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Using iPhone: Camera in Low Light Conditions; CMOS vs CCD: Part 2

Using iPhone: Camera in Low Light Conditions; CMOS vs CCD: Part 2
Daniel Eran Dilger
[continued from part one: Using iPhone: Camera and Photo Comparisons: Part 1]

No digital cameras are great in low light conditions. At dark outdoor concerts, I actually found my poor quality Treo camera took better pictures than my 5 megapixel camera, mostly because my camera was trying too hard to process a dark scene with bright stage lighting and monitors. Different cameras are good at different tasks.


No digital cameras are great in low light conditions. At dark outdoor concerts, I actually found my poor quality Treo camera took better pictures than my 5 megapixel camera, mostly because my camera was trying too hard to process a dark scene with bright stage lighting and monitors. Different cameras are good at different tasks.

Here’s my dimly lit pantry, captured by the Treo (top left) and the iPhone (top right). For having no flash, the iPhone does a fair job.

pantry

My 5 megapixel camera does much worse without using its flash (bottom left); a the flash (lower right) helps digital cameras a lot, although it also introduces its own flare and reflections:

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The Samsung Blackjack (lower left) appears to handle low light better than the iPhone’s camera (below right).

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Here’s an exaggerated comparison. The (first) Palm image is nearly worthless for any purpose; the (second) iPhone image is useable but can’t be blown up for detail; the (third) Blackjack image appears to deliver more contrast and less noise than the iPhone, despite having less resolution. The 5 megapixel camera image (fourth) is much better, but its flash is also distracting. Digital cameras just can’t deliver low light images well.

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Low Light iPhone Photos.
Despite the fact that digital cameras simply aren’t great at capturing low light photos, the iPhone does do a decent job of snapping pictures worthy of blogging. Here’s some examples I’ve taken recently:

UC Berkeley campus clock tower at night after Daft Punk at the Greek Theater:

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San Francisco City Hall–lit up in orange lights to celebrate the Giants’s Barry Bonds run up to the all time record for home runs set by Hank Aaron–and on a normal night:

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Union Square and the Powell Street cable car turnaround:

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Fireworks, a free showing of Sixteen Candles in Delores Park, and a house fire:

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Sonic Youth and The Cribs:
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CMOS vs CCD.
In response to the previous article, several readers pointed out that cameras with CCD chips only offer an advantage when comparing against the low end of CMOS chips like those used in mobile phones.

Nick Fabry explained that the CCD advantage over CMOS “was true about 6 years ago, but since that time, primarily due to Canon, CMOS sensor chips have advanced and surpassed smaller CCD sensors in effective image quality – they were always better at dissipating less energy, and that remains true. Today, all of Canon’s cameras use only CMOS sensors, including their top of the line 1Ds Mark II, a $7,000 camera, as does Nikon’s top of the line SLR, the D2Xs, at $4,500.

”The only high quality, professional grade cameras that still use CCDs are the ultra high resolution, large sensor cameras (larger than 35 mm – think Hasselblad and lots more $$$), because large, high quality CCD sensors are easier to manufacture than large, high quality CMOS sensors, but it is probably just a matter of time before they switch as well.“

Eric Erickson added, ”Besides using less battery, CMOS also produces less noise artifacts when taking long exposures. I believe Nikon and Sony have also followed suit in using CMOS in their pricier cameras. At least I know Canon uses CMOS as it is in my Canon D20 SLR.“

Jeff Watkins wrote, ”I think you’ll find some of the world’s best cameras use CMOS sensor technology because it captures better photos. CCD is a much faster technology and therefore is suitable to burst mode, but for best quality, CMOS can’t be beat.

“With the exception of Canon’s dedicated high-speed DSLRs (1D), their entire DSLR range–D30, D60, 10D, 20D, 30D, 1Ds, 5D and the consumer Digital Rebel models–all use CMOS sensors. I’m pretty certain Canon–and its professional customers–are pretty concerned about whether their camera is ‘designed solely to take good pictures.’”

Jared Updike added, “Just thought I’d offer a clarification that CMOS is definitely not worse by default (if so, someone should warn all the pro photographers!) :-) Cheap CMOS is of course worse! But before CMOS
there probably was no cheap sensor, just expensive CCDs, I think…

”It’s not always cut and dried which is better, CCD or CMOS.[1] Obviously cheap CMOS sensors are no match for expensive full frame CMOS sensors [2] [3]. Even the Canon super ultra pro DSLR uses CMOS [2]. Canon and Nikon use CMOS in Digital SLRs, Nikon uses CCD in some (lower end) DSLRs. The quality is great, even on the entry level DSLRs, for CCD or CMOS: [4] [5]

“Larger sensors are more expensive to make for obvious reasons (but let in more light which is always a good thing: [6].

[1] [Sensors: Camera System: Glossary: Learn: Digital Photography Review]

High end DSLRs both using CMOS:
[2] Canon EOS-1D Mark II N digital camera specifications: Digital Photography Review
[3] Nikon D2Xs digital camera specifications: Digital Photography Review

Lower end DSLRs example photos, CCD v CMOS
[4] Flickr: Camera Finder: Canon: EOS Digital Rebel XT (CMOS)
[5] Nikon D80 Review Samples Gallery: Digital Photography Review (CCD)

Sensor sizes, historically; smaller is worse image quality and cheaper.
[6] CCD Sensor Sizes – KenRockwell

The point remains that a 5.0 megapixel mobile phone camera is not equivalent to 5.0 megapixel dedicated use camera, for a variety of engineering reasons that relate to component cost, size, and battery use. The specific technology used may change, so my generalization about the advantage of CCD over CMOS should only be taken only as an example of that idea, not an unbending rule.

There’s more photo comparisons examples coming up in part three.

Continues: Using iPhone: Camera in Low Light Conditions; CMOS vs CCD: Part 3

What do you think? I really like to hear from readers. Comment in the Forum or email me with your ideas.

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1 comment

1 Using iPhone: Camera and Photo Comparisons: Part 1 — RoughlyDrafted Magazine { 10.13.07 at 11:31 pm }

[...] The point remains that a 5.0 megapixel mobile phone camera is not equivalent to 5.0 megapixel dedicated use camera, for a variety of engineering reasons that relate to component cost, size, and battery use. There are more CCD vs CMOS comments in Using iPhone: Camera in Low Light Conditions: Part 2] [...]

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