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The i of the retina
June 16th, 2010 by scaredpoet

Ironically, a mere two hours before the great iPhone theft debacle that occurred earlier this week, I was busy photographing my beloved (and now lost) cell phone for a little project I wanted to work on.

In particular, I wanted to see just what kind of a difference there is between the previous model’s screen, and that of the new iPhone 4.  One of the new model’s oft-touted features is the retina display, which is purported to offer a resolution so high that the human eye can’t make out individual pixels.

Whether this is true or not is subject to heated debate in the blog and pundit arena. But I’m willing to bet that although my own naked eyes might not be able to make out individual pixels on the new iPhone, I think I know an eye that can.

With the right optics and magnification, my current 18 Megapixel digital camera should be able to give me what I’m looking for: the ability to really compare, pixel-for-pixel, between the existing iPhone 3GS display and the new iPhone 4.  While I still don’t have an iPhone 4 to test with, I figured I might as well get the first subject – the previous model – ready for its closeup, and then compare when I ultimately could get my hands on the new one.

And so, I got to work setting up the lab…

My Canon EOS T2i was fitted with an EF-S 60mm macro lens, and mounted directly above a comfortably-resting iPhone 3GS at the closest distance this lens will focus: 0.2 meters.  Simple enough, and pretty straightforward as seen from the image above.  Though I think the title shot, taken with lights-out over 25 seconds, with only the camera’s red-eye light and the iPhone display providing the lighting, makes it much more dramatic looking.

The actual shots themselves were taken in complete darkness (aside from the display of course) and the camera set to 100 ISO.  And the phone’s display brightness was set to full.

So how did it look?  See for yourself…

Hmm, that does seem pretty grainy, doesn’t it?  Well, We haven’t even scratched the surface.  This is a hugely-downsampled version of the original image, which you can download here.  But, in case you have a slow internet connection, here’s an enlargement of a small section of the image:


And now, we can see through the power of high-end digital photography, that the iPhone 3GS screen is pretty damned pixelated!

There are more images after the cut, showing additional examples of the screen at close range and at angles.  With any luck, I’ll be able to repeat this experiment with a brand new iPhone, and see what kind of difference a retina display can make.



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