Penasquitos Canyon from Camino Ruiz (6 photos)

There are many access points to Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve. The one that I use the least because it’s much further for me to get there is at the northern end of Camino Ruiz, on the southern side of the canyon. When I dropped off Shuwen at a friend’s in the morning I was almost there already, and so began my morning walk with Toni using this approach for a change. The trail descends into the canyon some 200 feet and that’s a most lovely section – an Elfin forest, composed of old-growth gnarly Shrub Oaks, mostly.

I brought the “real” camera with me but decided to leave it in the car. Instead, I’ve been using the phone – Shuwen and I both recently updated to the iPhone 7 plus with it’s dual camera setup. The first camera has the typical wide angle, here with a focal length of 28mm (35mm-e). The second camera has a lens that equals 57mm focal length – a very, very welcome addition since I found myself struggling with the field of view of the wide angle all too often.

The other novelty (for me) is the ability to capture and store raw data with the phone – at least when using the camera module built into Lightroom Mobile. This is really nice because… it’s raw data! :-) With all of its benefits – better dynamic range, better detail, freely adjustable white balance (Lightroom’s camera module also lets you adjust the white balance – one of the features that I’ve been missing the most in the stock Camera app that Apple provides with the phone).

Here are four photos that I made. The first one is a JPEG out of camera (before I realized that I could use Lightroom to capture raw data), the other three are from raw data. Lightroom’s functionality on the phone is pretty astonishing, but working on the small touchscreen with my fingers isn’t exactly my favorite thing to do. :-) I developed the photos at home on my desktop computer.

Some more observations below the gallery, for those who are interested.

According to some articles that I’ve found online, the longer lens isn’t actually used all the time – its largest aperture is f/2.8 and in low light situations the iPhone uses a crop from the wide angle lens instead, because it’s an f/1.8 lens. I’m not sure if that’s what I’m seeing in the first photo, above, because the detail quality sure is lacking. Besides that, it appears that only the wide angle lens is stabilized, which is a bit of a bummer of course – the longer focal length of the telephoto lens would clearly benefit more from stabilization.

Quite naturally, the iPhone raw files do not compare to the ones from my D800 – the pixel density of the iPhone is just insane compared to the D800 (or any other camera with a larger sensor). The crop factor of the telephoto camera/lens combination is 8.6 and the sensor has 12 megapixels. I have no idea what the actual size of the sensor is. It’s probably around 20 mm², compared to the 860 mm² of a full frame sensor. Which means the full frame sensor is over 40 times bigger. To put it another way, the iPhone 7 plus telephoto camera/lens has an equivalent pixel density of a 480 megapixel full frame sensor, or a ~210 megapixel APS-C sensor (crop factor 1.5, 370 mm² area).

As a result of this insanely high pixel density, the dynamic range of the tiny sensor is obviously more limited (no kidding). Shadows are quite noisy when they’re being pulled up, and highlights seem to blow out a lot faster too. So to be able to squeeze out a little more information from the raw data makes a lot of sense.

The files also have quite an amount of color noise, even at ISO 20 (the lowest I observed). I found it necessary to set the color noise reduction in Lightroom to the maximum (both Amount and Smoothness) to get rid of it. Looking at the JPEG files for comparison, Apple seems to de-noise the files quite aggressively. I was surprised by how much more usable detail is in the raw files.

So if you’re willing to process the photos either with Lightroom Mobile, or sync them to your “normal” Lightroom (which conveniently happens via Adobe’s cloud), are obsessed with detail quality, make photos in difficult light situations… in other words want more out of your cellphone photos, it absolutely makes a lot of sense to use raw data.

For me, I can honestly say that the combination of the two-camera setup with the ability to capture raw data is a game-changer. I’ve been running my cellphone photos through Lightroom for some mild processing for a while now – and mild mostly because they wouldn’t tolerate anything else but mild processing. Having the full amount of data that the sensor actually captures at one’s disposal in the raw files makes processing phone photos much more enjoyable.

If I’m not mistaken the ability to capture raw data with Lightroom Mobile is available from the iPhone 6s on, and higher. If you have an iPhone 6s, 6s plus or 7, 7 plus, I’d highly recommend that you try this.

Thanks for reading! You can stay up to date with my blogposts and subscribe via email (the subscription form opens in a new browser window/tab). It's easy as pie! :-)

All images and content © by Alexander S. Kunz, unless otherwise noted. No re-use without express written permission. Most images are available as prints and for commercial licensing. Please contact me with any questions. Prints and licensed images are NOT watermarked, of course.

I'm friendly towards strictly non-commercial usage (ie. no monetization through ads, referral systems etc.) on private blogs and websites, but I'd like to know where my images will be used, and for what purpose. Please contact me about your intended usage so that I can evaluate it. Thanks!

1 Response

Leave a Reply