Newborn Photography with a Mobile. The Theory.

Newborn Photography with a Mobile. The Theory.

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Newborn Photography with a Mobile. General theory.

This is the first technical article in the series dedicated to improving the quality of newborn photography with a mobile phone. The introduction can be found here. In this article I’m covering some basic theory necessary to know, in order to produce awesome newborn and family photographs on budget. Even with your mobile phone, some software and investment of your time. Unfortunately the phones don’t sport the best camera hardware meaning you should not rely on its automatic mode. To get outside the auto mode, some knowledge of theory is very important. This is a long article containing just under 6,000 words. However, this is probably the most condensed, comprehensive review you will find anywhere on the Internet. Information here is sufficient to be cognizant on how the photography process works which is fundamental to achieving the quality result.

Navigation

This is the 2rd article in a series dedicated to producing good newborn and family photographs at you home or anywhere else with basic device such as a mobile phone. Use the following links to navigate through the series:

Part 1. Introduction to Newborn Photography with the Phone.

Part 2. Newborn Photography with a Mobile. The Theory. This Page.

Part 3. Newborn Photography with a Mobile Phone. Adobe Lightroom.

Part 4. Newborn Photography with a Mobile Phone. Light and Composition.

Part 5. Newborn Photography with a Mobile Phone. Developing and Editing Photos in Adobe Lightroom.

Theory: the Most Basic Introduction into Photography.

I will be as quick as I can here. These basic concepts are absolutely necessary to grasp in order to produce good quality photography with any device, including your mobile phone. In the introduction I’ve mentioned the photography is all about capturing light. In essence the light gets onto the object, bounces off it and gets captured by the camera. This is represented in this simple diagram. In reality the light bounces every direction, of of which is your camera.

How the light works

Newborn Photography Light WorksNewborn Photography Light Works

A special device, called the camera sensor records the image using the light that bounces from the object. In the pre-digital era we used film for that. In order to capture, organise and direct the light to the sensor we need a lens. Generally the bigger the lens and/or the sensor, the better quality capture can be achieved. The most simple lens is just a hole as you might have explored at school during the pinhole camera project.

Exposure.

Exposure is the exact amount of light (as photons of light) permitted to the camera sensor in order to capture the visual image. Too much and your photo will be too bright, to the point it is just white. Not enough — it will be just black. When we see such photographs we call them over-, or under-exposed. If you think of the sensor as your skin when you go sunbathing you will get the analogy. Not enough time under the Sun is no tan whatsoever. Too much — hello sunburns.

In order to achieve the required level of tan you can control what time of the day to go to the beach so the intensity of the Sun is just right for you. Or how long to keep your body exposed to the Sun. Or use some device, like a transparent shade to reduce the amount of sunlight hitting your skin. Something similar exists in the photography known as the Exposure Triangle. There are several levers a photographer can use in order to achieve the correct exposure. Depending on how you apply these levers you will achieve different effects with your photography.

Exposure Triangle in Photography

Exposure Triangle in Photography

For example, assuming you cannot change the amount of light going through the lens in a moment of time, you can capture a motion with a high shutter speed which will also require a high ISO introducing some noise in the photograph. Without setting the ISO sensitivity high your photograph will be just black. Unless you set the shutter speed high, you photograph will be blurred. I am explaining the meaning of Shutter Speed and ISO Sensitivity and more just a few paragraphs below.

With specialised photography equipment such as flash, aperture control and filters there is a greater array of tools to achieve some interesting effects or to work around the restrictions. Mobile phones are much more limited in this regard, which is an OK thing. As a beginner you won’t be overwhelmed with a variety of choice which will make your decision making very straightforward.

Sensitivity.

ISO. Unlike the skin, we can adjust sensors to have different sensitivity to the light. In the photography, you can tell the sensor to respond even to insufficient amount of light. This allows taking pictures even in dark conditions or when the high shutter speed is required (which also means less light gets to the sensor). In the film days you would need to have the correct film inserted – e.g. ISO64 which would be perfect for a sunny day but not so much to capture good photos in the shadows.

Think of it if you could adjust on the fly your skin to a particular intensity of Sun depending on how bright it is outside. It is like being able to tan under the Moon (very high sensitivity) or not needing the sunscreen on a very sunny day (very low sensitivity).

In the portrait photography generally a lot of light is not a problem – you simply increase the speed of the shutter. The problem is the opposite, when the ambient light is not enough, forcing us to either use artificial sources of light, reduce the shutter speed to up the ISO sensitivity. I used generally because in the professional studio portraiture we tend to shoot with the minimum natural light, relying on quality flashes which produce exact amount of directed quality light (we know the temperature of the light and therefore its wavelength) which makes our calculations and configuration of equipment so much easier and the quality of photography so predictably high.

The price of the high sensitivity is the noise. The higher the ISO the more grainy will be the photograph. To continue my tanning analogy, imagine if increasing the sensitivity made having clusters of skin cells getting tanned the same. Instead of having each cell responding individually, each cluster would measure all light combined and apply the same amount of tan to the cluster uniformly. This would result in the noise – well noticeable patches with different levels of tan instead of smooth gradients.

Generally you want to use the lowest ISO possible. 100-200 is the best for the most situations. You start increasing the ISO when you’ve reached the slowest possible shutter speed just before you photographs get too blurry. I’m not touching the aperture since it is generally a given in mobile phones. I also don’t cover the use of flash since the on-camera flash produces flat images or simply not strong enough to properly lit the object.

The images above show four different ISO and Shutter Speed combinations to achieve the correct exposure for the picture. ISO70 at 1/4th of a second, ISO160 at 1/8th, ISO300 at 1/16th and ISO1531 at 1/80th. It is unlikely you will see the difference without opening the full size image. If you’re reading this on a mobile device you may need to zoom in to see the difference. If you were to print these, the difference will be very pronounced. Once you’ve opened the full size image, you can clearly see that as the sensitivity goes up, the amount of time the sensor needs to be exposed to the light reduces.

For example, at ISO160 you would require twice as much light compared to ISO300. As you can see form the images above, the high ISO at 1531 produces very noticeable amount of noise which renders the photograph useless. The least amount of noise at ISO70 can be negated by blur caused by camera shake which can get noticeable at such a slow shutter being 1/4th of a second.

It is hard to see much difference in noise between the ISO160 and ISO300 and there’s not much blur either. Any combination of ISO and shutter speed along that range would produce the acceptable quality photograph. Which one to use will depend on your particular situation – e.g. if your baby is calm and asleep try to lower the ISO which will also reduces the shutter speed. If your baby is awake or moving  you will need higher shutter speed and therefore ISO to minimise any blur due to the movement.

Shutter Speed.

Shutter is a device that permits the light to the sensor. When it is open, the light freely flows onto the sensor via the lens. The amount of time the shutter is opened determines how much light gets onto the sensor. The available lightning conditions will define this amount. Similarly to sunbathing, you need to expose your skin to the Sun much more on a cloudy day compared to a very sunny day at 12pm in order to permit whatever is the required amount of light on your skin in order to achieve the desired level of tan without getting sunburnt. How much depends on how sensitive your skin is. Or, in the camera world — the ISO value.

In photography, the shorter the time the shutter is opened – the higher the opportunity to capture the motion. You may recall the speed of light is 300,000 kms/second and every time the object moves a new version of photons get bounced off it. When the object and the source of light are stationary, the flow of photons is constant and goes in exactly same direction. High shutter speeds are necessary to prevent the different “versions” of photons hitting the sensor in order to prevent the blur or a ghost effect. The modern cameras typically capable of going as fast as 1/32,000 of a second.

Slower shutter speeds are necessary when the lightning conditions are poor or you are trying to achieve an artistic effect such as blurring the motion. In most of the situations, with the newborn photography you want to use the fastest shutter speed possible within the light available to you.

Generally, with the mobile, try not to go under 1/10th of the second. 1/4th is probably the absolute minimum however will require a still object. You may go below that depending on how strong your hands are. You can employ a delayed shutter release when the software allows it. This will allow you to push the button, steady your hands within the couple of seconds before camera captures the image, thus minimising the camera shake and the resulting blur.

Aperture.

This is not as important with mobile phones where aperture is pretty much fixed. With traditional lenses it is possible to adjust the amount of light by changing the lens’s diaphragm. You can have it wide open so a lot of light goes through the lens or you can have it very narrow so it takes much longer for the same required amount of light to get in. For example, when it is too dark the wide open diaphragm allows as much light as possible within the shortest amount of time. Another thing I need to mention is that when the lens is wide open it gets the most amount of light from the object which is in focus. The rest of elements on the photograph remain out of focus which accentuates just the object the photographer was focusing on. The opposite is also true – with a narrow aperture the light gets through the hole much slower and evenly meaning more objects are in focus. As you can guess, most of mobile phones would have very narrow apertures due to very small lenses they have.

There is a deeper technical overview covering some of these areas at the end of the article.

Putting it All Together.

When taking photographs – newborn, family or any other occasion you are looking to achieve just one simple task. The task of capturing enough light to achieve properly exposed photographs – not too bright and not too dark. Just right. Without introducing too much noise by cranking up ISO or having too blurry photos because your shatter speed was too slow.

The human eye is an impressive device and no technology got even 10% to how wonderful the nature is. Our eyes correct the exposure and balance the colours automatically. The technology is nowhere near. Frankly we still have no idea about how our vision works 100%. By applying our own eyes, by guiding the phone and its software, by performing some post-photography adjustments you will be able to produce awesome photos. Just remember this ONE thing — proper exposure is all you’re trying to achieve and here are the levers you can apply to achieve it.

  1. ISO. You can command your sensor to respond a lot more to the light the lens delivers. Try to keep the ISO number as low as possible. The higher the number, the noisier and more grainy your photos will look. Anything up to 300 should be good, however, depending on the phone you use, you might push it higher or be limited to a lower number.
  2. Shutter speed. Your goal is to have the fastest shutter speed for as long as your ISO is acceptably low and the exposure is right. Sometimes, when the lightning conditions are poor you will be forced to go with slower shutter speeds. However, the longer you have it, the more blurry your photos will become. Our hands are never truly still same as your baby, especially wide awake. Every time you push the button to capture a photo, you introduce a movement and risk to introduce blur. This is why we use tripods, remote controls, delayed release and other devices. How low can you go? Depending on your phone. Just Google “myphone focal length”. Just make sure you ignore the “equivalent focal length” – most of mobiles will have real focal length between 3-5mm. For example my Galaxy S7 Edge’s is 4.2mm. The golden rule for handheld photography is not to go below 1/[focal length] of a second or, in my example 1/4th. If you keep the speed 1/10th and above your results should be quite good and blur free for still object.
  3. Aperture. Generally you do not control it with a phone. You phone keeps it as wide open as it has in order to permit the most light through it. You job is to achieve the correct exposure while your ISO is low enough so there is no noise and you shutter speed is high enough so there’s no blur. Unfortunately with mobiles you almost have zero control over the aperture. Read on the more detailed technical overview just few paragraphs below.

You formula to success is – the highest shutter speed and the lowest ISO. These are limited by the hardware your phone has. You have to operate within the constraints of available light or consider installing some inexpensive lightning system. Aperture is the one important lever you don’t get to play with on the phone. Generally you need to accept that everything on your photos will be in focus unless you move very close to the object you photograph.

Your limiting factors are:

  1. The amount of quality light. Combat it with quality artificial light (ideal scenario) or by slower shutter speeds (blur) or higher ISO (noise).
  2. How fast your object moves. This means you have less time to capture enough light while preventing various versions of your object captured by the sensor. Same as above – balancing blur vs noise.

In-Depth Overview: Aperture, Focal Length, Depth of Field, Sensor Size and other.

Here things can get very confusing. You can simply skip to the next article or read on to satisfy the inner thirst to learn. In this section I’m attempting to explain some very important technical differences between proper cameras and mobile phones cutting through the layers of marketing nonsense.

Some very important terminology:

Focal Length. Is simply the physical distance between the optical centre of the lens and the image sensor. It is fixed in mobile phones being between 3-5mm depending on the model. With many professional cameras we can change the lenses that have different focal length in response to the requirement for the photography object we need to capture.

Depth of Field (DoF). Іs the distance between the nearest and furthest elements on your photograph that appear to be “acceptably sharp” or in focus. The change is gradual with the object in focus being the sharpest and everything in front or behind it going gently out of focus.

For example if you focus on an object 3 metres away, everything within the bracket of 2.5 metres (nearest point) to 3.5 (furthest) is your field, which has a depth of 1 metre.

Shallow DoF is very popular in portrait photography to better isolate the object from its background. It can be as shallow as a couple centimetres.

The wide DoF is useful in landscape or architecture photography to bring the foreground and background in focus, so the picture looks very thorough and detailed. With the widest DoF everything beyond a certain point will be in focus. The shorter the Focal Length of the lens, the closer the point from which the infinite focus begins. This last point is very important to keep in mind. For example, first iPhones did not have focus at all. Everything past a certain point (1.2 metres) was in focus. Very handy for acceptable quick snaps from the distance.

Sensor Size.

Sensor Size. A sensor records the incoming light as an image. The reference standard for sensor size is a full frame 35mm sensor which measures 36x24mm having the area of 864mm2. If you recall that during the pre-digital film era the 35mm film was the most widely used, you will understand why the 35mm got selected as the standard.

This sensor occupies a lot of real estate and commands lenses with larger focal length to capture the image. Notwithstanding the fact the sensor is the most expensive part of any camera, equipping mobile phones with large costly sensors and massive optics is not very mobile-friendly. And therefore, mobiles had to use much smaller sensors  – most of high end phones of 2016 would sport 1/2.5″ sensors which have area of only 25mm2.

Smaller sensors and shorter focal lens are an ideal combination for a mobile phone and this relation is shown on the diagram below:

Focal Length and Sensor Size Relationship

Focal Length and Sensor Size

As the light travels from the Object (top of the diagram), it gets captured by the lens and directed onto the sensor. The larger the sensor the further should it be located from the lens. That is why small 4mm lens and a tiny sensor are such a great combination.

Imagine what would happen if the camera sensor was located behind the lens with 50mm focal length. The most part of the image, which would comfortably cover the spacious area of 864mm2 of the 35mm sensor, will simply be outside the physical area of the phone’s camera sensor which is so much smaller! The sensor will only record a tiny portion of the image as shown here:

Sensor Crop Factor

Sensor Crop Factor

We could achieve the same if applied the crop tool to the image recorded by a camera with a 35mm sensor.

Therefore, to show this relation, for sensors smaller that 35mm so called Crop Factor was introduced – a ratio of its size to 35mm sensor. For example, my Galaxy S7 Edge has a tiny 1/2.5″ sensor with the crop factor being 6. Had my Samsung came with a larger, professional lens, the image recorded with it would have been absolutely useless. The solution – move lens and sensor closer together. Or, in the photography jargon – install a lens with a shorter focal length. How much closer? Easy – just divide the focal length of a lens required on a 35mm camera by the sensor’s crop factor! E.g. to fit the same image that would be recorder by the 35mm sensor and a 50mm lens on a sensor with crop factor 7, the mobile phone needs to have a 7mm lens.

Whenever phone manufacturer throws at you some obscure marketing message like “Only the iPhone 7 Plus has that 28mm (equivalent) lens” it simply means the actual focal length of its lens is 28mm/sensor crop factor.  However, let’s be clear – there is nothing equal between a $40 mobile phone camera and $4,500 professional equipment. Laws of physics are universal and not easily tackled by marketing departments.

Here is an example. Some unconfirmed reports and investigations on the Internet state that iPhone 7+ main lens’ focal length is 3.99. This allows us to determine its crop factor as 28/3.99 = 7.01. Which indicates they must be using 1/2.5″ sensor – same what Sony, Samsung and many others use in their flagship phones. As a side comment – Sony is the leading manufacturer of sensors used by many professional equipment such as Hasselblad, Nikon, Pentax etc as well as most mobile phones including Apple.

The importance of the crop factor will become clear very soon. Just bear with me for a bit longer.

The table of different sensor sizes is provided below:

Sensor “Type” Imaging Area Dimensions (mm)
Diagonal Width Height
1/6″ 2.7 2.46 1.8
1/4″ 4.5 3.6 2.7
1/3.6″ 5 4 3
1/3.2″ 5.68 4.54 3.42
1/3″ 6 4.8 3.6
1/2.7″ 6.59 5.37 4.29
1/2.5″ 7.18 5.76 4.29
1/2.4″ 7.66 5.92 4.57
1/2.3″ 7.7 6.16 4.62
1/2.33″ 7.8 6.13 4.6
1/2″ 8 6.4 4.8
1/1.8″ 8.93 7.18 5.32
1/1.75″ 9.23 7.38 5.54
1/1.7″ 9.5 7.6 5.7
1/1.6″ 10.07 8.08 6.01
2/3″ 11.07 8.8 6.6
1″ 16 12.8 9.6
4/3″ 22.5 18 13.5
APS-C Sony 21.5 14.4
Canon 22.2 14.8
Nikon 23.7 15.7
Canon 28.7 19.1
35 mm 43.3 36 24

 

Megapixels and Sensor Size

Megapixels alone, as a measurement is pretty useless unless you are a marketing professional looking for a catchy way to differentiate your product. Here is why. Similarly to so vastly different animals as mice and elephants, Megapixels are not created equal.

Every sensor hosts a number of pixels installed on its surface. Thousands rows each having a certain number of pixels – e.g. 6000 rows, 4000 pixels each, which means it is a 24 Megapixel sensor. My Galaxy S7 Edge captures images at 4032×3024 which is consistent with its 12.2MP sensor.  You may wander, how can it be that the megapixel difference between a massive (864mm2) and a tiny (25mm2) sensors is only double and not 35 (864/25=35). The answer is simple – different size and density of pixels.

Previously we discussed that the sensor records the light reflected from the photography object. This recording is done by pixels. Think of pixels as the buckets that catch and store light’s photons during the moment the camera’s shutter is opened. Thousands rows and columns of buckets deployed on the sensor die. If there’s no photons in the bucket the light recorded as black. If the bucket is full to the rims, the colour is white. And everything in between. As a side comment, pixels alone are colourblind and see only shades of grey. To determine the colour information the sensor uses special filters and algorithms I won’t describe here.

So, how is it possible to have so many pixels on such a tiny sensor? By making them much much smaller. In the example above, my 6000×4000 sensor has 5.97 μm pixels, while the smaller sensor has 1.4 μm. μm is a micrometre — 1 millionth of a metre or 1 thousand’s of a millimetre. If we do a bit more investigation we will find that the pixel density on the smaller sensor is approximately twice as high on the small sensor. On the bigger sensor, each million of pixels occupies 4.1% of its area while on the smaller one the number goes up to 8.2%

So, on the tiny sensor there are tiny pixels squashed together very densely, like people on the train during the peak hour. What is the implication? Huge. Called noise and clarity of the picture. The rays of light, as they pass through the lens will begin to diverge and interfere with one another. This becomes more pronounced as the aperture opening gets narrower or smaller relative to the wavelength of light that passes through it. However, this occurs to some extent for any aperture even wide open. With this, we need to take a close look at the aperture.

Aperture.

The aperture is an opening of the diaphragm inside the lens. Similarly to the iris of your eye. It is a bit meaningless when the lens, such as with mobile phones, has only one fixed diaphragm value. This means the lens does not control the amount of light that goes through it and only relies on what is available.

The things get much more interesting with the proper equipment, where the diaphragm can be adjusted. Each time the diaphragm value changes up or down, it increases or reduces the amount of light permitted through the lens. For example, f/2.0 permits less light than f/1.4 on the same lens. On my 85mm Sony G-Master, the lens at its widest aperture setting of f/1.4 permits 256 times more light compared to its narrowest f/22.

However, what is exactly the f-number, the latest favourite of marketing propellerheads? It is simply a relationship between the lens’s focal length and its diameter. When someone says “iPhone 7 has vastly improved and fast lens at f/2” in plain English it means the lens’s diameter is 2mm, knowing that the phone’s focal lens is 4 mm. Simple calculation would show my 85mm lens diameter is 60mm at f/1.4 – no guesses which one permits better light, right?

The most important aspect here is that the amount of light as the number or photons per amount of time is not quantified. All the multipliers work only within one given lens, relevant only to this one specific lens. In other words, comparing one 85mm f/1.4 lens to another 85mm f/1.4 lens designed for a specific sensor can only be done by extensive field test of the equipment to ascertain specific aspects of it such as optical quality, speed to autofocus and so one. This number tells us only that both lenses diaphragms diameter when wide open is 85/1.4 = 60mm. The numbers alone can only hint on the capability of the lens (e.g. f/1.4 should be faster than a f/2.8 since it permits more light).

Comparing the lenses designed for different sensors is not even apples versus oranges because of the crop factor discussed earlier. And the greater the crop factor, the harder it is to make any meaningful comparison. It is not linear at all and probably not even logarithmic comparison if to account for pixel density, quality of glass, complexity of the diaphragm elements end so on.

Diffraction, Airy Disk and Clarity.

Few paragraphs above, I’ve discussed the effect when rays of light, as they pass through the lens will begin to diverge and interfere with one another. It is called diffraction and illustrated below.

Diffraction

Diffraction

As the aperture gets narrower  the rays now travel different distances. Some begin to interfere with each other — adding in some places and partially or completely canceling out in others. As you can infer from the diagram, the further from the centre the more diffraction and noise will be recorded by the sensor. For an ideal round aperture, the two-dimensional diffraction pattern is called an Airy Disk, after George Airy who discovered it. Think of it as a spotlight. When positioned ideally perpendicular  against the wall it will produce an ideal circle. It will become an oval even with the slightest tilt. The size of the airy disk defines the theoretical maximum resolution for an optical system. Not resolution as in megapixels but an ability to resolve the image – make a sense of the visual information there.

When the diameter of the Airy Disk becomes too large compared to the size of the pixel it begins to distort the image. When two Airy Disks overlap more than by 50% they are no longer resolvable. Just the noise. As you increase you ISO number, your make pixels more sensitive to the light which also increases the occurrence where Airy Disks overlap.

Airy Disks and Resolution

Airy Disks and Resolution

Now, what determines the size of Airy Disk? Two things – the f-number of your lens, and the wavelength of the incoming light. The narrower the diaphragm, the larger the Airy Disk and higher the noise. That is why very narrow apertures are rarely useful in professional photography while the phone manufacturers have to keep the lens aperture’s as low as possible – there is simply no other choice.

Once again, all the messaging about “low f-number with the new model” is nothing but the marketing wrapping for a technical necessity. For example, at f/2 aperture the diameter of the Airy Disk is already 2.7 µm. Recalling the pixel size information from the above, we can see that a modern full frame sensor at 5.97µm (some, low megapixel sensors have massive pixels at 11µm and more) while my Galaxy S7 Edge has a mere 1.7µm. What it means is that with the professional camera there is a lot more ability to isolate light and minimise the noise even at higher apertures. With the phone we already have a problem since the smallest Airy Disk hitting the sensor is already 40% larger than the pixel!!!

Therefore, even under the ideal circumstances the mobile phone will produce noisy photographs meaning some post processing is absolutely necessary to produce a great result. This is one of many reasons why it is so hard to create superiour result with the mobile having such optical disadvantages to start with. And this is why you should be very and very proud if you can achieve even 30% of quality compared to the professional photography.

Final Part. The Real Meaning of Equivalent When Comparing Bulldozers to Ballerinas.

So, we’ve determined the following:

  • Everything in the digital photography is referenced to the historical, golden standard of 35mm film which is known in the digital photography as the full frame sensor.
  • The smaller the sensor, the greater the crop factor the measure of the size ratio between the smaller and the full frame sensor.
  • The smaller the sensor the less should be the physical distance (called focal length) between the sensor and the lens. For mobile phones it is usually 4-5mm. Waves of light do not travel in equivalents – they travel real distances at the constant speed, which is 300,000 kms per second.
  • Sensor records the image via its pixels. The higher the number of pixels (megapixel wars have done a lot of damage here) the smaller they should be provided the size of sensor is the same.
  • Light as it gets to sensor has a specific size measured as the Airy Disk. When Airy Disks overlap they introduce noise in extremes making the optical information just impossible to resolve.
  • The size of the Airy Disk is defined by the lens’s aperture and the narrower the aperture, the larger the diameter of the Disk as it hits the sensor.
  • With mobile phone cameras that cram a lot of megapixels in a very tiny sensor, the pixels are almost always smaller than the ideal Airy Disk permitted through the phone’s camera lens. It means there’s always noise with those cameras.

And now back to the crop factor, or equivalent so often used by the marketing teams to prove bulldozers and ballerinas are the same. It is just the ratio that compares how smaller the phone’s sensor is in relation to the 35mm reference in order to capture the same amount of visual information in from of the camera. It also determines how shorter the distance (the Focal Length) needs to be between the lens and the sensor. For example, if the crop factor is 7 and the lens of the mobile is 5mm the sensor will record exactly the same amount of visual information as a full frame camera equipped with a 35 mm lens. That is it.

This is where the comparison pretty much ends. The other elements employed to record the light as an image are vastly different between the purpose built cameras and mobiles. This includes the quality and distribution of rays of light via the lens as well as the actual pixels to record it.

A mobile phone camera with a lens at 4mm and f/2 aperture after applying the crop factor of 7 becomes comparable to a 28mm, f/14 lens attached to a full frame camera. A 28mm lens on a full frame camera is considered wide since it captures a much bigger picture compared to what our eyes normally see, which is equivalent to 50mm lens on a full-frame camera. Wide lenses on a full frame camera is never never a good choice to taking portraits since such a lens produces out of proportion bobbled foreheads, elongates one part of the face or puts emphasis on one or another feature. Now you understand why selfies look to terrible which in turn popularised the use of selfie sticks.

On top of that, a narrow aperture at f/14 is quite a terrible setting for the portraiture.  For starters, at such aperture the size of the Airy Disk will be very big even for larger pixels occupying  35mm sensors. It means there will interference and a resulting noise. Also, narrow apertures will produce a wide Depth of Field meaning a lot of fore and background, not only the object, will be in focus. You image will be not only noisy but also filled with unnecessary details. This would work ok for nature, landscape or architecture shots but a very poor combination for a portrait.

Finally, the shallow depth of field. This is the nice effect so highly regarded in the photography where you put an emphasis on the object by isolating it from its background and foreground my shortening the range which is in focus. You don’t get it with the mobile phone unless you get very close to the object. And if you get that close to your object the distortion caused by the wide lens will be quite visible. Generally to achieve the shallow DoF you need a larger sensor, a greater focal length or a wider aperture. Unfortunately none of which is offered by the mobile phone. With mobile phones after beyond a certain distance from the object everything will be in focus all the way to infinity. Once again, not bad for the landscape photography but utterly useless in the portrait genre.

This concludes the Theory Overview. Thank you for being with us. If you got all the elements here you are already ahead even many professional photographers and are fully ready to take very good quality newborn, family and any other type of photographs even with such an inferior device such as a mobile phone.

If you are already considering a good quality compact camera such as Sony RX100 or maybe Sony NEX to work around the limitations imposed by Laws of Physics – you are on the right track. The proper equipment will only skyrocket the quality of your photos. A $1000 camera is always better that a $40 camera on a $1500 phone. At the end of the day, the photos you’re taking will be with you for many decades, unlike your phone you are going to keep for 2-3 years. From this perspective, investing in a proper camera is highly justified since the memories you keep is essentially all you’ve got, that no one can ever take away from you.

With this, let’s explore how to take photographs and develop those to achieve the best results within the technology at your disposal.

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