Camera Phone Photography: There’s More to a Good Photo than Megapixels!

Carrie Sylvester
Apr 22, 2009

cellphone-sheep22These days, it’s difficult to find a mobile handset or smartphone that does not feature an embedded camera. In the early days of camera phone technology, the embedded cameras typically offered VGA quality (300k pixels). By 2007, the typical resolution was between 1 and 2 megapixels. These days, the average falls somewhere in the 2-3 megapixel range. In my 2008 camera phone forecast, I stated that “Since the introduction of camera phones, consumers have been demanding higher resolution. Although, “higher resolution” does not necessarily mean “better” pictures, in the case of camera phones, low-resolution certainly means low quality images.”

When I was evaluating my camera phone upgrade options, the photo enthusiast in me won out over the analytic part of myself. I’m a DSLR user, but I wanted a mobile device with a quality camera that included some smarter features than my old RAZR. After selecting the 5-megapixel Samsung Behold, however, I was promptly reminded that a good camera phone photo requires much more than just megapixels.


When I was researching my upgrade options, I called my carrier to ask about the Samsung Behold, T-Mobile’s first 5 mp model. My questioning was mainly focused (no pun intended) on the camera function. The technical representative that I spoke with knew just about everything about the Behold regarding playing music, accessing the Web, or using voice recognition. In terms of camera specifics, however, I was disappointed to find that he knew very little about the photography aspect of the handset other than the fact that it featured a 5-megapixel camera.

Despite this minor setback, I chose the Samsung Behold because it was the first 5-megapixel camera phone that was available to me, and now I admit that I got wrapped up in the resolution. I was certain that the 2.1-megapixel G1 (Google Android) phone was far below my “camera snob” requirements, so I ordered the Behold without hesitation and anxiously awaited its arrival.

Some may call this “photo nerdy,” but I was so excited when my new camera phone arrived and I was able to take some test shots. My first shots were taken on a beach within blocks of my home. I selected a spot where I was blocked from the wind, and I was able to brace my arms for a steady shot. I was pleased with the landscape shots that I got of my stationary subject, so I moved on to my favorite photo subjects – my kids! This is when I realized that the shutter lag of my new megapixel-charged handset more closely resembled that of my very first point and shoot camera rather than any of my DSLRs.

The photos that resulted from my Behold revealed blurry images of children who were more interested in getting on with their activities than posing for a photo. If my active children didn’t ruin the photo, then camera shake did because I had no support for framing the images. Oh, and let’s not forget the fingerprints all over my lens… this was yet another aspect I’d overlooked in my snap-happy fervor. No one has yet been able to give me an official rating on my camera phone’s shutter lag, but I’d estimate that it is between 2 and 3 seconds. This may not seem like a very long time, but it creates a considerable problem for moving subjects such as people or animals.

While I am not warning all photographers to stay away from mobile handsets for fulfilling their spontaneous photo whims, I am suggesting caution. Do your homework before deciding on a camera phone. In addition to megapixel specifications, push for information on the shutter lag issue. From personal experience, I also believe that a lens cover mechanism would be a nice feature.

Since purchasing my Samsung Behold, I have several times referred to myself as a sheep who blindly jumped onto the megapixel bandwagon. And now I have to wait 2 years before I can upgrade to something that might better fit my needs… just don’t let this happen to “ewe”!

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