Thursday, February 3, 2011

Cell Phone Cameras Come of Age

Click to view larger

I've been experimenting recently with the iPhone 4's camera capabilities. This technology is a great image acquisition device for multiple reasons. In this age of digital cameras, there are several options when it comes to what level of device you choose to carry. For specific subjects, a full-sized DSLR is often necessary. A less-cumbersome point-and-shoot can often fill the bill. And then there is the everyday, I've-got-no-photography-planned time we tend to exist in.

We carry a cell phone almost constantly, so it is not an additional item to bring along like the aforementioned dedicated cameras. Fortunately, the quality level of cell-phone cameras has steadily increased to the point that it can capture serviceable imagery. What makes the iPhone unique, however, is that—besides the fact that it is primarily a telecommunications device—its functionality can be enhanced by downloaded apps. This expanded capability makes it both a sophisticated camera and digital darkroom in one compact form factor.

There is another interesting trait this device possesses: Its very immediacy via its portability and limited features imbues the cell phone camera with a nonchalance of use that I don't sense with dedicated cameras. If you're toting a dedicated camera around, it's likely that your image-capturing perception is purposely focused. An iPhone camera is a constant companion that can be utilized as simply as making a phone call. As a result, I find myself shooting imagery that I never would have considered in the past. In other words, it frees you up to casually capture the world around you.

Click to view larger

I'm not tied to doing all of my image adjustment with the iPhone's apps. I frequently download the images to my desktop machine and perform further refinement in Photoshop. However, there are apps that can massage the initial images to take them beyond the iPhone camera's native specifications. For example, the 5-megapixel iPhone camera captures images at 2592x1936 resolution.

This native resolution can be increased via stitching multiple shots together with apps like Cloudburst Research's Autostitch. Autostitch allows you to shoot multiple overlapping images in any any order or arrangement. Autostitch's intelligent algorithms analyze the selected photos and create a seamless result. Images of up to 18 megapixels are possible. Below are a few examples. I've left the unfinished edges on some examples to show how Autostitch composites multiple overlapping photos:

Click to view larger

Click to view larger

Click to view larger

Click to view larger


Another panorama app with a twist is Boinx Software's You Gotta See This. YGST creates a David Hockney-style overlapping collage by having the user point the iPhone camera at the intended scene and wave the camera during exposure:

Click to view larger


For low-light situations, I've been using Pictional LLC's TrueHDR. This app takes 2 photos in quick succession, capturing one exposure for shadows and one for highlights. The images are then merged, providing a wider tonal range than an individual exposure is capable of:

Click to view larger


Yet another app I've been having fun with is Dominik Seibold's Average Camera Pro. This app automatically takes multiple pictures (immediately or after a timer expires), calculates the average picture out of these and normalizes the result, to make the lightest pixel become white. The result is a highly noise-reduced image. It's great for low-light situations containing non-moving subjects.

I decided that I'd go outside the box of this app's intent and used it to capture the traffic and roadside lighting in a moving vehicle (my wife was driving). I even waved the camera in front of the LCD-lit display of the car radio during a couple of the exposures. Average Camera is capable of up to 32 successive exposures:

Click to view larger


Even when an image has visible noise, it is the perfect starting point for expressive interpretation with painting apps like Photoshop CS5 or Painter. Photography sensation Chase Jarvis coined the phrase, "The best camera is the one you have with you". Cell phone cameras certainly fit this definition.

No comments:

Post a Comment