Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Musings on an iPhone camera

I'm in the Fairmont in San Jose (quite a nice hotel, btw), giving a talk at the Nvidia GPU summit in two days, and the sunset from my window was breathtaking. One of those beautiful warm autumn days in California, cloudless from pleasant gentle gusts of wind, the horizon aglow with peach and orange and crimson, broken in places by silouettes of the interposing buildings.

I used to think I'd never use a camera phone, but I turned out to be wrong.  I always have it at hand, and it's just too conveinent.  I whipped out my trusty little iPhone and took a picture. What my eye saw in the sunset was not at all what the iPhone captured. Comparing the two was a pretty striking difference--the color reproduction was completely off and the contrast messed up. Didn't even look like the same skyline. I knew that it would take a real camera with all the corresponding f-stops, exposures, lenses, color filters, etc. to make it look like what I saw, and I had a real appreciation at that moment for photographers and the art of photography. Most people think it's just pointing and shooting, but there's much more in capturing what the eye sees.  (I've attached the crappy picture that my iPhone took.)

Is there a point to this post? Not really. Unless you're one of the people who makes camera phones. Don't stop working on making point & click capture what the eye sees. I'm sure it's a terrifically difficult problem. Maybe I'll learn someday about digital photography and the hundreds of compromises in incorporating a sophisticated camera into a phone so I can appreciate the work that already has gone into it. But right now they're still far from perfect.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Andy. This is exactly why serious photographers like to shoot in RAW, rather than JPEG, format. When you shoot RAW, it doesn't matter if the camera got the white balance right, the contrast right, whatever. It can all be fixed in post processing, often with just a few clicks, and without bruising any pixels. Of course, it's always better to correct as many of those parameters while shooting, but RAW lets shoot fast and ask white-balance questions later.

    Of course, it might be a while yet before an iPhone gives you the RAW option. Some Canon digicams can be hacked to shoot in RAW, however.

    BTW, point-and-click captures will never capture what the eye sees, for the simple reason that your eyes dynamically adjust for brightness and white balance as they scan a scene.

    Loved your description of the sunset, btw.

    - Paul