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That is an interesting question and not an easy one to answer. We can start by clarifying that standalone digital cameras take the best pictures. That is clear! Many of today’s smartphones and tablets with their miniature lenses do amazingly well too. What if we look at the picture quality needed by GIS professionals? Do the devices they commonly use include cameras with sufficient quality?  Hopefully so as most GISers prefer to pack a single device that is reliable and has it all in terms of accuracy, efficiency and connectivity.

To get a better feel for camera quality, I took a few GIS/GPS handhelds outside, along with one smartphone for comparison purposes, and without much of a plan snapped a few pictures of my own. The results are interesting and probably about what you might expect.

The first pictures I took were of a fire hydrant, mainly because I can see it outside my office window. You probably agree that there is a significant difference in clarity and color between the four pictures. Would all four suffice as part of a hydrant inspection report?  What about the color difference? The Samsung is by far the best at replicating the color although the Juno 5B does a nice job as well.

 

 


The next pictures are of a tree trunk, mainly because it was close to the fire hydrant. Again, the difference is noticeable but what if the picture is only needed to record that the asset exists? In that case, all four are fine. If you need a presentation quality picture or to zoom in for a closer look, then that is a different story.

Looking at the pictures above, it becomes apparent that a smartphone might be a great tool for collecting GIS data in the field, especially photos. This is where things get a little blurry!  While the picture quality is typically very good, the GPS accuracy of a smartphone is not. An affordable option to consider is pairing a smartphone or tablet with a Bluetooth GNSS receiver giving you both positional accuracy and quality pictures.

When deciding which device to take on your next trip to the field, remember to consider picture quality but also accuracy, battery life, screen clarity, water/dust resistance and operating temperature.

Stay tuned for my next post on three easy ways to create an Esri Shapefile from geotagged photos.

For more information about field data collection in general or to discuss the Trimble products in this post, please do not hesitate to contact us!