#354. Who needs a camera, anyway? (with a Samsung Galaxy S6)

By pascaljappy | Opinion

May 19

It was all Black Widow’s fault !

A few days ago, mesmerized by the sensuous, leather-clad, curves of Scarlett Johansson in the recent Avengers movie, I dropped my beloved HTC One (the camera of which was reviewed here) and forgot it in the cinema. I remotely programmed it to display my land line number and a reward, but thieves will be thieves.

Still, what started out as a major pain in the blowhole ended up being a productive photo evolution thanks to the good people of Korea.

Flowers photographed with a samsung galaxy s6 cameraIn many ways, Apple had laid the path for this change. Having visited Apple stores to examine the Retina 5K iMac, I was forcibly plunged into a world of quality smartphone photography and unparalleled user-experience marketing. But a few hours of Internet heavy breathing convinced me that the photographic way to go light in 2015 was with the guys at Samsung.

Galaxy S6 in hand and Zeiss-lens-money-territory lighter of wallet, I thought hard about the best way to break the bad news to Philippe …

A rose photographed with a samsung galaxy s6 camera

I mean, I was loaned an OTUS by Zeiss. And YES, I fell for it, heart and soul. But Philippe actually bought one. How could I tell him it was all in vain ? Flowers were the natural solution. “Say it with flowers” is the conventional way of announcing rough news and flowers are a backbone of Philippe’s photographic work.

Poor Philippe … only last week we were photographing skeletons and dinosaurs together, our beloved OTI in hand. Now, it is so plainly obvious that the real dinosaur being photograph is this …

20150516_191048So, phone in hand, no camera bag, no back-pain relief medicine in my pocket, I headed straight to the garden, full of spring bloom and waiting to be the arena for my modernism-slaughters-tradition plan.

Cistus flowers photographed with a samsung galaxy s6 cameraTalk about exceeding expectations. 16Mpix of sharp, high dynamic range (thanks to very nice auto-HDR) goodness at my fingertips.

Salvia flowers photographed with a samsung galaxy s6 camera

Natural colours …

Peony flowers photographed with a samsung galaxy s6 camera

Oh, and … did I mention bokeh ?

Yes, you read that well. Thanks to the techno-wizardry of the guys at Samsung, even a sensor the size of a flea’s scrotum can have shallow depth of field. And not only that but great bokeh and focus that can be set in post-processing. Lytro-style.

An iris flower photographed with a samsung galaxy s6 camera An iris flower photographed with a samsung galaxy s6 camera

I’m telling you, the writing is on the wall for traditional photography. Sell all your gear while it’s worth a dime or three. Sell your Sony, Zeiss and Leica shares. Sell your ThinkTank and Billingham bags. Night is falling on cameras. And who needs a camera, anyway ?
Euphorbia flowers photographed with a samsung galaxy s6 camera
Poor Philippe ! Oh, but wait, I hear noise 😉


Indeed, poor, poor Philippe. Not least because he did spend a bit of coin recently on a ZM 35 f:1.4 unexpectedly followed by an OTUS 55.

But poorer still because he has lost a dear friend, gone who knows where. Should he begin to look for him off the deep end, or in an altogether different galaxy? Sorry, I meant a Galaxy, of course.

As it happens, poor Philippe (let’s call him PP, for short) was at that very moment taking pictures in the lovely Parc de Bagatelle. He did try to put his beggar’s phone to some use, any use. Alas, his measly iPhone 6 refused to make anything but garbage out of the fantabulous flowers, claming that high noon sun made for more contrast than could be handled, colours were off, a dismal failure as could be expected from the uninitiated.

So, for want of any glimpse of the future, PP was stuck in the present, itself rooted in the past. No tech wizardry for PP, only recipes of a time long forgotten: large sensor, lots of high-grade glass, lots of manual adjustments, of focus, exposure, even exposure compensation, white balance, all the things that would never be required again in Galaxy Futura, where Pascal is now blissfully ensconced


As you can see, the result is flat, not like the wonders worked by pascal on Futura. Let’s try again:


No way to capture the ethereal beauty of the rose. So much trouble for so little result? Fortunately for you, PP, a lens is a very blunt instrument, so you can’t take your life by falling on your lens. And, to the best of my knowledge, neither has Hattori Hanzo made any lenses, so PP is safe, unworthy though he is. For now.

But practice makes perfect. Let’s try again:


At least now, we’re getting some bokeh. Nothing like the glorious one from Galaxy Futura, but it’s a beginning, however humble. Let’s try some more:


Oooh! Am I awake, or is this a dream? Is this actually beginning to look like the pictures of yore, that I cherished before I had any inkling of what treasures await on Futura?


Yes, Bokeh, Contrast, Dynamic Range, all my past deities, I plead with you, I beg you, please help your embattled servant!


Ah, my pleas have been heard, and demigods have come to my rescue: f:2, 3D, crop, all those I invoked have gathered for a last hurrah before Futura becomes their Black Hole.

Now my last wishes:


I have to concede defeat, and shall now travel over to Futura, albeit as a slave, as befits who has resisted the New Faith for too long; Futura, here I come, Futuraaaaaaaaa …

In conclusion.

Smartphone photography has come a long, long way. We now have in the palm of our hands not only the power to make very decent photographs, but also the finely tuned ergonomics that enable us to transfer them to friends in a matter of seconds and to participate fully in our narcissistic brave new social way-of-life.

Yet, I hope the photographs above make it quite clear that Smartphone photography is still light-years away from what high quality gear has to offer. In recent months/years, we’ve increasingly been hearing that the bell tolls for traditional cameras because of phones cameras progressing in leaps in bounds. As of 2015, it is so obviously not the case. Compared to my previous phone images, those produced by the Galaxy S6 are in another league and the user interface is useful and fun play with. But compared to the Sony / Zeiss combo placed in Philippe’s apt hands, they are flat, dull and uninteresting.


That’s as it should be, considering the difference in price, heft and learning curve. But the gap is still a mighty and un-crossable chasm. And no, it isn’t getting any narrower, either. As hard as Smartphone makers are pushing the boundaries, high-end gear is charging ahead at least as fast.

Once more, what this reminds us is that there is no longer any room in the market for products without a clear mission. The high-end is safe. Leica, Zeiss, Sony and others making sure image quality is better with every new generation. Smartphones are safe. The iPhone 6, this S6, the new LG. Each help capture moments in life efficiently, in a fun way and with good quality results. And each serves its social function perfectly. The grey middle ground compacts are doomed. Not just because their image quality is not high enough to justify the separate purchase but, more importantly, because they fail miserably at serving a clear purpose, helping neither the creator make his art (lousy sensors, lack of control) nor the socialite bond with his tribe (medieval ergonomics).

As for me, phew, Futura was nice for a holiday, but I’m sure glad to be back on ol’Terra with my noisy A7r and heavy glass 🙂


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  • Luca says:

    I wholeheartedly agree.

    I bought a few months ago a Nokia 1020 (the 40Mp monstrosity) and besides being an excellent phone it turned out to be an excellent camera as well, regardless the number of mp.

    If I had to guess, I think that it is pretty much at the same level, with its excellent 24mm equivalent lens, of a really good 35mm scanned piece of film. Just a lot slower to react (shutter lag) of a proper camera, but still eminently usable even for street photography.

    • pascaljappy says:

      The 40Mp monstrosity 😉 😉 Now that you mention it, it’s more than any FF out there (except the new Canon). The comparison to film quality is interesting. It shows how much technology has moved along. It took expensive digital cameras years before they caught up with film. Now we have that in our pockets. The S6 is “only” 16Mpix and pixels are quite good. Not Foveon good, but much nicer than on previous phone generations. I think colour and dynamic range still lag a long way behind (though HRD helps a lot), but it’s mostly the small size of the sensor that limits the ability of the camera to produce a pleasant “look”. And larger sensors mean deeper cameras, so we’re not likely to see FF in a phone anytime soon, I think 😉

      • Luca says:

        Yep, dynamic range is still pretty abysmal on a sensor this size. I usually underexpose 2/3 of a stop, and then recover the shadows (shooting RAW). This generates quite a bit of noise, obviously, but strangely – or by design? If so they are geniuses – it looks A LOT like Tri-X grain so I’m almost tempted to do this even when it is not strictly necessary 🙂

        And even at the highest ISOs (4000, for the Nokia 1020), the images look incredibly cleaner than what I used to get pushing b/w film to 3200Iso, not even close.

        To this lack of dynamic range, though, it looks there will be a solution soon (like probably next year) with this new kind of multi-sensored sensors, basically the same principle of an array telescope like the Dragonfly they have at Toronto University, that are about to hit the market. One of this company apparently has been bought by Apple, or at least they have closed some kind of agreement for the next iPhone.

        And Sony just disclosed some kind of “fourth white pixel” tech that supposedly should increase the sensitivity – and hopefully the dynamic range as well – several times.

        • pascaljappy says:

          Do you realise how sad I will be the day the pocket computers make better photos than a bronze Leica ? 😉 But you’re right, technological improvements are in the sensor department. I wouldn’t be surprised to see curved sensors in future smartphones, either.

  • Cliff says:

    I’d be interested in your take on the Panasonic CM-1/Leica camera “phone” offering. This seems on paper, with its purported sensor and lens combo, to be an ideal backup shooter…with a means to stay in touch out there of course 🙂

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