1. Hemispherical photography (HP), implemented with cameras equipped with “fish-eye” lenses, is a widely-used method for describing forest canopies and light regimes. A promising technological advance is the availability of low-cost fish-eye lenses for smartphone cameras. However, smartphone camera sensors cannot record a full hemisphere. We investigate if smartphone HP is a cheaper and faster but still adequate operational alternative to traditional cameras for describing forest canopies and light regimes.
2. We collected hemispherical pictures with both smartphone and traditional cameras in 223 forest sample points, across different overstorey species and canopy densities. The smartphone image acquisition followed a faster and simpler protocol than that for the traditional camera. We automatically thresholded all images. We processed the traditional camera images for canopy openness and site factors estimation. For smartphone images, we took two pictures with different orientations per point and used two processing protocols: i) we estimated and averaged total canopy gap from the two single pictures; ii) merging the two pictures together, we formed images closer to full hemispheres and estimated from them canopy openness and site factors. We compared the same parameters obtained from different cameras and related one to the other using generalized linear mixed models (GLMMs).
3. Total canopy gap estimated from the two separate smartphone pictures was on average significantly higher than canopy openness estimated from traditional camera images, although with a consistent bias. Canopy openness and site factors estimated from merged smartphone pictures obtained from the second processing protocol were on average significantly higher than those from traditional cameras images, although with relatively little absolute differences and scatter.
Smartphone HP is an acceptable alternative to HP using traditional cameras, providing similar results with a faster and cheaper methodology. Smartphone outputs can be directly used as they are for ecological studies, or converted with specific models for a better comparison to traditional cameras