October 19, 2015

Getting Better Quality Photos from Your Smart Phone Camera

I recently saw a post on Facebook in which professional nature photographer William Neill mentioned a new app he was using on his iPhone to get better quality picture files. That led me on an internet search for information about other apps for iPhones as well as Android models.

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Florence, Oregon

Android Phone Camera


What did I find? For one thing, it depends on the platform of your cell phone what options are available to you. If you have an iPhone, you cannot actually save a raw file. With an app, however, you can save a TIFF format picture which is not compressed. (See "A little background" below.) If you have a high-end Android phone running version 5.1.1 (lollipop), the camera has raw capture ability, but you need an app to "unlock" it. These Android phones do save an actual raw file in the DNG format provided by Adobe (the same company that gave us free PDF format). This means there are lots of raw processing programs that let you edit these pictures on your computer.

Here are some links to web sites that I found most informative.
DISCLAIMER: My Android smart phone runs version 4.1.2, so I have not tested any of these apps.

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A little background:  All phone cameras by default save pictures as JPEG files. These files are compressed to save storage space and make sharing them faster. However, compression deletes color data from the original information captured by the camera sensor. And compression can lead to artifacts of "squares" or "blocks" of color in areas of the picture that should be completely smooth (think clear blue sky). With more and more serious photographers using their phone cameras to capture meaningful images, this loss of quality is troubling, especially compared to the high-quality results available from digital SLR and mirrorless cameras.

Enter the request for "raw" files from phone cameras. Raw files have not been processed by the camera (or phone) and are not compressed. Hence, they withstand major editing changes with ease to produce superior results in many cases. The down side? Raw files are much larger than JPEGs (since raw files are not compressed) and they require computer time to process the pictures with software instead of letting the camera do it. For some photographers, these are minor compared to the improved results they can achieve.