Identified Flying (or otherwise) Objects photographed with phone cameras

JMartJr

Senior Member
I wonder if it is worth collecting some examples of phone images of identified objects, to establish what various phones can do. I'm thinking of trying to grab pics at or near the limits of what your eyes can do. Something far enough out that you can pretty much just barely identify it by eye. Might be useful in discussing the whole "why no better pics when there are so many phones with cameras?" question.

At the beach today near several airports/bases, and of course none of the usual helicopters and planes flew by.

But here is a distant boat. By eye, it was clearly a sailboat, given the comparative height to length as it went by. But it was far enough away that I could make out no details... had it not been moving on along it might have been a distant buoy, to look at. But I could see it a bit better than it photographed at full zoom on this phone.

Galaxy J-737V phone, 13 megpix camera with F/1.9 aperture, cant find what full zoom is not was fully zoomed.20221018_155202.jpg
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Something far enough out that you can pretty much just barely identify it by eye.
Your mind fills in a lot of the details for you. I've taken photos of planes that seem worse than they looked, but they I realized I can make out details in the photo I could not see with the naked eye.

A more objective test it if you can read text. N-number on a plane might be good, but hard to get the distance right. I use a magazine about 20 feet away.

2022-10-18_17-12-31.jpg

Max zoom, cropped: iPhone 13Pro, 3x (total 9x with digital zoom)
2022-10-18_17-13-34.jpg

I can read "The Antikythera Mechanism" (with a little interpolation) in this image, but I had to move about 1/3 of the way closer to be able to read it with the naked eye. There's also detail in the image of the mechanism that I could not see, and the individual white specs were not easily separated.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
I'm thinking of trying to grab pics at or near the limits of what your eyes can do.
But not all UFOs (if they were real flying-around craft) are going to be at or beyond that limit. Some, based on eyewitness reports, are much closer. Here's some paddleboarders. 2022-10-18_17-20-32.jpg

Sure, the most distant ones look like this:
2022-10-18_17-21-25.jpg

But nearby (but still 200+ feet away) ones look like:
2022-10-18_17-22-11.jpg

If you're ONLY looking at the most distant limits of your camera, then you are basically admitting that UFOs live in the LIZ because if they were any closer, you would be able to see what they were.
 

Duke

Active Member
20200724_231045.jpg

I took this photo several years ago on a crisp Nov night. The a/c was a Reserve C-17 out of nearby Wright-Patterson AFB. When I noticed how much it resembled the "triangular UFOs" that were all the rage, I took a series of photos with my cellphone. This was the only one that showed what I was seeing well enough to make the point how easily known a/c can be mistaken for UFOs. I posted it on a site without any explanation and got two different people reply I had captured a photo of the UFOs they'd seen.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Another thing: when you are looking at something (a plane, for example) you are not looking at a still image. Rather you get a series of cues from the motion parallax, the change of angle, the changes in lighting, etc., as the object moves.

So really you'd want to compare it with video.

Video though is recorded at a lower resolution - both less pixels and more compression. So to get around that you'd probably want to use digitally zoomed video to ensure you get all the pixels in the sensor contributing individually.

4K video is 2,160 pixels tall and 3,840 pixels wide - which isn't too different to an iPhone photo 3024 tall, 4032 wide. But to get it equivalent you'd want 2x in-camera digital zoom

This seems confirmed with a digitally zoomed 4k/60 video. It's noticeably more readable than the still images. Oddly even the individual frames seem clearer. It's taken from the same distance.



2022-10-18_17-55-30.jpg
More investigation needed. But I've been recommending people take video rather than photos for a while. Seems like it has multiple benefits.
 

FatPhil

Senior Member.
I took this photo several years ago on a crisp Nov night. The a/c was a Reserve C-17 out of nearby Wright-Patterson AFB. When I noticed how much it resembled the "triangular UFOs" that were all the rage, I took a series of photos with my cellphone. This was the only one that showed what I was seeing well enough to make the point how easily known a/c can be mistaken for UFOs. I posted it on a site without any explanation and got two different people reply I had captured a photo of the UFOs they'd seen.

A useful day-vs-night comparison.
I think Mick's SI snap shows that current phone cameras are *during daytime* probably better than the human eye. In particular, as we're remarkably good at interpretting text because it's very low entropy when you have a well-developed language model. However, the human eye is very adaptable and can make great use of its dynamic range in dark environments where even modern SLRs will struggle. A several-year-old phone cam has no chance at all to compete. However, never underestimate the amount of image processing our brains do on those retinal images, we are kinda fooling ourselves how much we actually are seeing clearly, a lot is based on expectation.
 

JMartJr

Senior Member
If you're ONLY looking at the most distant limits of your camera, then you are basically admitting that UFOs live in the LIZ because if they were any closer, you would be able to see what they were.
In reflection, I agree. Personally I suspect most/all UFOs (other than deliberate hoaxes) are out in your LIZ, but I could be wrong so your point is well taken.
 
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Ravi

Senior Member.
In optics, the Optical Transfer Function is used to know if an optical system can resolve a scene/object. The OTF is defined as the Fourier transform of the point-spread function. As it also contains the phase of the light, which is not always needed or known, the practical use of it is called the Modulation Transfer Function. It describes how much of the object's contrast is captured in the image as a function of spatial frequency. So, when a scene has a very poor contrast, no good imaging.

Anyway, the wiki page has lots more info, which I think is appropriate in the context of this thread.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Optical_transfer_function
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member


A comparison of video vs still image. Both 9x zoom (3x optical, 3x digital)
 

JMartJr

Senior Member
To more closely simulate Mick's magazine test, here is my camera (same as in post #1) photographing a bag of dirt. Also roughly 20 feet back, by eye I could read "protects from" but not what it protects from!

No zoom.
20221019_181419.jpg



Full digital zoom which says x4 (pretty feeble I know).
20221019_181431.jpg
On this screen, I can read that about as well as I could read by eye.

Close view of what is actually there:
20221019_181557.jpg
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Galaxy J-737V phone, 13 megpix camera with F/1.9 aperture, cant find what full zoom is not was fully zoomed.
On this screen, I can read that about as well as I could read by eye.
Your camera does not seem to have an optical zoom. I think to be better than the eye it needs either a 2x or higher optical zoom, or something like a 40MP sensor (which is like a 2x zoom over a 10MP sensor, all things being equal)

I think it would probably be accurate to say most phone cameras are not much worse than the human eye, many are better, and a few are a lot better.

Which does not really leave much room for the UFOs to hide. If they are visible to the naked eye in daylight, then there should be some comparable (or better) images.
 

JMartJr

Senior Member
I tend to agree. Query: Would there be value to having a "collection" of pictures of planes, balloons, helicopters, and what not taken by various cellular telephones for purposes of demonstrating what a picture of those things, taken with those phones, should look like? For comparison to purported spaceships or whatever? Not to try and show that a pictured UFO is one of those things, but instead to show what level of detail might be expected from pictures of actual aircraft/spaceships?
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
I tend to agree. Query: Would there be value to having a "collection" of pictures of planes, balloons, helicopters, and what not taken by various cellular telephones for purposes of demonstrating what a picture of those things, taken with those phones, should look like? For comparison to purported spaceships or whatever? Not to try and show that a pictured UFO is one of those things, but instead to show what level of detail might be expected from pictures of actual aircraft/spaceships?
To a degree, but I think it would only be useful if you had the distance. Obviously it's going to be a dot far away, and super large and clear close up.

I wonder if any of the databases have an "estimated distance" field?
 

Mendel

Senior Member.
I wonder if any of the databases have an "estimated distance" field?
If we had "pixels per degree" data, i.e. how many sensor pixels get illuminated by an arc of 1 degree looking straight ahead at full zoom, we'd be able to cross-convert pixel size, object dimensions, and distance.
 

JMartJr

Senior Member
If we had "pixels per degree" data, i.e. how many sensor pixels get illuminated by an arc of 1 degree looking straight ahead at full zoom, we'd be able to cross-convert pixel size, object dimensions, and distance.
Or if pictures were purpose-taken, the flight could be identified on FlightRadar and distance calculated. I might mess about with that once we get past the end of the month, and a couple of life-events are in the rear-view mirror.
 

DavidB66

Senior Member
I'm a terrible photographer. When people talk derisively about 'point and click' photos, I wonder 'is there another kind?' But this brackets me with most of the world's population, so my attempts at photographing objects in the sky should be more representative than those of an expert.
I took the photo below yesterday with a Samsung Galaxy phone, a few years old, on standard default settings, whatever they may be. While out walking, I noticed a plane (passenger jet) in the distance, got out my phone, and took a quick snap. This took maybe 5 or 6 seconds: a few seconds to get the phone out, activate it (it was already switched on, which may not always be the case), and select the 'camera' option, then another few seconds to take the photo. I didn't take much care with this, and couldn't even be sure if the plane was in shot, as the sun was shining on the display screen and I could hardly see anything. (This can be a problem even when the sun is not on the screen, as ordinary daylight is much brighter than the image.) Here it is:

20221020_155517.jpg
So what do we see? First, I note that despite my photographic incompetence, it is quite a clear image, not badly out-of-focus at any distance. Second, the plane is in shot, but you are unlikely to see it without blowing up the image, and knowing where to look. In fact, it is just above the right side of the white van, and roughly level with the top of the lamp post to the right. If you do blow up the image, at a high magnitude it is easily recognisable as an air liner, but then we all know what they look like! For comparison, note the dark detached object, somewhat larger than the plane, above the white van and just below a small white cloud. I didn't notice this when I took the photo, and most likely it is just a leaf which happened to fall from the tree at that moment. It is similar in size and colour to other leaves on the tree. But without that visual context, it would be difficult to identify. Indeed, it has some resemblance to a bird in flight, if the right extremity of the object is its head and beak, the left extremity is its tail, and the downward projection is the downstroke of a flapping wing. I can't be sure that it isn't (say) a pigeon or a green parakeet, both of which are common in the area.
Though the plane is difficult to see in the photo, I could see it quite clearly with the naked eye (with glasses). Here I note that a photo, viewed from a normal distance, is usually compressed into a smaller field of view than the original scene viewed with the naked eye. A moderately magnified photo is actually 'truer' to the naked eye view than an unmagnified one. A linear magnification of about 80% gets quite close to what I recall seeing. A higher magnification (say, 200%) reveals details, like a car number plate in the distance, which I don't think I could see with the naked eye. This confirms that a fairly basic phone camera actually records more detail than the eye can see.
As to the distance of the plane, I estimate it at a few miles. I used the 'fingernail' test. The nail of one's little finger, at arms' length, spans about half a degree. In this case the plane spanned a bit less than half the fingernail, so it spanned about a quarter of a degree. At a distance of a mile, 1 degree subtends about 100 feet, so a plane more than 100 feet long subtending only a quarter of a degree would need to be at least 4 miles away.
 
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