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Photography/Cell phone cameras vs. Digital cameras


QUESTION: I know little about photography aside from what my eyes perceive as pleasing or not pleasing. Comparing today's cell phone cameras vs. a digital camera of unknown age:

1. Why would a seemingly lower quality cell phone camera produce image sizes of about 2-3 MB while a digital camera only produces sizes around 160 KB?

2. Same scenario as #1. What's the explanation for the fact that the cell phone camera's results can be enlarged on a PC with pleasing results, while the photos from the digital camera can't without being distorted?

3. Would it be wise or advantageous to utilize a tripod with a digital camera for large group shots or do professionals considered this equipment to be unnecessary?

4. Cell phone cameras are usually poor in low light conditions. How can this situation be overcome with a higher end digital camera? Example: higher megapixel rating, the lens quality, something flash related, etc.


To begin with, everything you know is wrong.
No.1 Smartphones have small sensors that are anywhere from 2-12 MP in size and produce image files of all sorts of sizes. Where did you get the idea that a digital camera produces a file that is 160KB? That's nonsense. Most digital cameras produce files that are anywhere from 20-60 MB. Perhaps you are mixing up web photos which are small for easy transmission with the actual files from a digital camera.
No.2--Totally wrong. Digital camera photos can be enlarged far beyond what phone images. And I have no idea what sort of distortion you think happens. It doesn't.
No.3 I have no idea what "professionals" consider needed or unnecessary. If you are working in sunlight use a shutter speed over 1/125th second and you are home free.
No.4-- Digital cameras have better and larger sensors and that makes it possible to shoot in very low light with them. It is not simply megapixel counts or lens quality it is sensor size. A big 35mm frame size sensor is going to work well at 6400 ISO, something a cell phone simply can't do.

Hope that straightens you. Phones are very limited for photography and generally produce pictures that look okay on a PC or a phone and nowhere else. On the other hand digital cameras are amazing.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------


Your prompt and thorough reply is much appreciated. Apparently I've been deceived by someone who only looks the part of a professional photographer. It's true that I didn't examine her gear, but I took a few shots in the same room with a cell phone camera and not only are my images clearer, but mine can be enlarged (somewhat) on a PC with no distortion. Also; my file sizes are about 3 MB while the photos she emailed are much smaller. Thus far, I haven't received a response from the photographer regarding higher quality images. I attached an example of her best work.

Thanks again!

Okay the problem here is that this has nothing to do with the issue of cellphone vs. digital cameras. The photo you got was small because the photographer had resized it to send it to you on the web.

For me though, the problem is that it is not a very good photo. Too many people, badly posed, no supplementary lighting, and some blurred figures at the right side of the frame. It is not necessarily the photographer's mistake or lack of ability but a large group photo needs to be planned out in advance. Simply pointing and shooting never works.

Minimally the photographer needed to get a sharper image and to have dealt with getting the group better arranged. Like having a bunch of people sit on the floor in front of the seated people, watching that faces were not blocked and eyes were looking at her.  

You phone images may look sharper only because you are looking at your full file, and comparing it to the shrunken file that was reduced in size for the Web.

Ask to see the photographer's original image file. It might take a while to download it to your PC but that is what you have to have to judge the photo by fairly.

As I wrote before the digital camera vs. smartphone stuff is baloney and has nothing to do with this shot.


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Steve Meltzer


I am a professional photographer and I've been shooting for newspapers, magazines, commercial clients and artists for over 30 years. I have shot stock photography for dozens of years and in 1977 created West Stock (Seattle, WA) which was one of the first to produce stock photo CDs and later one of the first to establish an online stock photo slaes site. I have a new book on digital photography "PHOTOGRAPHING ARTS, CRAFTS AND COLLECTIBLES (Lark Books, 2007)which is available at, and in bookstores like Barnes & Noble and Borders. I have another book, CAPTURE THE LIGHT which will be puiblished in November, 2008. I write 20-30 feature articles and columns for regional and national publications a year. My education includes studying with photographers like Cornell Capa, Duane Michels and Oliver Gagliani (from the Ansel Adams Center.)

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