Digital Dave's Ruminations

This is the place...

...where Digital Dave occasionally shares his thoughts on China, Photography, and other various and random subject-matter.

My three most recent posts will always appear on this page (unless you've arrived here via a direct link to a specific article). Use the archive links on the right sidebar to access previous posts. Most images on this blog can be clicked-on to view them in a larger size.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Would somebody please explain...

...why the auto white-balance functionality of my $299 iPhone's built-in camera works dramatically better under mixed artificial lighting than my $3000 Nikon D700 or my $5000 Nikon D3?


As you might expect of a $300 camera phone, there is no way to set the white balance - it relies on an automatic white-balance algorithm to set a white-balance that is appropriate for the lighting in the scene.

We all know that using the auto white-balance setting on our expensive DSLRs is a crapshoot at best - especially under mixed and artificial lighting. We virtually always end up with an image that is tinted and needs to be color-corrected in a photo-editing program. So we set our white-balance control to a preset that (hopefully) corresponds to the lighting in the room, or we take a reading of the lighting that we apply as a white-balance setting which usually gets us in the ballpark. Some degree of adjustment is still often necessary in post-processing.

Now, look at the photo below. It was shot with my new iPhone in a Berkeley restaurant that I frequent and where I've taken literally thousands of photographs with my pro DSLRs. The lighting in this restaurant is a nasty combination of tungsten and fluorescent lighting of various and sundry color temperatures.

Click to view larger image 

While this image does have a very slight, almost imperceptible tendency toward yellow, it is way more dialed-in than anything my Nikons would come up with. The skin-tone is pretty much spot-on, which is always the goal when setting the white-balance for a photo with people in it. Why can't my Nikons do this? What does Apple know that Nikon/Canon/Pentax/Olympus, et al., doesn't?

Maybe at some point I'll post an A to B comparison of a Nikon and an iPhone photograph of the same subject taken under the same lighting to better demonstrate the stark difference between the two auto white-balance algorithms. For now, suffice it to say the difference is substantial.