Sentence Diagrams – Tutorial No. 4

Thank you for visiting my business writing blog. If you’re new to diagramming sentences, please work through Sentence Diagrams – Tutorials 1 through 3.

The sentence for this tutorial is another example of mushmouth, introduced in Diagram Tutorial No. 2. When the writer or speaker is compelled to produce some words but wishes to avoid communicating anything of substance — generally out of fear or embarrassment — the preferred form is mushmouth.

The sample sentence is a common story — large outfit takes over smaller one; back-room operations must be consolidated to create economies of scale. This involves the shedding of jobs, so it generates some political heat. This, in turn, requires a statement in mushmouth, like this:

‘Staff were informed that management had formed the view that the current in-house IT operation at St George no longer fits Westpac’s service delivery model.’

This sentence has three clauses. A clause is a complete statement, with a subject and a verb. So the first job is to separate the sentence into its clauses and identify the subject-verb combination for each. As always, I highlight subjects in blue and verbs in red. I’ve placed parentheses around the conjunctions (linking words).

Staff were informed

(that) management had formed the view

(that) the current in-house IT operation at St George no longer fits Westpac’s service delivery model’

Diagram each clause on its own story line.

You should have had no problem with the first two, but the negative verb, ‘no longer fits’, may have troubled you. Negative verbs are diagrammed as if they were positive statements. The words negating the verb are modifiers (adverbs) of the verb, diagrammed below the story line.

Now look for any objects of the verbs, which I highlight in green. Objects are words that receive the action of the verb.

‘Staff were informed

(that) management had formed the view

(that) the current in-house IT operation at St George no longer fits Westpac’s service delivery model

These are diagrammed right after their verbs, separated by short vertical lines.

Then it’s just a matter of filling in all the modifiers, which I highlight in orange. Note the prepositional phrase with ‘St George’ as its object. (I highlight prepositions in generic purple.) Note also how the possessive form of the noun, ‘Westpac’s’ is used as a modifier. Don’t forget to include the negative adverbs for ‘fits’.

‘Staff were informed

(that) management had formed the view

(that) the current in-house IT operation at St George no longer fits Westpac’s service delivery model’

My fellow grammar geeks will harrumph that ‘in-house’ is really a stripped-down prepositional phrase punctuated as a compound adjective. Ignore us.

You should notice how the negative adverbs work: ‘longer’ modifies the verb, while ‘no’ modifies ‘longer’.

A similar situation occurs with ‘service delivery model’ — ‘delivery’ tells us what kind of model, while ‘service’ tells us what kind of delivery.

Now all that’s left are the two conjunctions, ‘that’ and ‘that’. Technically, these are called subordinating conjunctions because they make their clauses subordinate to the preceding one. In this sentence the third clause is subordinate to the second, which is in turn subordinate to the main (or independent) clause.

Pay very close attention; this is critical to your understanding of sentences with more than one clause — called complex sentences. And you must either understand complex sentences or absolutely never use them. It is essential that you know TO WHICH word, phrase or clause each subordinating conjunction refers. 

In our sample sentence, the first conjunction, ‘that’, refers to the verb of the main clause, ‘informed’. It tells the reader that the entire second clause can be read as a modifer of the verb in the first clause.

Diagram this relationship with dotted lines leading to and from the conjunction, which you put on the left margin of the diagram. The first dotted line connects the conjunction to the word or phrase to which it refers in the previous clause — in this case ‘informed’. The second dotted line connects the conjunction to its own clause.

To indicate this, the dotted line leads to the story line of the dependent clause. When a conjunction links to an entire clause, draw a pair of brackets around the clause, with the dotted line leading to the point of one bracket, like this:

Now do the same analysis of the second conjunction, ‘that’. To what word or phrase in the second clause does it refer? It’s the object, ‘view’. So the dotted line runs from ‘view’ to ‘that’, and from ‘that’ to the entire third clause. The third clause is seen by the reader’s mind as explaining ‘view’. Here’s how the whole thing looks:

This stacking of clauses is a common mushmouth tactic, precisely because it is so difficult for the reader’s (or listener’s) mind to keep all of them in suspension until the final full stop, then to decide what refers to what.

So if your objective is clear communication, don’t do it this way. Here’s the step-by-step translation of this sentence from a mushmouth obfuscation to a clear communication:

Step #1 — Delete the camouflage clause

The camouflage clause (or phrase) is a standard mushmouth trick. By inserting a bit of redundant or unimportant detail, it distracts and confuses the reader. The news for staff is not that ‘management had formed the view’, but that the IT section ‘no longer fits … (the)… model’.

Here’s how it looks with the camouflage clause deleted, in text and diagram forms:

Staff were informed that the current in-house IT operation at St George no longer fits Westpac’s service delivery model.

Step #2 – Perform liposuction on the flab and the flim-flam 

The final bit of mushmouth is that guff about ‘no longer fits Westpac’s service delivery model.’ We’ll hit that with the liposuction tube. Then we’ll use it on the redundant modifiers, ‘current’ and ‘in-house’. By definition, the only IT operation able to be shut down is the current one. And it’s obviously in-house, otherwise why would management be shutting it down?

Cleansed of all mush, the statement now looks like this in text and diagram forms:

Staff were informed that St George’s IT operation would be closed.

Step #3 – Change passive verbs to active

I kept the passive verbs to soften the shame and fear such stories spawn in those who must publish or, even more terrifyingly, speak them. As a piece of pure news — in active voice — it would go like this:

Management told staff that they were closing St George’s IT operation.

Ironically, this is what was actually communicated, despite the full-bore mushmouth. That’s precisely my point. Senior executives and PR types alike should learn that nobody is fooled by this stuff, but everybody is offended. It’s offensive because the writer or speaker is saying to all of us in the audience, ‘You’re not smart enough to figure out what I’m really saying.’

Oh yes we are. But it does take some effort. So when you really do want to tell your readers what’s really going on, don’t use mushmouth.

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Sentence Diagrams – Tutorial No. 3

Thank you for visiting my business writing blog. If you’ve never diagrammed sentences before, you’re in for a strange treat. But you should work through Sentence Diagrams – Tutorial No. 1 and No. 2 before you do this one.

For the 3rd tutorial on diagramming I want to show you how to physically draw a diagram. That’s what you need to do if you want to learn this as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. Drawing the diagrams burns them into your muscle memory, making it easier to remember. So this tutorial is all on video.

We’ll work through the diagrams for a sentence before and after editing. It’s yet another example of what a wonderful tool diagramming is, both for learning grammatical structure and for analysing troubled sentences.

Anyway, have a look at the video to see how it’s done in the real world. Forgive the rough sound quality — I’m working with two different recording systems. Will improve in future.

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Sentence Diagrams – Tutorial No. 2

Thank you for visiting my business writing blog. Sentence diagrams are a way of learning grammar that focuses on structure instead of rules. You should work through Sentence Diagrams – Tutorial No. 1 before you do this one.

Mushmouth is business writing that appears to be a communication of some sort, but its true goal is preventing communication. By diagramming an example of mushmouth, you can see how clumsy grammar can be used to stymie readers. The inference should be obvious: if you want to communicate, don’t do it this way.

This mushmouth quote comes from The Sydney Morning Herald of Wednesday, 11 April 2012 — “Transpacific pays $35m in disclosure settlement”. The headline is ironic because Transpacific’s statement tries hard to disclose nothing. It was probably written by a paid flack, but the mouth of their Chairman was credited with this glutinous mush:

‘We took the decision to participate in a structured mediation process having regard to the likely costs involved, and the uncertainties and risks that are inevitably associated with claims of this nature.’

As always the first step is to identify the subject, which I highlight in blue, and the verb, highlighted in red:

Wetook the decision to participate in a structured mediation process having regard to the likely costs involved, and the uncertainties and risks that are inevitably associated with claims of this nature.’

Draw your story line and divide it into a subject area on the left and a predicate area on the right. Fill in the subject and the verb.

Next, see if any words indicate what we took. Obviously it’s ‘decision’. This is the object of the verb. I always highlight objects in green. The object of a verb is diagrammed with a little vertical line separating the two, just like the objects of prepositions you diagrammed in the previous tutorial.

Wetook the decision to participate in a structured mediation process having regard to the likely costs involved, and the uncertainties and risks that are inevitably associated with claims of this nature.’

The story line is now complete, and here’s the bare-bones sentence: We took decision. In fact, the story line of a proper sentence is, itself, a grammatically-complete sentence. Grammar geeks call it an independent clause.

Next, identify any words or phrases that describe or further explain ‘decision’. These are called modifiers as you learned in Diagramming Tutorial No. 1. To identify modifiers, ask basic questions of the word being modified. Then look for the words or phrases that answer those questions.

For instance, ask yourself, “Which decision?”… “The decision” … “What kind of decision?” … “Decision to participate”. I highlight modifiers in orange.

Diagram them on slanted lines below the word they modify on the story line.

‘We took the decision to participate in a structured mediation process having regard to the likely costs involved, and the uncertainties and risks that are inevitably associated with claims of this nature.’

The second modifier is an infinitive. This is the basic form of all verbs. In English the infinitive is formed by adding ‘to’ to the stem or root of the verb. So to + participate = to participate. Diagram infinitives as if they were one word.

Next, identify any words or phrases that might modify ‘to participate’. Ask yourself, “to participate how?” … “to participate in a structured mediation process.”

This modifier is a prepositional phrase. As you recall from Diagramming Tutorial No. 1, this includes a preposition, its object and the object’s modifiers. I highlight prepositions in generic purple, objects in green and modifiers in orange.

‘We took the decision to participate in a structured mediation process having regard to the likely costs involved, and the uncertainties and risks that are inevitably associated with claims of this nature.’

Note the little elbow to connect the preposition with the slanted line for ‘to participate’. The object of the preposition is diagrammed exactly like the object of the verb, and the modifiers are diagrammed exactly like modifiers of story-line words. This is the beauty of diagramming as a way of learning grammatical structure. It forces you to look at how words and phrases are used, rather than what they are called.

Now ask yourself, “what kind of decision?” … “decision having regard to the likely costs involved, and the uncertainties and risks”. Note that there are two phrases here, and the second one has three objects.

First, ‘having regard’ is a ‘participial phrase’. In this case, ‘having’ is the present participle of the verb to have. Participles can have objects, like verbs or prepositions. I’ve highlighted the participle in purple and its object in green.

‘We took the decision to participate in a structured mediation process havingregard to the likely costs involved, and the uncertainties and risks that are inevitably associated with claims of this nature.’

Then the prepositional phrase answers the question, “regard to what?” … “regard to the likely costs involved, and the uncertainties and risks”. The preposition is purple and the three objects are green. I’ve also highlighted the joining words (conjunctions) in green.

‘We took the decision to participate in a structured mediation process having regard to the likely costs involved, and the uncertainties and risks that are inevitably associated with claims of this nature.’

You may recall from Diagramming Tutorial No. 1 how to diagram compound elements. Just stack them on top of each other, with a dotted vertical line connecting them. Put the conjunctions on the dotted line.

Take a moment to appreciate the beauty and simplicity of this diagram as a grammatical learning aid. Notice that there are THREE kinds of objects diagrammed — ‘decision’ is the object of a verb; ‘regard’ is the object of a participle; ‘process, costs, uncertainties, risks’ are objects of prepositions. Yet they are all diagrammed the same way, with a little vertical line separating them from the word of which they are the object(s). This is why I say diagrams are the best way to learn grammar as structure. Similar structural components have similar diagrams.

Finally we come to the ultimate diagramming bugbear, a complete clause. Clauses have a subject and a verb, just like a sentence. In fact, a simple sentence is known in grammar as an independent clause. Which raises the question, “What’s a dependent clause?”

The last section of our mushmouth example is a dependent clause. (Dependent clauses are almost a hallmark of mushmouth.) It has — technically at least — a subject and a verb. But the nature of the word that links it to the main clause makes it dependent on the main clause for its meaning. It can also be called a subordinate clause.

In this case, the key word is ‘that’. It obviously refers back to the objects of the prepositional phrase — ‘costs’, ‘uncertainties’ and ‘risks’. But it also functions as the subject of the dependent clause. I’ll highlight it in blue, as if it were an ordinary subject. The verb of the clause is in red.

The dependent clause is diagrammed like a separate sentence, with its own story line. The only difference is the conjunction which connects it to the part of the main clause that it modifies. Use a dotted line to connect the two clauses.

The dependent clause has a predicate modifier, which is highlighted in orange. This is diagrammed exactly like the predicate nouns in Diagramming Tutorial No. 1. Draw a backslash to separate the predicate modifier from the verb. The backslash indicates that while this word is in the predicate, it actually modifies the subject.

‘We took the decision to participate in a structured mediation process having regard to the likely costs involved, and the uncertainties and risks that are inevitably associated with claims of this nature.’

Diagram any modifiers, including prepositional phrases, just as you did when you diagrammed the main clause. Here’s how the whole thing looks, in all its mushmouth glory:

I’ve used a large bracket to indicate that the dependent clause modifies all three of the prepositional objects. I’ve put a box around ‘that’ to indicate that it is essentially filling two roles:

1. It’s a conjunction linking the dependent clause to the main clause.

2. It’s a pronoun acting as the subject of the dependent clause.

So if your objective is to fill the medium with words from which your readers have great difficulty extracting information, this is the way to do it.

On the other hand, if you wish to communicate, trim your sentences back to their bones, muscle and sinew; and leave the flab and gab on the abattoir floor. Our mushmouth example was supposed to be a rationale for a business decision. Sadly, out of fear or incompetence, the writer chose to hide the decision and its perfectly valid rationale in a tub of mush.

Here’s how it should have been done, in a way that would have reflected credit on the Chairman, instead of scorn:

We decided to participate in mediation to reduce cost, uncertainty and risk.

In the context of the settlement of a large lawsuit, this statement would be perfectly comprehensible, understandable, even laudable, by the overwhelming majority of shareholders and analysts, who are the audience for the Chairman’s statement.

Here’s its diagram. Note the huge shift in power and clarity when we change ‘We took a decision’ … to …  ‘We decided’.

Thank you for your attention. I hope this tutorial has been helpful. To repeat my pitch: I believe sentence diagrams are the best way to learn grammar as structure, rather than as a list of rules. And structure is the bedrock of good writing.

Here’s a video of this tutorial, in two parts:

Part 1 —

Part 2 —

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdjc-6ARAoE&feature=plcp]Sentence Diagramming Tutorial No. 2 – Part 2

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Sentence Diagrams – Tutorial No. 1

Thank you for visiting my business writing blog. The time has come to go hardcore with grammar diagrams.

‘Don’t let good grammar spoil good writing’. This was the headline of a piece by Philip Yaffe, posted at — http://www.contentwriter.in/articles/writing/grammar-writing.htm

I agree with Yaffe on good writing. Bad writing, on the other hand, is never spoiled by the application of good grammar. Nor is mediocre writing, for that matter. In my blog posts and tutorials I focus on how to make your writing better, and that almost always involves applying grammatical structure, if not grammatical rules.

When you write to inform or persuade, you must understand grammar as structure. That’s why I teach sentence diagramming. It’s the best way to learn grammar — and the best way to analyse sentences when editing.

I devote over half of my book to explaining grammar through sentence diagrams. I devote much of the remainder to sentence diagrams that illustrate structural problems and how to solve them. So the time has come to introduce diagramming to this blog.

Write the way people read

Sentence diagrams reflect how our minds process written language. All the key elements of a sentence are arranged along the top of the diagram, in what I call the story line. The modifiers are all hung below the story line.

All modifiers are diagrammed the same way, whether they are adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, participles, articles, possessives or infinitives. So identifying these parts of speech is not as important as understanding how they are used as modifiers. Diagrams let the writer see the sentence more or less as the reader’s mind sees it. The focus is on structure rather than labels and rules.

If you weren’t taught the parts of speech in school, don’t worry; you’ll pick it up. Instead of what they’re called, concentrate on what they do in the sentence and where they are in the diagram.

One last thing: You should actually draw these diagrams. Part of what makes diagramming such a powerful tool for learning grammar is that it engages both sides of your brain. Add the physical act of drawing, and you enlist muscle memory as well. Seriously, draw them by hand. You can rotate the paper to write on the slanted lines when the time comes.

Our sample sentence appeared in the annual report of one of Australia’s biggest banks. This is about as close to the essence of business writing as you can get:

Key drivers of the Group’s earnings were continued leadership in Business Banking combined with strong growth in deposits and mortgages in Personal Banking. 

The Story Line

Draw a horizontal line at the top of your paper. Draw a short vertical line through it to separate it into two parts. The left-hand part is the subject. The subject drives the action of the verb — or is driven by it. The part on the right is the predicate. The predicate contains the verb and its associated words.

Key drivers of the Group’s earnings were continued leadership in Business Banking combined with strong growth in deposits and mortgages in Personal Banking.

Next, identify the individual subject, in this case ‘drivers’. I highlight subjects in blue. Write it on the story line on the left of the dividing line. This sentence has a single subject, but many will have two or more. You’ll see how to diagram these later.

Now identify the verb, ‘were’. I highlight verbs in red. Write it on the story line to the right of the divider. This sentence has a one-word verb, but that won’t always be the case.

Key drivers of the Group’s earnings were continued leadership in Business Banking combined with strong growth in deposits and mortgages in Personal Banking.

The predicate can also include a predicate noun or pronoun which refers back to the subject. These are usually words that mean the same thing as the subject word. They are placed after the verb, separated by a backslash to point back toward the subject. Identify the predicate noun in our sample sentence, ‘leadership’. I highlight these in a generic colour, purple.

Key drivers of the Group’s earnings were continued leadership in Business Banking combined with strong growth in deposits and mortgages in Personal Banking.

This story line is finished. A diagrammed story line should always be a grammatically-complete sentence, also known as an independent clause. The story line is the backbone of the sentence. Everything else is just additional detail.

When you read a story line out loud, it may sound clumsy, but it should contain the essence of the story the whole sentence is meant to convey. If it doesn’t, that’s another reason to learn diagramming. A diagram shows you where a sentence needs editing.

In this case the statement, drivers were leadership is grammatically incorrect. The subject and verb are plural, but there’s only one predicate noun, and it’s singular. We’ll come back to that after we’ve diagrammed all the modifiers.

The two broad types of modifier are adjectives and adverbs. Adjectives modify (describe or give additional information about) nouns and pronouns. Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives and other adverbs.

Identify the words describing story-line nouns in our sample sentence — ‘Key’ and ‘continued’. I highlight modifiers in orange. Write these on slanted lines below the words they modify.

Key drivers of the Group’s earnings were continued leadership in Business Banking combined with strong growth in deposits and mortgages in Personal Banking.

Grammar geeks note that ‘continued’ is the past participle of the verb to continue, used as an adjective. This illustrates the great power of diagramming. Because the diagram for all modifiers is the same, it focuses your mind on where the words fit into the architecture of the sentence, rather than on arcane labels like adjective or past participle.

Call them A and B if you like, or marmot and vole; I don’t care. But know where they go in the diagram, and you’ll know what they do in the sentence.

Prepositional phrases are also used as modifiers. Prepositions are words that describe relationships in space and time. A preposition usually has an object, to which it refers. The prepositional phrase includes the preposition, its object and any modifiers.

In the sample sentence I’ve highlighted prepositions in purple, their objects in green, and modifiers in orange. Write the prepositions on slanted lines to indicate that they and their phrases are acting as modifiers. Write the object of the preposition on a horizontal line, separated from the preposition by a short vertical line.

Modifiers are diagrammed below the objects just as you diagrammed the modifiers of the story-line words. Here’s the diagram:

Key drivers of the Group’s earnings were continued leadership in Business Banking combined with strong growth in deposits and mortgages in Personal Banking.

Two things are worth your attention: First, see how modifiers of modifiers are diagrammed with a little ‘hook’ or ‘elbow’. Second, see how the two objects of a prepositional phrase are stacked one on top of the other, with their joining word (conjunction) on a dotted line between. This is how all compound elements are diagrammed.

Finally, for my fellow grammar geeks — note that the article ‘the’, which modifies Group’s is diagrammed as if it were an adverb. That’s the power of diagramming. The student can SEE that the possessive noun functions as an adjective, therefore its article must function as an adverb.

I make no apology for repeating this; it’s important: For working writers — and most especially for working editors — grammar is structure. That’s why I teach it through diagrams, and that’s why I believe they’re the best way to learn it. Diagrams shift the emphasis from terminology and rules to pictures and structures.

Anyway, this diagram makes it clear that something is amiss with our sample sentence. The plural subject and plural verb lead us to expect a plural or compound predicate nouns, but there’s only a singular, single one.

However, the diagram also shows us where the other one is hidden. The word is ‘growth’, and it is buried way below the story line because it is the object of the preposition ‘with’. Worse, the entire prepositional phrase merely functions as an adverb modifying ‘combined’.

This is what I mean when I say that editing is usually much more profound that just reducing the word count. The writer probably used ‘combined with’ instead of ‘and’ because he or she believed two words totalling three syllables were more appropriate for the annual report of a major bank than one word of one syllable.

Sadly this attempt at dignity failed on structural grounds. Correct it by deleting ‘combined with’ and inserting ‘and’. Here’s the diagram of the edited sentence:

Key drivers of the Group’s earnings were continued leadership in Business Banking and strong growth in deposits and mortgages in Personal Banking.

Now you can see what a huge difference this little edit makes to the structure of the sentence. It now reads as I believe the writer intended. There were two drivers of the bank’s earnings:

1. Leadership in the business sector

2. Growth in the consumer sector

Transforming ‘growth’ from a prepositional object into a predicate noun makes all the difference, because it elevates the word up to the story line.

I harp on story lines because they are where your reader’s mind looks first for clues about the meaning of your sentence. The more of the story you can get up on that line — and the clearer you can be about it — the easier you make it for your reader to understand what you’ve written.

This diagram indicates the need for one more bit of editing. That’s to delete the prepositional phrase ‘in deposits and mortgages’. It’s an unnecessary detail in this context, and cutting it out makes the structure perfectly parallel, like this:

modifier              predicate noun           preposition            modifier                object                 continued                leadership                       in                     Business              Banking     strong                      growth                             in                     Personal             Banking

The final edit looks like this when diagrammed:

Key drivers of the Group’s earnings were continued leadership in Business Banking and strong growth in Personal Banking.

The parallel structure shows clearly in the symmetry of the diagrams for the two predicate nouns and their modifiers.

This method of diagramming sentences was published by Alonzo Reed and Brainerd Kellogg in 1877. I learned it at school in the 1950s. It is virtually unknown outside of the USA, and rare these days even in the USA. The best diagramming site on the web is produced and maintained by Capital Community College of Hartford, Connecticut. Here’s the URL:

grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/diagrams2/diagrams_frames.htm

I teach simplified diagrams for verbal phrases (participial, gerund and infinitive) — so you should probably wait until you’ve gone through my tutorials before moving on to the CCC site. My method is designed specifically for working writers, rather than specialist grammar or linguistics students.

Here’s most of the same stuff in video form: (video tutorial in 3 parts)

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Off-topic post – Pixel Dust Chapter 2

Thank you for visiting my blog, which is normally about business writing. This off-topic post and the one previous are about the amazing image quality available from today’s 8-megapixel camera phones.

As promised, here are the outdoor comparison photos. At lunchtime I wandered out to Circular Quay. This is the main ferry terminal in downtown Sydney, and it basically has the Opera House at one end and the Harbour Bridge at the other.

The 8-megapixel Canon 30d was set to ISO 100 and aperture of f/9. This gave a shutter speed of 1/200 sec., which was fine for hand-held tourist photos. The 8-megapixel iPhone 4S with Belkin grip attached set itself to ISO 64. The aperture is always wide open on the iPhone, which is f/2.4. Shutter speeds were 1/708 sec. for the orange monolith and 1/4608 sec. for the skyline.

Here they are, shrunk down to 600 pixels at their longest measure:

Canon 30d at 600 pixels high.

iPhone 4S at 600 pixels high.

Canon 30d at 600 pixels wide.

iPhone 4S at 600 pixels wide.

My Canon is ill-equipped for scenic snapshots because I have a 50mm prime lens on it, instead of a zoom. To get roughly similar framing on the orange monolith with the Canon, I had to shoot from about 2.5 times further away than I shot with the iPhone.

Conclusions? First, the Canon does actually deliver better image quality. And so it should; its size, weight and cost are many times that of the iPhone. On the other hand, the iPhone delivers USEABLE image quality at around 600 to 800 pixels max. side. And when you’re not taking pictures with it, you can surf the net, watch music videos, send emails or talk to people with it. None of which you can do with a Canon DSLR — even the latest and greatest.

When it comes to image quality, any of the new phones with 8-to-12-megapixel cameras will deliver the goods for most non-critical purposes. But I’ll still use my camera as a camera, my computer as a computer, and my phone as a phone. Sorry to be so old-fashioned, but there it is.

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Off-topic post #2 — Pixel Dust

Thank you for visiting my blog, which is usually about business writing. This off-topic post compares the 8-megapixel camera in my iPhone 4S to an 8-megapixel DSLR, my Canon 30d.

The 8-megapixel camera built into my new iPhone 4S produces the same size image as my 6-year-old Canon 30d. Only six years ago this was one of the highest-resolution DSLRs made. So now is a good time to give a practical, side-by-side comparison of cameras at either end of the 8MP spectrum. Just what, exactly, is the difference between an 8MP camera built into a phone and an 8MP camera built into a … well,  camera?

Here’s how I did the test: The iPhone was mounted on a little tripod, using a Belkin grip adapter. Photos were shot using the Belkin grip’s shutter release. Aperture was f/2.4, which is wide open on the iPhone. ISO was 80. Full size on the iPhone is 3,264 pixels x 2,448 pixels = 7,990,272 pixels, or 7.99 megapixels.

The iPhone lens is an extreme wide angle, while the 50mm Canon lens is a short telephoto on my 30d. So the Canon shots were made from about 2 1/2 times the distance to get similar framing. Shots were hand-held at 1/100 second, and captured in JPEG. Aperture was f/2.5; ISO was 400. Full size on the Canon 30d is 3,504 pixels x 2,336 pixels = 8,185,344 pixels, or 8.185 megapixels.

The only bit of post-processing was to increase the brightness of the Canon file by about 1/3 stop, to match the exposure of the iPhone shot.

* Comparison #1 — 600 x 600 pixel crops from the full-size images.

Canon 30d – 100% crop at 600 x 600 pixels

iPhone 4S – 100% crop at 600 x 600 pixels.

 

* Comparison #2 — 600 x 600 reductions of square crops from the full-size images. The “full-size” square crop on the iPhone was 1,765 x 1,765 pixels. The full-size square crop on the Canon was 600 x 600 pixels.

Canon 30d – square crop from full size.

iPhone 4S – square crop from full size.

Comparison #2 is the important one. It shows images in the form you are most likely to use them — or to see them when somebody else uses them. The simple truth is that we almost NEVER use our photos at full size. We are always shrinking them — or our computers are shrinking them automatically — for attaching to emails or uploading to social media sites.

For display on computer screens, anything over 2 megapixels is wasted data. For example, the screen on my MacBook Pro actually measures 330mm x 206mm. That’s 1,247 x 778 pixels = 970,000 pixels in area, or 0.97 megapixels. And that’s an image covering the entire screen, leaving no room for window frames, toolbars or the dock.

When you consider that more and more images are being viewed on phones, the situation is even sillier. The screen on my iPhone is only 76mm x 51mm, or 287 pixels x 193 pixels. That’s an area of 55,391 pixels, or 0.0554 megapixels.

Now before you start commenting that the iPhone 4S screen has a “resolution of 960 x 640 pixels”, understand what that means. It means that you can zoom into the image on your iPhone 4S until it is magnified to the equivalent of 960 x 640 in size — but you will only ever see 287 x 193 of it at any time.

That’s why I say the maximum useable size of an image is the size at which the entire image can be viewed on a typical device. If that device is a desktop computer, the max. size is around 1000 x 700 pixels (0.7 megapixels). If that device is a laptop computer, the max. size is around 900 x 600 pixels (0.54 megapixels). If that device is a phone, the max. size is around 300 x 200 pixels (0.06 megapixels).

In short, my 8-megapixel iPhone 4S is every bit as useable as my 8-megapixel Canon 30d DSLR for photos up to full-screen laptop size. And here they are — Canon photographed by Apple, and Apple photographed by Canon.

Canon photographed by Apple.

Apple photographed by Canon.

The next test is to use them both outdoors in strong light, and have prints made. Stay tuned.

Posted in Canon DSLR, Digital Photography, iPhone 4S, Megapixels | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Off-topic post — iPhone with accessory mic and upload problem

Thank you for visiting my blog, which is normally about business writing. And my apologies if you’re a frequent visitor surprised by this off-topic post. Here’s the story:

So far, all the video tutorials on this blog have been made using the built-in camera of my MacBook Pro. I have Camtasia for Mac, Version 2, which I use to edit the videos.

In an effort to make the videos more interesting, I got a Belkin Live Action Camera Grip and Belkin Live Action Mic for my iPhone 4S. The idea was to use the iPhone to get video of me talking, from different angles than that of the computer camera. I could then edit these into the document clips in Camtasia.

The Belkin Live Action Mic has a little switch to vary the directional sensitivity from a narrow angle to a broad angle. So I decided to make up some sound-check videos to test the iPhone three ways:

1. Record using built-in iPhone mic.

2. Record using Belkin mic with switch set to “narrow” directional sensitivity.

3. Record using Belkin mic with switch set to “broad” directional sensitivity.

Naturally, in the course of doing this, I would have to upload the video files from the iPhone 4S to the MacBook Pro. They’re both Apple gadgets, and the phone came with a cable to connect it to the computer, so I expected a simple “drag-and-drop” to get the video files from the phone to the desktop.

No go. My Apple computer doesn’t even recognise my Apple phone as a “camera”. The solution turned out to be rather convoluted:

1. Email video from my iPhone to myself.

2. Download video link from email inbox to MacBook Pro.

3. Drag icon from “Downloads” window onto desktop.

4. Import from desktop into Camtasia.

It was time-consuming and frustrating; and yet, once I figured out a way to TRICK my Apple devices into doing what I wanted them to do, I had this immense feeling of accomplishment and pride, mixed with a bit of, “So **** you, Apple, and the platform you rode in on!”

Anyway, after all that, I discovered that the Belkin Live Action Mic gives absolutely no improvement over the iPhone’s built-in mic, regardless of where you set the switch. It was AU$40 totally wasted. Don’t buy one.

And here’s the video:

 

Posted in iPhone accessory mic | Tagged , | 2 Comments