#766. Monday Post (10 Sep 2018) – How do we make better use of our gear ?

By pascaljappy | Monday Post

Sep 10

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 …


Skye – Samsung Galaxy S9

Skye 1 – Sony A7r2 & Zeiss Distagon 25/2


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 ?


Skye 2 – Sony A7r2 @ Zeiss Distagon 25/2

Skye 2 – Samsung Galaxy S9


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.



Skye 3 – Sony A7r2 & Zeiss Otus 85 (I altered white balance for the hills to go grey blue)

Skye 3 – Samsung Galaxy S9 (SOOC)


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 …)


(c) Chris Stump


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.

  • If I keep up my promise, you can expect a rolling review of my progress littered with the most imaginative swearing and some occasionally valuable information.
  • If I don’t, my gear is up for sale before year’s end.

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 ?


Email: subscribed: 4
  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    When you’ve been dropped off the Queen Mary, into the Atlantic, with nothing more than a lifebuoy to stop you from drowning, you hang onto it till help reaches you.

    To translate that, to match your question, Pascal – mine IS printing. Always has been. When I took candids at the office Christmas Party, as a young articled law clerk, it wasn’t my negatives that inspired my workmates and employers to break open my filing cabinet while I was at the Court House – it was the prints! And to make sure there were no more prints, they grabbed the negs as well. I love the printing process – always have and always will.

    Not at all sure that I’m really enthusiastic about using my Otus lenses to photograph people in bed, staring at the mirror in the ceiling, after yesterday’s revelations on DS. I’ve always regarded what other people do there as their own affair and one of my business. (And I don’t need a mirror or a selfie stick to prove it, either!)

    So long live democracy – everyone else can sell up and go long on cellphones – I’m staying with cameras, all the gear, and a desk full of printing gear. With a growing mountain of albums spreading like fungus through the house.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Once you get going, a filing cabinet *is* next on your GAS list. During my uni years, I printed a lot in the darkroom. When that couldn’t continue because no one wanted to give me a job within walking distance of that lab, a 13+ inch Espon printer was the obvious replacement. It drove me potty. The learning curve was high (not the printer’s fault) it clogged (not it’s fault either). But it was nice to have prints around. But, after a while I just stopped and now feel the urge to get going again. Good times 🙂

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    oops – forgot – I won – you DID take that shot with the Otus!

  • NMc says:

    The phone cam vs traditional photography is a chalk and oranges mixed metaphor comparison, apart from both being consumer driven.
    Traditional was consumables driven economically, and souvenirs of times and events emotional motivation. Phone cam is location and activity data collection by apps economically driven, instant feedback and neediness/vanity emotionally motivated. Ok that is a slightly exaggerated over simplification, but is still a significant 180 degree shift that the IQ and gear discussions always miss.
    I am not saying you are doing it wrong Pascal but you are using a digital data collection device to then spend money on consumables and delayed gratification for the final output, some people will just not get it!
    I look forward to the upcoming printing articles.

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      So the two Chinese in the BMW convertible in front of me on the highway the other day – one driving, but waving both hands in the air and NOT holding the steering while, the other leaning back (half out of the car) to photograph this performance on a cellphone were just suffering from an attack of neediness/vanity? I did wonder at the time – thought it might have been something peculiar in their tea leaves.

      And cheating a little – David, the last three sentences of your comment say it all, for me. No doubt my photos will be thrown out with the rest of me, when I finally reach my expiry date. But at least the prints enable me to enjoy them more in the meantime. And I can distribute copies to family and friends, when they (or theirs) are the subject matter – they appreciate prints, enormously more than digi images, emailed & forgotten the next day.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Actually, that’s the perverse reasoning at the back of my mind. Imagine being able to print great prints from a smartphone when most people with great gear never print. It would be delectable irony 😉 I quite like small prints, so it should be possible to print phone images. I’ll certainly try and will report my findings. All the best.

  • David Mack says:

    I’m sure we’ll continue to discuss the phone vs the camera phenomena for years to come. We all agree that being there with a camera is 90% of successful photography. Several years ago the winner of the Oregonian Newspaper Annual Photo Contest won with an image captured through a porthole of a cruise ship of a traditional small sailboat in rough weather by a disposable plastic camera. Argument over. Lets admit that almost everyone carries a phone camera with them and the image quality is good enough to publish and with software, enlarge. Lets move on.
    In regard to printing the really good images we either capture by hard work and design or by being there, that is useful information. More of us should print either in the books that are offered from vacations, or by direct printing at home or by our favorite retail store. Its a long slow curve for sure, especially if your are busy with life. Its expensive as well. Papers are the biggest bite, followed by ink and then the printer. Last year I bought an Epson 7000 Sure Color 24 inch monster and took a printing class from David Caponigro in Maine last summer to learn how to turn it one and get an idea of how to use it. Then there is the software PP learning curves required way past LR if you want to tackle Fine Art Quality. No new cameras or other GAS fulfillment’s for a while. BTW, you have to print regularly, or plan on some high maintenance costs to unclog it. It is my fear, huge amounts of family digital photos will be lost or thrown away as we move through the various renditions of digital storage or even left on old phones or discarded with the old phones. Print.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi David, “f/8 and be there” that was an interesting philosophy and still is very valid today. And it’s true that phones serve that vision well.

      Are you happy with the Sure Colour 7000 ? That looks like a mighty printer. I think I’ll settle for something smaller here.

      Last year, my grandmother died. After her funeral, we had a look at the tons of photographs she had amassed and everyone took some. None were thrown away. We’ll trhow away the disks but the prints will remain 🙂


  • Dan says:

    I am a geek and I like my toys. My usage of top notch equipment does not really pursue the maximum value extraction but rather the joy of owning and using top of the line equipment.

    I experimented during one trip to Florida and I used only my iPhone 8 Plus camera. The pictures were great, as long as I had good daylight. Limitations: low light photography, color depth during sunsets/sunrises, missing a wide angle as well as a tele when I wanted a certain composition. On the other hand I happily swam for a long time in the ocean, without checking all the time on my expensive camera equipment bag left alone in he beach. 🙂

    I printed some very large photos, but 80% were stitches, highly processed. One of them was a 6 feet panorama taken with a Nikon 1! I am aware that you do not need top notch equipment to get great results, but then, where would be the fun in life?

  • Dan says:

    I am a geek and I like my toys. My pursuit of top notch equipment does not really pursue the maximum value extraction but rather the joy of owning and using top of the line equipment.

    I experimented during one trip to Florida and I used only my iPhone 8 Plus camera. The pictures were great, as long as I had good daylight. Limitations: low light photography, color depth during sunsets/sunrises, missing a wide angle as well as a tele when I wanted a certain composition. On the other hand I happily swam for a long time in the ocean, without checking all the time on my expensive camera equipment bag left alone in he beach. 🙂

    I printed some very large photos, but 80% were stitches, highly processed. One of them was a 6 feet panorama taken with a Nikon 1! I am aware that you do not need top notch equipment to get great results, but then, where would be the fun in life?

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    Only a smartphone camera?

    I would want also a long lens (i.e. a tele extender).
    But … already a 2x extender would throw a phone sensor into diffraction!
    Some new phones have also a long lens but with an even smaller sensor.

    ( At the moment the 55-200mm [90-300mm FF-eq ] is most often on my M5.)

    At daytime forest walks I often have to turn up the ISO rather high … and with a smartphone?
    ( That new Sony 1″ long zoom pocket cam. … but to few controls and veeery pricey …And the Pan. variants are said to be soft zoomed in.)
    – – –

    Ming Thein on some aspects of image quality for different sensor sizes, a rather thorough comparison:

    Of course, small sensors have rather improved since then, and so have the larger – but perhaps not as much.
    – – –

    The printer is not the limit of print size. The empty wall space is.

    In the -90s I printed a lot in b/w on a 13.6″ 720 dpi Epson up to 27″ x 40″, i.e. four times a quarter of the image then glued together – the join was almost invisible.
    I had to, with an 8 bit grey scale print resolution was 45ppi – or a bit more with dithering. So I often compromised to 6 bits of grey.

    ( Historical comparison:
    My only PP tool was a curve tool in the printer driver. The 3 MHz ARM processor in the Acorn computer took 20 min. to compute one high quality print file which took another 20 min. to print. The then current 16 MHz 386 PC wouldn’t have been faster.)

    • pascaljappy says:

      The problem with phones is that they don’t let you attach anything to their lens. The day a manufacturer puts a solid thread around its lens, third party actors will be able to design a brilliant ecosystem around the phone. It’s a super easy thing to do, they probably don’t want to.

      Thanks for the link to Ming’s article.

      Apparently, Samsung are designing screens that can be “stitched” together into larger and larger configurations. That reminds me of your print stitching. You’re a braver man than I 😉 😉

      You had an Acorn computer ? 😀 So did I ! It was my very first (if you exclude a MicroTan with a 0.75MHz 6502, which I soldered together and managed to get working but never really used much. I was 11 … things got a little dull with a hexapad 😉 ) : https://www.geeksaresexy.net/2009/10/22/remembering-the-bbc-micro/

      This was followed by … wait for it … the blisteringly fast Archimedes. Oh yes !!! I wasn’t into photography yet but wonder what PP would have been like on green (and amber, snazzy) screens !

      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        my Acorn was the Archimedes with the faster ARM, 3 instead of 2 MHz.
        ( Young readers: MHz, NOT GHz.
        And with windows before Microsoft had Windows!)

        The native debugger and assembler were good and easy to learn. (My first and only programming experience was adding modules to the OS.)
        The Impression doc program shone and was fast as it was partly written in assembler.

        I bought a small used (NEC ?) colour CRT.
        – – –

        Phone attachments:
        I’ve seen a couple of systems mentioned in DPr, clamps for the phone with lenses to add, e.g. macro where a phone cam. would shine with its large DOF.
        But with a pixel pitch < 1.5 microns you enter diffraction quickly with added tele lenses.

        • pascaljappy says:

          Ah, what memories … I programmed 3 figures in Basic then in assembler to compare the run times. Those in assembler were always 30 times quicker or so but never worked fine, there were always small glitches in the drawing. Made me nuts and I’ve since then had the greatest respect for programmers.

          Then C, the C++, Lisp, Pascal … glorious years. Now I can’t get my Mac’s sound back when it stops for some unknown reason. How the mighty are fallen.

          Diffraction is one issue. Alignment is another. All the add-on lenses I know of use some sort of weird contraption to bolt onto the phone. With a proper external thread, that would be much better already. And the lens would have to be faster than f/4 to escape diffraction … not always convenient 😉

          • Kristian Wannebo says:

            “..faster than f/4..”

            And I certainly agree on th external thread!

            Say you want e.g. a ~70mm FF-eq. lens (comparable to 1″ pocket zooms).
            With a 1/3.2″ (3.4×4.5mm) sensor you have F=10mm, and a lens diameter of ~3mm would just avoid diffraction for ~5Mpx – good enough for A3+ (13″x19″) prints.
            ( With a 3x add-on lens instead the phone lens would need to be ~f/1.2 for the same sensor.)

            Might just barely be squeezed into a phone (alongside or with a mirror)!
            So this is about the limit for long phone lenses unless phones are made thicker again.

          • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

            What I love, is bumping into some kid who seems to imagine his generation invented computers and that nobody over the age of 18 could possibly know how to use one.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Hmm – well this IS a surprise – normally not my brightest, this early in the morning. But I just noticed something (again – I’ve seen it before, in cellphone stuff). The tonality is rather flat in the cell phone shots, compared to the Sony/Otus ones.

    Up to a point, it’s quite true that postcard size prints don’t do much to reveal “difference”. Even so, there’s generally a certain je ne sais quoi – if you had a pile of 100 prints, half from each, and were told to sort them, I think you’d soon find a pattern emerging – and one pile that you preferred, over the other.

    But a lot of the discussion revolves around the silly stuff, like pixel peeping, and that rapidly becomes quite idiotic unless your prints are way too big for your photo album.

    I don’t know what the motivation is, for the manufacturers to do this. Surely there must come a point where it is pure farce? “Cameras” that make movie films, do all your post processing and meticulously catalogue all your photos, as they dispatch your “today’s take” to three different storage sites (everyone knows relying on one may cost you, one day) by WiFi? Cellphones with 3 metre super tele lenses that photograph junk ASA and the Russkies leave on the moon? Cameras that make a nice cappuccino while you plow through the manual trying to figure which button does what? Cellphones that cost more than a cruise to the Antarctic and only last a year or so?

    “Old” people like me just shake our silly heads and do whatever we like. The missing ingredient in a lot of that techo junk is “fun”.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Yes, all the Sony / Zeiss shot look more alive. But they also took a lot more PP to get there. Nothing wrong with that and it’s great that expensive gear still has more potential. I was just expecting the difference to be far greater.

      >> The missing ingredient in a lot of that techo junk is “fun”.
      And how … read the forums and it’s just flame wars. People obviously aren’t enjoying themselves.

      I’ll soon be printing my best PP efforts from both the Sony and the phone. I’m really hoping the difference pops 😉

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    “The right tool”
    Olaf Sztaba
    has added a new post to his blog.
    … and enjoy his photos!


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