Better Photos With a Phone Camera – The Limits of Zoom

#29 in the Judging a Photograph Series

Better photos with a phone camera - the limits of zoom on Falcondale Life blog. Phones only have digital zoom which isn't really zoom at all, it's just cropping the image. The result is less pixels and much lower quality. Optical zoom would need a lot more glass and that doesn't fit on a flat camera phone. What are the limits and how can you get round them? Statue of Liberty .

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

Better photos with a phone camera - the limits of zoom on Falcondale Life blog. Phones only have digital zoom which isn't really zoom at all, it's just cropping the image. The result is less pixels and much lower quality. Optical zoom would need a lot more glass and that doesn't fit on a flat camera phone. What are the limits and how can you get round them? Statue of Liberty .

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

Better photos with a phone camera - the limits of zoom on Falcondale Life blog. Phones only have digital zoom which isn't really zoom at all, it's just cropping the image. The result is less pixels and much lower quality. Optical zoom would need a lot more glass and that doesn't fit on a flat camera phone. What are the limits and how can you get round them? Statue of Liberty .

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?

Better photos with a phone camera - the limits of zoom on Falcondale Life blog. Phones only have digital zoom which isn't really zoom at all, it's just cropping the image. The result is less pixels and much lower quality. Optical zoom would need a lot more glass and that doesn't fit on a flat camera phone. What are the limits and how can you get round them? Statue of Liberty .

Better photos with a phone camera - the limits of zoom on Falcondale Life blog. Phones only have digital zoom which isn't really zoom at all, it's just cropping the image. The result is less pixels and much lower quality. Optical zoom would need a lot more glass and that doesn't fit on a flat camera phone. What are the limits and how can you get round them? Statue of Liberty .

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.

Photalife

6 Comments

  1. 1st October 2017 / 3:18 pm

    I think it’s a great idea and not something I’d have thought of on my own! Adding the boats adds interest to the shots too! x

    • 1st October 2017 / 10:44 pm

      I’m not always on my toes to come up with ideas but luckily this worked ok.

  2. 24th September 2017 / 2:54 pm

    Oh we did that boat trip. Was great but I felt the same about pixelated photos.

  3. 24th September 2017 / 9:04 am

    It’s about knowing the limitations of the camera you have.

    Thank you for linking up

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