Illustration | design

Gameboy Camera quality tests

There are 2 major versions of the Gameboy Camera sensor (via thegameboycamera), as well as several revisions of the main PCB in the Camera. You would expect the ‘newer’ version to give ‘better’ quality images, but results on my (relatively small) sample size were not what I expected.

The criteria I set out to rate:

  • Sharpness: How much focus we can get, a lack of ‘blurriness’. As was pointed out to me after some annoyance with my blue and purple camera’s, the focus can be tweaked easily manually (if you can work with a screwdriver and a bit of paper). As I fixed this on several Cameras, it became obvious that sharpness is no longer a useful criterium. They can all be tweaked to be about the same sharpness and which ones are ‘sharp’ out of the box is seemingly random. A quirk of the assembly process or the tolerances used in production, I imagine.
  • Detail: How much detail you can get. Contrast and (over/under)exposure can contribute to this.
  • Low light capability: one theory is that the older sensors/board revisions should have more difficulty under less then ideal lighting conditions. That would be visible in how it handles contrast and detail, leading to darker and muddier images.
  • Light leakage: some colour shells are more or less susceptible to frequencies of light leaking in which overexpose/wash out the image and creating ‘noise’. In tests by others, the red shell lets the most of those light frequencies in. You can see in the data sheet that this is also the case for my red camera. The least leakage is said to be for the blue and green cameras. You can fix this yourself by sticking black tape around the ball to block out light frequencies.
  • Noise: I did not use this as a criterium because I find this very difficult to assess/separate from other things going on in low-density images. To my mind, it is an indirect result of more specific factors, such as contrast and exposure, how dirty the lens is or even damage. If there is very obviously noise involved, I will mark it as such but for most camera’s tested, I couldn’t really separate ‘noise’ from other criteria.

As you can read, not all of them might be useful and you might have your own ideas for extra criteria, so I invite you to look at the pictures and rate them in a way you think is right. Think of my points as a starting point.

I took 2 sets of multiple types of pictures to be able to properly compare the quality under different circumstances.
Once with a set of 5 cameras and at a later time with a set of 7 cameras (when I get a few more cameras in):

Newest set (5th of Januari 2022)

  • Garden, with overcast weather
  • Inside of porch, overcast weather, with light coming from left, multiple objects of various sizes and amount of detail
  • Book case inside living room, spot lights directly above, afternoon light coming from windows on both sides
  • Close-up of TicTac box on wooden table, with 2 sizes lettering, some small details in table & label, good contrast
  • Living room, back lit by big window in early afternoon, overcast weather

Oldest set (17th of December 2021)

  • Close-up of box of Tictacs, on the living room table in the early afternoon, with spot lights from the ceiling and 2 big windows illuminating the room
  • My dog on the couch. Low light, as the afternoon was turning into evening and a big window providing a bit of backlight and a standing light turned away from the couch to provide some ambient light from the left
  • Medium distance of junk in my porch, well-lit by the sunny afternoon light on the left. Plenty of detail on the items and some shadow.

I have 4 revision 1 Cameras and 3 revision 2 Cameras.
European ones in order of age: green (v1), red (v1), yellow (v2), blue (v2), blue (v2). The Japanese ones are both v1 and probably older than the EU versions. I can’t place them accurately because I have no idea of production and release differences, other than that the Japanese production started earlier.
All of the cameras have had their glass cleaned (using wet wipes for glasses, as well as a microfiber cloth).

Take a look at this Google Sheet to see the comparison table.

I found the results to be very interesting.

My initial idea, was that there would only be minimal quality differences between Cameras with the v1 or the v2 sensor, because of the low pixel count and the fact it was sold as a toy. But also that the differences would be linear, between older and newer Cameras.

By attempting to measure via various criteria and under different circumstances though, I found out a few things:

  • While the v2 cameras are indeed better overall, the sensor is only 1 part of the equation. There’s things like the focus issue, PCB revisions and shell colour that influence the photography as well.
  • There’s more than 1 way to look at ‘quality’. For example, the Red one could be valued as the ‘worst quality’, because it has the major light leakage problem which also makes it difficult to assess its ‘low light’ capabilities. But on the other hand, it has quite an amount of detail, especially in close-ups with average indoor lighting. It all depends on what you need for your use case.
  • The overall unpredictability adds a lot to the charm of these photos.