Smart Phone Photography

This section is being added because it is almost certainly the most popular form of taking images today.  The quality of the images varies with the particular phone model and we don’t attempt to describe all of the possible variations that exist, but we felt that this section on photography for biologists would be seriously incomplete without a discussion of such photography.  We use as examples images captured by iphones, which we are personally familiar with and which are also among the most popular globally.

Smart phones have a number of advantages over most standard cameras.  Firstly, the phone is small and thin enough to be taken anywhere with you, unlike a standard camera.  Then there is quick connectivity to the internet so images can be sent with minimal effort anywhere.  GPS is usually included as part of the smartphone and the images can be easily georeferenced.  The photo interface is usually simple and easily learned and a range of useful photographic options exist in addition to standard images, such as making panoramas, videos, and taking high dynamic range images automatically.  Newer features include smart background blurring to simulate low f-stop photography from conventional digital cameras.

Although smart phones do have some major advantages over conventional cameras, they all suffer from major limitations resulting from a small image sensor size.  Quality of the images, though often excellent for displaying on a phone, are not as good as with larger sensor digital cameras.  Depth-of-field is large, making portrait-type photos difficult.  Likewise, phones lack optical telephoto lenses comparable to conventional digital cameras.  In summary, here are some advantages of iphone-type cameras: 1) portability, compactness and ease-of-use 2) great depth-of-field, 3) GPS-georeferencing.  Main disadvantages are: 1) comparatively poor image quality, 2) large depth-of-field, 3) poor telephoto capability.

Smart phones should be part of a biologist’s photography gear.  If nothing else, they are good for wide-angle images of landscapes and for documenting field activities including the precise GPS positions of other photos you might take.