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Why Is My Phone Camera Grainy?

Phone cameras have several restrictions that we need to be aware of to get the best results. These restrictions are mainly due to the small size of the phone camera image sensor. To get the best quality images from our phone cameras, we need to learn how to work around these restrictions.

Grainy Phone Camera Pictures

We often see grainy pictures from our phone cameras when taking pictures in lower light conditions: a darkened room, a venue with subdued lighting, or particularly at nighttime.

Phone cameras are not very good at dealing with low light situations due to the tiny size of the camera phone image sensor’s pixels. Phone camera sensors are typically 1/2.3 inches. See how small 1/2.3 inches in comparison to other camera sensor sizes. For perspective, APSC is your usual DSLR camera sensor size.

123RF Stock Image

When an image sensor detects a low light situation, it starts to increase the ISO, which controls how sensitive it is. The drawback of high ISO is that it introduces grain and noise into the picture. Noise describes the level of grain in an image. 

Blurry Phone Camera Pictures

Another problem with low light situations is that phone cameras also try to reduce the shutter speed to allow as much light as possible through to the image sensor; this can result in blurry pictures or, as in most cases, a double whammy, blurry, grainy photos.

How To Prevent Grainy, Blurry Photos

There are several things we can do to help prevent these issues;

  • Use the stabilization feature in your phone camera
  • Use a tripod where possible
  • Try to ensure there is as much light as possible
  • Use manual settings in your phone camera 
  • Use Post Production App

Using The Stabilizer In Your Phone Camera 

Most phone cameras have some form of image stabilization. Turning this on can help your phone camera to reduce the shutter speed without producing blurred pictures. The stabilizer keeps the camera sensor still, even though there may be small movements due to shaky hands.

Use A Tripod Where Possible

If your pictures are still blurry and grainy, you may need to use a small tripod and turn the phone camera to manual settings. Doing this gives you full control of the shutter speed and ISO. 

Using a tripod means you can reduce ISO and use a slower shutter speed without introducing Noise or Blur. The main thing to be aware of is that you don’t want the shutter speed to be too slow, so the people in the image cause motion blur, which is another topic. It is always a balancing act and requires practice.

Try to Use As Much Available Light As Possible

By far, the quickest and easiest solution to the grainy photo problem is to consider how much light your phone camera needs before taking pictures. If you are indoors, you can move your subject close to a window and use natural light to help your phone camera keep the ISO low.

Using a shop window for extra light

In venues, you can wait until your subject is under lights and then take your picture. At night time, use street lights or shop windows to provide extra light.

Use A Post Production App

Nearly every professional photographer will use post production software to improve the look of a photograph. The changes that can be made a quite dramatic and can turn an average photo into an amazing picture.

Post-production software is very powerful and can be used to remove grain from your photos. there are several options when it comes to post-production apps:

  • Adobe Photoshop Lightroom CC
  • Snapseed
  • Adobe Photoshop Express
  • Adobe Photoshop Fix


In Snapseed you can use the ‘Details’ tool to smooth out any noise in your photos. After selecting the Details tool, slide left on your photo to reduce grain noise.

Snapseed Tools, Image Copyright Jeff Minto

Summary

Phone cameras are often limited in their ability to deal with low light situations. Small phone image sensors mean the phone camera needs to push the sensor to its limits, which introduces grain and blur.

We can get around these limitations by understanding the limitations and use available light to help our phone cameras in low light conditions.

Phone camera sensors are getting bigger. Over the next few years, they will continue to get bigger and, as a result, offer much better low light capabilities.

The phone camera software is also improving to compensate for the limitations of small camera phone sensors. Some phones now have night modes, which use software to boost the image sensor’s sensitivity without introducing excess grain. 

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