iPhone, Leopard and Aperture: Putting it all together now

by Dominique James

Much of the talk last week and this week focused on Apple's iPhone. Only a few days ago, and with a software update of 1.1.2, it became officially available in Europe. This is the first time that the mobile device is being sold in Apple stores in U.K. and Germany. With keen interest from Apple fans, it appears that the iPhone is selling very well outside of America.

I've always wanted an iPhone ever since Steve Jobs made the announcement at MacWorld. However, it was only last month that I finally got one when I arrived in the US. Exploring the many features of iPhone was like playing with a new toy. And the last feature that I "played with" was the camera. At first, I wasn't keen on using the camera, but then I changed my mind after I tested it. It proved to be a very decent and usable camera.

The iPhone has a 2-megapixel, f2.8 camera. The image from the camera has a pixel size of 1600-by-1200, which is roughly a 22-by-16 inch image with a 72 ppi resolution. It has a 4:3 aspect ratio, a bit-depth of 8, and it occupies color space 1 with an sRGB IEC61966-2.1 color profile. And depending on the kind of pictures you take, the file size can vary from anywhere between approximately 200 to 500 kb per image. At 300 dpi, you can easily produce very good photo print the size of 4x5. You can even create a bigger 5x7 print without interpolation and without any noticeable degradation to the image quality.

What surprised me is that, straight from the camera, the colors of the images comes out well. Image after image, the colors are almost well balanced and somewhat accurate. Even in mixed lighting or low-light indoor/night situations, the colors still came out okey. And, other than one's ability to steadily hand-hold the iPhone to avoid or prevent camera shake that can produce soft or blurry images in very low light, the image noise is actually tolerable and bearable. In other words, the internal image processing of the iPhone is pretty good.

Last week, while I was testing the performance of Aperture in Leopard (with RAW images taken using a Nikon D2Xs camera), I took the opportunity to snap several pictures using my iPhone and subjected them to post-production in Aperture.

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What kind of image enhancements did I do? First, I adjusted exposure, saturation, brightness and contrast. Then, I worked on the color balance. After that, I converted a couple of images to black-and-white, and a few others to color monochrome. In selected images, I also applied creative adjustments to see how they will hold up.

Understandably, those taken under low light conditions such as during sunsets and in the evening were prone to artifacts. Editing these types of photos needs to be done delicately. Whenever possible, I reduced the image noise in Aperture as well. Only in one image did I use Noise Ninja to fix it. However, images that have been taken under full day light responded favorably to more aggressive editing and enhancements. I was able to bring out fantastic details from the photographs taken with bright light.

Although the iPhone camera has a lot of severe limitations when compared to a full-blown DSLR, the very lack of features and the way it simplified everything is it's own blessing. Basically, there's nothing to tweak. It really is just a very straightforward point-and-shoot affair. The lack of shutter speed, aperture, focus, zoom and other controls will force you to focus more on taking the shot rather than playing with it. And of course, you can see exactly what you are photographing from its gorgeous 3.5-inch (diagonal) widescreen multi-touch display that boasts of 480 by 320 pixel resolution at 163 ppi. And then, direct from the iPhone, you can go ahead and email it right away. The past few days, straight from the camera and without tweaking, I've been emailing the untreated iPhone photos to my photo blog.

Of course, in this digital day and age, and with our attachment to digital post-production, I wanted to see if the photos I took with my iPhone can withstand the rigors of image enhancements and editing using mostly Apple's Aperture and also a bit of Photoshop CS3. Well, I was rather pleased with the results. Despite the fact that I was working with only the very limited RGB "in-camera post-processed" 255 colors, and despite the fact that the histogram immediately turns into a fine-tooth comb with wide ledges and open jogs from missing teeth the moment I started tweaking, the images were actually visually holding up. With careful and subtle image adjustments in both Aperture and Photoshop CS3 such as levels and curves, and with the use of layers, it is actually still very possible to further enhance, work on and be creative with the pictures snapped from the iPhone.

But then again, we of course know that we are pushing it.