to the pictures!

 
outside shot taken with Motorola DROID

outside shot taken with Sprint HTC Hero

Let's start positive. The DROID does a really good job with this outside shot. There's an absolutely natural feel to it, the green of the leaves have depth to them and the browns are pronounced--overall, the colors are very natural and there's no haze to the picture. The picture looks great. In comparison, the HTC Hero's picture looks washed out--the greens are muddled and the brown is weakened. The picture looks like there is a hazy layer on top of it and the temperature is unnaturally cool. It's definitely a less accurate representation of the actual palm tree.

outside shot taken with Motorola DROID

outside shot taken with Sprint HTC Hero

Again, the DROID's camera wins out with this picture. In broad daylight, the DROID handles colors very well. We were really impressed with how this image turned out--the yellow flowers are bright, the purple is complex, and the statue is well represented (you can see the statue, the water, and the base of the statue as different pieces). The Sprint HTC Hero again struggles--the yellow flowers aren't captured correctly, the purple lacks depth, and the statue is devoid of detail. The blue tint of the Hero's photo severely dampens the realism and overall the photo is just muddled. 

indoor shot taken with Motorola DROID

indoor shot taken with Motorola DROID

The DROID's picture turns out a wee bit better here than it does when displayed at full resolution but still, the picture just looks off. This was taken inside a well-lit supermarket and the DROID's picture seems overexposed. The wood is unnatural, the signs are faded, and all the colors are underrepresented. It's almost as if the DROID forgets how to be a camera when taken indoors. On the other hand, the Sprint HTC Hero performs admirably. The wood takes on a natural feel, the colors are accurate, and there's so much more depth to the Hero's picture compared to the DROID's. It's amazing how well the Hero performs indoors when compared to its flawed outdoor pictures.

indoor picture taken with Motorola DROID

 indoor picture taken with Sprint HTC Hero

Yikes. The DROID really struggles with this indoor shot. Nearly everything about the picture is just wrong--the color is off, the picture lacks depth, it never focuses on anything, and there's a hazy layer to boot. It looks completely like a mobile phone picture and that's a terrible thing to be for such a high end device. The Sprint HTC Hero does a better job--the focus is tighter, there's more depth to the picture, and the colors are a little more accurate. Not a perfect picture by any means, but certainly a livable outcome from 'just a smartphone'.

night shot taken with Motorola DROID

We don't have a comparison shot for you to compare with (sorry!) but this picture is an outdoors, nighttime shot that actually looks pretty good. At full resolution the picture is obviously noisy but coming from a smartphone it's impressive nonetheless. The flash on the DROID obviously helped the picture dramatically (we found that the best scenario to use Flash was in a wide open space) and we're glad that Flash was packed into the DROID or this picture never would have been possible. After a slew of bad photos, the DROID earns back a little bit of its respect with this one.

Final Thoughts

Overall, the Camera Test proved that there's still a lot to be desired in Android phone cameras. It's interesting to us that considering how well the DROID performed outdoors and how poor the Sprint HTC Hero did, it was the complete opposite when taken indoors. If we can only combine the outdoor performance of the DROID with the indoor performance of the Hero, we'd have a camera to get excited about.

We don't know who to lay the blame on, Google for poor software or Motorola for poor hardware, but clearly the 5-megapixel camera on the DROID is capable of pushing out some great shots. It's the poor handling of light indoors and the nearly nonexistent autofocusing that gets the DROID's camera in trouble. If it's a software issue, we're hoping a firmware fix can work wonders but we're not hopeful. So if the DROID's camera never gets addressed, remember: outdoors, perfect weather and perfect lighting is your strength. Stick to it.

How has your experience been with the DROID's camera? Your thoughts on these pictures?

 

Reader comments

Motorola DROID Camera Test

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Maybe there will be an Droid and/or Android upgrade to improve picture quality. After all it's a smart phone.

Play with the settings and disable the flash when it is not needed and you will see improvement in a big way. I realized with my Bb storm that the software is designed to compensate for the flash and when flash isn't necessary disabling it will produce much better photos indoors.

I was at Fedor v Rogers last night, had fighters from UFC in the audience taking pictures. I tried with the droid and it was a hot mess... I feel it can only take pictures in daylight well. Everything gets out of focus. I try using Shop Savvy and the camera cannot focus the barcode well enough to scan it.

On the lower picture of the brews-it says indoor shot taken with motorola DROID, not Sprint HTC Hero, just kinda threw me off there.

i've lowered the camera res to 2MP since i'm not going to be printing any of these pictures out, or cropping them, or really doing anything with them aside from possibly going onto facebook.

the camera snaps MUCH faster, and is also ready for another picture in far less time.

personally, the issue seems to be software related, the camera app is not processing information efficiently and quickly, similar to the issues on the storm when first released, and that has gotten better, since then so i have faith that they will be able to improve the camera greatly with software updates.

as for shop savvy not working, that seems like a software issue too, because barcode scanner and the amazon app have no issues scanning the barcodes.

So unrelated post, but what is the battery life in this thing ?? it has a smaller battery than the Sprint Hero so I am guessing it is near terrible . And with the way the small battery cover is, any aftermarket battery with cover is going to produce a very ugly bump on the back of this phone , thoughts ??

Is this with white balance set to AUTO at all times? If so, how do these cameras compare when you set the white balance appropriately for the picture? Perhaps the two cameras differ mainly in how the appropriate white balance color correction is done under AUTO, with the DROID leaning toward outdoor scenes and the Hero towards indoor.

Also, focus on the indoor pictures looks like it might be off (or it could just be because they're handheld) so in each picture what part of the picture was used to set the focus?

my droid's camera autofocuses correctly about 1 out of every 15 shots. when i half press the camera button to focus the frame usually turns red rarely green. In summary the camera is crap and needs an update of some kind to fix this ASAP!

Yeah! Some real photos side by side with its competition. Thanks for this post. Outside shots look fantastic but I'm still scratching my head on the inside. The HTC looks better...

Most of the difference is explained in the autofocus algorithm and color saturation of the photo, instead of the actual camera.

one thing i do wanna say. it's a PHONE. camera phones, no matter if they're rocking a VGA or a 32 1/2 . 5 MP Camera......are not designed to replace a digital camera.

It's been announced that there's a known issue with the AF, and that a fix will be available in the first OTA update, around 12/11.

Also, did you try using the Indoor setting? I haven't gotten my Droid yet (Wednesday!), but the G1 has an incandescent light setting that works very well to alleviate the blue cast often seen in indoor pics.

Wow if you guys are gonna start testing cameras, realize there is an issue with packing too many pixels into too small a space.

In good lighting at low ISO these extra pixels can be a good thing (to a point), however, the more pixels you pack into a small sensor, the smaller the window for good photos is.

So this explains why the hardware is the failure.

the Hero has 3MP while the DROID has 5MP. The DROID has a higher pixel density and as ISO is bumbped up, the sensor is given more sensitivity in the form of power. This creates more interference between pixels which creates a poorer quality image.

There is more space between pixels in the 3MP sensor, and thus interference is less an issue.

All DROID can do is soften the noise, thus softening detail with noise reduction.

Lesson summary. Small sensors suck, small sensors with lots of pixels suck even more. I would say for a sensor this size 2-3MP is plenty. And honestly, if anyone is expecting a cell phone to ever replace a compact camera or DSLR, they should be locked up.

Actually, the Sprint Hero and Verizon Droid Eris have 5MP cameras like the Droid.

Other than that, you overview of the situation is great.

I found this page in search of Droid Camera reviews because I am very disappointed with it's performance. I've had the phone for 5 days now, it's my first smart phone. I love almost everything else about it.

I spent an hour or two adjusting the photo settings trying to get a decent indoor picture, and I (or should I say, the Droid)just can't do it. The flash overexposes people's faces indoors. Pictures of rooms are blurry. I have not taken any outdoor pictures yet, this article gives me some hope at least.

The blurry picture of the coffee grinders is the as good as any picture I have taken with it. Just very disappointing since I just had a LG Venus with 2mp camera that took better pictures.

yes it's a phone, not a camera. but i am comparing it to other camera phones. the droid's is pretty bad. blurry, unfocused shots. i am *hoping* that by changing the settings it can be improved. but out of the box it takes far worse shots than my previous 1.3MP samsung which itself was pretty crappy. so far i love the phone. i had never cared about having a camera with my phone -- until i had a kid. now it is darn useful. anyway, keep the setting tips coming and hopefully the future s/w releases will help.

Great Review.. I almost would have waited to purchase kowing the phone camera was not all that.. But love the PHONE, and will try to find a 3rd party app for the Camera...

Excellent Review, and very helpful and very appreciated !!.

I love my droid. Can't put it down. The only problem I have found is the camera. I agree, takes great outdoor photos. (Rivals our digital camera). But the flash in dark situations is almost useless. It goes off and almost blinds you...(literally leaves you seeing rings and dots)... then a second later the camera goes off and takes a picture that is black. the sync is totally off.

I'm a pro photographer and so I can't hardly stand using phone cameras. But I was playing around with the Droid, it seems to have some serious software issues. I had a Blackberry Tour previously and the camera was much better. The Droid struggles to lock focus in almost all situations, especially indoors. I assume they will update it. Part of the problem, instead of upping pixels they should be lowering them and improving image quality.

Ryan Smith
http://www.myrtlebeachphotography.org

Whatever... Wanna take photos? Buy a camera. My Canons (40D DSLR and G10 point-n-shoot) make lousy phone calls, too.

I was hoping Droid would have the same 5MP Kodak sensor as the Motozine ZN5, which has been getting excellent reviews but is exclusive to T-Mobile. Apparently it does not, considering the issues reported here; can anyone confirm?

Agreed that small sensors suck, especially with many pixels. But the new Kodak sensor mitigates that somewhat with panchromatic pixels, so less of the available light is filtered. No idea why this successful technology has had such limited adoption. Kodak seems determined to waste its brainpower; shades of Xerox PARC. I digress.

If it's the same sensor, and just in need of a firmware update, I'll be getting one of these. Otherwise, my long wait for a decent Verizon smartphone with decent camera continues.

Honestly I wish that they other camera makers would take lesson from the Palm Pre and use a fixed focus solution, which takes incredible pictures in all lighting conditions and is very fast to respond and be ready for another picture to be taken. The auto flash feature on the Pre also works great, one of the 1st phones I had personally used with an auto flash feature...instead of just a blinding light shining on people and objects.

To expand on fixed focus, couldn't they make it so the lens can "zoom/lock" into a 2-3x etc. zoom while remaining fixed in focus so you can still get closer to objects that are at a distance?

The problem I see with the Droid indoor shots is the White Balance; the exposure is fine, as is the contrast. If the WB can be set manually to Fluorescent (or Tungsten, depending on the type of light inside that supermarket) then the picture should look just fine.

As for the blurriness, it's camera shake, not missed focus. In low light the camera was likely using a long shutter speed, so I would recommend holding the phone with two hands and as steady as possible.

Does anybody know what physical size the camera sensor is?

You should really play with the settings on the Hero. My outdoor pictures don't look like that because I manually set my settings sometimes. The auto white balance doesn't always come out like it should.

Need to do a retake on the droid camera.. there was a software bug that made it not work as intended. It is based on a timestamp and as of 11/17 has improved immensely.

It's interesting that you found the indoor shots to be off as I have. I've been very disappointed in the camera indoors but have had great luck outdoors. I hope it's a software issue that can be resolved with ease... and soon!

The lux or low light settings are non existent . This camera is the reason I bought this . My lg env camera had an adjustment easy for dusk or low light . This one stinks. FOrget about focus .. Everything is dark . Lousy phone.. and it lags too much between apps. Not to mention Verizon leaving you out in the lurch to get your contacts over. I hate gmail .

I agree the camera needs better indoor functionality. I had no problem porting my contacts from my old phone to the droid as well as my FB contacts.

Overall, really like the Droid except the camera indoors or in low light situations.

For many that have reminded us that the Droid is a phone first then your correct. My suggestion is that Motorola (a communications expert company, that provides clear and near perfect communications products) teams up with a camera company to fix some of the problems mentioned. As for the rest of the phone I love it and recommend it to anyone.

There is a Bug in the Droid which will be fixed December 11th with an update. The Bugs prevents the Droid to autofocus in some lowerlight operation modes! It´s just an int overflow!

The Droid is worthless indoors. In a black environment its pics with the flash
cannot even be judged as to what it is taking a pic. of. Very disappointing. I
would have to guess it is a software issue. The light off of the flash is very
bright. But the camera seems to have no effective use of the light in shutter
speed and F stop. Also there is no effective linkage to auto focus.

I was sure the camera was broken until I read the above reviews,

I had the same experience so far. My outdoor shots come out fairly well to excellent, considering it is a phone, not a digital SLR.

Indoors, and in particular, any low-light situation usually gives the camera fits and results in a very poor picture.

Now, for the "It's not a camera it's a phone" responders. True, and no doubt your digital SLR walks socks all over this camera. But, I have this phone with me all the time. It's a required piece of gear for anywhere I go. So, instead of just wishing I could capture a moment when I didn't plan on seeing something to share, I can now do just that, capture it, and share it.

So this review is highly relevant, and although I didn't buy this phone for the camera, I do want it to work. The video this phone produces makes me feel strongly that it is definitely a software issue, so one of these OTA updates should fix it all.

I have the newest OTA already, and although the camera still works fairly well, there's margin for correction. I'm going to try the 2 MP setting...

Very good and well written article. If the camera is not addressed, this could very well be a "good" reason to root the Droid. Allow those XDA guys a whack at it and maybe *they* can fix the camera!!

the issue with the droid is shutter speed when the flash is ON. normally cameras default to 1/60 or so when the flash is enabled. for some reason, if you check the exif of your shots, the droid rarely goes above 1/10 in low light with the flash on. obviously, this creates the blur that you see.

I switched from a BB Storm to the Droid with the hopes of the camera being "high quality". Unfortunately the camera was the worst part of the switch. The storm has a great camera (slow to shoot but great quality). The droid camera is OK at best.

The biggest chink in the armor of the droid camera is low light shots - they are nearly black instead of compensating in some way. I am hoping someone crack this nut soon so we can enjoy the camera as much as the rest of the phone.

All I know is the camera on my former Palm Pre was just short of perfect.. It snapped pictures very quickly, and the images came out excellent (Indoors or out). My Motorola Droid.... Awful. I really hope it's a software issue that can be worked out. I do miss the camera on my Pre. The camera on the Droid is the only negative I have, and I do miss not being able to quickly take pics of my daughter at a moment's notice now.

Can someone develop a video camera with zoom feature for the droid phone add flash for video and have touch screen features the camera on the droid is crap with minimal features. Thanks

Young people today are way too easy to please. Is it any small wonder that electronics are going downhill? The camera on the droid is a complete and total joke! Why pull any punches? My 1.2 megapixel phone camera from 5 years ago took better pictures, especially in low light. The camcoder in this phone camera is even worse. This is 2010 folks. Shouldn't users be able to control how much brightness/ISO you get in a picture?

But then again young people like Obama too. So ANYTHING will please them...well except when it comes to the dating game, but fortunately I got to play the dating game in the 60s & 70s. Those were the days.