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On Technology: Crummy cell pictures

By Jim Hillibish
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Posted on 3/10/2014, 11:46 AM

The killer app on cellphones is the camera, as in photography. Last year, tens of billions of pictures were shot by them, eclipsing stand-alone digital cameras.
Downside: Tablet and cell cams still produce lower-quality images than stand-alone cameras. It's all in the sensor that records the shot. There's not a lot of room or power in a handheld. For sharpness and depth of color, they cannot beat the competition.
I spent a Saturday trying to improve my Samsung tablet photos. Here's what I found:
The No. 1 handheld issue is fuzzy pics. That tiny sensor magnifies any camera movement, resulting in blurry shots. Examine how you are holding your device. Grasp it firmly with both hands, reserving a thumb to press the shutter. Hold your arms close to your body for support. Carefully press the shutter button, do not just poke it. Take more than one shot to be sure to get a sharp one. The other fuzzy cause: Fingerprints and dirt on the tiny lens.
Most cell and tablet cams come with an image-editing app, even a stripped down version of the famous Photoshop used by the pros. Most users ignore this as extra work. Let's just say a quick stop in the editor always results in a better shot. Many editors have buttons that automatically adjust a combination of image-improving steps customized for each shot. These include sharpness, contrast, tilt shift, color shift and shadow detail, plus special effects. You will immediately see the improvement with no great skill required.
The trend in cams is to add telephoto zoom. These are digital zooms, not optical, and they degrade the image. The closer you zoom, the more magnified camera shake. For this reason, the sharpest telephoto shots come from holding the camera against something solid such as a wall or a table or even a tree. Tip: Zoom your picture in your image editor, not your cam. Tight cropping works best to bring an image closer.
The old advice to keep the sun over your shoulder still works. Cams are not great at adjusting for extremes in exposure. Their exposure sensor tends to expose for the lightest part of the shot, leaving shaded parts go dark. If you shoot your dog in front of a window, the cam will be confused. Reduce this somewhat by getting closer to your subject or change the position of the light to the front.
Most cams come with a settings feature. The defaults often are set at lower quality. Reset the resolution to its highest setting. This increases the file size of the photo but is worth it in image quality. Adjust the white balance for the image you are taking or choose Scenery or Portrait. You can do wonders here. Check out the other settings. You will be surprised at the difference.
My technology column ends today. It's been fun writing from the pre-Internet era to the burgeoning wireless, tablet and cellphone times.
Reach Jim at 330-580-8324 or

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