Apps – Smartphone (& DSLR?)

Software & Hardware – they are blending together. Where does one stop and the other begin? This post begins a series on smartphone apps. What do they bring to the table to set smartphones apart from DSLRs?

Previous posts in this Smartphone vs DSLR series have highlighted differences between these two camera options with smartphones coming up short if image quality is important to you.

  • It’s not all bad news for phone cameras though  — even if they can’t take the same clean images as full frame cameras.
  • Smartphone cameras often have software apps that can create unique image making options – thus overcoming some of their physics-limited hardware shortfalls.

Some food for thought:

  • Smartphone & DSLRs are, at their heart, computers (with light as an input)
  • That said, photography apps aren’t limited to smartphones. Why should they be?
    • Does your DSLR do multiple exposures? Those that do use software (apps).
    • How about in-camera editing, B&W, image overlays, HDR? Apps again!
  • Virtually any smartphone app could be duplicated in a DSLR
    • The main thing the Nikons, Canons, et. al., lack is the motivation
    • Maybe if they offered an application development interface for third-party developers, we’d see some exciting changes in the DSLR world

Smartphone cameras come with basic built-in feature sets that are, as previous posts noted, constrained by their lens and sensor.

  • Within these constraints, the built-in software controls image capture
    • Depending on Make/Model the capture might be limited to point & shoot
      • or – could include HDR, panoramas, and more
  • Add-on photography apps extend the camera’s built-in repertoire
    • These apps number over 10,000
    • Their quality ranges from outstanding to junk
    • This series will examine representative samples – lots of posts to come

The photo apps can be divided into two basic categories:

  1. Capture (camera replacement)
    1. These apps extend, or improve upon, the camera’s built-in functionality
    2. Their job is complete once the captured image’s file is written to memory
  2. Post-processing
    1. Some of these apps perform functions like Photoshop or Lightroom
      1. Their job begins after an image is captured and stored in memory
    2. Others do PP tricks & magic limited only by imagination
      1. These typically turn a photo into something non-photo-like
  3. Some apps are a hybrid of the first two
    1. These typically ask for the source of the image – Camera or memory?
      1. If camera, they assist with the capture & then provide P-P options
      2. If memory, they jump straight to the P-P phase
    2. Jack-of-all-trades, Master-of-none is an apt description for most of them

In the next post we’ll look at category #1 – camera capture apps. To illustrate what these look like, here are three screenshots from my iPhone.

The first is the iPhone’s camera as provided by Apple


The next two are from my favorite camera replacement app, the 645 Pro MkIII

The first screenshot shows a “simplified” ;) display of the app’s control options


The next display option shows current capture settings


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Smartphone Hardware Add-ons

Today’s post completes the review of smartphones and how they compare with DSLRs. This wrap-up looks at add-ons and other accessories that don’t come with the phone, but may be useful depending on what you’re trying to achieve. Coming up next – smartphone apps, so keep tuned-in.


Are you thinking about ways to get around the smartphone lens’ fixed aperture, fixed focal length limitations? Via optional lenses?

  • Fish-eye, telephoto and macro lenses are available
    • By my standards, the quality of the results range from poor to terrible
      • At least as compared to the images I want (& get from a DSLR)
      • Your needs, expectations and tastes may differ
    • IMO – save your money (or buy mine at a huge discount ;) )
  • A big caution: Think twice before using your smartphone’s digital zoom
    • Using optical zoom throws away pixels (& degrades image quality)
    • If you zoom from the fixed focal length of 29mm to 58mm (2X)
      • Resolution is reduced by 75% (in my case from 8 MP to 2 MP)
      • Why do that? Oh, I forgot, because add-on lenses aren’t very good

And – how about things like: Polarizers? Neutral density filters? Tripods?

  • Each of the above three share one thing in common
    • They solve problems that CAN NOT be fixed in post-processing
    • This is true regardless of whether the camera is a smartphone or DSLR
      • Lenses are lenses, light is light, and physics…
      • and the camera type is immaterial when it comes to these three
  • The options for polarizers & ND filters, like optional lenses, aren’t good
    • They are available but read the reviews very carefully
    • Attaching them to a smartphone is often a Rube-Goldberg affair
  • How about a tripod (I mean one that extends at least 5 feet)
    • Portability is the best thing a smartphone has going for it (vs. a DSLR)
      • If that’s so, why in the world carry a tripod???
    • Full disclosure: I bought a gadget to attach my phone to a tripod
      • Arca-Swiss style base that works with full-sized tripods
        • 1/4 & 3/8 inch threads provide added attachment choices
        • Switches easily from vertical to horizontal
      • Just-in-case” since I already owned a quality ballhead & Gitzo tripod

Here’s a recent article on smartphone accessories if you’re interested in more…

Next up >>>> Hardware & software are blending (and not just in cameras):

  • A review of smartphone photo-related software apps
    • They take up where the hardware left off…
      • Often leading to in-camera captures that DSLRs can’t match (yet)

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Smartphone – Sensor Size Impact

In addition to fundamental differences between the lenses of smartphones and DSLRs, there is another performance-impacting element to consider, the camera’s sensor. All else being equal, bigger is better – and DSLR sensors are much bigger. What’s the potential impact? Side-by-side images at end tell the tale.

A small image sensor’s photosites (pixels) are smaller than those of a larger sensor if both sensors have the same number of megapixels. Duh…

  • A photosite’s size impacts image quality.
  • Larger sites result in the potential  (not a guarantee) for:
    • Less noise (mainly in shadows and at high ISOs)
      • See image at end of post full size (especially upper right)
    • Better dynamic range (range of tones which a sensor can capture)
    • Improved low light performance
    • Better overall image look and feel
      • If two sensors have the same apparent noise when viewed at 100%, the sensor with the higher pixel count will produce a cleaner looking print
  • The improvement over small sensors may be less than you think
  • Smartphones are getting better, but the laws of physics are fixed
  • The tradeoff is between image quality and convenience
  • If you’re happy with your camera’s image quality, that’s all that matters

For illustrative purposes here are the sensor size data for several cameras. They each have different sensor sizes (the D800E has 50X the area of the iPhone) and formats (full frame, APS-C & smartphone). If you shoot with another model/brand, your camera’s specifications will still be similar.

iPhone 6 Plus

  • ƒ/2.2 aperture, 35mm equivalent focal length of 29mm – both fixed
  • 4.8 x 3.6 mm (17.28
    • Full Frame DSLR is 49.9X larger in area
    • APS-C DSLR is 17.4X larger in area
  • 8 MP CMOS
  • 3280 x 2464, 1.5µ pixels (this is a pixel’s physical size)
  • 4:3 aspect ratio

Nikon D300

  • 24 x 15 mm APS-C format
  • 12.3 MP CMOS
  • 4,320 x 2,888, 5.49µ pixels
  • 3:2 aspect ratio

Nikon D800E

  • 35.9 × 24 mm Full Frame format
  • 36.3 MP CMOS
  • 7,360 × 4,912, 4.88µ pixels
  • 3:2 aspect ratio

Here are two images – one iPhone & one D800E (RAW) – with nearly equal settings:

  • Focal length: 29mm to match the iPhone’s fixed length
  • Aperture: f/2.2 (iPhone fixed value); f/2.8 (nearest D800E lens value I had)
  • ISO: 800 for both (to illustrate noise, if any is visible)
    • iPhone 645 camera app used so that ISO could be set
    • 645 has several B&W and color films; one must be selected
      • Selection affects the color & contrast “look”
  • Both shot on tripod with good natural light
  • Cropped in post-processing
    • No other alterations in post
    • D800E RAW to JPEG via Adobe Camera Raw in Lightroom
  • Can you tell which is which (I’m not telling)
    • 36.3 vs 8 MP, one sensor 50X larger than the other (pixel size 3X larger)
    • Either is fine for a Creaking Bones “Fridge-Photo” IMO

Click for full screen-plus; check the noise & dynamic range effects (upper right)


Books on Bookshelf

About 10% of my photo library

Did the full screen view show you which image was which?

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Smartphone vs. DSLR ………….. A Capabilities Match-up

A study comparing smartphones with DSLRs concluded that a good current-day smartphone compares favorably with under $2000 DSLRs (sans lenses) of six years ago – and predicted that the 6-year gap will be smaller in the future. For my gear, Nikon D70 then D300 then D800E, that result says my iPhone 6 Plus is a match for all except the D800E. Let’s take a closer look. Slide show at end.

The comparisons were done using:

  • A film camera (as a baseline of sorts)
  • Canon EOS models 10D (2003), 20D (2004), 30D (2006) & 40D (2007)
  • iPhone 5s & Nokia Lumia 1020
  • Nikon D800E (2012, as a sample best-of-breed DSLR)

Right at the start, the author correctly stated that he was looking at apples and oranges when it came to Smartphones and DSLRs. To level the playing field he had to “dumb-down” [my words] the DSLRs as follows:

  • The chief reason to dumb-down is the lens issue I mentioned yesterday, i.e.
    • Smartphones have a fixed aperture, fixed focal length lens (an apple)
    • DSLRs have any lens you choose to use (an orange)
  • For the tests performed, the DSLRs were used at a fixed focal length matching the smartphones’ lens (~29mm), i.e. they were forced to be “apples”.
    • Also, DSLR apertures were adjusted as the study states:
    • “…we chose tests where the depth in focus wasn’t relevant, creating a bias in favor of the DSLRs, as we allowed them the indulgence of picking their optimal aperture, rather than forcing them to use a realistic one….” [my underline emphasis]

While I’ll accept the author’s conclusion that my iPhone 6 Plus is comparable to my Nikon D70 or D300, that conclusion applies only under certain conditions!

  • Those conditions (a fixed “wide-ish” focal length of ~29mm combined with apertures that give a wide depth-of-field) are in direct conflict with my requirements as described in my previous post, i.e., variable focal lengths and a very thin DOF. See the 1st slide show for sharp focus throughout and the 2nd for thin-DOF examples.
  • I’m certain that the study’s conditions completely satisfy the needs of some.
    • If you’re one of them (everything in sharp focus using a fairly wide-angle fixed (prime) lens then you & a smartphone should get along fine.
    • The study confirmed the conditions under which I can use my iPhone and make the image that I want (and when I can’t).
    • Pretty much as I had expected.

Here are two sets of images (click any image for a full screen slide show)

A good smartphone should be able to make these three

BUT – these require a DSLR as they’re all about the DOF (the lens)

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DSLR? or Phone-Camera? or Both?

I am curious about “How well phone-cameras meet my primary image making needs?“. Everyone’s answer to this question will differ as it comes down to “What are your personal needs?“. This post begins a series to answer my question.

I’ll begin with two of my prize-winning DSLR images that illustrate  today’s conclusion:

  • An iPhone can meet some of my needs
  • But – not all of them

An image that an iPhone could make

CMYK Grand Prize

An image that an iPhone could NOT make

(unable to provide the required paper-thin DOF)


The place to start this series is to define my image making goals:

  • Fine-art photography
    • An emphasis on nature in all of its forms
    • I also like the occasional painterly style and abstract image
  • Images that are nearly perfect at the time of capture
    • Including composition (with no post-capture cropping)
    • Minimal post-processing – mainly tonal & color contrast adjustments

DSLR’s, together with the right lenses and accessories, meet my needs completely.

  • The question I’m asking is how well does my iPhone 6 Plus do?
    • There is no doubt that it can meet my goals in certain situations
    • There is also no doubt that, at times, it can’t even come close
      • The images above illustrate these two cases
  • Spoiler Alert – much of what I want in an image requires:
    • Changing a lens’ aperture (fine control over depth of field)
    • Ability to use different focal lengths
    • Phone camera’s lenses have fixed apertures and focal lengths
      • This “feature” makes many of my “styles” impossible to achieve
      • The 2nd image above is an example
  • Apart from the lens issue, the iPhone should meet most of my needs
    • Further, mainly because of phone apps, it may offer new possibilities
      • It’s this app potential that interests me most
    • It sure is easier to carry ;)

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It’s (past) Time to Move On

For the past two weeks I’ve been doing a daily post on contrast. With each passing day the number of site visits drop. It’s time to change the subject.

As regular followers know, I try to learn something new every day. There’s very little new for me when it comes to image contrast. Since reader interest is low and falling fast, I’m moving on to other subjects. For the handful of readers of the contrast series – I apologize for stopping before the end. I’ll try to finish the series over the next month or two as the mood strikes…

What am I?
645 PRO Mk III for Apple iPhone 6 Plus_150919_095315_IMG_1581-2

A Cup of Coffee

It’s a cup of coffee as captured with my iPhone looking straight down

  • Circular frame = rim & inside of the cup
  • Everything inside the frame =  a reflection in my cup of black coffee
  • Upper left = kitchen cabinets
  • Lower right = the iPhone itself (look closely & you’ll see the lens)
  • iPhone 6+
  • Capture – 645 Pro MkIII app: B&W with Square Format
  • Post – Snapseed for tonal contrast & small frame (otherwise as captured)
  • Handheld – precise framing & composition was difficult

Have fun; make the ordinary extraordinary

For the immediate future I plan to concentrate on my phone camera:

  • Learning to use it for images other than point-and-shoot snapshots (boring)
  • Learning its strengths and weaknesses – especially as compared to a DSLR
  • Examining the myriad of available software (camera apps)
  • Looking at alternate workflows to go from capture to finished image

My tentative plan is to post about twice a week:

  • Day 1 – “Study” something new
  • Day 2 – “Experiment” with the new item
  • Day 3 – “Write” a lab report (post the results)
  • Day 4 – Get a life ;)
  • Day 5 – Repeat the process…

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Contrast Part 8: Levels & Curves – Refining Adjustments

The same post-processing adjustment is rarely needed in equal-measure over 100% of an image. Ways to apply adjustments selectively are needed. This post looks at ways to apply the levels portion of the Levels & Curves tool in a selective manner (curves in the next post).

 Part 8 of a series

“All About Image Contrast for Photographers”


Every part of an image

This post examines

Ways to selectively apply tonal adjustments

Using the Levels portion of Levels & Curves

(In general, this will also apply to Curves – a future post)

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Levels Tonal Adjustment

<<Before | After>>

Adjustments made at the channel level; read on

The What – Application of Levels’ adjustments to

All three color channels, R/G/B, at once or

Individual color channels alone or

Just the Luminosity channel or

Any & all combinations of the above


The Why – Global  tonal adjustments aren’t always desirable

Color casts or shifts may be an issue

A pre-existing cast you wish to remove

Saturation shifts may occur

When tonal adjustments are applied across the board

The How

Use the L&C Channel selection menu to choose among

RGB (global)

R or G or B individually

Luminosity (hue & saturation remain unchanged)


Black point shift applied to RGB

Click any of the following images to enlarge

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Black point shift applied to red channel

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Black point shift applied to green channel

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Black point shift applied to blue channel

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Black point shift applied to RGB (left)

and to luminosity channel (right)

Note the color change with RGB

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Mid-tone shift applied to RGB

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Mid-tone shift applied to luminosity channel

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Mid-tone shift applied to red channel

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Mid-tone shift applied to green channel

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Mid-tone shift applied to blue channel

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Shift of all three sliders applied to luminosity channel

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Shift of all three sliders applied to RGB channel

There’s that color shift in the daisy’s center

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The Luminosity channel is better than RGB in many cases

This is because applying tonal adjustments to

All three channels (RGB) simultaneously

Can cause unwanted color changes/shifts

Changing only Luminosity

Leaves hue and saturation unchanged

A practical example – removing a color cast

There are many ways to remove a color cast

Levels may not be the best (depends)

Here’s a Before image with a green cast (left) and

After – using red & green channel adjustments

Increase red & decrease green via mid-tone slider

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The same can be done without

Using the green channel (see next image)

This red/blue adjust (ignoring green altogether)

Is in line with how

Many “built-in” White Balance tools work

They set WB by adjusting ONLY Red & Blue

Green is reduced by raising both

vice versa to increase

Red cast removal = less red & more blue

Blue cast removal = you can guess….

Changing (adjusting) colors on a per channel basis

Requires familiarity with how colors mix

7-3-2013 12-31-45 PM


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