What was the state of cellphone video camera quality in 2007?

I’m watching an episode from late 4th season of 2 & 1/2 Men. For those who don’t know, it was a sitcom with Charlie Sheen as a playboy Charlie in a Malibu beach house, with Jon Cryer as the brother Alan who comes to live with him. The episode starts out with Charlie getting a date cancelled, then Alan going to deliver his last alimony check in person to his ex-wife. Since Charlie is then available, he tags along & says he’ll take videos of Alan handing over the check with a camera he’s already got on him which he was planning to record his sexcapade with. We don’t see it so it must be a compact one, in his pocket.
While not showing Charlie as particularly technically skilled, the show presented him as a rich playboy who had $$$ just fall into his lap; I am OK technically but not bleeding edge trendy; so in 2007 when this episode aired (and presumably filmed just months before), I know I had a cellphone which had pretty good video resolution even on a basic model. But Charlie clearly says he’s already carrying a separate camera on him, rather than something like ‘I’ve got my cellphone on me, I’ll video it’.
So I don’t remember the particulars from 16 years ago but would it have been worth it for a guy to carry around a camera separately from a cellphone which presumably he had? He doesn’t say anything specifically about not having a cellphone, and with all the disposable income it’d be reasonable to assume he isn’t stuck with an older model with low video quality. I haven’t done what he was going to do, film a sexcapade, but was the video quality gap between a post-2005 cellphone camera and separate video camera so big that it’d be worth it to take a separate camera along? If we’re talking megapixels, were there so many more megapixels in a separate pocket camera than what was available for a good cellphone camera to justify needing to bring it? Was it a case of the cellphone only capable of 480p & the separate camera capable of 1080p? Remember he’s filming 2 people in bed presumably, not taking outdoor vistas or a general-release movie.

Not only resolution, but also capacity, might have been an issue. You could record a video on a 2007 phone, but not a very long one.

A good cultural benchmark to have mentally bookmarked is that the first gen iphone came out in 2007. It had a 2MP camera and could not do video. There were probably better phone cameras out of Japan at the time, but not dramatically so.

The problem wasn’t pixels but the write speed of flash media. If you wanted to record video at the time it had to be on tape or you had to pay a lot of money for optical or magnetic storage. Flash media didn’t have the bandwidth to record at a generally acceptable framerate/resolution combo.

What phone did you have?

I think you’re forgetting how bad camera technology was in 2007 (understandable, since it’s advanced so much). The first proper HD camcorder didn’t come out until 2007. And that was only 1080i, not 1080p! It would not have fit in a pocket by any means.

Cell phones had terrible video quality, if they supported it at all. 320x240 resolution at maybe 15 fps. 480p would be a dream. Compact cameras supported 480p, or something close to it, though still not at the quality we’d expect today.

After a bit of googling, the Nokia N95 (heh, covid) was one of the first phones that could do VGA resolution at 30fps. It used Carl Zeiss optics and was a technical marvel, basically a digital camera with a phone added to it. It also came out in 2007 and sold for $750 (the iPhone was 5 to 600).

In 2007, I had a smartphone that could record video, but it was the kind of video quality you get on the cheapest 0.3MP webcams. I carried a separate digital compact camera for shooting video (I don’t remember the model - maybe something by Canon - it had a maximum video resolution of 640 x 480 and this was good enough for creating online video at the time. Higher resolution video (800 x 600 or maybe 1024 x 768) was available, but I couldn’t afford it. Video resolutions at that time tended to follow computer monitor resolution standards such as VGA/SVGA, rather than being their own set of standards

As far as I remember, it was pretty crappy.

God, I hate the noughties. It’s the least favorite decade of my life.

Went to DPreview.com - it was defunct, but still has a good camera guide databas. I picked randomly the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T2 (released 2007) which lists 640x480 30fps video capability. Almost about as good resolution as original broadcast TV. Does not mention audio. This was an 8Mp camera. My experience with cameras back then (just generally, not for “winning!” applications) was that autofocus was slow, and unrelieable in low light, and video tended to blur in low light. Quite often my night shots, the camera would continuously “seek” to autofocus.

By comparison, the Olympus E3 relesed 2007 also, was a SLR-style big camera with 10Mp and no videography.

As mentioned, the original iPhone Jan, 2007 had also 640x480 30fps apparently with audio. I can’t really say, but I doubt the low-light capabilities were much better than dedicated cameras… i.e. poor.

The first iPhone didn’t have video. That wasn’t until the 3GS in 2009 (and was 640x480 @ 30 fps, as you said).

It also wasn’t available till June 2007 (not January).

Here’s some sample video from the Noka N90, released in 2005 and one of the highest-end camera phones at the time. It was expensive and huge (compared to other phones of the day):

The quality is not good. The resolution is bad, it’s nowhere close to 30 fps, the white balance and exposure controls are terrible, it has no stabilization features, and so on. A small dedicated camera would have been much better at the time.

That’s the sticking point - tho I’m a techie (i.t. config, database analysis) I don’t feel the need to go out & get the leading-edge gadgets. An analogy would be update vs. upgrade - so back in '04 when I moved x-country I kept my digital camera as it was satisfying enough for hikes, parties, playing ball, etc. - anywhere I’d want to take pics & video to remember. At that time, the cellphone was the Motorola flip which had a camera and good enough video to ID someone but probly lower-quality like 380p. There were some improvements offered by the market in the next year - what I call updates, but nothing spectacular enough to warrant ditching the current phone. When the smartphone came out i.e. connecting to the internet, that was a big change & merited an upgrade. I didn’t run out & get one the 1st week like the Iphone freaks (I’m Android, anyway) but I compromised my normal rule of waiting a while for bugs to be ironed out; so, it might have been only a couple months after the smart-phones became mainstream that I got one from a respected company in general & the model which bugs were reported on Cnet but nothing seriously bad. I had that one a few years & only replaced when AT&T had a deal for a free slightly better smartphone with a 2-year contract - still have that one.
So overall with the good answers I got about write time to flash memory and capacity, I can admit it would be worth carrying a small digital one around for something special; later on in the episode we see he does indeed have a small camera to take pics, not a cellphone. I originally thought that filming a sexcapade, the subject would be up close & personal and the quality of the cellphone cams thus good enough at close range. I also didn’t have the experience of that filming, Pornhub was in its infancy or a reliable other site wasn’t around, so the few amateur ones I saw looked good - probly with a digital camera, not cellphone tho. After the answers given, I can see why to carry an extra device in 2007.

the richest person could avoid use a DV device at that periods. Nokia N93 provides 480p@30fps.


Here’s the detail from iPhone (Original/1st Gen/EDGE) 4, 8, 16 GB Specs (A1203, MA712LL/A*, N/A, iPhone1,1): EveryiPhone.com

I assume they know what they’re talking about, but if you have a more authoratative source, I stand corrected.

Apple iPhone (Original/1st Gen/EDGE) 4, 8, 16 GB Specs

*Please note that the iPhone was announced on January 9, 2007, but shipped on June 29, 2007. The 16 GB model was introduced February 5, 2008.
Apple reports that the iPhone supports “H.264 video, up to 1.5 Mbps, 640 by 480 pixels, 30 frames per second, Low-Complexity version of the H.264 Baseline Profile with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats; H.264 video, up to 768 Kbps, 320 by 240 pixels, 30 frames per second, Baseline Profile up to Level 1.3 with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats; MPEG-4 video, up to 2.5 Mbps, 640 by 480 pixels, 30 frames per second, Simple Profile with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats.”

One fun aspect of watching older movies and shows is identifying the tech and thinking “oh, so it’s that era.” I’m old enough to have had or used some of that tech. A friend of mine had the same model and same colour of video camera as used in the first Back to the Future movie with the miniature VHS-C cassettes. And youngsters will often remark about some plot point “why didn’t they just use a cellphone?”

That’s just playback, not capture. You can still read the original announcement:

They talk about the 2 MB camera, and that it can play videos from iTunes. But nothing about capturing video.

Thank you.

I guess wording matters there… Ignorance fought.

I powered up my original iPhone, and I can confirm that even with the final OS update (iOS 3.1.3), the built-in Camera app takes stills only.

It does put a live preview on-screen, so in theory a third-party app could have eventually recorded video (the App Store came into being in 2008 with iOS 2.0). However, between the flash size and speed and the CPU, it wouldn’t have been storing much video - uncompressed or compressed. Uncompressed video (which would be pretty simple for the CPU) would be 18MB/s for a fairly low-def 640x480 at 16 bits per pixel of color information and 30 frames per second. Assuming the flash can even sustain that speed, it’d burn through 4GB in less than 4 minutes (and the original iPhone could be purchased with 4, 8 or 16GB of storage). Compressing the video would lower the flash transfer-speed requirement (or allow better quality for the same throughput) but with just a single-core 32-bit ARM CPU at 400MHz and 128MB of RAM, realtime video encoding would have been questionable as well.

Totally impossible for something like h.264. I was a huge advance to get chips with dedicated video encoding circuitry capable of it. It cost a lot of die space but there was no alternative then.

Some simpler encoders might have been possible. I’m skeptical that it could have ever hit 640x480x30, but I can’t rule it out completely.

In 2007 I’m sure he would have had a separate camera device other than his phone. Phones could take pictures, but not well.

My camera in 2007 was a 2005 Fujifilm F10, which was a midrange point and shoot. It could do video at 640x480@30fps. That was pretty standard for the time for something pocketable, but not exactly great.

I’m pretty sure it recorded in motion jpeg. Each frame is a jpeg image, so the resolution is limited by how fast a jpeg can be encoded and stored. So even though the camera had 6 megapixels, the movies were only 0.3 megapixels.

Adding to the downside of a phone, was the general clunkiness of getting images and video off the phone. If it was saved to a card, then you could just move that to a computer, but often the only option (other than SMS) was to connect the phone by a cable to your computer. If you were very lucky, the phone showed up as a new drive, but more likely there was some really bad software from the phone maker that let you backup contacts and download media.

I’m sure for someone with money something better than a phone or my F10 could be found. So, to answer the OP, Charlie almost certainly would have had something better than his phone. Probably something sold to him by a cute clerk in a camera store.

ETA: Also, by 2007 digital cameras had been around for long enough that people would have been familiar with them, but uncommon enough to carry that the excuse (and joke) that he had it to make a sex tape would help explain why he just happened to have one with him.