Last Updated on 10/27/2022 by Mark Beckenbach
The cool thing about smartphones these days is that they’re getting more megapixels. This means your photos will have more details and cropping is much easier. To boot, digital zoom is now a lot more effective. But, it still isn’t effective enough, even when also combined with the lenses you’ve got on your smartphone camera. What’s more, the distortion is still atrocious.
If you’ve ever wondered why people don’t like the way they look in smartphone photos, part of it has to do with how the lenses work. A lot is going on with the processors and folks end up doing a whole lot of Photoshopping. But there’s a reason for this involving physics. And here’s something photographers have known for years: bigger is better.
Smartphone sensors are tiny, and so even with lots of processing they still can’t achieve what an actual camera can with rendering how someone looks.
Micro Four Thirds sensors do a better job at rendering people than smartphones, but they’re still small.
APS-C sensors are larger than Micro Four Thirds, but even on the wide end, the sensors and lenses can distort people.
Full-Frame sensors are great at rendering how people look even with modern wide-angle lenses. depending on composition and how the subject is framed.
Medium Format digital is pretty much the best you’re going to get at rendering people.
Medium format film still does an infinitely better job at rendering what people look like in a pleasing way. And large format is even better than that.
Why is this happening? It has to do with the lenses available for the image rendering sensor. Larger lenses and sensors render people in a more pleasing way at equivalent depths of fields and focal lengths.
Here are a few examples. We’re going to be focusing (pun intended) on the 50mm full frame equivalent.
The photo above was shot with an Olympus 25mm f1.8 lens. It renders the scene nicely for sure. But the scene has some perceived distortion in Kristin’s arm. Most of us would consider this acceptable, but lots of folks who shoot with their phones and edit with lots of software wouldn’t agree.
For sure, a smartphone camera can’t do this.
The photo above was shot with the Fujifilm 35mm f1.4 R lens. There is surely less distortion, but it gets even better at you get bigger.
Here’s a photo from the Sony 50mm f1.2 G Master lens. Sony is insanely clinical about their image quality, and so the distortion is non-existent.
Here’s the Fujifilm 63mm f2.8 on the Fujifilm GFX 50S. And again, there’s no distortion because of the sensor being larger and the lens being longer.
This photo above was shot on medium format film at the 645 format. There’s pretty much no distortion and this lens is vintage.
Above is a photo from the Pentax 67 in 67 format. It’s even larger than the previous format. Again, there’s no distortion here worth talking about. Of course, it also all has to do with posing and angles. But there’s more than that.
This photo above is from the Fujifilm GW690 III, and it’s even larger than 645 format.
The cool thing about smartphones getting more megapixels is that you can crop more, but it won’t matter because of the size of the sensor and the lens. They’re both still so incredibly small.
Your Phone’s Camera Can’t is budding a series on The Phoblographer dedicated to educating people on how to step up from their smartphone.