The 3.2 Megapixel Challenge
So the other day Rolling challenged me to write about automatic digital cameras with a 5 mp lens. I don’t have such a thing really (I have a Nikon Coolpix 110 but I’m too cheap to buy 4 AA batteries for it). He wondered if I couldn’t write about getting good pictures with such a device, and use Photoshop later to bring out clarity, color, texture, etc.
I replied that if one understands the capabilities and limitations of such devices, Photoshop isn’t necessary to get good pictures out of them. Long before I was born, my father could get good pictures out of a box with a pinhole in it, no lens at all! Just the negative and a darkroom to work in.
When I got home this evening and discovered that I had left my camera’s memory card at the office, I cast about for some way to occupy my time and decided to turn my attention to exploring Rolling’s insights a little further. I decided that rather than go to the Coolpix, which is itself a $250 camera (or was when I bought it), I would challenge myself even further. I was going to wage war with nothing more than a 3 year old camera phone. Not five, but a mere 3.2 mp, an ancient HTC Touch Pro 2. This thing is so worn that I have to take the back off the device to shoot pix, because the plastic in front of the lens is so scratched all my pictures look like they were shot through a cheap diffusion filter.
For various reasons I also decided not to go further than my own back yard, so some of my examples may look similar to a few of the earliest shots on this blog, which used much of the same subject matter.
The fellow to the left is the first shot I took. On the left is my enhanced version, and on the right is the way it came out of the phone. As you can see, there isn’t a great deal of post-processing going on here. I deepened the contrast and brightened the colors a tiny amount, but really it was pretty good as it was shot.
Here’s my next attempt, a wider shot instead of a closeup:
Again, I brightened things up a bit to make the colors pop (mostly the green, which is a little muddy in the original) but there is not a heavy amount of post-processing going on here. Nothing more than what, in the old days, you would have got in the darkroom with a bit of very basic burning and dodging. And please, no comments about what a stalk of corn is doing growing in my back yard. Let’s just say that we like to feed the squirrels.
I’m not going to bother posting before/after examples of every shot I took. You get the idea. Understanding your camera and what can (and cannot) do is the key to taking good photographs, no matter how expensive it is.
In the case of my trust 3.2 mp camera phone, there are a couple of things I can take away from this experience. First, I would have benefited from increasing the ISO. This would have increased both the f-stop and the shutter speed, both of which would have resulted in sharper images (shutter speed because there would not be as much camera movement and f-stop because the depth of field would have been greater). For instance, in this picture:
the first thing that immediately struck me was how detailed the tree is. The second thing was how blurry the ground is. I suspect this is due to the very narrow depth of field combined with the low megapixels (if you get lower than about 7 to 10 mp, you will start to lose detail on reasonably large-sized images). Still, the colors are nice and the clouds really pop – better than I suspect they would have in my expensive camera (though I could have fixed that with additional post-processing).
Following are some additional images that I took that I believe to be of reasonable quality and didn’t require much in the way of additional effort given the low quality of the camera I was using. A quick tweak of highlights and shadows, nudging the tint and temperature a couple of notches, and adding some noise reduction (this is another limitation to be aware of – I’d have gotten pictures with less noise had I taken the pictures at a brighter time of day – this was about an hour before sunset).
In all, I had all of these pictures out of the camera and as you see them here within 30 minutes. Very little time was needed to dress them up. But this camera will never take a decent picture of the moon :)