Rise of the smartphone (getting with the programme) Part II

Rise of the smartphone (getting with the programme) Part II
Creek, North Hokianga
Samsung Galaxy Note 5, Snapseed, Lightroom
F=4.3mm, ISO 40, 1/350s @f1.9



“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
― Søren Kierkegaard


I have always thought of myself as a bit of an early adopter, but the more I think about it, the more I have come to realise that I am a cautious early adopter, the kind who, rather than plunging head-first into the pool without thinking or looking, follows after having first checked to see the pool is clear of sharks, piranhas and crocodiles.

There is still a memory which somehow haunts me. My route home from school would take me past a camera shop which had been there on the corner for many years. As I wandered past, I would pause to avoid my homework and ogle the rows of Super 8 cameras lined up on the shelves. Then one day they had suddenly disappeared. It took a little while to figure out the reason, until the suddenly reappeared as video cameras. Technology can be ruthless when it needs, and I imagine whole workshops full of assembly people suddenly found themselves out of work. It was the beginning of the end for many manufacturers, including Bell and Howell and Kodak.

Just recently it happened again. I was in my favourite camera shop and realised that the cabinet which was once full of “affordable” point-and-shoots was now empty. The handy little pocket camera we once all carried had gone. When I asked, the shop staff told me that sales had reached the point where they couldn’t see the point in stocking them anymore. I imagine there are warehouses across the planet full of point-and-shoots which will never see the light of day, doomed to lie silently in their wrapping as the printing on the boxes fades.

The reason is, of course simple: the smartphone. Who needs the hassle of shooting, downloading and editing, and then sharing online via a laptop or desktop computer, when we can do it all “instantly” on our phones. Snap the picture, do a quick edit, and then upload. Job done.

At first I refused to see this as serious form of photography, preferring to keep it separate by using the term “phoneography”, as if this in some way made it different to real photography. After all, the tiny sensors weren’t as good as a full-frame or mirrorless APS-C camera. How could my smartphone be superb for photography, when the device was also designed to enable me to surf on-line, answer emails, play games, listen to music, watch videos and, miracle of miracles, even make voice calls. Sure there had to be a compromise. You see, I was still looking at my device and seeing it as a phone.

But the world had moved on.

However,I may eventually have begun to catch up.

My own phone is a Samsung Galaxy Note 5. Before that it was a Note 4, and before that an S3. I love the functionality of the built-in pen. I use the phone to make notes, jot down ideas, answer emails and store those flashes of genius that come at 3 in the morning, and maybe don’t look so brilliant in the light of day. All good reasons for having the device.

However, when I got the Note 4 and downloaded Snapseed, I found myself using the camera-in-my-phone more and more. I found myself making phone images and then editing them for the joy of it. The pictures looked excellent on my phone AND in Lightroom on my laptop. One day I realised that the camera had a built-in stabiliser for the lens. Say What???

And, eerily, I noticed that, in full auto mode, the camera almost never made a bad exposure. I began to stare wistfully at my mirrorless rig and my top-of-the-line DSLR rig and wonder why they couldn’t do that.

Worse still, I was leaving my camera in the back of the truck and just shooting with the phone. And, when I was trying to decide whether to break out the tripod and ‘real’ cameras, I would make some sample images with the phone and process them to see if my vision was aligned with what I was seeing.  bit by bit my phone has become an important visualising tool. And when I am satisfied with my phone investigations, and break out the BIG KIT, I  make far fewer exposures with it. My phone has become an integral part of my visualisation process. The phone images  are, in a sense, my artist’s proofs.

Earlier this year, it being contract renewal time, I upgraded the Note 4 to a Note 5. The images just got better. Sharper, clearer, more dynamic range. Apparently the phone will shoot editable RAW files, according to the manual. Once I figure out how to do that…

And then I made a surprising discovery. I was in my favourite camera shop. On the window is a sign asking if I have anything I want to print. I wanted a print of a friend’s picture made on my phone. I sat down at the kiosk and Bluetoothed the images to the printer. Easy. Then, looking at the print sizes on the wall, I decided to make a 12 x 18” print. I sent it across and waited.  it came. i rolled it out on the desk. And the quality stunned me. Sharp, with micro-texture perfectly rendered. A print I could frame. Or gift.

Or sell.

I think it is time the term ‘phoneography’ was buried. While I may be using a phone to make my captures, it is no less a serious tool than my mirrorless rig or full-frame DSLR kit. This is photography in the purest sense of the word. And, since the quality difference between camera and phone is becoming increasingly harder to detect, why not put the phone on the same pedestal? It is no less an imaging tool than any of the others. It is the heir to the Box Brownie, with Brownie genes. You take the pictures, I will do the rest.

Photography with a phone is just that:

It is photography.


One Response

  1. Ray Cho says:

    Hi Tony:
    Very nice Vision,and very good article,I enjoy reading it.
    Thank you for providing a visualization tool.

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