MEGAPIXELS is all you hear about a camera. And, to a certain extent, as digital cameras get better and cheaper, it is all about that elusive image size to be hunted on the wide savannahs of imaging. But, as I learned decades ago, you can’t live out there on bad optics. And the reason that Nikon cameras were the brand that Paul Simon mentioned in his lament to the now-vanished film brand, “Kodachrome” is optics. Easily the right-hand bookend to the sage career advice from The Graduate, “Plastics.” Plastics and optics.
The best optics are made of glass. It is, however, at least theoretically possible to make lenses — good lenses, even — of plastics. After all, camera lenses are all about the indices of refraction and the shape of the interface. Any transparent material with an IoR above 1.0 (the IoR of water) will do. Glass, frex, ranges between about 1.3 and 2.
But I suspect the lens of the iPhone camera is made of plastic — probably polycarbonate — and not very well.
Of course, that a pocket phone should have a 5 megapixel camera in it at all is one of those dancing bear things. It’s not how gracefully the thing dips and twirls, it’s that it dances at all — miraculous.
And, so, I shouldn’t be surprised that my brand-new, just-out-of-the-box, “insanely great” iPhone’s camera should be outperformed by my almost-ten-year-old, beat up, dirty, 3Mpx Nikon CoolPix. It’s all about the optics.
The first picture I took on purpose of something I was deliberately pointing the camera at was of Karma, sitting atop a wheeled, plastic, drawer bin in the study. What was neat to me in that moment was that… THERE WAS NO FLASH!. How cool is that? It took a picture in low light, thus no flash, thus the cat’s eyes were neither shut nor lazors-engaged.
Then I struggled with the whole download-the-photograph-to-my-computer thing. (Can you believe that the best solution APPLE can offer is to email the picture to yourself? And then they offer to make the image smaller. Like I want that.) I finally ended up with the brute-force approach of opening the phone in the Windows Explorer and copying the files over. (But that doesn’t work with music, by the bye.) And I opened the picture up in my default JPEG viewer*. Imagine my dismay to perceive 1) motion blur and B) compression artifacts.
Now, the motion blur I could understand. My hands are not rock steady in the first place and the iPhone is not the best platform for steady photography. The way you have to hold it to press the shutter button contradicts everything you ever learned camera ergonomics. But if they put the shutter button in the right place, there would go your all-glass controls, so I get that.
But the compression artifacts are just a sin against God and everybody. They make Baby Michelangelo cry. There’s no need for them. You can get clean images and a 10:1 compression ratio out of the JPEG format if you really care about image quality. This stuff of making fur look like feathers in order to simplify your image is just rid-freakin’-dick-you-luss.
::tout le sigh::
That was Thursday evening. Friday morning, I mentioned my disappointment with the camera to one of the artists at the Patch Factory (the inimitable Becks), who advised me that there’s an app for that.
I should have known.
And those of you unaware of this and yet finding yourself in just this particular predicament, pay heed. The app is called Camera Awesome! and it is — awesome. !. It’s free, for starters, it allows you to focus in one place in your image and expose according to the light in a wholly other place in the scene. AND — and… It features image stabilization.
I haven’t had a chance to really wring it out. But here’s a picture taken using the zone features.
Here’s a picture of Earnie taken WITH Camera Awesome, but NOT with image stabilization. (At the time, I wasn’t aware that you have to explicitly turn image stabilization ON.)
And, in the field of learning that “There’s an app for that” is no joke — well, it is, but not yet tinged with the bitter irony of FAIL — a recent article in PC Magazine hints at even greater riches.
And I’m sure I’ll have a great time exploring all that — but later. Today, I have to rebuild my desk. One of our kittens ::coughjanecough:: appears to think that thin wires are like Vines — the candy — and loves to chew on them. To date, the little stinker has ruined at least one computer mouse, a phone charger, a set of powered speakers, a pair of $40 headphones (thank God they weren’t the $200 variety), and my Wacom tablet. So I’m going to tear down my desk (still the temporary one of milk-crate file boxes, furniture dollies, and a sheet of 1/2″ MDF) and rebuild it so all the wires are INSIDE, where chewy kitties can’t make chewy kitty toys out of them.
Bad kitty! If you weren’t so cute and cuddly, I’d… I’d… Nothing.
*(IrfanView, BTW, which I heartily recommend as a lightweight file manipulator for anyone who does a lot with image files.)