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Home » Applications

Fixing Your Crappy Cell Phone Photos

Submitted by on February 10, 2011 – 10:11 pm 13 Comments

Some of today’s cell phones feature camera resolution that rivals digital SLRs from two year ago. An 8-megapixel cell phone camera is no longer a novelty. Unfortunately, high resolution is the only good thing cell phone cameras have to offer and it does not translate into better pictures. If you compare photos taken with the most advanced cell phone camera to those taken with a $200 point-and-shoot digital camera, the cell phone invariably loses. If you’re planning to purchase a new phone with the best camera resolution, you can borrow money now at loanload. Just navigate to this site to read their terms and conditions then fill up their application form.

The basic reason for this is thickness. No, not the thickness of the person using the camera, but the thickness of the device itself. Cell phones are generally thinner than cameras. This means less distance between the lens and the image sensor, which translates into a smaller projected image. A smaller image means less light. And less light means less detail, duller colors, and decreased detail in shadow. It is a problem of physics – not technology. Research shows that customers prefer thinner cell phones. This makes sense: the fatter we get, the less room we have left in our pockets.

To compensate for less available light, manufacturers use more sensitive image sensors. These sensors produce grainy images with dull colors and excessive contrast. Some cell phone manufacturers have been seeking alternative solutions for these problems. In iOS 4.1 Apple introduced HDR capability for the iPhone 4. The camera takes three photos – at normal exposure, overexposed and underexposed – in rapid succession. The software then combines these three images into one, extracting as much information as possible from each image. This approach produces impressive results for high-contrast scenes. The main drawback of this approach is that it takes more time to take three shots, which results in a ghosting effect when photographing moving objects. iPhone’s HDR software is somewhat simplistic, as it has to produce a quick result using a 1-GHz processor and so it is not very good at dealing with the ghosting problem.

A different approach was taken by Nokia with its N8 flagship cell phone. Nokia made the phone thicker. Not the entire phone, however, but just the part where the front camera is located. This increased the distance from the lens to the image sensor, allowing for a larger projected image. Nokia also installed a 12-megapixel sensor (vs. iPhone’s 5-megapixel one). Generally, the N8 produces better photos in most lighting conditions than the iPhone with our without HDR processing. Still, even the N8’s advanced (for a cell phone) camera falls well behind most modestly-priced digital cameras. The fact remains: the photos you take with your cell phone will never be as good as photos taken with a dedicated camera. Still, there are a few things you can do with the computer to fix your sorry cell phone photography experiments.

Take a look at the two images above. This downsampled panoramic image consists of 9 HDR photos taken using iPhone 3GS with the HDR Pro app and stitched on a PC using Autopano Giga 2 software. The photo on the left is the original and the photo on the right has been post-processed in Photoshop using Neat Image ($80) and Photo Tools Pro 2 ($260) plugins. The Neat Image application is one of the best tools for removing noise from your photos. This is a valuable tool for fixing your grainy cell phone photos. The Photo Tools Pro by onOne Software is a sophisticated yet easy-to-use collection of professional-quality filters and special effects that can dramatically improve the appearance of your photos with just a few clicks.

In the above photo we reduced noise, removed the green cast, boosted colors, and added some apparent sharpness. You have to agree that the post-processed image is a significant improvement over the original. The entire process only took about five minutes. Both Neat Image and Photo Tools Pro support batch processing mode that would allow you to quickly fix up multiple photos that share similar flaws.

The photo above (of another failed experiment) was also taken with iPhone 3GS but this time without any HDR magic, hence the overexposed sky. It seems cell phone manufacturers are in some sort of an unofficial contest to see who’s camera can produce the grainiest image. I have to say, Apple is probably winning this one. I think Canon and Nikon will have an overall better product if they would just build a cell phone into their SLRs. The can tie the volume control into the zoom lens. “Nikon F5GS – now available in white with interchangeable speakers!” Anyway, here we also used Neat Image to clean up some of the iPhone’s mess. Photo Tools Pro was used with a smart neutral density filter to somewhat balance out brightness; digital fill flash filter for the bottom of the photo; a bit color and contrast boost to cut through the haze (it was a perfectly clear day, so the “haze” you see in the original image is entirely of iPhone’s making); some color balancing to remove green cast (another of iPhone’s specialties); and a weak sharpening filter.

The following photo was taken with iPhone 4 (iOS 4.1, HDR off, flash on). As you can see, it is dark outside, so the white balance on the original photo is not bad at all (not something iPhone is known for – maybe I just got lucky here). The first photo below is the original, downsampled to 1024 pixels in Photoshop for your Web-viewing convenience. The second photo has been put through Neat Image, massaged in Photo Tools Pro, and downsampled to 1024 pixels. The Photo Tools Pro filters used were smart neutral density, 80A cooling at 20%, purify highlights, digital fill flash at 40%, auto contrast with neutrals at 50%, clarify medium, boost color at 50%, sharpen CH P1 at 40%, and smarter sharp A2 small. The third photo has been ran through the Perfectly Clear Photoshop plugin by Athentec Imaging ($200) and then downsamples to 1024 pixels. (There is also an iPhone version of Perfectly Clear that you may want to check out. It is a lot simpler than the Photoshop plugin version, but then again it doesn’t cost two hundred bucks.) The photo number four was downsampled and put through through Photoshop’s standard filters: auto levels, auto contrast, auto colors, smart sharpen.

The winner of this little contest? Neat Image and Photo Tools Pro. Perfectly Clear was not bad at all for a fully automated process. One complaint here is that it added a bit of a red cast and left the image slightly overexposed. Here are two fragments of the same photo showing grain detail before and after Neat Image filter.

And another comparison (this is the last one, I promise). The photo was taken using the 12-megapixel Nokia N8. The subject is tricky: extreme highlights, deep shadows and subtle colors. This type of a scene is sufficient to confuse the light meter of a budget digital SLR. The N8 did a decent job here and I wish I could have taken that shot with iPhone 4 for comparison, but Apple got a break this time.

Same story here: the first image is the straight shot downsampled to 1024 pixels; photo number two is the result of Neat Image and Photo Tools Pro; the following photo is the result of Perfectly Clear’s automagic; and the final sample is the product of Photoshop’s standard automatic correction filters.

This time Perfectly Clear is clearly in the lead. It still has the same reddish cast, but this time it actually works. The turquoise outcome of my Photo Tools Pro efforts looks somewhat unnatural and doesn’t mesh well with the lens flare in the middle of this Californian sky.

You are probably thinking: my phone cost me $200 (with the two-year service plan and forgetting about the option of buying vs. leasing a phone), while the cost of Photoshop with some of these optional plugins will be somewhere around a thousand dollars and for this much money I can buy a very decent digital camera. And you are absolutely right. On the other hand, even if you bought a Nikon D3x, chances are that when you really want to take a photo, your flagship SLR will be home, securely stored in its fancy camera bag, but your cell phone will be in your pocket. After a while you will realize that majority of your most memorable photos were taken with a cell phone.

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  • bambro says:

    why no pics of people?

  • Scott W says:

    I want my pictures to be high quality like hers. She probably uses a really expensive one but similiar to that quality I guess you could say then.

    although I’m afraid if I buy a camera like those they’ll turn out crappy but people say they don’t edit at all but idk I’m afraid that won’t be the case with me then I’ll regret wasting like 500 bucks or whatever lol.

  • Con Orpe says:

    free programs, or something?

  • Bryant B says:

    I’m looking at a 2001 Toyota Celica with 163,000 miles on it. That makes me question the asking price of $6,000. He said he tore down the entire engine and rebuilt it from scratch and cleaned it really well. His father is a Toyota master mechanic, so his son, who I’m talking to, has been doing it for 20 years now.
    This what he wrote. “I bought this car and it had a bad intake valve in it due to excess carbon on the valves. So I decided to tear the engine completely down to a bare block and rebuild it right and clean everything up so that it ran perfectly when I was done. Every gasket has been replaced. I bought a Toyota master rebuild gasket set which includes head gasket, intake gaskets, exhaust gaskets, fuel rail gaskets, injector orings, crank seals, cam seal, oil pump seal, thermostat gasket, oil pick up tube gasket, valve stem seals and valve cover gasket. In addition to that I sealed the timing cover, water pump, and oil pan with rtv sealer. On this engine those items are sealed instead of using gaskets. I cleaned and lapped all the valves to insure they seat well. I replaced all the piston rings and inspected all the bearings and they were very clean for the mileage. ”
    It has a ding on the passenger side door, enough to notice from a crappy cell phone photo, it looks kind of medium sized.
    Knowing that the engine is super clean and stuff, how many miles can I look forward to getting out of this vehicle if I keep it very well maintained?
    This will be my actual first car that I will get to OWN, so I really dont want to waste 6 g’s on something that will only last me 100,000 miles or 2 or so years.

    What do you think?
    Thanks for your time.
    American cars lasting longer than Toyota’s? What a joke, Sonny. Don’t post to questions when you even know quality engineering.

  • Sir fliesalot says:

    Im using the “insert table” into my page, i make the table into colunms of 3 x9 squares.
    When i insert an image from my folder the whole table just brakes up. Ive tried inserting them without table but I cant seprate the images, they just insert close up next to each other. Any help on this? Im probably missing something dead simple. HELP!!! :) Point will be given to best answer!

  • Matthew David says:

    I need to find some stock images of a Black Buick Grand National. I have searched some different places online but can’t find what I am looking for. 1987, 1988, what ever it takes. I just need to find a few that look great and I can use on a new website that I am working on. Please help with actual images and I have been to all of the stock photo websites and can’t find anything there. Thanks.

  • PillowMan1234 says:

    I have a really neat wine glass that I was told would be really cool to put a beta fish in. I know you buy them in the little containers, but is it really okay for them to live in a small area?

  • veemodz says:

    I straighten my hair, almost every day. I use a Chi straightener, and I use the Chi Iron Guard stuff. Yet, my hair still gets split ends.

    Also, my hair is never nice and neat. It get frizzy by the end of the day.

    What are some good shampoos/products to make my hair smooth and shiny.
    What are some good tips/products to make my hair nice and neat?

  • Scott W says:

    Something fun, girly, beautiful, romantic, inspiring, hype, or just something simply neat? Google Images please! I’ll just take a pic on my computer and save to phone.

  • Nick says:

    My boyfriend has changed offices, and I bought him a dig. frame to keep his real photos neat. The frame only accepts memory from an SD card. Our computer does not have a memory card slot, or I would scan and copy that way.
    Any suggestions?
    And, can I take dig. pictures of the photos to get them on an SD card?
    Only idea I have…
    Thank you!

  • llb443 says:

    Around my school there are really neat gargoyles and things that are near the roofs of some of the buildings. I’ve been trying to take pictures of these things, and I can never keep my arms steady enough to take a clear picture. Any tips on getting better pictures of things that are up high?

  • kass9191 says:

    Grain Surgery, Neat Image, Noise Fixer, Noise Ninja,Noise Reducer ISOx or Noiseware Professional? What do you like about any of these programs? or dislike?

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