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My point-and-shoot (Canon SD 1100 IS, bought in 2008) has for the past couple of years (that I've noticed) been taking hazy photos, as if I'm shooting through fog. I cleaned the lens using an air blaster followed by camera cleaning solution followed by a lens pen, and it has improved tremendously, but it's still somewhat hazy. Compare the following crops from the point-and-shoot:

point and shoot

and the iPhone 5s:

iPhone

Both photos were taken in auto mode. The cameras ended up choosing base ISO - 80 for the Canon and 32 for the iPhone. The Canon also chose a good f/8 (not the widest f/2.8) and the iPhone, of course, has a fixed aperture of f/2.2. The Canon was zoomed out fully. I did not lean against anything, but then I didn't need to, given that it was bright outside. Just to be sure, I took two photos and quickly compared them to see if one was blurry, but neither was, given the bright sunlight.

Please right-click each photo and choose Open in a New Tab so that you can see what I'm talking about:

  • Notice how the colors are muted in the first photo, and the whole photo has a hazy look. In particular, look at the bottom left, at the entrance of the building -- the point-and-shoot photo is hard to see and hazy / blurry, while the iPhone's has crisp, clear colors. Notice that the sunlight appears muted rather than bright in the point-and-shoot version, and that the man is harder to see.

  • Looking at the open ground in the middle-left of the photo, it has a muted, somewhat muddy appearance in the point-and-shoot photo, while it has a crisp, bright in the iPhone photo. These photos were taken within seconds of each other.

Is the point-and-shoot a worse camera than the iPhone 5s, or is somewhat wrong with it?

UPDATE (Dec 26): I sent the Canon camera to the Canon service center, who said that there's nothing wrong with it, and that they don't service point-and-shoots; only SLRs.

As per the comments below saying it's just a question of contrast / saturation adjustments, and asking me to edit the Canon photo, I tried punching up the Definition to 100 in iPhoto. I tried increasing the contrast and saturation but that made the photo look unnatural, so I didn't do that.

I also cropped the photos more. Compare the Canon:

enter image description here

with the iPhone:

enter image description here

Notice that the iPhone photo is still clearer: the stairs in the Canon photo are blurry, while the ones in the iPhone photo are crisp. Notice the area around the man at the bottom-left: again, the Canon is a muddled mess, while the iPhone is clearer. The reddish area in the foreground has become desatured in the Canon, and the whole photo seems noisy.

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    I think you should split this up in multiple questions. The first part of the question (why is the P&S photo hazy vs. my iPhone photo) is fine, but then you start about cleaning lenses and sensors which may or may not be the cause of your problem . The second part of your question may also be already answered – Saaru Lindestøkke Dec 16 '13 at 17:58
  • The only differences I see between the two photos are differences in exposure and contrast. If anything the objects in the distance appear to be more hazy in the second photo than the first. Perhaps your city has more haze creating pollution than it did several years ago? – Michael C Dec 16 '13 at 18:31
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    I Agree with Michael. The only difference is exposure and contrast, and if anything the iPhone image looks a tad oversaturated. Try switching to 'vivid' colours on your point and shoot and see if that changes your mind about the point and shoot. If your lens is clean, then the haze is haze. Does it look much less hazy in person? – Aleks Danger Dec 16 '13 at 19:50
  • See my crop comparisons below. Opening in new tab needed. iPhone image is oversharpened BUT Canon detail is a blurry mess. Look at eg tree foliage in foreground, shadow of pipe on wall and similar, rood patterning, clothing detail on person at left, ... . – Russell McMahon Dec 16 '13 at 21:35
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    the iPhone shot looks markedly less sharp, though more contrasty in the foreground (while quickly losing all detail resolution in the background). – jwenting Dec 17 '13 at 7:47
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ADDED:

The Canon appears to be capable of better results than you are getting when it is in its original condition. Given that

  • you said that cleaning the lens made a significant difference

  • and that it is about 6 years old

  • and you said the area is extremely dusty.

  • and the lens has the potential to pump dust into the body interior

I think the effort required to dismantle the lens as per the links that I supplied and trying cleaning the lens rear surface has a fair chance of improving things.

Here are links to several DPReview photos taken with a nominally identical camera.
While both settings and conditions will not match yours exactly, they show you what you can expect when the camera is working well.

You'll need to click the "Original" button in each case as links to the full sized photos are normally non permanent on sites like this:

Sample 1
Full size link, just in case - beat that iPhone 5 !!!

Sample 2

Sample 3

Sample 4

All 40 samples


There is no doubt that there are quality differences in the two photos.

From comments made, some people may not have realised that the two photos were taken within seconds of each other.
The Canon has the red channel fully saturated - exposure level should be reduced slightly, BUT the iPhone has red and green channels both fully saturated, but has produced clearer photo overall.

Opening the image below in a new tab or saving it produces a much larger (1227 x 373) image where the differences can be clearly seen.

The Canon appears to have very substantially less contrast / worse MTF / lower total image content.

enter image description here

The Canon was "good enough" that DPReview gave it a full review in February 2008 - they tend to not review cameras of 'more mediocre performance'.

DPREVIEW review conclusions here.

They note that the camera is noisy above 200 ISO, BUT still OK on detail retention but 'a bit soft' at the top end of the zoom. Without details of how much of the images we are seeing, camera settings (ISO, focal length, ...) the likely contribution of the camera cannot be certain. BUT it does seem well down on what would be expected.

So:

Ensure that ISO is set lowsih - no more than 200 and ideally 100.

Stabilise on a wall etc - you may be doing that but it's not certain.

Use focal length not at either end of zoom range.

Note all camera settings - preferably not largest aperture.

Reduce exposure level a little.

Compare.

If still poorer than expected and than it used to be then the lens or sensor is suspect.
As lens cleaning helped significantly it may well be the main factor.
I do not know if the lens is plastic or glass - a plastic lens can be affected by high UV environments. Inspect lens visually with a magnifier and light at various angles to see what surface looks like. A surface coating can cause what you are seeing. Also, if the surface was lightly scratched all over through cleaning off dust it can also cause the same sort of effect.

Finally, if settings are OK and lens looks good, consider having it dismantled and cleaning the interior surface and, just maybe, the sensor. It is not overly common for people to dismantle point-and-shoot cameras for cleaning, but the mechanical zoom movement tends to work as an air pump unless exceptional efforts have been made by the designer to stop this happening, and there may be dust on the inner surface. The various guides cited below make it look 'easy enough' for a reasonably mechanically competent person with no special training to disassemble the camera to the "clean the back of the lens" level.

Sensor cleaning is more commonly done with SLR/DSLR cameras. There is lots of information on this on-web.


Lens dismantling:

There are numerous on-web repair / tear-down pages for your camera.

Looks good: Lens dismantling - step by step in photos

Sounds good Video - How to change a lens assembly on a canon powershot sd1100 IS/IXUS 80 Digital Camera.

Range of repair guides

Canon ... repair

Removing front & rear covers

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    Also, as you mention in a comment above but not this answer, the iPhone image is aggressively sharpened. Try an unsharp mask with rather strong parameters on the Canon image and compare. – mattdm Dec 16 '13 at 22:07
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    Isn't the answer simply that phone cameras are more software driven, therefore have a much more powerful 'jpeg engine', than compact cameras from 5 years ago? – BBking Dec 17 '13 at 2:18
  • I updated the question with the camera settings. Please take a look. I understand that the iPhone may have aggressively sharpened the image, but I don't want to reverse that because that won't be a representative usage for me. I don't edit my JPEGs much, certainly not for sharpening. Similarly, I use the Canon at its widest angle, so I don't want to compare other focal lengths. Besides, that would be apples and oranges, since the iPhone is already wider-angle than the Canon. It would end up being a comparison of optical zoom vs cropping, which is not fair to the iPhone. – Vaddadi Kartick Dec 17 '13 at 2:20
  • Regarding the "reduce exposure a little" comment, were you asking me to reduce exposure on the Canon or the iPhone? The former is already dull. In any case, I don't think that adjusting the settings on either camera will be a representative test for me, since I use the auto mode when it's bright outside. If the Canon doesn't work as well in auto mode, I would prefer to not use it, rather than using the manual mode all the time. – Vaddadi Kartick Dec 17 '13 at 2:25
  • I see what looks like the coating worn off in some places on the lens. I tried taking a photo to post here, but I'm not able to. I'll send it to Canon today and see what they have to say. Thanks. – Vaddadi Kartick Dec 18 '13 at 4:39
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It's not just a matter of the lens and sensor: the camera also does a lot of processing that changes the look of the image. Increasing the contrast and saturation for the Canon – try 'vivid' mode, or a custom colour setting – will go a long way to having it match the iPhone. I downloaded both and processed the Canon photo with Snapseed (I'm on an iPad at the moment) with +20 contrast, +20 'ambiance', and +10 saturation, and the photo had a lot more life.

But, if I can be blunt, neither is particularly great.

The Canon SD1100 is a good compact point-and-shoot that's five years old, and even when it was new it was designed as much for its own look and style as its image quality. That's not a bad thing, and it's quite a nice camera, but there was better then and there's much better now. Its image lacks fine detail and has optical abberations on high-contrast edges.

The iPhone 5s has a very-good-for-a-phone camera, and I'm not all that surprised that it's giving a solid challenge to the Canon. But its image is tuned for higher contrast, giving a punchier appearance, but at the expense of some tonal range. It's also applying a much more aggressive noise reduction and/or jpg compression. Look at how the roof of the main building takes on a mosaic appearance, the diagonal roof line has visible stair-steps, and the difference between how the iPhone and Canon have rendered the dark windows on the two-tone building in the middle ground.

Personally, I'd pick the Canon photo as the superior of the two, especially after tweaking the contrast and saturation a bit. But I also wouldn't worry too much about it: in the spirit of "the best camera is the one you have with you" either one will do an excellent job. Having the very best image quality isn't always the point – not that the very best is a practical, or even achievable, goal. There's always a better camera out there, and it's always bigger and/or more expensive, so use what you like.

  • Even after editing, the Canon can't match the iPhone. Please see the updated question above. – Vaddadi Kartick Dec 26 '13 at 9:56
  • Thank you for adding the additional information, as it resolves many unknowns, particularly that Canon considers it within spec. However, this doesn't surprise me, and I still prefer the Canon image; but that means nothing since image quality is subjective and we're assessing different things. The Canon is capturing less fine detail, but the highlights above the roof overhang show detail in the Canon shot but not with the iPhone. Call it personal preference. But I also have to wonder if you wouldn't be better served by a fundamentally better pocket camera. – mpr Dec 26 '13 at 14:54
  • Thanks for the suggestion, mpr. I did consider buying a pocket camera, but ultimately decided to invest instead in an iPhone 5s ("the best camera..."), and an NEX. The latter will give me better quality than a pocket camera. I don't know how much better, though, compared to an RX100 II. – Vaddadi Kartick Dec 27 '13 at 3:38

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