#29 in the Judging a Photograph Series
I’m frustrated when I can’t zoom in for a photo sometimes. We took the Staten Island Ferry when we were in New York. It’s free, and a good way to see the Statue of Liberty. It’s a great experience but I found it hard to photograph with a phone.
I was using the iPhone7+ which has a great camera but no optical zoom at all. Phones are too flat and thin to contain the amount of glass needed for true optical zoom. Think of an ordinary camera and the circular lens that sticks out of the front. The further the lens is sticking out, the more it is zooming in.
When I zoom with a phone camera, all I am doing is cropping off the edge of the image. That is called digital zoom. It means there are less pixels in the remaining picture so it is blurry and poor quality. You don’t have to zoom very much before the quality becomes pretty horrendous.
Sailing past the Statue of Liberty was a good opportunity to take some test shots to demonstrate this, and to find an alternative photography style which gets round the problem.
Digital zoom on a phone
I would never normally publish an image this bad. It’s so pixelated and blurry, but this is the effect of digital zoom on a phone. It looks nearly ok on a small screen at arms length! There’s little information to work with, even when I put it into Lightroom. All I’ve done is adjust the white balance which I do on every single photo, always. However I wouldn’t attempt to sharpen or adjust colour as there are too many faults which would be accentuated. That’s the problem with a small, crappy jpeg file like this. Little errors can easily become massive ones with a bit of editing.
Optical zoom on a bridge camera
For comparison, the above photo was taken on a Panasonic bridge camera. This is a middle range camera so I think it makes a good comparison which most people can relate to. You can immediately see the improved clarity, contrast, colour, depth, detail and perspective in this photo. It is zoomed a bit further in to the equivalent of 535mm telephoto. That is taking the camera near to the limit, but even so it is a pretty great photo. This shot is a jpeg, just like the phone camera, nothing more fancy than that.
Getting round the phone zoom problem
The only answer to getting a decent photo on the phone is to aim for a completely different style of image. I blogged last week about the time I was at Carnac using just a phone camera. The perspective was all wrong without a zoom and I got frustrated. I failed to look for a different kind of image. This time, on the Staten Island ferry I did look for alternatives. The Statue of Liberty was a bit far away so I made it an interesting background feature and used boats in the foreground. I did not use the iPhone’s zoom at all. Do you think it works?
If you visit New York or somewhere else with far distant views then I hope my phone photography tips help you out! Try these tips too if you take photos on your phone at the beach, and read more about my experience testing the iPhone in the spray of Niagara Falls. If you liked this blog please use the share buttons to share it on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Stumbleupon or any of the other options. Thanks!
Read the Judging a Photograph series from the start.