Camera capabilities have become common on cell phones and, for some users, these camera phones are their only means of capturing and sharing images. Certainly, the camera within a cell phone is readily available and portable, making them a good option for more spontaneous photography. In addition, they are less conspicuous than all but the more compact stand alone digital cameras, allowing users to take more candid shots easily.

Cell phone cameras also have a reputation for their limitations however. From slower shutter speeds that make blurry pictures likely, lack of manual control to adjust exposure, white balance, focus, and so forth, to the common lack of high quality lenses, CMOS sensors, and the megapixels necessary for sharp images, the average camera phone often doesn’t compete well with stand alone digital cameras for producing high quality images for print.

With recent advancements in the design of cell phone cameras however, consumers can now find devices that are capable of creating far better images, even in the printed form. By choosing the right camera phone and employing a few basic photographic techniques, the images users create are usually quite acceptable.

For users who want to be able to print sharp, detailed 5×7 images, there are a few things to consider when making a camera phone purchase:

• Get better resolution. Until recently a 1.3 megapixel camera was the best available. Now cell phones that offer a camera with a CMOS sensor and 3 megapixels, or more, are available.

• Get a higher quality lens, and protect it. Some cell phone cameras offer better lenses; a Carl Zeiss lens for instance is highly regarded. Getting a lens cover to protect the lens from scratches, dirt, and dust can be important too; cell phones are often thrown into situations and locations that put them at risk for damage.

• Get features to reduce camera shake. Cell phones are small, thus more difficult to hold steady. Slower shutter speeds further exacerbate the need for a very steady hand. A camera with optical image stabilization can help to reduce blurriness and one that the user can securely grip is a bonus as well.

• Get optical zoom. Many cell phone cameras offer digital zoom. Better cameras offer optical zoom. When photographers can’t step close to a subject, optical zoom is the answer without reducing image quality.

• Get features that allow some manual control. Great photographs often require photographers to adjust exposure, white balance, and focus. At a minimum, a user should have the option of turning off the flash.

• Get an LCD that helps in framing the scene that is to be photographed. A screen with a large viewing area is important in setting up shots. Good viewability should be checked, especially in sunlight. Potential buyers should pick the cell phone up and try framing a few shots indoors, and outdoors if possible.

Once a good camera phone is in hand, users then need to heed a few critical photographic rules that are particularly pertinent when shooting with small cell phone devices:

• Use high resolution settings on the camera phone in case prints are desired later; prints require higher resolution than sharing images on a screen.

• Keep the camera steady. Try holding the cell phone with both hands, bracing arms/elbows against the body. Try bracing against a doorway, a tree, a table, and so forth for added stability. It can also be useful to remain stationary for a few seconds after pressing the button to assure that the camera has completed the process of capturing the image.

• Get close to the subject. Camera phones are better at capturing nearby subjects rather than landscapes and such. Avoid using digital zoom.

• Keep the lens clean. Cell phones, as noted before, tend to be tossed around and accumulate a lot of fingerprints, dirt, and scratches without extra care.

• Lighting is critical as in all photography. Camera phones are better adapted for outdoor use in general. Avoid backlighting subjects; side lighting is generally best.

Cell phone cameras are improving and, although not yet competitive with most stand alone digital cameras, are capable of producing very acceptable images for the average user. For those who value the photographic ability of their cell phone, good options are available if they know how to make the right choice and are able to compensate for their limitations with good photographic techniques.

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The author, Christine Peppler, is the webmaster of She encourages readers to visit her website for more information about using and purchasing a camera or other home electronics device.

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