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Jewelry Photography: Smartphone vs DSLR / Mirrorless Cameras

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In this post, we’ll go through in detail the differences when using Smartphone and DSLR / Mirrorless cameras for Jewelry Photography.

The debate between Smartphone and DSLR / Mirrorless cameras continues to be a never ending topic in photography. It’s also a topic raised by our customers on a very regular basis. And it’s very fair that they ask – a quick Google search shows literally nothing about using DSLR / Mirrorless vs Smartphone for jewelry photography!

That’s when we decided there needed to be tangible results. Results where YOU can decide for yourself.

In this post, we’ll go through in detail the differences when using Smartphone and DSLR / Mirrorless cameras for Jewelry Photography.

By the end of this post you should have the answers to these two commonly asked questions:

  1. “Which is better for jewelry?” and
  2. “What should my business invest in?”

If it hasn’t, then we’ve failed miserably.

In that case, we’ll offer you a free one-on-one consultation for your jewelry photography needs. We’ve left the link at the bottom of the page.

Alright, let’s begin!

Equipment Used: Pro Camera Setup vs Smart Phone

Professional camera setup:

  1. Fuji X-T20
  2. Fuji Fujinon XF 60mm f/2.4
  3. Tripod
  4. Memory card

Smartphone setup:

  1. iPhone 7+

Lighting setup

  1. GemLightbox

For this post, we aren’t using anything crazy. We’re using a mid-range digital camera and your modern day smartphone (hopefully you have one). They’re both readily available at your nearest camera or phone store.

The mid-range camera we’re using is the Fuji X-T20 mirrorless camera. The X-T20 boasts 24.3MP sensor – In other words, the functionality and image quality would not differ from it’s DSLR counterparts (rivals).

We’re also using the Fuji Fujinon XF 60mm f/2.4 macro lens with our camera. It’s important to use a macro lens when shooting any small items such as jewelry, otherwise you just won’t get the focus.

The smartphone we’re using is the iPhone 7+. With dual 12-megapixel cameras and in-built 28mm f1.8 lens and 56mm f2.8 lens, you can’t deny smartphone technology has come a long way since the last decade.

Finally, we’re using GemLightbox as our fixed lighting source. For those who aren’t aware, GemLightbox is a PicUp Media innovation. Jewelry pieces are highly reflective and mostly small making it tricky to photograph at times. Additionally, colored gemstones need a proper lighting environment to ensure that you capture its true colors. Using the GemLightbox creates the perfect lighting conditions to shoot jewelry.

The Process

We’ve uploaded two videos above demonstrating how we shot the blue tourmaline ring with the X-T20 and the iPhone 7+.

For the X-T20 shot, it took us about 5 minutes to set up and adjust our tripod to the correct position. But once set up, taking the shot required no effort. The exposure settings we had were at 1/75 sec, f/22 & ISO 1000.

For the iPhone 7+ shot, the whole process took less a minute. Once we placed the phone on the phone stand, we have to manually adjust the smartphone camera exposure settings before shooting.

The Results

Now let’s look at the juicy bits – the results!

On the left-hand side, we have the raw image taken using the X-T20 zoomed at 1x, 2x and 3x. Initially, we can see that the background is dark grey in colour. However, upon further observation in the 3x, you can see the rich, blue colour of the tourmaline and the shiny gradients of the metals. The details remain crisp throughout the zooming.

On the right-hand side, we have the raw image taken using the iPhone 7+ camera and zoomed at 1x, 2x and 3x. Immediately, we notice a clean, sharp image on a white background that pops out. As we zoom into the 3x, we start to lose details on the edges of the metals and the facets of the stones.

Now let’s look at the final, retouched image and compare them side by side:

For the 1x and 2x comparison, there is very little difference in details. However, the retouching remarkably brings the X-T20 image to life as we remove unwanted elements from the raw file.

For the 3x, a very meticulous observation will find that the X-T20 image is just slightly sharper, even with retouching.

So there you have it! Undeniably, you will achieve better results with a DSLR / mirrorless compared to a smartphone camera (I would have been shocked if this wasn’t the case).

But does this slightly extra level of image quality equate to better overall results for your business? Is it actually worth putting the extra investment into improving your photography?

Our Recommendation

The answer to the question above, in short, is yes! You should always invest in your images. In fact, 85% of sales are lost due to poor images. Your images are a reflection of your brand and poor quality images don’t give lasting impressions to your customers. We even wrote an article on this topic previously.

But before you empty your bank account on any sort of camera equipment, take one step back. Most people don’t realise that 80% of your image quality is attributed to your lighting. The next 10% is attributed to your technique, and the remaining 10% is attributed to post-production.

Without the right lighting environment, you will be unable to capture the true representation of your jewelry products. The last thing you need is a negative comment on your store, saying that the jewelry products you sell look significantly different compared to the pictures. The best way to take pictures of your jewelry is to use diffused lighting as it is neither direct nor harsh but would rather give an even light distribution.

So if you’re not focused on the important 80% of your jewelry photography, you really need to consider your options. INVEST IN GOOD LIGHTING BEFORE ANYTHING ELSE!

Luckily for you, we’ve managed to condense decades of photography lighting technology inside of the GemLightbox. That’s 80% of the hard work in your photography you DON’T have to worry about which means jewelers like yourself can focus on the important things in your business. You know, like sales and stuff.

Assuming you have your lighting covered, there’s 10% of the work that can be outsourced to a retouching professional like ourselves, which makes your images already 90% amazing! Now with the techniques, that’s something we can teach you in our how-to guides. Not everyone is perfect, but hey 95-99% is pretty damn good, right?

Now that we have that out of the way, the next question is: What exactly do you want to achieve with your jewelry photography?

– I want to capture a high-quality image in 5 seconds with the option to immediately upload it for retouching

– I want to engage with my followers on social media as best as possible

– I want to create interactive 360 videos for my pieces

If you answered yes to any two of the three questions above, then using a smartphone is more than enough for your jewelry photography.

On the other hand, if you want to achieve any of the following:

– I don’t mind spending the extra time to capture as much detail as possible

– I want to print my images on a large banner

Then using a digital camera will work best for your jewelry photography.

The beauty of things is that once you have the right lighting setup, you can pick up either your camera or smartphone and not have to worry about results.

Oh yeah – if this post didn’t answer your questions, you can schedule a meeting here

3 Comments

  • Christi Cramer

    Kevin:

    You make it all sound ever-so-simple. Like taking five minutes to set up your DSLR. A practiced photographer will take 15-20 minutes setting up, getting the angle and the lighting right, and even taking a couple of test shots to make sure. And there are a few other things I would add to this article.

    I DO completely agree with your points on shooting photos with your smartphone- using them for social media and the like.

    However, shooting with a mirrorless camera or other DSLR is definitely the way to go not only for “images on a larger banner”, but it is also necessary for print media, which a number of jewelers still use- and a number of them extensively. You also get a much better photo for online newsletters and article pdfs used for digital production. When a macro photo is backlit (especially when viewed on a desktop) it is crucial to have good resolution. (For reference, look at GIA’s Gems and Gemology online)

    Also, while I agree with your comments on lighting, you left out the adjusting of white balance on your [DSLR] camera, which is just as, or even more crucial than your external lighting.

    Which brings up another point, if you decide on using a DSLR (mirrorless or otherwise) or even a sophisticated point-and-shoot, LEARN HOW TO USE YOUR CAMERA. Take a class, learn how to use the camera on manual rather than auto. And for the record, unless you’re hand-holding a camera while shooting, you never shoot on ISO 1000. Good macro photography takes lots of practice, and I mean LOTS of practice!

    Also, most cameras (DSLR, mirrorless, and even sophisticated point-and-shoots) now have wifi which means you can transfer the photo to your tablet/smartphone for editing and then uploading to Social Media, which in the end, will still give you a better photo than taking one with your smartphone. Again, this is a function that can be easily learned.

    Also, you mention very little about editing. You mention shooting a RAW photo, but it’s been my experience that most people don’t even know what a RAW photo is. There is so much to learn about editing- from simple editing programs (like PicMonkey) to learning how to “stack” multiple photos (for super sharp images) in Photoshop CC.

    One last thing. A sophisticated point-and-shoot, and even some mirrorless DSLRs are the same or less in price than an iPhone 7+, making them a good financial investment for your jewelry business, rather than “emptying your bank account”!

    Sorry if this all sounds a bit critical, but I’m afraid that most jewelers reading this will jump to, or stay with using their smart phone and leave the rest to the professionals, which is not a bad thing for those of us that are…

    For those that read this article to actually learn more about taking photos with a regular camera, I’m sure it fell short for them.

    Christi Cramer
    Graduate Gemologist, GIA
    Staff Photographer
    Tech Manager
    Social Media Manager
    Mineralogical Record Magazine, Journal for mineral collectors, worldwide

  • Hi Christi,

    You raise very good and constructive criticisms on the article I wrote and I really appreciate the feedback

    The purpose of this article was to compare and results of photography using a smartphone and digital camera before and after editing.

    You are very correct that I had oversimplified the photography process using a digital camera. Don’t get me wrong, photography using a digital camera can be very challenging and time-consuming and for your average jeweler, they simply don’t have the time and resources to spend on their photography.

    The modern-day smartphone can capture images at 3000×3000 pixels and be saved at 300dpi. This is more than enough for small print jobs and web.

    The process we went through is what we consider the most efficient and effective for our clients, with the images taken in-house in a controlled environment, then sent to a retoucher for post-production.

    Retouching itself is a beast of its own (I should have mentioned it in my post), check out our blog here: https://picupmedia.com/blog/jewelry-photo-retouching/

    Let me know if you have any other blog topic suggestions and I’ll be happy to write something up!

    Kevin

  • Do you have a second please to answer a question I have? I’m shopping for a new DSLR and my buddy was telling me not to consider anything but a Nikon or Canon. Do you have a preference there? It seems like there are other cheaper options out there. I’m looking for the best bang for my buck really. I really appreciate the advice!

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