New iPhone 4S camera sharp

— -- The camera features of Apple's new iPhone 4S are one of the two standouts that differentiate the new model, along with the voice-activated personal assistant, Siri.

But are the pictures and videos so much better that they'd make you want to upgrade?

They are substantially better, especially the video. Whether that's worth investing in the iPhone 4S and a new service contract is up to you. It's certainly a big improvement over what was already a pretty nice point-and-shoot camera in the iPhone 4.

Here's a closer look:

•The iPhone 4S has an 8-megapixel image sensor, up from the 5-megapixel camera of the iPhone 4. The extra resolution means you can make larger blow-ups for your prints and crop more liberally.

•The lens has a wider 2.4 F-stop opening to let in more light. That will produce much better photos in low light and indoor situations.

•Also, the image processor for the iPhone 4S is the same chip that's used for the iPad 2. Apple says that means the camera operations will run faster.

•You now have the ability to move the camera in more for close-up macro shots.

•Snapping photos can now also be done on the volume-up button, which allows for steadier shots.

•Video resolution has improved to 1080p high-definition, up from 720p.

Eight megapixels is a step up, but the average point-and-shoot camera now has 14 megapixels, says Chris Chute, an analyst at researcher IDC.

Two more features you'll miss if you opt for an iPhone 4S instead of a point-and-shoot: There's no optical zoom, which is a flaw that needs to be addressed in future models, and the flash is greatly inferior to what you'll find on a stand-alone camera.

The reality about camera phones is that most have produced lousy images over the years. People still use them because they always have their phone.

So this souped-up camera in the iPhone is most welcome.

•The added oomph from the wider lens opening produces better color and a brighter image. This is more noticeable for inside photos rather than outside ones in lots of light.

•Despite Apple claims to the contrary, there is still shutter lag. How could a point-and-shoot not have it? If you're hoping to take pictures of your kids running through the backyard, making an important baseball pitch, jumping off a diving board — odds are you could miss the perfect shot.

Bottom line: The iPhone 4S is not the first phone to offer an 8-megapixel sensor. The Motorola Droid Bionic and Samsung Galaxy S II both already have it. Nor is it the first to have 1080p HD video such as that available from the Samsung Galaxy S. But then again, neither of those devices is the beloved iPhone, the most popular and coveted smartphone in the world.

That said, the images on the new iPhone are substantially better, but I wouldn't want to leave my point-and-shoot or DSLR camera at home for an important occasion, such as a vacation.

Overall, the biggest improvement is in the video. The footage it captures looks crisper and sharper, thanks to the wider lens opening, improvements in the lens itself and image stabilization. If you watch the video, which I shot in Hermosa Beach on roller blades, you'll see that it looks almost as though it was made on a steadicam. I'm impressed. This is the best video quality I've seen on a point-and-shoot.