Photography Basics: Cell Phone Cameras vs. Digital Cameras

Photography Basics – Cell Phone Cameras vs Digital Cameras
Everyone has a cell phone today and loves to use it for more than just talking on the phone, which is its main function. Folks love to take pictures with their phone and then think the device is the equivalent to a digital camera. Sorry to burst some bubbles, but that’s like comparing apples to oranges. Let’s take a look at what makes up a camera then see how cell phone cameras compare.

A digital camera has three parts basically – the body, the lens and the sensor. Let’s take a look at each of these individually.

* The body simply is the housing for the working parts. It can be large or small but ultimately the user will decide on the body based on comfort and being able to access the buttons and functions on the camera.

*The lens is the eye of camera and is the most important part of capturing your photos – zooming in or out for the right shot. There are prime lenses which don’t allow for zooming but will take sharper images and are usually more economical. The zoom lenses tend to be a little more of an investment since they allow you to zoom in on subjects for your picture. The zoom lenses are heavier and larger than the prime lenses. In addition to these there are other lenses for different pictures – wide-angle, standard, medium, telephoto and ultra-telephoto. Wide-angle lenses generally have a focal length up to 35mm and can capture more in the picture but it could cause some distortion in the picture. Standard lenses have a focal length of 35-50mm and are more likely to show things how we actually see it. Medium lenses have a focal length of 60-100 mm and are mostly used for portraits. Telephoto lenses are over 100mm and will zoom in pretty far but are more likely to produce motion blur and don’t perform as well in low light. Ultra-telephoto lenses are over 400 mm.

*The sensor is what catches the exposure to capture the picture. It is exposed to light coming through the lens then records that exposure which is then processed and saved. The sensor is what affects the quality of your pictures. This is where the megapixel size comes into play. The higher the megapixel, the more likely you are to see more noise in your pictures. You will always want to test out a camera first before just buying it based on the megapixel size.

You can see just from the above how a cell phone camera can drastically differ from a digital camera. But let’s break down the cell phone camera as well.

*Cell phone cameras don’t have a body as the camera function is contained in the same device as the parts that make the phone function.

*The lens on most cell phone cameras is between 20-40mm, a range smaller than the standard lens of a digital camera. This can cause distortion in pictures so it’s important to take pictures from an acceptable distance to try and balance this distortion. Obviously you wouldn’t be able to zoom in on anything because the lens is not the right size. You can always by a cell phone camera lens kit but while this boosts quality of the pictures taken, it can add minor artifacting, prevent light from reaching the phone which can affect the exposure, and you’d have to remember to carry this kit with you when you weren’t using the phone as a camera.

* The sensor in most cell phones is obviously tiny compared to a digital camera but it also is affected more by how much light it receives and this can have a definite impact on your pictures. More light, better pictures, less noise; less light, poorer quality pictures and more noise.

After looking at each piece individually, it’s obvious why as paranormal investigators we recommend using a digital camera over a cell phone camera. In order to accurately capture anything in a picture we need to use the best suited equipment and your cell phone just isn’t the best. Will it work in a pinch? Sure. Will you be able to have your picture stand passing the debunking test? Probably not because there are so many reasons it would fail. Next time you’re thinking about adding a new piece of equipment to your team’s collection, make sure and look at a good digital camera.

Sheri Collins

Sheri Collins

Assistant Executive Director Department Chair Investigation & Research Education Resource Photography & NPS Photography Team at NPS of Texas
Sheri has always had an interest in the paranormal – from watching different paranormal shows over the years to having déjà-vu experiences throughout all her life that she has tried to put an explanation to. When her dad passed away in March 2010she began her journey into the paranormal. She has had several encounters over the years since starting in the field & takes more of an “old school” approach to her research in the paranormal. She is a supporter of today’s modern technology being used on investigations & encourages the use of various tools on investigations. She is always looking for a new ‘old school’ method to try on investigations & employs the use of trigger objects in an effort to get a response. She became fascinated with the pendulum after using a set of original jailer’s keys as a trigger object on an investigation at a local historic jail & they began to sway in response to questions.She is a huge proponent of education in the paranormal field choosing to debunk things immediately by trying to recreate situations & experiment to find logical answers to things that have happened or been captured in photographs or on video in an effort to prove or disprove paranormal activity. She & her team focus on private residential cases as well as educating the public on paranormal investigation & research. You will often find them assisting & consulting with other teams on theircases. Sheri is a certified paralegal and Notary Public for the State of Texas. Her professional background includes working in the legal field, sports marketing, event coordination & business management. She serves as Assistant Executive Director of NPS and the Department Chair overseeing Photography and the NPS Photography Team. Sheri leads the Investigation & Research Education Resources for NPS which provides information, links, & articles surrounding education in the paranormal field. She also writes articles periodically for the NPS’ website that are tied to photography & education. She is one of the founders of NPS of Texas, a paranormal research & investigative team based out of Dallas, Texas.
Sheri Collins