I have to admit that I’m not immune to taking the odd picture on my iPhone, (you can see my ‘Pre-Harvest’ and ‘Cambridge’ pictures here) however, having an understanding of the limitations is very useful in getting reasonable results.
A mobile phone records images totally digitally through what is virtually a pinhole onto a tiny light sensor. Phone manufacturers will con you into believing that the higher the megapixel count, the better the image quality will be. This is purely a marketing ploy. Imagine trying to cram 12 million (12MP) dots onto an area of about .75cm x 1cm. This is the size of the sensor in an average compact camera. Now reduce that size by 1/8 and you have the size of a sensor in a phone. It has to be that small as there is so little distance for the light to travel from the lens to the sensor. Because of this, something has to give and that’s image quality. Photos from phones are very noisy. Clever image processing reduces the noise but only where there is plenty of light such as in the daytime. Also phone screens are small compared with a computer so we don’t notice the noise (graining) as much.
Time and again at parties I see people trying to take group pictures with a mobile phone only to be dissapointed that the picture is so dark and unsharp. The light that flashes on a phone is not a true flash and has nowhere near the power output of a camera flash. It’s literally no more than an LED torch. This means not enough light carries the distance required to take a satisfactory group photo at a party in darkened conditions. The picture is usually full of colour noise, grain and blurry movement.
Whilst the flash on a compact camera is far more powerful than a phone light/flash, it is still only enough to light a subject between 6-8ft away. It is better than a phone for taking pictures at parties however, and most compacts have a party mode in the list of programs. This will increase the cameras sensitivity to light in darker conditions such as a party. Making the camera more sensitive to light does induce some noise but a party program mode will restrain the sensitivity to a limit, therefore a compact camera is always going to provide a superior picture than a phone camera.
As technology improves, so does the noise reducing processing. Current compacts should be reasonably adapt for taking nice party snaps. When purchasing, alway opt for the lowest megapixel count. Good quality 10MP images can easily be enlarged to A1 sized prints – far larger than the average person needs so don’t be fooled by megapixel marketing myths.
Most of all, enjoy the festive season and remember, phones are for speaking!!
Simon Lane LBIPP