Featured An Unfair Comparison in Coin Photography: iPhone vs DSLR

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Orielensis, Feb 28, 2020.

  1. Orielensis

    Orielensis Well-Known Member

    Coin photography still is relatively new for me. I started it only about a year and a half ago, largely due to the influence of this forum. Since I am also doing a tiny bit of landscape and animal photography, which mixes well with another favourite activity of mine, hiking, I already knew the basics of handling a camera but had never done any macro photography before. 18 months later, I’m still light-years aways from the coin photography masters on this board (@dougsmit , @Curtisimo, @TIF, to name just a few), but in most cases I manage to produce acceptable results.

    Generally, I shoot all my coin pictures with the same DSLR (digital single-lens reflex camera) I also use for outdoor photography. For those of you interested in the technical details: it’s a Canon EOS Rebel T6s equipped with a Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM lens and a cheap 13mm macro extension tube. Mostly, I shoot in aperture priority mode with f/10 at ISO 800. At some point, I’ll hopefully have the space to house an actual copy stand and build a better lighting set-up, but due to the insane California rent prices, I am at this point confined to my kitchen window as a light source and mount my camera on a generic backpackable tripod that I bought for animal photography and bird watching.

    In the last weeks, I needed my camera equipment at work and kept it in my office space. (The word “office,” though technically correct, feels like a boastful exaggeration – the space I work in closely resembles Harry Potter’s ‘Cupboard Under the Stairs’.) Yet, last weekend, I wanted to take pictures of some relatively new acquisitions. Since my DSLR was out of reach, I tried the method often recommended in this forum: I placed my iPhone 8 on a tin of crushed tomatoes with the camera facing downwards, arranged the coins under it, and took pictures. As easy as that.

    Honestly, I was surprised by the quality of those pictures considering the very basic means I used. Still, when I brought my camera back home with me this afternoon and there still was enough daylight, I used the opportunity to take more pictures. Comparing the results is, at least to me, quite interesting – thus I thought I’d share them with you. The first picture each is the iPhone, the second picture is the DSLR. I didn't do any digital image manipulation apart from size-reduction, cropping, and combining the pictures.

    1. With bright silver, the iPhone produced acceptable results. Yet, colours are a bit misrepresented due to (I assume) some automatic “correction,” and there is much blurry glare. The DSLR obviously did much better, but I’d say the phone didn’t perform too badly:
    Rom – Septimius Severus, Denar, Jupter sitzend (iPhone).png

    Rom – Septimius Severus, Denar, Jupter sitzend .png
    Septimius Severus, Roman Empire, denarius, 197–198 AD, Rome mint. Obv: L SEPT SEV AVG IMP XI PART MAX, head of Septimius Severus, laureate, r. Rev: IOVI CONSERVATORI; Jupiter seated left, holding Victory and sceptre. 17.5mm, 3.30g. Ref: RIC IV.1 Septimius Severus 130. Ex Pegasi; ex FSR 111, lot 257.

    2. Greyishly toned silver with a lot of contrast was easy to photograph with both cameras. Here the iPhone, apart from slight overexposure, did not perform that much worse than the DSLR set-up.
    Altdeutschland – Mansfeld, 1:3 Taler, 1669 (iPhone).png

    Altdeutschland – Mansfeld, 1:3 Taler, 1669 .png
    County of Mansfeld-Eisleben, Johann Georg III, AR ⅓ Taler, 1669 AD, Eisleben mint. Obv: (anchor) IOHAN. GEORG. COM. IN. MANSFELT. NOB ; 1/3; St. George on horseback r., slaying dragon with lance; on horse’s saddle blanket, arms of Mansfeld-Eisleben. Rev: (anchor) DOM. IN. H. S. ET. S. FORTITER. ET. CONSTANTER; 16-69; crowned coat of arms of Mansfeld-Eisleben; AB-K for moneyer Anton Bernhard Koburger. 32.5mm, 9.12g. Ref: Tornau 493; KM #118. Ex Tauler y Fau, auction 49, lot 2701.

    3. Colourful toning constituted more of a problem. The smartphone camera automatically oversaturated all colours, making this bracteate look very weird.
    MA – Deutschland etc., Fulda, Heinrich IV, Brakteat (iPhone).png

    MA – Deutschland etc., Fulda, Heinrich IV, Brakteat.png
    Abbey of Fulda, under Heinrich IV. von Erthal, AR bracteate, ca. 1249–1261 AD. Obv: Abbot seated facing holding palm branch and book; in Gothic polylobe and double pearl border; around outer rim; H-V-H-V. 29mm, 0.52g. Ref: Berger 2293. Wx “HC Collection;” ex CNG, e-auction 459, lot 579.

    4. The iPhone didn’t have too much trouble with bronze coins showing a lot of contrast and sharp details such as this Ptolemy. The DSLR outperformed it, of course, but not by too great a margin.
    Ptolemäer – Ptolemaios VIII Evergetes II Physkon, AE30, Serie 7, Svoronos 1424 (iPhone).png

    Ptolemäer – Ptolemaios VIII Evergetes II Physkon, AE30, Serie 7, Svoronos 1424.png
    Ptolemy VIII Evergetes II “Physcon”, Ptolemaic Kings of Egypt, AE30, ca. 145–116 BC, Alexandreia mint. Obv: diademed head of Zeus-Ammon r. Rev: BA[ΣIΛEΩΣ] ΠTOΛEMAIOY; two eagles with wings closed standing l. on thunderbolt; in field l., cornucopia. 30mm, 27,7g. Ref: Svoronos 1424b; Lorber/Faucher series 7.

    5. Yet, less well-defined contours, as seen on this Commodus sestertius, always appeared mushy in the iPhone pictures unless I took extreme angle shots. I find such coins generally hard to photograph and am not particularly good at it, but taking a passable picture with the phone seemed almost impossible.
    Rom – Commodus, Sesterz, Roma (iPhone).png

    Rom – Commodus, Sesterz, Roma .png
    Commodus, Roman Empire, sestertius, 183 AD, Rome mint. Obv: M COMMODVS ANTONINVS AVG PIVS; laureate head of Commodus r. Rev: P VIII [IMP VI] COS IIII P P; Roma, helmeted, draped, seated l. on shield, holding Victory in extended r. hand and vertical spear in l. hand; in fields, S-C. 30mm, 25.14g. Ref: RIC III Commodus 369. Ex André Cichos.

    In conclusion, it’s on the one hand remarkable that a simple smartphone camera can produce better coin pictures than we find in many pre-digital printed catalogues. On the other hand, the automatic adjustment features that make smartphone cameras easy to use for snapshots soon get bothersome when it comes to coin photography. Although I’ll admit that I had underestimated the iPhone camera and that it can produce quite attractive coin pictures, I’ll continue to stick with my DSLR.

    Please post your own coin photography experiments, experiences, and advice!
    Last edited: Feb 29, 2020
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  3. oldfinecollector

    oldfinecollector Well-Known Member

    iPhone and IPad can produce good coins photos. As a stamp collector I use it a lot my IPad to do photos.

    For coins It is far more difficult has I got 2 challenge first to keep stable and secondly to have the right lighting. I tr6 to got time to experience more.
    Orielensis likes this.
  4. arnoldoe

    arnoldoe Well-Known Member

    Here is one with my camera, on the left + my Iphone 7on the right, both under the same conditions. ( holding camera/ Iphone in hand with the coin on top of a pen..

    Attached Files:

    dlhill132, TIF, Orielensis and 3 others like this.
  5. oldfinecollector

    oldfinecollector Well-Known Member

    Which one is the closest of the reality ?
  6. arnoldoe

    arnoldoe Well-Known Member

    depends on the lighting i guess.. but maybe somewhere in the middle
    oldfinecollector likes this.
  7. JulesUK

    JulesUK Well-Known Member

    I switched from iphone to DSLR due to the overexposure and over saturation of many coins. I also noticed that a few shots were motion blurred by my poor technique, even more noticeable on cropping of pictures.
    So, i have my camera setup in the “Office” as well, on a tripod and i always use a remote control to avoid any camera shake when taking shots.
    One interesting thing i have found is in daylight using the camera’s landscape mode is an acceptable way of getting a decent shot without having to worry about ISO, white board, shutter speed etc etc.
    Orielensis likes this.
  8. Pickin and Grinin

    Pickin and Grinin Well-Known Member

    The objectivity of a Photo is to capture the beauty you see in it.
    Coins come in all colors and ages.
    And the photographer has the control of what you see.
    These are all the same coin, taken with different lighting and white balances in the same evening. IMG_0001.JPG IMG_0002.JPG IMG_0003.JPG IMG_0004.JPG IMG_0005.JPG IMG_0006.JPG IMG_0007.JPG
    It is always dependent on your interpretation of the coin.
  9. oldfinecollector

    oldfinecollector Well-Known Member

    Some auction house use photoshop to make coins more appealing but at the end what matter is that when you receive the coin is it better that what your expect or not. If you are disappointed you feel bad and you are not willing to bid again with this auction house if it look better you are happy.

    In big auction house do you think that photographer are also coin lover or numismatic pro ? If they are only photographer they think like a photographer use photoshop to make it better a bit like you see a beautiful woman in photo and she not so beautiful in real life.
  10. Pickin and Grinin

    Pickin and Grinin Well-Known Member

    Edit to add. The above coin is in raw format All the photos are different settings within the shot. No photo shop used.
  11. oldfinecollector

    oldfinecollector Well-Known Member

    It is not about your photos it was more about the photos made by auction houses.
    Pickin and Grinin likes this.
  12. svessien

    svessien Senior Member

    When I started with coin photography, my phone didn’t have a camera. It always feels like I’m cheating when I use the phone now. That just makes it a waste of time. However, I have concluded that many of the auto settings in Lightroom are better than me, so although I use manual settings on the camera, I often only use the «quick develop» settings in Lightroom.
    I also use the same room, table and setting on my camera stand every time I photograph coins. Only indirect daylight with silver, sometimes a lamp with bronze/copper if I need more red. I often use a sheet of paper to reflect a little more light on the shadow side of the coin. Other times I use shadow to get some kind of expression.
    Last edited: Feb 29, 2020
    Orielensis, Johndakerftw and JulesUK like this.
  13. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    I find your dSLR images quite a good start but some could be improved with just a bit of post-processing. It is not a sin.

    All my suggestions for coin photos changed recently when I got my new mirrorless camera. I have become a fan of natural daylight and moving the coin around a bit using the live view feature of the camera. I don't know that it has improved my photos but it has made the process easier for me.
  14. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    I've been fairly happy using a Canon Powershot in manual mode. When first starting out I used an entry-level digital SLR but wasn't patient enough to learn how to coax good images out of it. The small Powershot is much easier, although like any type of camera or phone there was a learning curve (and I'm still on that curve :D).

    Not long ago I got an iPhone 11 Pro Max (replaced an iPhone 7 Plus) and had high hopes that it would take effortlessly great coin shots. Nope, no magic there. There are probably better modes or settings and perhaps someday I'll play around with that. This morning I shot a few coins with the iPhone specifically for this thread. Here are the first two, with comparison shots from the Canon Powershot.

    I found much the same issues as @Orielensis. Silver was not good. Bronze was somewhat better, although with all of the coin types tested the exposure was much too bright. I should have saved the unedited versions of the drachm below but these pictures are after considerable editing (darkening and trying to reduce bright spots). Also, my deeply black background was not deeply and uniformly black with the iPhone so editing the background was a big PITA.

    iPhone 11 Pro Max:

    Canon Powershot:

    The denarius below has two iPhone versions. The top pair is unedited except for removing the background and cropping. The bottom pair is after trying to color-correct and reduce the brightness. The denarius is very darkly toned in real life. Also, the images aren't focused as well-- probably user error.


    Canon Powershot:

    I have a few phone photos to edit and I'll try to do that later today :).

    Several CT members are able to coax very nice images out of their phones. I suspect I could eventually do a better job with the phone that the images above but since I'm getting pretty good with the Powershot I probably won't bother.
  15. Clavdivs

    Clavdivs Well-Known Member

    I just tried this with my iPhone 6S .. in natural light.
    (my teenage girls have the newer phones.. I get the cast offs... and yes my phone is "rose gold")

    Cropped and merged only. Not too bad really. Bright spots, etc.
    I have no eye for photography or any idea how to improve the image.


    I use an App called "Camera Plus".. it has a few features like a timer to reduce shaking when you hit the button, macro zoom, etc.
    Then I use an App called "FrameMagic" that allows me to crop and merge the photos immediately on my phone.
    This makes the whole process less painful... but I wish the images were better.
    Last edited: Feb 29, 2020
  16. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    There is a tendency in small cameras and all phones to try to improve apparent sharpness by boosting contrast and saturation in the default settings to offset the fact that the sensor is minuscule. If your camera is producing objectionable hot spots and harsh images, see if it allows manual control reducing contrast, saturation and in-camera sharpening. The photos shot on phones are intended to be used on phones and not quite so impressive when printed on paper or enlarged on a big monitor. The experience of Coin talk is different for those of you who work on a phone and those who have a 32" monitor. I suspect folks who bid in auctions from their phones get more surprises than those who sit at a desktop. We each can have an opinion as to whether a scratch exists if you can't see it on your phone.
    Clavdivs likes this.
  17. Clavdivs

    Clavdivs Well-Known Member

    Three natural light iPhone tries after reading Doug's post above...
    I don't think I was very successful.
    Maybe I should try some post processing to see if I can salvage something..

    Trajan Merge Try1.JPG

    Trajan Merge Try2.JPG

  18. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    I find the first a bit light, the second lighted from a less desirable direction making the face darker and the third too contrasty. I might try rotating the coin a bit counterclockwise to put more on the face. Lightness can be postprocessed but poor angle needs a reshoot.
    Trajan Merge Try1a.jpg
  19. Orielensis

    Orielensis Well-Known Member

    I agree – heavily manipulated images sometimes are a problem. But generally, all coin images require some degree of interpretation. The photographic habits of different dealers have to be kept in mind when "reading" their pictures. For example, CNG tends to oversaturate, Artemide seems to use a ring light for everything, Savoca has a lighting set-up that makes silver surfaces appear more rough than they are in hand, Frank Robinson apparently doesn't like digital cameras, etc.

    Thanks a lot for the compliment!

    If I may ask, what steps of post-processing would you generally recommend? Normally, I just play around a little with brightness, exposure, contrast and black point, and I am often unsure whether this really leads to any improvement. The example below illustrates this: the first image is as it came from the camera, the second one is after I fiddled around with it using GIMP. Looking at your coin images, it is obvious that there must be more to it.

    Rom – Septimius Severus, Denar, Jupter sitzend .png

    Bildschirmfoto 2020-02-29 um 11.53.37.png

    That appears to be a good summary of the challlenges of iPhone coin photography, which are especially well illustrated by your images of the Republican denarius. Since you, @JulesUK , @arnoldoe , @Clavdivs , and me all encountered the same issues with too much brightness, oversaturation and excessive glare, I take them to apply in general.

    It's also interesting that both you and @dougsmit produce great images with mirrorless cameras. This shows that it's not necessary to go full DSLR for good coin photography. Since it's bothersome and slightly embarassing to always carry around a full-size DSLR during city trips etc., I've been thinking about getting a mirrorless second camera for a long time – the prospective of also being able to experiment with it for coin photography might convince me to actually do so.
    Last edited: Feb 29, 2020
  20. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    I would have rotated the Septimius just a bit counterclockwise so the light came more from above and before the face rather than behind it. Otherwise, I like your image.

    Modern mirrorless cameras are replacing dSLR's. They combine the larger sensor size (NOT pixel count but size of the whole sensor) of the dSLR with the off the sensor viewing of point and shoots allowing previewing exposure more accurately. They are smaller, lighter and have made great advances in eliminating the shutter lag that made me go to the dSLR in the first place. I regret that manufacturers seem to be more interested in capturing the market for video with their new camera models. You Tube reviews mostly talk only about video quality and features as if still photography is meaningless. This is causing prices to go up for new models that must do both. Powershot is a Canon term for small sensor point and shoot cameras with non-interchangeable lenses. dSLR's and Mirrorless models (Canon R and M series) have interchangeable lenses and larger sensors.

    More than you want to know:
  21. desertgem

    desertgem MODERATOR Senior Errer Collecktor Moderator

    The resolution of the canon is twice that of the iphone, but close enough for comparable subjects such as shown. If it was to isolate a specific mark on a coin, there might be differences due to software action on the magnification.
    You indicated the camera was not in the grip of a very secure tripod or specialized device for close ups, and your indication of using 13mm "cheap" extension tubes leads me to ask if they are electronically capable tubes, ( they have the electrical contacts for camera communication)? Since both devices have Image stabilization, the iphone can correct for minor vibrations as both are in one device, but when you extend the lens and it doesn't have connections, the Canon camera can not ( as I understand it) adjust the lens for stabilization ( at least my old canon couldn't. Jim
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