A Guide to Jewelry Photography: Smartphone Cameras vs Professional DSLR / Mirrorless Cameras

Should you use your Smartphone Camera for Jewelry Photography?

Iconasys is a leading provider of do it yourself Jewelry Photography Equipment and Software with thousands of customers globally using our solutions to create high quality jewelry photography in house. We hear it often, can I use my iPhone or Android smartphone to photography jewelry? While our Shutter Stream Product Photography Software supports a long list of both Smartphone and professional grade cameras, suggesting a camera is based on a number of factors that we will dive into throughout this article.

The short answer: YES, you can use your smartphone for Jewelry Photography

The long answer (summarized): It really depends on the specific smart phone you have. Saying that, if image quality is your biggest concern, invest in a professional grade camera and Macro lens as smartphone cameras will never be able to compete with professional optics. Before I dive into the discussion, Ill mention here professional grade cameras start at <$200 (used) and an ideal Jewelry Photography Macro lens for ~$200 (used). We’re here to help with camera and lens suggestions so please feel free to contact us if there is any questions.

Jewelry Photography - smartphone vs. professional camera

The Evolution of Smartphone Cameras:

Since the first iPhone was released in June 2007, the cameras have improved tremendously. In recent years, the camera has been the real battle ground for smartphone makers – each trying to outcompete one another on optical quality. We have seen major advances in Megapixels (ex. Motorola’s new Edge phone is capable of shooting a 108MP image), number of sensors (Huawei P30 Pro uses 4 Sony CMOS sensors), Zoom, low light shooting, optical zoom, computer vision algorithms and auto processing to name just a few. We now see Apple, Google, Samsung, Huawei and others delivering some very impressive optics (see Digital Camera World’s review on Top 10 Camera Phones of 2020) that claim to rival professional DSLR and Mirrorless cameras. But how do these smartphones function specifically for macro photography and more specifically Jewelry Photography?

Professional Camera vs. Smartphone Cameras in Jewelry Photography:

No matter if you are an Android or iPhone user, points in this discussion will hold true regardless. There is a number of criteria that should be considered when deciding between a professional grade camera or smartphone camera for jewelry photography:

Lens and Zooming:

It’s a good idea to understand your smartphone camera. Typically if your Smartphone has a single lens, this will likely be a wide-angle lens. If your smartphone has two or more lenses, one of these might be a telephoto lens (ex. iPhone 11 Pro uses a triple lens set up, which includes a telephoto lens). Telephoto lenses will be preferred for Jewelry Photography and support optical zoom (compared to a digital zoom often found on wide angle lenses).

  • Digital Zoom: Digital zoom crops a portion of the image then enlarges it back to size.
  • Optical Zoom: Enlarges a picture while maintaining resolutions and sharpness.

Assuming your Smartphone camera has a telephoto lens, I would suggest shooting with this and also using the optical zoom when shooting Jewelry Photography (to achieve higher resolution images). And in this case, be careful not to over zoom (as if you go beyond the optical zoom, it will turn into a digital zoom). If shooting with a wide angle lens (majority of smartphones have these) positioning your camera close to the subject and not zooming is a better idea in order to get max image quality (although if image resolution is a concern, then use the zoom to get fill the frame with the subject).

iPhone Jewelry Photography - zoom out
Figure A. iPhone Jewelry Photography with no Zoom
iPhone Jewelry Photography - No Zoom
Figure B. iPhone Jewelry Photography with no Zoom but Cropped

This discussion differs when shooting with professional grade camera as these cameras do not have a built in lens – therefor no optical zoom on the camera itself. When using a professional grade camera, there is specialty lenses made (called Macro lens) that are designed specifically for small item photography such as jewelry

Image Resolution:

I’d say is the most important point to consider. How do you wish to use your photos and more specifically at what size requirements? For example, if you are selling on Amazon, based on the Amazon product photography guidelines, “Images submitted to Amazon must have pixel dimensions of at least 1000 or larger in either height or width”. Whether selling on your own website, eBay, Etsy or any 3rd party eCommerce marketplace, 1000 pixels minimum dimension should be a good rule of thumb. While most new age smartphone cameras are upwards of 12MP (capable of shooting a 4000 x 3000 pixel image), they do have limitations when shooting jewelry photography.

iPhone Jewelry Photography
Figure C. iPhone Jewelry Photography

See Figure C. above. This example shot using an iPhone XR. In this Smartphone Jewelry Photography example we had used the iPhone camera zoom in order to get max resolution. After cropping the excess frame, we were able to produce a high resolution image at 2280 x 2280 pixels (however displayed above at 550 x 550 pixels).

The caveat with this image is I wouldn’t suggest using it any larger than 500 x 500 pixels. When displayed at a lower resolution, the image looks pretty sharp and maybe even usable for some. The reality of the image can be viewed when viewing the image at its original resolution at 1:1 (or anything even close to 1:1). See Figure B below, in which we zoomed in at 75% on the original resolution image:

iPhone Jewelry Photography - close up
Figure D. iPhone Jewelry Photography Viewed at 1:1

When you start to view the example at higher resolution (as it has actually been shot), you will start to notice the problems with iPhone jewelry photography image quality. We can easily see the grainy result and lots of problem image artifacts that would ultimately make this image unusable.

Comparing these iPhone Jewelry Photography results to a professional grade camera, you’ll see sharpness is maintained even when viewing at 1:1.

Jewelry Photography using Smart Phone - 03
Figure E. Canon DSLR + Macro lens Jewelry Photography
Jewelry Photography using Smart Phone - 02
Figure F. Canon DSLR + Macro lens Jewelry Photography Viewed at 1:1

Focal Length & Depth of Field

Depth of field is the acceptable level of ‘sharp focus’ between the nearest and furthest elements in a scene. The available depth of field will increase as the camera sensor size and lens focal length increase. An iPhones sensor is about 35 times smaller in area than a professional full frame cameras sensor, combine this with the very short lenses used on iPhones and this means Smartphones will have massive depth of field. Transitioning this into Jewelry Photography, this essentially means its going to be easier to get for example a Ring in focus from front to back when using an iPhone than it is with a professional grade camera.

The good news for those looking to use a professional grade camera for jewelry photography, there is a technique called focus stacking that will shoot images at different focal lengths and then compose the individual images into a single image, providing a fully in focus result:

Jewelry Photography using Smart Phone - 04
Figure F. Canon DSLR + Macro Lens Focus Stacked Example

Shutter Stream Product Photography users can use the Focus Stacking plugin to automate Jewelry Photography Focus Stacking.

Users can also use other techniques to obtain a greater depth of field (ex. increasing aperture) when shooting with a professional grade camera.  See this article explaining Macro Jewelry Photography for additional info.

Additional Considerations when Considering a Camera for Jewelry Photography

Professional cameras will provide users additional functionality to create better quality images. While this point could be an article in its own I’ll lightly touch on what I feel is the most important feature on setting a custom white balance. In eCommerce and online sales, color accuracy is extremely important, especially when selling high ticket items such as jewelry. By being able to set a custom white balance for the lighting you are using, you can ensure proper and accurate colors shot every time. Refer to examples above in which you can easily see differences in gold color between the iPhone Jewelry Photography and the Professional Camera Jewelry Photography.

Smartphone Jewelry Photography Conclusion

While I cant really say one way or another what is the best camera for your in-house Jewelry Photography, we can confirm image quality will be a lot better when shooting with a professional grade camera. If selling your jewelry through eCommerce and online marketplaces is a big part of your business, then I would strongly have you consider the investment in a professional grade camera rather than using your Smartphone camera for your jewelry photography.

Learn more about the Iconasys 360 Jewelry Photography Turntable or our LumiCube 360 Jewelry Photography Light Box.

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