Blue Earth
Glazer's Camera

Justifying Cell Phone Cameras


Can you see me now? The high points and hang-ups of cell phone cameras.

I finally found at least one reason to have a camera in my cell phone. Recently, my wife gave me a shopping list that included some knee-high stockings. The description on the list didn’t match anything on the shelves, so I called her to get more information. She gave me a better description, but I still couldn’t find what she wanted.

It then occurred to me: “I wish I could send her a picture of the products on the shelves so she could choose.” Isn’t this the point when Catherine Zeta-Jones freezes all of us and upgrades the phone in my hand?

I’ll be honest: I still don’t have a cell phone with a built-in camera, and I’m still trying to find a reason compelling enough to induce me to purchase one. However, I appear to be in a shrinking minority. In the first half of 2003, camera phones outsold digital cameras worldwide, meaning that they are becoming a part of our culture. As such, they’re worth a bit of investigation.

Cool, but limited

Cell phone companies continue to roll out new features to sell. First it was text messaging, and now it’s pictures. Each new feature has an associated cost. They are trying to convince us that being able to take pictures anytime and immediately transmit them, all from a cell phone, is both important and cool.

From a photography standpoint, image quality is still a major issue. Most camera phones are VGA-quality, which is 0.3 megapixels, although 1.3 and 2MP camera phones should be available in the near future. Most manufacturers realize, however, that people are not going to use their camera phones to take pictures at Grandma’s 80th birthday party and expect to print 8x10s for everyone. Although the images are low-res, grainy and flat, some news bureaus and papers are starting to publish them.

Some camera phones are being marketed as necessary tools for businesspeople — insurance adjusters, real estate agents and other professionals who rely on the immediate transmission of images — but the image quality will have to improve significantly before that can happen. Also, many phones cannot receive a full VGA image because of either memory or display limitations.

Bloggers are now getting into mobile blogging, or “moblogging.” A blog (short for web log) is an online diary or journal posted on a personal website. Estimates place the number of blogs currently on the web at more than 500,000. Mobile blogging provides a way to update a blog anytime, anywhere and include pictures.

Motorola’s V300 (sold by T-Mobile) has a built-in zoom, while the Samsung A600 (sold by Sprint PCS) allows you to rotate the camera lens 180 degrees. The A600 can take up to 10 pictures in two seconds and has a built-in flash. It even provides nine “fun frames” that helps the user frame a shot before transmitting it. Verizon Wireless’s LG VX7000 can capture video clips of up to 15 seconds and includes a rotating lens and built-in flash.

Charges for sending a picture range from 10 to 25 cents per picture, or a flat rate of $3 to $15 per month when packaged with text messaging. Most camera phones that I’ve seen allow the user to do everything with the images except send them as part of messages. They cannot be downloaded to computers, although they can be sent to computers as attachments to e-mail.

Coming to a store near you

What’s next for camera phones? More models with built-in flashes, zoom lenses and higher resolutions already have been announced, and will be in stores by the end of this year. The phone companies are working on video as a service, both sending and receiving. New phones from Nokia, Samsung, LG and Panasonic are beginning to look more like video cameras or game devices than phones.

Samsung’s SPH-V4400 has a 2MP camera and can record up to two hours of video. The screen swivels to make the phone look like a mini-video camera. This particular model is available only in Korea but, in 2005, you can expect to see a phone with the same features arrive on our shores. Samsung also just announced the launch of the V5400, with a 1.5GB internal hard drive. Panasonic’s FOMA P900i has a 10x, 30-step autofocus zoom lens for its 1.3MP camera. The phone also has a slot for a mini-SD memory card, for saving still images and video clips. The card can be plugged into a reader, and the video and stills can be viewed on a TV or computer monitor.

The Nokia 9500 Communicator looks like something we’ve seen James Bond use. It has 80MB of memory plus MMC memory card support, a full QWERTY keyboard, WiFi (802.11b), Bluetooth access and Triband phone operation, so calls can be made from pretty much anywhere. And, oh yeah, it has a VGA camera and video recorder.

As fun and cool as these new camera phones may be, they also raise concerns about privacy and security. Most health clubs have banned cell phone use in locker rooms. Already, people have been convicted of using camera phones for voyeurism, but the laws vary from state to state and, currently, there are no federal laws. In New York City, there is talk of banning camera phones in subways as a security measure, to prevent terrorists from scoping out potential targets. Many courtrooms do not allow recording devices of any kind, including camera phones.

Here is some food for thought: for many young people, camera phones may represent their first camera. Could this experience lead them to want more in a camera and, thus, increase the sales of conventional digital cameras? As camera manufacturers incorporate wireless technology into digital cameras, does this present competition to the camera phones? Why couldn’t I transmit my images from my digital camera directly to my website or e-mail via a wireless hotspot?

Or maybe someone could just simplify the number of knee-high stockings.

Richard McEnery
Story Author: Richard McEnery

Richard McEnery started photographing as an amateur in 1976 at rock concerts and sporting events in New York City. Today, he is a professional photographer specializing in sports, travel, nature, and underwater photography. His nature and underwater work has been featured at the Long Beach Aquarium and the National Museum of Wildlife Art as well as in Popular Photography, Outdoor Photography (UK), Sport Diver, Scuba Times, and Dive Travel magazines. He has also received a "Highly Commended" award in the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. Richard has worked at the US Open as an assignment photographer for Tennis Times. He is also a regular contributor on digital photography subjects for PhotoMedia magazine.

Website: www.mceneryphotography.com/ E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it