CameraPhone vs DSLR

It has been reported that more than 60% of American consumers have a mobile phone that includes a camera.  Many professional photographers use camera phones as a convenient alternative to their normal bulky pro cameras. 

Here is a quick comparison between a cell-phone camera image and a DSLR image.  The camera phone is a an LG with a touch screen and a high-quality Schneider lens.  The DSLR is a Canon with a relatively old/inexpensive Canon lens.

The first scene (Pig Barn) was shot under full sun with a high amount of overall contrast.  With both the camera phone and the camera, the overall exposure is about right.  However, the camera phone badly over-exposed the highlights.  The sky is completly blown out, as well as some rooftops and some local features on people. This cannot be corrected in post-processing.  The color is good, except that the white trim on the barn shows a magenta cast.  In the camera-phone image, the shadow areas show less noise than the DSLR.  Curiously, the sign on the barn shows good sharpness and contrast, somewhat over-sharpened, but the side of the barn lacks sharpness.

The second scene (Canadian Mounted Police) was shot inside with relatively low light.  With the assitance of an LED flash, the camera phone still cannot achieve a sharp picture.  And again, the camera phone over-exposes the highlights.  The DSLR, set to ISO 1250, captures a very nice image without assistance from any flash at all. 

 (What a lovely smile, eh?)

The camera-phone, using auto white-balance, produces color that seems overly blue.  On this matter, the DSLR wins handily thanks to custom color-balance.  Color-balance was specifically set in advance for the light here in this arena; the result may be just a tad warm, but is generally pleasing. 

One other point of comparison is that the camera phone is difficult if not impossible to see in bright sun.  The LCD display screen on any camera can suffer the same problem, but the traditional viewfinder eyepiece (a characteristic of an SLR) is immune to this.

So, for me personally … having a half-decent camera always available in my phone is an enabling technology … but a camera-phone cannot replace my camera-camera.  While this particular camera phone is widely reported to create “above average” image quality, there are still some issues  regarding image quality and usability. 

[ Click on any image above for a larger view. ]

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WorldWide PhotoWalk

Today was the third annual WorldWide PhotoWalk, sponsored by Scott Kelby.  Although I volunteered to lead a walk in Rockport, someone else beat me to it.  So, instead, I joined someone else’s walk in Boston.

Because we walked through the streets of Beacon Hill in Boston, there were a lot of architectural photographs.  One image I am including here is a wide angle, tight crop, and at an odd angle in order to completely fill the frame.

Click the image for a larger view.

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Art Wolfe seminar

Art Wolfe is one of the most famous photographers working today, in part because of his television series Travels to the Edge. I had the opportunity to attend his recent tour as he visited the Boston area.

Art formally studied painting. Interestingly, he draws inspiration from many painters, such as Hopper, Manet, Escher, etc. In numerous examples, Art showed an image by one of these famous painters and then showed some of his photo images which he created specifically because he saw echoes of these painters. Quite interesting really. I have never seen this from any other photographer.

Art readily admits to being technically challenged. He uses Lightroom, but does not know anything about the computer he is using. He has assistants for that sort of stuff. If Art Wolfe was forced to listen to Scott Kelby or George Lepp for ten minutes … well, let’s just say it would not be pretty.

Apart from “My Favorite Lenses”, he did not talk much about equipment. Mostly spoke about composition, patterns, color, light, etc. Different than most seminars. I enjoyed it.

Art often feeds on numerous themes filed in his head. Animal migrations, tribal body painting, etc. Surprisingly, his next book is about dogs. While this may seem a bit trite, it is not quite what you might think. He is drawing from his thousands of existing photos … Burma, Chile, Tibet, even the Yanomamo tribe. (Does not include your Aunt Millie and her groomed Pekinese.) For the first time in his life, four different publishers were bidding for this project; he had to beat them off with a stick.

On my bookshelf, I have one book by Wolfe: Light On The Land. Fabulous.

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Photographing a live drama performance

In the past, I have photographed drama productions using high-speed 35mm film. The results were prone to a great deal of grain and visual noise. Last week, I shot a drama production using the Canon 5D mk II DSLR and the results far exceed anything I could do with film.

During the actual performance I used ISO 12800 with no flash. During dress rehearsal, I had freedom to use electronic flash and shoot from different angles not possible during the live performance. I setup a remote flash bounced off of a 36″ reflector; this provides a larger and softer light source. Because the flash was being bounced off a reflector, I configured the flash for higher intensity output than normal/default.

The images shown here provide comparison of shooting with flash and without. The primary light source is always the spotlight. The flash provides fill-light in the shadow areas.

Notice the shadows cast on the wall. Both the spotlight and the flash create shadows. (Here, the shadow from the spotlight appears low on the wall because the spotlight is mounted near the ceiling, probably eighteen feet above the floor.) The shadow from the flash has a soft edge while the shadow from the spotlight has a hard edge. This difference is due to the differing sizes of the two light sources. The bounce flash is giving me a light source 36 inches in diameter at a distance of 25 to 40 feet. The Spotlight is maybe 10 inches in diameter at a distance of 25 feet. Both size and distance of a light source directly effect the hardness/softness of the light.

Neither approach is better than the other. Sometimes you want hard light. Sometimes you want soft light. It can be nice to have both.

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Pixels (part 2)

With the information in my blog post entitled Pixels (part 1) [how-many-pixels-part-1], you may conclude that 8×10 inch prints call for a 5 megapixel camera. That’s generally true, but not entirely. It is possible to use computer software to artificially increase the number of pixels. Different software programs may perform differently. The general rule of thumb is you can double the number of pixels. So, you might print very good 8×10 prints though your camera only records 3 megapixels.

Maybe you just bought a new DSLR that records images up to 15 megapixels. Those 15 megapixel images may require three times more storage than 5 megapixel images. If you shoot
some pictures on Tuesday, intended for 11×14 prints, set your camera to record large size. If you shoot some pictures on Wedensday, intended for computer screens only, set your camera to record small size.

Pixels get a little weird when you move to television display. Pixels on a computer are square. A digital image that is 400×400 pixels will display square on your computer monitor. Not so on a television screen. Television pixels (defined by either NTSC or PAL standards) are not square.

Consider an picture aspect ratio of 4:3, meaning the picture is 25% wider than it is tall. Standard television (not HD) has a 4:3 picture aspect ratio. Yet the resolution is 720×480 pixels, which numerically seems to be 50% wider than it is tall. But rest assured it is 4:3 because each television pixel is taller than it is wide. (Take a very close look at a television and you can see this is so. It is more difficult to see on a HD television.) While pixels in a computer or in your camera are equally wide as they are tall (often called square pixels), pixels in television are taller than they are wide.

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Fir branch under ice

Hiking in the white mountains of NH on Dec.1, there was no snow at the trail head, but eventually became a foot deep. Having made such a mistake once before (several years ago), I kicked myself for doing it again.

It was a long cold day, but there were rewards. In particular there were a few little streams that crossed the trail with small waterfalls only a few inches in height. The spray of water caused some interesting ice formations, including the one shown here. The fir branch was covered in ice, but the mossy rock beneath it was not, presumably because the movement of the water was enough to prevent freezing.

In retrospect, the choice of aperature plays an important role in the success of this image. Both the extreme foreground and the extreme background are slightly out of focus. However, I wish I had framed the image a bit more to the left to avoid the ice touching the left edge of the frame.

Click on the image for a larger view.

Canon EOS 5D mk II, 70-200mm (@ 170), ISO 800, f/7.1, 1/200 sec

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The Third Sheep

Often, I will plan to be at a certain place at sunrise in order to photograph with the warm sunrise light. However, on this particular day, the weather forecast called for cloudy and cold. So I did not leave my motel room until 7:30am and only then found that some sun was dodging through the cloud cover.
Looking at a map, I chose some back roads to explore. The first road followed a river, but I saw nothing that caught my photographic intentions. Then I drove off through some farmland and stumbled upon these sheep, grazing on a hillside covered with frost. Atop the hill, the sun was catching the orange leaves of autumn maple trees. At the bottom of the hill was a still pool catching reflections.
Just a bit of sunlight on the trees, combined with general cloud cover, the conditions were fleeting and did not last. I captured about a dozen images; this is one of my favorites.
Where is the third sheep? Uphill, further toward the trees, out of frame … but appears in the reflection.

Canon EOS 5D mkII; 70-200mm @ 200; ISO 800, 1/320, f/10

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I created this image about one year ago on color transparency film (Fuji Provia F), medium format 6×6, using the venerable Bronica SQA. (That was the last time I used film.) Scanned to digital at 4000dpi, the digital image is a bit more than 70 megapixels, allowing a life-size 36-inch print. At 33×33 inches, this image was printed on a canvas gallery-wrap, stretched on a wood frame much like a painters canvas. The image wraps around the edges, 1.5 inches on every side, such that the face of the print is 30×30. This is the second canvas gallery-wrap I have printed this year. The first was a panorama, five feet wide.

What I want to share with you is a comparison of three different print types.

Printing on canvas has become very accessible these days, available from many vendors. Upload the digital image to the vendors website, choose your options, and provide payment. I chose Artistic Photo Canvas, having seen the excellent prints first hand. Of course, canvas is remarkable for the texture. APC uses only a high-quality cotton canvas and provides a protective clear coat over the final print. However, be aware that the maximum black density (Dmax) and the highlight intensity cannot match printing on more traditional photo papers. The overall contrast is therefore reduced. Although APC boasts one of the highest Dmax available on canvas, it is poor compared to traditional photo paper. None-the-less, it is an impressive way to display a photograph.

Then, I had the same image printed on metallic photo paper. This print is craaazy! The highlights in the image have a 3-dimensional quality that seems to exceed the 2-dimensional nature of the medium. Compared to a traditional photo paper, metalic paper may exhibit some minor loss in subtle color gradation; but holy cats, man, it is stunning. It is not suitable for every image; for example, I would not recommend metallic paper for portraits. To get the most from a metallic print, ensure good illumination; without good light, it tends to look like any ordinary print.

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An Evening with Photographer Joe Buissink

Just returned from seeing a presentation by photographer Joe Buissink. I confess Joe shattered any pre-concieved notions I held about high-paid celebrity photographers. He shared many images and his passion for capturing fleeting moments between people.

He still shoots film and his clientel are people who seek that and appreciate that. He primarily shoots available light at ISO 1600 and 3200. His images tend to be less grainy than most of us associate with high ISO. His film processing lab will visually inspect the film during development, empirically pushing the development until the density is good. This avoids low density low contrast, which requires compensation during printing and thereby incurs enhanced graininess.

Joe seeks emotional moments, not necessarily perfect sharpness or perfect composition. His pitch to prospective clients is more about himself and his passion. He tells the stories behind the images that you would not know from the image alone. Once people are hooked on his passionate approach, they tend to give him less direction and restrictions. He typically does not have to align himself to a required shot list.

Joe does more than just weddings. He recently completed work on a book about autism and the images comminicate a compelling joyful story. He photographed Stephen Spielberg’s birthday party, Christina Aguilara on tour, and the closing episode of the Frasier television show at request of Kelsey Grammer.

The Buissink approach to photographing people is eye opening (to me anyway) and it was a truly enjoyable evening. However, it is no secret that he caters to very wealthy people and the cost for his services is adjusted to their financial means. I personally do not know anyone who can afford him.

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Pixels (part 1)

Perhaps the most common question regarding digital photography is … how many megapixels do I need? The answer depends upon how you intend to use the photo. You need to answer two questions: how large will the photo appear (inches or centimeters) and how many dots per inch (or centimeter).

If you want to share it on a computer screen, one megapixel is more than enough. Why? Computer displays typically have either 72 pixels per inch or 96 dots per inch. So, for example, to display a photo at a size of 6 by 9 inches, you need (6 x 96) x (9 x 96) = 497,664 pixels = 0.497 megapixels.

Computer screen: 72 – 96 dots (pixels) per inch
Photo print: 240 – 300 dots per inch
Magazine: 100 – 200 dots per inch
Poster or banner: 100 – 150 dots per inch
Billboard: 10 – 20 dots per inch

Magazines print fewer dots per inch. If you look real close, you may see the individual dots, but maybe not. It depends upon the exact printing equipment and the tendency of ink dots to blend together. Billboards, viewed from far way, use very low resolution simply because it is not apparent from far away.

So, here is another example. For a photo print 6 x 9 inches, you need (6 x 240) x (9 x 240) = 3,110,400 pixels = 3 megapixels. More pixels in your camera means that you can get larger prints without sacrificing quality. Using the same math, you can easily see that a 20 x 24 inch print needs 27 megapixels.

You may ask: 240 dots per inch? My printer supports 1000 dots per inch.
OK, here is the bottom line. If you print at the higher resolution, can you see a difference in the final print? You might see a tiny difference, but 240 dpi usually provides excellent quality and sharpness. If you are using a photo lab to make your prints, consult their guidelines, but 240dpi or 250 dpi is very common.

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