Making Good Pictures From That iPhone Camera

It started with a wander around the airplane hangars at Duxford in the United Kingdom yesterday: I didn’t have my “real” camera on hand, but the scene in front of me was cool—quite possibly too cool to capture with my iPhone. In the mood to experiment a little, I took some iPhone shots anyway, in left to right sequence canvassing the hangar. This is what one of the pictures looked like.

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Nothing special, right? So once I returned home, I had a play around with the Photomerge function in Photoshop Elements, also found in the standard Photoshop. This feature lets you stitch together images to make panoramas—highly detailed, super-wide images that go well beyond whatever a camera’s lens could capture in a single unassisted photo.


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I gave Elements a set of photos, placed them in rough order like this, and then let it combine them into a single image.


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image See the Big Version

Voila, from four horizontal images, I suddenly had a small panorama of the hangar interior. Well, maybe not small: it was 5186 by 1048 pixels, a 5.4-Megapixel image from the iPhone’s 2-Megapixel (actually 1.9-Megapixel) camera. You can see the whole thing by clicking under the stitched shot above. It has been slightly brightness-adjusted, but otherwise unedited, producing a really neat if not exactly professional caliber image. I’ll tell you the rest of the story when you click on Read More below, or the title of this article.


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image See the Big Version

So I tried the process again, this time using six vertical images rather than four widescreen ones as the basis for a panoramic countryside photo. This one came out as 5204 by 1389 pixels, a 7.2-Megapixel image, which again received only minimal brightness adjustment. Not bad, eh?


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There are other ways to improve the results you get from the iPhone’s camera. A very important step is to play with the colors and sharpness using a decent photo editing program such as iPhoto or Photoshop Elements, adjusting the “levels” or color temperature, and sometimes downsampling the photo to a lower resolution, then sharpening it. Bad pictures can be made at least decent. Also, using an accessory like Griffin’s Clarifi can make a big difference when taking photographs of nearby subjects. As noted in our Clarifi review, it takes the iPhone’s lens, which is set to focus on “infinity,” and makes it focus much closer to the camera’s face. Clarifi is great for specific applications.


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Note that shooting panoramas, even high Megapixel ones, is not a cure-all for the fact that the iPhone’s camera sensor is inherently not fantastic by reference to even cheap pocket cameras sold these days. Jeremy shot these comparison images with a Canon point-and-shoot to demonstrate that having lots of pixels doesn’t mean that the pixels look good. The inset 100% crops show how little detail there actually is in even a panoramic iPhone image when you zoom in. So with good tools, you can make nice iPhone pictures, but they’re no substitute for a better iPhone camera. What do you say, Apple? Time for an upgrade in the next iPhone?