Why Cell Phone Camera’s (All Camera’s) should be Taboo While Investigating

Although I am not an advocate of taking any still pictures while investigating, using a cell phone makes it significantly worse for many reasons. Sure, they are convenient, but that’s about as far as I could go with anything positive to say about using them.

I hear people say that their Cell Phone takes great pictures, and while that may be true on a nice sunny day; they have many limitations as to their functionality in low light/no light situations. Yes, they have a flash, but the flash has limited range, and also the camera then has to compensate for the flash usage. Taking a picture of your friends in a bar is fine, but to try and use it to capture anything paranormal is out of the question. Let’s take a look at why I say this, in regards to the inner working of a cell camera.

The majority of the time, you simply are going to use your flash and a longer shutter speed in low light. Then trying to stabilize the cell phone against some immovable object. With real cameras, even using an eye level viewfinder and supporting the lens correctly offers you some additional support, and aside from DSLR mirror shake potential, a large camera has more mass, so it’ll make fewer tiny moves in response to body shakes. You really want to lock that cell phone down, but how many people actually do that while investigating. I see it all the time, people walking around, snapping away. And then sometimes while moving, which creates even more motion blur.

Another issue is getting blur from moving subjects. Not much you can do about that in most cases though but that also tends to lead to mis-identification of something being “Paranormal”. If you’re shooting a moving object, you can match its motion and shoot while moving, which can work great, but of course you risk vertical shake following a horizontally moving object, and this issue is exacerbated in low light. It will also blur the surrounding, again leading to mis-interpretation. The best was to eliminate some of these is to go to a faster shutter speed, but that would mean setting this manually and on a cellphone, the only other degree of freedom is image gain, and that’s also a problem on phones.

When you see noise in an image, grain or static, that’s actually sensor noise. Your phone, like all digital cameras, has a photo sensor composed of small pixels, one or more analog to digital converters, and one more thing, a programmable gain amplifier. That amp sits between your pixels and ADC, with the job of boosting the signal from each pixel when it’s too low. The strength of a pixel’s signal is based on how many photons are hitting it… more light or a larger pixel gets you a stronger signal. The iPhone 5s has 1.5um pixels, better than the 1.0um pixels of older iPhones, but still tiny. So the signal gets weak, it gets boosted, but eventually, the random noise in any electronic system gets to be close in level to the pixel signal, and so, when you boost that pixel, you get visible effect from the noise.

Which brings me back to the old adage, add more light. You could lower sensitivity and increase exposure time for a cleaner image, but more blur potential. Add room lights; use a flash, that’s about it. This is just how photography works, and the problems only increase with the limitations of the camera being used.

Let’s look at some samples of photo’s using different cameras. Same light, same location. They are all handheld as well (No Tripod) and all on Auto setting, since that is what makes a huge difference in photo quality. They are in my basement with very low light from ceiling lights.

First two pictures are with my cell phone, an HTC, first no flash, second with flash.







The next 2 Photo’s are with a Point and Shoot Digital, a Casio EX-S200 and again no flash, w/flash









Next 2 pictures are with a Canon 5D Mark III full frame DSLR, no flash, with flash









As you can see, there is a huge difference between the camera’s and the quality of the shots. The cell phone picture with flash, is not something I would even use as evidence (And Agin I would stress, I would never shoot still photo’s during an investigation, nor ever think of using them as evidence), as the lighting is not up to par with trying to define much of anything. The point and shoot with flash is much better, but still not of high quality and still has a bit of blur due to a slower shutter speed. In comparison, the Full Frame camera with flash is clean and crisp. Even without the flash, it’s not a bad picture, but still dark and again, a bit blurry being hand held with a slower shutter speed.

With all of this being said, looking at the cell phone photo compared to the other two with flash, shows that a cell phone cannot even compare. And why is that? It’s all about the sensor size. The cell phone, despite claimed MegaPixial Size, cannot draw in enough light, even with a flash to get a clean crisp image due to the size of the sensor and the low quality flash.

My bottom line, don’t use a cell phone while investigating and more importantly, when reviewing your cell phone pictures, be aware of its short comings in image quality, especially in low light situations. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you have captured an “Entity” when in fact what you have captured is a low quality photo that is not a well-defined image.


Al Schmidt

Al Schmidt

Hi, I'm Allan (Al) Schmidt. I'm 52 living in Colorado. I've been married for 27 years. I Retired form the Air Force in 2001 and have been working for the Government in Boulder ever since. I have many hobbies, mostly outdoor, hiking, camping hunting, fishing etc. The main thing that ties them all together is Photography. I've been into the paranormal basically all my life, as my late father was into basically everything paranormal, although he didn't really refer to it as paranormal. Bigfoot, Nessi, UFO's, Little People. He had books on all subjects which I read with a passion. I have been investigating for over 10 years now regularly, and have been all over the country doing so. Locally, have investigated many locations, both with others teams and as I like to do most of the time, by myself or with my wife. I'm very logical in my undertakings, and very skeptical by nature. If I have exhausted all resources and ideas as to how to debunk something, only then will I call it interesting and possibly paranormal. I have not really had any wow moments to speak of, but have had some interesting things happen, enough so to make me more curious.
Al Schmidt

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