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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Phone vs Camera

What is the difference? 
Does it matter?

How does this topic play into product photography?

I am so glad you asked!

I will start this post by saying I did not purchase my phone for its camera... nor do I shoot any images that are important to me with it. I don't have an I-phone, I did borrow one for the sake of being fair while posting this.  I admit the I-phones do have better specs... but they are still so limited that I still feel that I can group them in with all the other camera phones and give you a solid understanding of why I feel the way I do about the use of camera phones for product photography. 

First, do you remember our sensor size handy chart?
See that small grey square - that's your sensor size compared to all the other camera sensors... now this image is obviously NOT showing you "real" size... but you can see by reading 3mm x 4mm is like smaller then your pinky nail... so no matter how many pixels are on it - they are SUPER tiny! It simply can not grab the same amount of information that even the most basic Point and Shoot (being twice as large) can. When you compare it to a DSLR  or Pro Camera well... come on! I have said before I don't consider them to be "real" camera's for a this  reason alone! Let's not even start on the quality of lens, light gathering abilities or anything else that makes a great image!

However, I know looking at this you still might not understand how a sensor with 5 or 8 mega Pixels can really be all the different in a phone, compared to a camera.. so I thought I would put it to the test for you. In the interest of fairness and full disclosure -

For the this series of images  I used my Pantech 4G LTE phone with a 5mp Camera and no flash
The DSLR I used for this shoot was my trusty (but old) D80 (only a 10mp) and 35mm 1.4 lens, however I used it in Program mode, with auto WB, and no flash unless noted.

Here are my sample images, I like many of you I shot next to a window, rather then with studio lighting, as well as with a simple piece of tag board for a background, so you can get a solid comparison.

I have done no photo shop editing, and only changed the file name.
So you can see  where I was shooting - it was roughly 8am for the first round

Cell Phone Image - Natural Light 8 am

SLR Image - Natural Light 8am No edits

SLR Image - Natural Light from Window, along with a low powered, bounced flash (pointed straight up so only reflected light from the ceiling was captured)

Cell Phone Image - Natural Light 8 am- close up

SLR Image - Natural light - Close up - 35mm fixed lens. 

 Ok. So this is as close as I can get since this isn't a "macro" lens... however.....Because the larger sensor size, better lens, and more clear image... I can crop in using Photoshop. Cropped to 4x6 at 300ppi - still without any other color balance, or editing done to the image.

Cropped Image - Here you can see the texture of the paper its so close!

 While if I take a similar image off the phone and crop the same way and crop the same distance out... we end up with

cropped image - Can YOU see the pixels?
Now.. it doesn't really matter that my camera phone says it is 8 mp. The size of the chip, the poor lens (which is plastic) along with the poor light gathering capabilities is what is causing the difference in quality for these images. You can see that the image with the bounced flash is honestly the BEST, with the truest colors, and the most pleasant to look at because it is sharper, and the light bouncing around creates a solid clean background. You can see details even though it is not a "detail" shot. This is the difference you get with better equipment and some basic knowlage of how to use it.

Now just to be perfectly fair, I wanted to give the phone a fighting chance and try it with some bright sunlight, because we know that LIGHT does MATTER! So at 10am this morning when the sun comes in my office window at it's brightest, I took these. I used the same set up. Despite the fact that the window panes cause a very distracting shadow here are the results.

Phone - Bright Sunny Day 10 am

Camera - Bright sunny day- Program Mode, No flash, No WB

 Even with the shadows from my window pane the clarity and quality are clear.

Now, I understand that I didn't have a point and shoot camera to be able to compare in the mix for you, however... depending on camera, lens options and what settings you can do with it - You can expect the results to be (not surprisingly) somewhere in the middle.

I did also have a chance to shoot my husbands brand new Iphone 5 that he has for work - unfortunately he doesn't keep it on the weekends, so the only chance I had to test was after work one afternoon. The window itself was in the shade of the overhang, still there was a solid amount of strong light coming in... not that you could really tell.

Iphone No Flash, Sunny Day 3pm

Yes, thats still the white background....

Using the built in Flash - Same window light

Still the white background. Plus, since there is no way to direct the flash, it creates a harsh shadow behind the subject. It also created a very odd line where the paper bent along the wall, and should have been seamless - it looks like a horizon line but the paper was one long slope.. so thats very odd to me.

No Flash - Macro shot with available sunlight 3pm
Macro with flash

I admit the images were more clear then I expected the lens appears more sharper then I expected. However, without the flash (which you can't bounce or control in any way other then on or off) the images were still very poor. They were better with flash, but still not great, the color was off DRASTICALLY and the flash created harsh shadows you couldn't control. So, I wouldn't tell you to go off and buy one for your imaging needs - ever! However, I admit if you already have one, it is probably as good as what you could expect from a simple point and shoot from a few years ago. Not great, or even what I would say was "good", but better then my android phone.

With the way the shadows fall, and the look of "interpretation" with the creation of the horizon line and the color differences I would be shocked if the processor (sensor) didn't have some sort of programing to help improve images. Since I am not a phone sells person I have no idea if this is true - but it certainly didn't act like a normal camera under the same conditions. If anyone is really curious let me know and I will find the answer.

The results:

If your phone is the only option you have - I suggest you visit your local used camera store and see what is out there for a year or two old point and shoot or mid range camera - I have seen some good ones  online like on  Adorama for $50- $80 - it would be a whole lot easier then investing in a phone tripod, and imaging apps/software to edit, maybe lighting, or product tent kits, or even a new phone. Many of them would have fantastic white balancing, macro and even the possibility to work with additional flash!

There was a day when used digital (especially point and shoot) wasn't worth it - but not any more. For core imaging needs you can pick up a good quality used or refurbished camera if you don't have money for a new one and feel good about your purchase! I recently picked up a used DSLR for my nephews digital photo class - all in we spent $400 to set him up with cards, basic lens, Nikon entry level body, bag, battery and charger. Really a solid investment, as long as he doesn't skateboard with it.

Plus, once you have solid product images selling your items becomes SO much easier! The more you sell the faster you pay off the camera (oh and yes - it would be a business write off for taxes!)

Again the Phone Charm featured in these images was created by Crafty Gal Creations. Please do not pin those images without adding her information! If you wish to purchase similar items please visit her shop!


  1. I know a few shop owners who use their cameras to do product photography. It usually turns out okay, but not to the quality of the photos I've seen from you... I have a pretty nice phone, and I love the camera on it, but I still don't think I would ever consider using it for product shots... Congrats on meeting your goal by the way. (From your other post!) :D :D

  2. Love this post! Thats my one problem! I have a digital camera, but the convince of my phone is always on and at my side! I will start using my digital camera starting this week!