Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Phoning it in

Who’s world’s the biggest camera maker? Canon? Nikon? Neither; it’s Apple. Yes, Apple, the maker of computers, the iPad and the ubiquitous iPhone. It’s that popularity of the iPhone and its built-in camera that propels it past all of the traditional camera manufacturers.

For a few years now Apple and other mobile phone companies have surpassed digital compact point-and-shoot cameras, which has given camera industry cause to worry. Recently Canon introduced the PowerShot N Facebook point-and-shoot camera that can connect to the social media site in hopes of stemming the cellphone camera tide.

Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSRLs) cameras sales showed little signs of the cellphone camera incursion, until recently, that its. In the past year or so Nikon DLSR sales have dropped dramatically. Canon has posted similar numbers as well. It could be that DSLR sales have reached their market saturation or perhaps this signals the beginning the end and maybe they’ll be as prevalent as film cameras are today and cellphone cameras will rule the imaging world. Which brings us to the newest Readers Photo Challenge assignment: phone cameras.

With each new generation of cellphones their cameras have improved to the point to nearly the match the performance of the point-and-shoot cameras (though they lag far behind the quality and versatility of DSLRs).

I think that there’s a tendency to think of the images made from cellphones as throwaway pictures. That somehow they’re less worthy to be considered as art because they’re not shot with a “real” camera. I know because I’ve been guilty of it myself. But it doesn’t have to be. True, there are limitations that nearly all cellphone cameras have. They tend not to be very good in low light nor do they capture action very well, but much of photography is problem solving. The best photographers find a way to work around whatever shortcomings of that their equipment may have to come up with great images. You have to throw off that throwaway mentality and think of cellphone photos worthy in and of themselves.

Indeed there are Websites dedicated to the art of cellphone photography. The annual San Joaquin County Fair’s photography show now includes a category for cellphone images. The best of those images are as good as shot by any kind of camera. It’s because it’s the photographer that makes a good photo, not the camera.

A few things to look out for:

Try not to use the zoom function. Most if not all cellphone cameras use a digital zoom and while it may sound impressive it’s not. What DSLR and most point-and-shoot zoom lenses employ is an optical zoom, meaning that they have several different glass elements to change the focal length of a lens. Digital zooms use a smaller portion of the camera’s already small sensor the farther you zoom the lens out. This ultimately means a loss in resolution and sharpness.

Most cellphone cameras have poor performance in low light, try to shoot action photos during the day or anything that’s moving will be blurred.

Speaking of low light, you will need to find a way to steady the phone/camera when it gets dark or you’ll experience a lot of camera shake. There are some adapters that allow you to fit a cellphone to a tripod, which will help. The upside is that the cellphones are so light you can get a small, lightweight and cheap tripod.

Exposure and focusing with cellphone cameras is more or less done automatically. With some if not most mobile phone cameras portions of the scene can be picked for focusing by tapping on the screen where you want the camera to be focused. Exposure can be done the same way.

As far as composition goes the principals are the same as with any camera: Get in close, watch your backgrounds and look for good light.

The most the important thing in any kind of photography is to think and it’s even more important with cellphone photography. Perhaps because of it’s casual, everyday nature of cellphones people tend to take their pictures without much thought. They walk up take a quick snap and then leave. But in actuality because of the cellphone cameras’ limits you should slow down, give some thought to your subject and take your time when you take the photo.

With the popularity of cellphones and their cameras, the days of the compact point-and-shoot camera market may be numbered, though DSLRs will probably endure (though likely in lower numbers than their peak sales a few years ago). So break out your phones and fire up their cameras then slow down and think when taking your pictures. Good luck and good and good shooting.

The rules:

1. Entries can be emailed to Type in “Cellphones” in the subject line.

2. Photos have to be shot between Nov. 18 and Dec. 1.

3. Include your name (first and last), hometown, and the kind of device you used to take the picture.

4. The subject is up to you but it must be taken with a cellphone camera (iPad or tablet type devices are acceptable as well)

5. Describe what the photo is of and where it was taken. If your photo is of a person please include the name (first and last) of your subject, their relationship to you (relative, friend or stranger off the street), their ages (if they are juveniles).

6. Please feel free to include any interesting anecdotes or stories on how you took the picture.

7. The deadline for submission is Sunday, Dec. 1. The top examples will be published on Monday, Dec. 9 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day.

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