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Smartphone Photography, I

Raw image after minor processing.

Raw image after minor processing.

As I briefly noted on Travel Photography II, smartphone has become a ubiquitous tool for capturing images. Recent developments including add on lenses and particularly various programs by which, one may capture raw image certainly are major breakthroughs in further advancing the field of smartphone photography.

Although majority of photographers still prefer to use a camera body for photography, increasingly they have found ways to replace their camera body with smartphone to capture images, specifically when camera is not available. Since using smartphone as a camera requires additional set of skills, from viewfinder to holding the camera, to compose, there is some difficulty at first which will resolve over a period of time, particularly in hands of a trained photographer. Latest models of iPhone, 6 and 7, have up to 12 megapixel, and are able to record video of 1080X1920. Samsung Galaxy s8 and LG G4 have also 12 megapixels. Furthermore, manufacturers have added new features to camera such as optical image stabilizer, six element lens, anti-flicker sensor, and high speed sensor all helping to capture a sharper image(Apple), or setting up ISO, white balance, exposure value, shutter speed, manual focus, and color tone(Samsung), and tracking focus, timer, wide angle(LG).

In addition to features of the smartphone itself, there have been several apps currently available to exert more control while capturing images.

The most important advantage of a camera body over a smartphone is the ability that former is able to capture in RAW format. Raw format, in fact, is not an image, but collection of data captured by camera when shutter was pressed. To see the raw image one needs a program called raw reader. Since raw is a proprietary format, each camera manufacturer has its own raw reader which can be downloaded through their websites. Adobe, however, has come up with a program called DNG-Digital Negative Graphics-which is non-proprietary and can read any raw format (it has been constantly updated to read newly developed raw formats).

The main advantage of raw format, universally used by all professional and advanced amateurs photographers, is its pliability to editing. One can change the temperature, exposure, contrast, sharpness and many other features to create a more appealing image, and the key point is such process, done properly, does not “harm” the original capture.

Currently, all the smartphones capture images in JPEG-Joint Photographic Expert Group- format, which is a processed image, performed by the camera firmware. JPEG has various file sizes, from fine, larger file, to standard and small. Regardless of the file size JPEG is a lossy compression, with large file size less compressed than standard and so forth. Lossy compression of a JPEG file, and its prior processing within camera makes it less receptive to editing, and more prone to develop so-called digital artifact.

Comparing the two formats, raw provides an uncompressed file, higher dynamic range, and larger file, however, since it has not been processed, image has low contrast, and not as sharp. On the other hand, JPEG has a smaller file-lossy compression-limited dynamic range, higher contrast and sharper-due to processing in camera.


Recent developments of apps for smartphones capable of capturing raw image are the ultimate breakthrough in smartphone photography.

The apps working for both systems:

Adobe Lightroom, ProShot, Manual, Raw by 500px, and VSCO.

There are few more for iOS only: ProCam, ProCamera, Raw Camera, and Raw+.

As noted earlier, capturing in raw format requires processing the image. Along with apps for raw capture, there are several apps for processing the image. Below are some of the widely used apps: Adobe Lightroom, Snapseed, Afterlight, and Enlight. Adobe Photoshop has developed several apps incorporating features of Photoshop.


Basic Functions

As the native features of iOS and Android phones are different, I spend some time going through common features of each system.


There have been some improvements in recent versions of iPhone, which will be discussed later, for the most part iPhone 6 and later models have similar features.

To open the camera app from locked position, one can swipe from right to left on the bottom of screen (iOS10) or swipe up on the right side of camera screen (iOS 9).

On the bottom of screen there are different modes, the ones on the right are for still photo: pano, square, photo and left for motion photography: Video, Slo-Mo, and Time-Lapse. Shutter button in video mode is red and in still photo white. Two-finger gesture will zoom in or out. In iPhone 7 swiping from left to right may activate zoom.

On the top there are icons for flash, HDR, live photo (capturing 1 and half second video, iPhone 6s and later), timer (3 or 10 seconds) and live filters (rendering the image with various filters).


As there are several models of androids phones, I mostly focus on Samsung, which is the biggest android phone manufacturer.

Pressing power on twice launches camera app from locked camera. Swiping the screen from left to right opens different camera mode. To understand exact function of each mode, there is … icon on the top left. Tapping it, opens a drop down menu, selecting Info from the menu explains specific function of each mode. There are two other items on the menu; one is edit, to rearrange the modes on the screen, and other shortcut. Tapping shortcut makes it possible to add that mode to home screen. Next to … icon, there is + icon. Tapping it, opens list of available modes which can be downloaded to the camera.

On the top the main icon is setting. Tapping it opens a menu to further customize the camera. The main features are:

Size through which various sizes of the captured image can be selected. The larger the number, the bigger the file, up to 12 MP.

Grid lines divide the screen so the main object can be placed properly within the frame, i.e., rule of third.

Location Tag registers GPS attributes of the image captured-be careful on posting the image publically.

Voice Control replaces voice for shutter button to take a picture; words like smile and cheese can be used to activate the shutter without pressing it.

Volume Key, when active, can be used to zoom in or out, or just function as shutter button.

Timer can be set to 2,5 or 10 seconds.

Tracking AF-autofocus- the ability to track the focus point on a moving object is essential to capture a sharp image in sport or wildlife.

Floating Camera Button moves the shutter button to various locations on the screen.

On the next part, I will discuss more advanced features of smartphone cameras and, space permitting, accessories that have elevated the camera from being an elementary snapshot tool to a real apparatus.

JPEG image, straight from camera.

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