Putting the Douglas Photo Calculator app to the test

Rebecca Frogley downloads the Douglas Photo Calculator app to her phone and adopts its features during a recent photo shoot

They say that smartphones have changed photography forever, with the fine-art image having been superseded by snapshots of cats, coffees, and the infamous selfie. And it’s true — the smartphone has staked hold of its position as ‘good enough’ for snapshots, for at least most of the time. And, as a result, more photos are being captured and shared than ever before. Supposedly, more than 21.9 billion photos have been uploaded to Instagram in the last year — that’s a whole lot of selfies endlessly outputted into the virtual sphere. Mind you, this isn’t even a new phenomenon — Oxford Dictionaries named ‘selfie’ as word of the year way back in 2013, resulting in photographers everywhere letting out a collective groan. We’ve now got attachable ring lights, selfie sticks, and a myriad of image-editing apps designed to work with the unrestricted touchscreen. And for many, this is quite the temptation to drop one’s camera gear altogether.

But here at the D-Photo office we’ve got our hands on a mobile app that’s a step in the other direction. It aids photography — and, to the delight of camera-lovers, it’s not of the Instagram variety.

It’s called the Douglas Photo Calculator, an app available on IOS and Android, which provides calculations for key metrics to assist photographers in capturing successful images. It's rich in features, offering just about everything a photographer could require, including angle of view, image area, depth of field, and the often-misunderstood hyperfocal distance. As a great tool for beginners that clarifies key concepts and offers immediate answers, it’s like having your photography tutor with you as you shoot. And, for the more experienced, the app answers some of the more complicated questions, such as the lower limit for aperture before diffraction reduces quality. So, if your first reaction to a photography app is to cringe at the idea — think again.

In offering automatic calculation of depth of field against input values, the Douglas Photo Calculator fills in the gaps for beginners who are feeling their way around modern lenses. Many years ago, every lens that you fitted had a hyperfocal scale etched onto the barrel, providing useful information as to exactly how much, or how little of your subject would appear in sharp focus for the given aperture and focus distance of that lens. These days, it’s often neglected in favour of a sleek finish, leaving photographers to rely on experience, guesswork, or playback modes in order to capture a subject in sharp focus. Simply input the focal length and aperture, and the Douglas Photo Calculator employs a mathematical algorithm to instantaneously provide the range that will be rendered in razor-sharp clarity. Plus, it accurately calculates the hyperfocal distance; that is, the distance between the lens and the closest object in focus when the lens is set at infinity. Ever captured what you thought was a crystal-clear landscape shot, only to realize that the foreground is out of focus? Well, it seems you’re now out of excuses.

For those switching between sensor formats, the app also provides an instant calculation of the angle of view offered by your camera and lens combination. Valuable in finding equivalent lenses when comparing CMOS and APS-c sensors, or in selecting the optimum focal length to capture a scene, an angle of view is the maximum view the camera is capable of ‘seeing’ through a lens. Expressed in degrees, it is commonly calculated by the diagonal corner-to-corner angle. The lens’s focal length is obviously key here, with longer lenses having a narrower angle of view than shorter ones. However, in what makes it tricky, sensor size also affects the angle of view. An example of this (offered within the app), is the following: “let’s say you have a 35mm camera with a subject that’s four metres wide, but you’re restricted to no more than three metres. What lens should you use?” The Douglas Photo Calculator will figure it out, so you don’t have to.

Finally, and as a handy addition, the Douglas Photo Calculator provides an embedded help section that clearly explains the photographic concepts encountered through the different features within the app. Still unsure on how these affect your images, or need brushing up on a couple of photographic terms? Take a look at the help menu and familiarize yourself with the basics.

Gone are the days of navigating the thick user manual — today we’ve got bundles of accessible and easy-to-follow help available online at the click of a button. However, with its clear equations and ability to be carried with you wherever you go, the Douglas Photo Calculator tops the lot. It’s ideal for those interested in learning more about photography, or for the more experienced looking to execute their art to a higher calibre. And, at only $7.49 for iOS and Android, it’s an affordable little extra that makes taking quality photographs just that much simpler than before.