Camera Phones

I wouldn't give up my Nikons without a fight, but, sometimes, I can't take them with me.  I've been all over the country during the last few weeks for family reasons.  For part of the travel, I was without even my P6000 point-and-shoot.   Since there are no acceptable excuses for a lack of photography, I switched to the Droid phone for the tail-end of the travel. A phone camera discussion on a photoblog?!  Sure; why not?  Phone cameras are ubiquitous.  Everyone has one, and they are using them.  Probably including you.  I was a late-comer to using my camera phone and still don't use it often.  However, I'd rather use a Droid camera than no camera.

For many folks, phone cameras are their only cameras.  Unfortunately, most of these photos never see the light of day.  People rarely download them and everything is lost the phone is damaged or when it's time for a new phone.  Don't let this happen to you - download your photos.  Then, you can put them into a photo-management program like Lightroom, Aperture, or whatever else you prefer.

Today's phone cameras are actually pretty good.  They sport higher resolution than the first digital cameras of just a decade ago.  Hold them steady, in good light, and you have a camera that doesn't require a separate bag; keeps you inconspicuous in a crowd; and you can keep in touch with the family at the same time.

Like all tools, you need to understand their limitations.  Their sensors are very small, which means you're going to have some noise unless there is lots of light.  They have wide lenses, making images with a wide depth of field - not the best for portraits with blurred backgrounds.   Since they have fixed lenses, they can only zoom digitally, which reduces the image data.  And - oh, no! - they produce JPGs.

Spaceship tower on building

Experiment to learn your phone camera's characteristics.  My Droid camera seems to be a little contrasty; noisy in low light; and always has a wide depth of field.  I adjust my shooting to minimize its disadvantages.

Since abstracts are more about shapes and colors, you can shoot without worrying too much about the disadvantages of your phone camera.  In this shot, there are windows from three different eras.  The wide depth of field keeps everything sharp, and the nice light just after sunrise gave me some interesting color.

Windows abstract

The distortion of the wide angle lens and the digital noise keep me from shooting many portraits.  There are times, however, when the phone camera is all I have.  You have to take the shot.

boy looking at toys

I tend to shoot snapshots of things to come back to - you know, when I have a "real" camera.  I don't have a real good track record, though, of always returning, and, even if you do go back to a previous scene, it will probably look different than what originally caught your eye.  Which means I may work on an image I've taken on the Droid to enhance it some.  Camera phone photos deserve post-processing, too, ya know.

Here's an example of what I mean - this image is right out of the camera.  It's in Boston, where the modern Hancock Building sits right next to an old church.  I like the way they designed the building.  It reflects the old, and the reflections reduce the impact of its size, so close to the much smaller church.

The wide angle lens distortion is visible in the slanted buildings.  I don't like the fluorescent signs.  The building is in shadow, so it's a little dark and a little too blue.

phone camera photo of church in Boston, MA

When I took it into Lightroom, I was able to crop out the splotch of light on the sidewalk and one of those signs.  That helps, but I had to lose the edge of the Hancock Building.  I warmed up the color balance and put some more light into the shadows.

phone camera photo of church in Boston, MA, modified in Lightroom

In Photoshop, I cloned out the signs, so my new crop gives me back the edge of the building, giving more dimensionality and more reflections.  I adjusted the perspective to reduce the building lean.

phone camera photo of church in Boston, MA, modified in Photoshop

I wouldn't trade my Nikons for the Droid camera, but being caught with only the Droid is not a reason to despair.  You can do just fine with your camera phone.  Your post-processing skills can help enhance the results.  This last photo is a panoramic merge of three photos.  As we always say, learn your tools and go have fun.

phone camera panorama