Friday, 03 October 2008

Can a cell phone replace your digital camera?

Many photographers will dismiss the idea of using a cell phone camera to replace a digital camera without much thought. To them, a cell phone camera is nothing more than a sophisticated toy, incapable of taking serious pictures. But cell phones using the latest technology are able to compete very seriously against the more moderately priced digital cameras.

I use my cell phone almost exclusively as my digital camera. A cell phone has one advantage over a digital camera that is impossible to beat. It is always available. It goes everywhere with me and can be used as a camera whenever opportunity knocks. The technology now available means that cell phone photography can be used for much more than simple snap-shots. My phone is a Nokia N95. It comes standard with a 5 megapixel camera with a Carl Zeiss lens and a 1 GB memory card. This arrangement suits me more than any camera that I have previously owned.

My cell phone pictures are used on my various web sites as well as tom promote various art works. 5 Megapixels provides a resolution that is more than enough for most day to day purposes.

As technology continues its rapid development, cell phone cameras improve by an equal measure. 10 megapixel cell phone cameras have already been launched onto the Japanese market.

The Nokia N95 camera has some impressive features.

The large screen provides an excellent preview of the scene to be captured. The camera includes auto-focus and auto exposure. The automatic flash includes a manual override.

The camera has a variety of modes for shooting under different conditions and subject matters.

The close-up mode allows for crystal clear pictures of tiny flowers or similar items from 10 to 60 cm. There is no difference between this and the macro facility on a sophisticated camera.

The portrait mode quickly provides the right settings for portrait photography. In addition, the flash may be used for fill-in lighting.

The landscape option provides the best settings for shooting landscapes.

Other settings include the sports setting; this apparently uses fast shutter speeds to freeze action onto an image.

The night mode makes using available light simple and effective while the night portrait option allows for fill-in flash for low-light night shots. The flash settings include red-eye prevention.

To make things really easy, there is an automatic mode that selects the right setting for you.

The camera is able to achieve quality results in almost any lighting conditions with or without the flash.

Another fairly sophisticated feature is the sequence mode. Burst captures six (or more) images in rapid succession - great for recording rapid movement in stills! Other options allow for a picture to be taken automatically at a variety of time sequences ranging from 10 seconds to 30 minutes. The sequence shooting continues until the memory runs out! This is a great option that is available when using the phone exclusively as a camera.

A whole range of additional options allow much more to be done with the camera. These include:

  • A selection of colour tones,
  • A viewfinder grid that divides the image into both vertical and horizontal thirds aids good composition,
  • White balance,
  • Exposure compensation that allows for exposure bracketing, and
  • Sharpness, contrast and light sensitivity controls.

Every camera has limitations. A cell phone camera may have more limitations than some of the cameras on the market. For me the greatest limitation is the absence of an optical zoom. The electronic zoom results in a loss of resolution. There is no manual control of the shutter speed or aperture stops. But knowledge of the limitations allows you to work around them.

The phone allows for most of the simpler editing functions on the phone itself. It is even possible to print directly from the phone to some printers, and to upload your photographs directly to the Internet. The photos can be easily transferred to a computer for more sophisticated editing, distribution and printing.

My SLR camera usually stays at home while my cell phone is always with me. It is easy and convenient to carry around and is always available. Carrying a purpose built camera involves a degree of inconvenience! The cell phone can capture pictures at a moments notice when the opportunity presents itself.

I have built-up a collection of photo's from my cell phone that compare favourably to any that I have taken using a purpose built camera. My default camera is the cell-phone. When I photograph a planned event I have a choice of cell phone or camera. The cell phone usually wins, while the digital camera serves as an indispensible backup.

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