Convergence. And multiple hat tips. The ingredients for this story follow :
Two days ago some travel albums I had printed of my recent trip to Scotland turned up on my doorstep. These contain a majority of photographs made with my Smartphone (Samsung Galaxy S9) and some 30% of photographs made with much more elaborate gear (Sony A7r2 and high end glass from Zeiss).
This morning, reader Jean-Pierre sends me this article from Robert Rittmuller entitled “The Future of Photography is Not Mirrorless” in which the author argues that mirrorless is an incremental advance whereas Smartphones provide the real revolution.
Yesterday, DS contributor Chris and I exchanged about printing, modern inkjet printers and file preparation.
Yesterday, co-conspirators Paul and Steve independently send me a link to this Guardian article about Tony Vaccaro.
My thoughts on this smartphone vs high-end gear debate are mixed. But the world seems to have a more focused point of view …
On the one side, the arguments put forward by Robert Rittmuller are corroborated by what my eyes see coming out from my Smartphone.
With the Sony (using heavy post processing), the foreground is more alive. But there is also less colour differentiation and everything is bathed in that warm orange light that is so characteristic of the brand. Whereas the Samsung has rendered the mountains in a more faithful hue while keeping the beautiful warmth on the foreground. It also helps that the phone isn’t firmly stuck in 1930 magazine page 3:2 format but offers something more interesting instead.
Yeah, I can crop, I know.
But that’s precisely my point. I don’t have to do much with the phone to get really good results. Most of my printed album is close to SOOC with the phone and needed loads of work with the ‘proper’ camera. It shouldn’t have to be that way.
It used to be that phones were a tradeoff of quality for convenience. Not any more. My phone is also so waterproof I can drop it in the pool and laugh about it. It backs everything up for me, automatically and for a tiny fraction of the cost of secure disk setups. The screen is so much better on the phone it makes me feel like I’m using some antique when I return to the expensive camera. The phone does panos.
So what is it that the camera makers have to offer that phones don’t, besides a hole in my wallet and a hernia ?
Well … gimme a minute, I’m sure there’s something.
OK, so there’s all the specialist stuff such as astro, macro … anything that requires an elaborate setup is better with a dedicated interchangeable lens camera.
Also, there’s long lenses and fast frame rates for sports and wildlife. Similar story here.
For now, at least.
Every generation of smartphone adds quality and versatility. Is it just a matter of time before we see an equivalent 400mm fresnel lens for a phone, that fits in a pocket ?
Thankfully, the laws of physics are immutable so low light photography will also always be better with a larger sensor.
Will that be enough to save the “proper” camera ? Not sure. During a walk in a forest with my daughter’s boyfriend, a few days ago, I was surprised to see him pull out of his shorts a tiny tripod, neutral density filters and make 15 seconds exposures of a waterfall at a low ISO and low aperture. Way to go, younger generation !!
In a way, the limitations of smartphones today are the limitations of film cameras a few years ago : low dynamic range, low sensitivity. And isn’t it ironic to find a new generation of photographers completely uninterested in what the mainstream makers have to offer and very willing to put up with (nay, enjoying) a deliberate traditional approach to photography with gear that’s much more pleasant to use and much more in sync with today’s world.
And worrying, if you’re Canikony.
So, come on, what’s the point of going huge and expensive if the phone is just as good in most circumstance, more productive and more fun ?
Well’, there’s pixel peeping. Camera makers love it when you pixel peep because it enables them to sell you a camera that provides an 8 foot virtual image at 200% rather than a measly 7 footer. But we, at DS, don’t condone pixel peeping, so scratch that one off.
Which leaves us with … printing.
Now, in his review of the Epson P600, Ted Forbes starts by explaining how great it is to be able to print (11″ large) from his phone via wifi, how much simpler that is than printing from a file. And Moose Peterson, in his review of the Epson P800, also explains how pleasant that is and states “that’s where the world is going” (oh, all these pros heralding the Smartphone … this is getting embarrassing).
But, forgetting about the convenience issue, high-end cameras still do have a clear advantage over phones, when it comes to printing. Good files allow for a good deal more massaging and printing large does use up a lot of pixels.
Whatever technological progress phones make, conventional cameras should be able to match, keeping their IQ advance constant over the pocket rockets nibbling at their ankles.
But that means using a conventional camera only makes sense if we’re making use of that extra IQ. As my web sharing above and my small print (8 inches max) albums prove, any IQ advantage of very expensive gear over a lowly phone is nullified by my everyday use of my files. And thoughtful printing (ie involving largish sizes and elaborate post-processing) is the only way I can think of that will bring out the difference and justify my keeping of the expensive gear (and, possibly, buy new stuff …)
Studies prove that Jan 1rst is the worst day of the year to set resolutions. New year resolutions are just symbolic wishful thinking spurred by factual observation of lack of progress over the 365 days since the last resolutions and fueled by cheap tequila. So my three-quarters-old year resolution is this : I’m going to start printing seriously, starting now.
There, written publicly. You can hold me accountable.
The great thing with community is the help you find inside. In private email exchanges, Chris Stump made the very compelling point that seeing a well executed print of your own work creates a powerful feeling of satisfaction, that you don’t get off-screen (btw, tune in on Wednesday for Chris’ next article, on a very closely-related topic).
I totally understand. Studies show that students reading a text on paper remember it far more than from a screen. Great prints in galleries always make me weak in the knees and it takes the full might of my minister of finance to remind me that eating is a vital bodily function as well. So the idea that one my own photographs could provide the same elation is very exciting.
We’ve started work (meaning, he’s done all the work and I’m just admiring it) First test prints above. To say I’m excited is putting it mildly.
This – thoughtful printing – is how I plan to justify keeping my heavy expensive gear and making the most of it. What’s yours ?
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