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As a long time user of Apple products I for one really appreciate the amount of time that goes into not only the functionality and ease of use of their products, but also the industrial design. I think a lot of users choose Apple products because they do what they are supposed to do, but they also look cool! The iPhone is no exception. It's a beautiful product. As a person in both the graphic design and photography industry, looks are important to me too. I upgraded to the iPhone 4 for all the obvious reasons. However, there was one feature that was very high on my list and that was the improved 5MP camera that also shoots 720p HD video. I had already pretty much stopped carrying a point and shoot camera. If the video was as good as Apple claimed on the iPhone 4 I figured I could pretty much stop carrying a separate video camera too. After I got my iPhone 4 setup, naturally one of the first things I tried was the camera. I gotta say that I was extremely disappointed. My photos appeared to have a very very very yellow/orange tint (color cast) to them. As a professional photographer, I knew the problem revolved around the iPhone 4's auto white balance. However, with the iPhone camera there are no controls for this. It's factory set to auto white balance and there was definitely something horribly wrong with mine.

For the sake of doing a sanity check, I compared my new iPhone 4 to my iPhone 3GS and the difference was night and day. This problem also only seemed to affect the rear (5MP camera). Shots taken under the same lighting with the front camera were fine. As a matter of fact, the rear camera is fine too under natural light situations. The shots taken outside are gorgeous. No complaints there! 


I wasn't alone

My family bought four iPhone 4's (some from Apple, some from AT&T) on launch day. All four were having this problem. I went to Apple's Discussion Forums to see if others were having this problem and unfortunately there are dozens if not hundreds of users having this problem. I also saw an article on Macworld's website about the problem too. At first it appeared to be a problem with ALL iPhone 4s. However, after a little more digging I found people that were starting to chime in and saying that their iPhone 4's were fine. Even a few friends of mine said that they weren't having the problem. I wasn't quite convinced yet because unless you were shooting under the right conditions, you wouldn't notice the problem. It wasn't until someone on Apple's discussion forums posted side-by-side shots from two different iPhone 4's (one having the issue and one not having the issue) that I believed that this wasn't a problem that affected all iPhone 4s. This meant that I now had a decision to make. The decision was to either live with the problem until Apple fixes it via a software update or try for an exchange. The problem with an exchange is that some people in the forums had tried for exchanges (some as many as 6 times) and still hadn't got one that worked. I decided to wait for the July 16th press conference to see if Apple would even acknowledge the issue. While they did acknowledge the Proximity Sensor issue, unfortunately they didn't mention the white balance issue at all (and to this date, still haven't publicly said anything about it). I called AppleCare that afternoon and setup an advanced return. 



No luck with AppleCare

I received two replacements for two of my family's iPhone 4's and BOTH replacements had the exact same problem. Just to make sure that it wasn't an issue of corrupted data or some other weird problem with the restore process, I pulled one of the replacements out of the box, popped my MicroSIM card in and just plugged it into iTunes long enough for it to activate (NO RESTORE). Then I unplugged it (none of my data had been restored yet) and fired up the camera. The yellow tint was still there. I did the same thing for the other replacement. Same results. I went ahead with the restore process and called AppleCare. At this point AppleCare said that there was no sense in sending another replacement and that I was better off heading to my local store. That way I could test the phone before leaving the store to make sure I had a good one. I agreed, but there was one problem with this plan. The Yellow problem doesn't really show up under the Apple Store lighting at my store. The only way to reproduce it was to recreate the indoor lighting conditions that were causing the problem. This would mean bringing in a small light box and a regular household lamp. Sigh…

Why go to all this trouble? Because Looks Do Matter! Including the looks of MY photos and video!  I didn't want to have to go back and forth on this issue any more than I already had. Some have had as many as 6 replacements without getting a good one. I don't have the time to go back and forth day after day trying to get one that works. So if it meant bringing in a small collapsable light box and a small light to do this in one trip, I was willing to make that effort. After I got to the store and saw someone bringing in their 27" iMac for their in-store One-To-One training session, I felt like what I was carrying in was nothing 🙂


My Apple Store to the Rescue

First I contacted my Apple Store and told them of the situation and what I wanted to do. Luckily they were agreeable to this. So I brought in a small, colapsible light box (one that I use for product photography) and a very small table lamp with a standard household bulb. My Apple Store Genius "Dave" met me at one of the training tables with two iPhone 4 replacements to start with. I showed him the difference between my iPhone 3GS and my iPhone 4 and he could see it as clear as day. Just for kicks he tried his own iPhone 4 in the light box and yes his had the Yellow problem too.


After Two Tries – A Very Happy Ending

My iPhone 4 on the left and my new replacement iPhone 4 on the right

We took the first replacement out of the box and put the MicroSIM in from my iPhone 4. Then we just plugged it into iTunes long enough to activate it. After that we fired up the camera and sigh, it was just as yellow as mine. So back in the box that iPhone 4 went. On to the next one…….. wait for it……EUREKA! The next iPhone 4 worked! It was fine under the household light. It looked just as good as the iPhone 3GS! I cheered! High-fives and all. I left the store with a working iPhone 4 and I'm now happy to take it out and shoot stills or video any time I need to. As a matter of fact I'm just returning from an annual family reunion and while I shot 99% of the stills with my Nikon DSLR, I shot 100% of the video with my iPhone 4!

Here's a shot of the same subject above, taken with my iPhone 4 replacement and while it's not quite perfect or as good as the 3GS, it's a lot closer to what it should be:


The Bottom Line

Before you leave any comments on this post, let me start off by telling you there's no need to comment if your iPhone 4 is working fine. I believe you! If I didn't think that there were some units out there that worked, I wouldn't have tried to get a replacement in the first place. Secondly, it's still very possible that Apple can and will fix this with a software update. While I do believe that this IS a hardware defect in some of the iPhone 4s out there, it should still be able to be addressed with a software fix. The reason I think it's a hardware problem is simply because if it were a software problem all of the iPhone 4s would have this issue since they are ALL running the same software.

Is it really that big of a deal? To me it is! I paid for my iPhone 4 and I want to use one of the main features that I bought it for no matter what the lighting conditions are. You may not feel that way and that's fine. It's ok that it's not important to you. Had Apple acknowledged the issue, I may have been willing to wait. While I might have even been willing to live it and correct the still shots later in post production, there was no way that I was going to want to have to color correct the videos too.

Why isn't this issue getting more press/attention? My guesses are:

1) 1st off there is no way to know how wide spread this issue is and clearly it doesn't affect all iPhone 4s. 

2) Even those that have the issue may not even know they have it unless they've taken shots indoors with no natural light under the lighting conditions that cause the issue (using the LED flash doesn't matter).

3) Those that have noticed it (like the rest of my family and some of my friends), don't care enough to worry about it and probably haven't even reported it to Apple as an issue. Or they are waiting for Apple to issue a software fix to correct it.

4) Those that have reported and even gone as far as gotten replacements, haven't gotten one that works and have given up or they got one that works and have moved on.

I just can't believe this?  That's OK 🙂 However, have a look at Apple's own iPhone 4 page regarding the NEW camera. Even their own photo is leaning towards the yellow side in the flesh tones. Granted, it's not nearly as bad as other examples shown above and around the web, but it's on the yellow side (look at her face) nonetheless:


Thank you!

I want to personally thank Dave and the Somerset Apple Store for making me a happy iPhone 4 user!

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8 Responses to iPhone 4: Looks Do Matter

  1. Peter Gamba says:

    I have had four IPhone 4’s. Not a camera issue, though a couple of them were yellowish. Mostly mine were reception and or headset/microphone issues. One was just plain glitchy out of the box. I would guess, when it is all said and done, and this is just my humble opinion, that Apple changed manufacturers and components and the quality control that once was is no longer there. If the IPhone 4 was their first IPhone, I seriously doubt that they would have had the success among the public that they have now. If a Verizon phone is launched, I can’t imagine how much of a headache that will cause them if the quality is not checked and checked again. To all that are not satisfied with their phones, be pro-active. It is a 500-600 dollar phone. You deserve quality at that price point

  2. Calvin says:

    My assumption is that you do not have the ability to grab a sheet of white material and white balance the camera on the phone. It must be automatic?

  3. Kris says:

    Thanks for keeping this issue alive. I’ve had three replacements to fix the yellow-cast issue. However, my phone also suffers from a “green” halo effect: pictures with light backgrounds (white wall) exhibit a green halo around the center of the image. It’s not as noticeable as the yellow-cast, so I haven’t bothered to replace my phone, but it’s definitely there.

  4. Aud says:

    I’m having the same problem. When I called apple today the guy said they were aware of the issue and were researching it. I went to the local store for a replacement but the service guy was insistent that it wasn’t a problem. This is frustrating. One of the main reasons I got this was for the camera and video which supposedly work so great in low light. Yeah it works, but it turns everything orange and yellow! First experience with apple=not so hot.

  5. Lawrence says:

    just got one today and the greenish hue right smack in the middle of a pic taken with white background really disappointed me.

  6. Peter Dean says:

    I did the 3GS / 4 comparison too, results are the same as yours. 32 pages of similar unhappy early adopters of iPhone4 on Apples forum > suggest it is pretty widespread. Could it be a hardware problem, because if it was only software AWB issue they could have sneaked it under the radar with iOS 4.1 update. Adding the gimmicky HDR to a flawed camera is not what was needed here. Looks like only a replacement phone at the Apple store will sort this.