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Cell Phone Cameras Versus the Minox, A Brief Comparison
09 Aug 2018

Cell Phone Cameras Versus the Minox, A Brief Comparison

This post is by photographer Robert Spore

Things were very different when I first became an commercial photographer. My first job was with an ad agency in 1972, while I was a Senior in high school (now I’m just a Senior!). This was back in the day of film and chemicals. You had different films for color, black-and-white, and slides. You had to use things called “slide shows,” but they didn’t use slides. Today’s photography resembles the photography I was trained in like how a Blu Ray disc resembles a View Master disc. There’s a dated reference for you!

The last decade has been quite interesting, from a professional viewpoint; seeing how the tools have been expanded so much for post-production work, while at the same time simplifying everything for the consumer. Autofocus, auto-exposure, basic white balance…for people who take advantage of these tools, photographic quality has come quite a long way. Even the quality of tiny cell phone lenses has begun to approach the quality of much larger, expensive lenses found on a traditional camera.

I’m not going to compare cell phone cameras to actual cameras here, because right now, I want to focus (pun intended) on how amazing good, extremely small-lensed camera systems have become.

Just prior to World War II, the first sub-miniature camera was built by German-Latvian designer, Walter Zapp. If you’ve ever watched a spy film where someone needs to take clandestine photos of secret documents, you’ve probably seen this camera. It was a Minox. Smaller than a cigar and weighing only 4.5 oz., it did not look like a serious camera, but it wasn’t a toy. It sported a 3-element Minostigmat glass lens with a stainless steel shutter, which was able to focus down to 20 cm.

The lens itself was 15mm in diameter. Compare that to the lens on an iPhone 5, which is 2mm. And look at the difference in image quality:

Granted, there are other factors involved, such as the Minox image being shot on Tri-X Pan film, which is inherently “grainy” (i.e. contains lots of noise), and that the negative size for the Minox is 8 x 11mm. I tried looking up diagrams for the newer lenses, but the information is proprietary, so there’s really not much available.

Here is another comparison, this time using color images.

Another advantage photographers have today, even with cell phone cameras, is the ease with which you can perform image manipulation, post exposure. Phones now have their own internal filters which can be used, and there are also numerous apps that can be used. Many of those apps are free and can be downloaded directly to the phone.

There is not enough space here to start comparing psi to grain or to talk about multi-generational images, but suffice to say, for something that was an add-on feature to cell phones, these little cameras are extremely advanced.

If you have any questions about photography or if you’d like us to address any other photography topics in the future, let us know!

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