Meeting good friends, visiting Paris Photo, touring “alternative Paris”. And trying to decide whether I can live with a phone as my only camera.
If the progression in the above mission statement evokes more than a whiff of a “sublime to ridiculous” in your mind, you’re right in exercising a healthy dose of skepticism about that smartphone fad.
But, starting at the sublime end of the scale, this quick up’n drown trip to the temporary capital of the photographic world was, first and foremost, the opportunity to catch up with long-lost friends 🙂 🙂 🙂
Co-conspirer, partner in work crime and good friend Philippe and I devote over-indulgent amounts of time chatting and phoning, but we’d not seen one another in person since the idea of Covid was only known in a handful of labs, up to then presumed high-security.
Our meeting point was the Paris Photo exhibition, one that is notoriously unhealthy for my wallet, and of which my last attendance also dates back to the golden age before that #FakeNews virus took as many lives as WWI (give or take).
As the French say, one pleasure never comes alone, and this was also the opportunity to meet up with David Brookover and his great wife and friends. This was the opportunity to finally get to know each other and discuss the best print labs on the planet, possibly to organise the ultimate geek-out silver/platinum/carbon print cross-country trip ever in a couple of years. Does it get better than that?
It does, as it happens. David had also brought with him a princely gift, in Ralph Gibson’s fabulous Refractions 2 book. That book is so exceptional, I’ll write a separate review of it. Very highly recommended and appreciated (and many thanks also to Y, the person who so kindly carried it across continents for weeks so that I could enjoy it later!)
Unlike my usual workday-tripping to Paris, this didn’t involve leaving home at some ungodly hour that even eager beaver astronomers would balk at.
Arrival at the station coincided with golden hour, and the candy-coloured low-cost train at our disposal provided my first opportunity to put my grand photographic experiment in motion : can a 6 year-old midrange Samsung phone with a cracked rear face and wonky mike prove a worthy successor to 12kg of Hasselblad gear that was shipped to me inside a Pelican case, and for amounts of moolah only the Fed and drug dealers typically discuss?
My recent rail travels having proven as smooth and elegant as Trump’s handling of defeat, and with the French strike-when-families-travel tradition in full swing, those initial photographs also served as instant Proof of Progress for compadre Philippe, waiting at the other end of the steel strip. Phones can do that 🙂
When fear of transport disaster turned out to be as unjustified as that of a midterm red wave, our dandy candy steed spat us out near Bercy, where my phone faded to grey for a view over the river and towards France’s beloved ministry of
taxes finance, then back to colour for a stroll through the adjacent Jardin des Plantes and it’s strikingly hued plant and insect exhibit.
It was at this point that a first vital piece of the puzzle of my oh-so-realistic GAS challenge occured: my phone battery died on me.
Turns out a remote-work hermit-consultant life doesn’t fully prepare for the realities of untethered human beings and the contingencies of unplugged phone photography. Turns out 2000+ cycles of charge-uncharge take their toll on battery life 😉
This to say my photo shoot ended about 30 minutes after reaching Eiffel territory, with only a couple of charge % to spare for travel-note essentials such as snapping the names of the photographers whose work strikes me most, later, in the exhibition. Though even this proved too much for the geriatric machine’s power source.
Oh well. Mice and men.
Long had I desired to look upon the
Argonath Grand Palais Ephémère, the temporary wooden structure erected to host shows while the Grand-daddy Palais itself gets a thorough TLC for the olympics. Inside, the paneling hides all of the wonderful criss-cross of beams and arcs, but the translucid exterior skin provides a welcome peep into the design and build. Just lovely.
Instawham snap, check. Moving inside, the stream of other visitors made a Black Friday post-Covid revenge-spree look like a night-time senate sitting on environmental issues – that is, empty – rendering the very concept of sanitary measures as outdated as that of social media decency. Since I get beaten up by school-bug-riddled teens at karate class 4 times a week, and felt an itchy throat, I wore a mask all along. But this turned out to be reassuring for me as well, in that sardine tin environment.
Still, the exhibits and company made it all so worthwhile. The ill-framed triptych below is the last photo my phone let me snap during that day, but here are the names of a few photographers really – really – worth checking out (according to my tastes):
Viewing such a wide array of intentions and approaches to the craft always reminds me why I feel photography (and filmmaking) are so much more interesting to me than other pictorial arts. No offense meant to others, this is just a personal opinion.
Seeing so much talent, straying so far, in ways so varied, from a technique known for merely “depicting reality” is both fascinating and heartwarming. In a world hellbent on normalising us, and a market geared towards dumb machines taking control of the creative process, artists are the solution.
End of day one.
Day two – and a recharged phone – saw us neglect our nice little balcony in favour of a time-saving breakfast in the common room.
In place of the spectacle of the grey shadows chased down chimney pipes by growing streams of golden photons, we were greeted by the spectacle of a startling young woman with enough makeup for a zombie marathon, albeit far more elegantly laid out, filming herself pouring coffee into her cup to the tune of accordion music blaring from her pink gold iPhone, and the bewilderment of sleepy eyed neighbours.
Weird and wonderful humans, right? 🙂
Our plans for this day combined the lofty goals of scientific research – settling once and for all the phone meets camera debate – and cultural exploration via a 10 mile long hike through alternative sites and street art walls of the North East of the city.
But it was off to a bad start. At least mood-wise.
Our first stop, deep in the booneys at the corner of No and Where, turned out to be closed until 12 (Whisky Tango Foxtrot), and seemed to open its activities only to women and people of gender minorities. Touchy subject, probably with excellent motives (such as providing shelter against abusive arsewipe blokes, presumably). But, at that time in the day, my point of view on fighting exclusion with more exclusion would not have been safe for work. So, this cranky old male decided to take his business elsewhere, rather than wait.
But it didn’t take much painful soul-searching to realise the reason for my early-morning pouting was linked to the previous day’s Aladdin cave of human genius. Compared to the works of art on display, what I was doing at the time felt kinda menial, insignificant and pointless. Who cares about chairs aligned next to a canal shot by an elderly smartphone, right?
As years pile on, each erasing more colour from my hair, the realisation of just being a grabber – rather than a creator – feels more and more unsatisfactory. It’s not that I’m pathologically incapable of making good photos of stuff I chance upon. But the lack of meaning behind the process must be getting to me.
And there is little doubt that all this camera vs phone hoopla is merely a reflection of the internal debate around the very purpose of my photographic journey. A solution won’t emerge from this emotional quagmire through comparing gear, but only by elucidating what it is I want to do with my remaining time and pixels. Thinking is bearing fruit. The tunnel lights up, some way in the mid-distance 😉
Skipping much of the North-East quickly lead us to La Villette, and its canal. Definitely no longer alternative, beautified, gentrified and pleasantified as it is. And the riot of shapes and colours soon put some spring back into my menial step.
This was, after all, a rest week-end, and a pleasant one.
So the pointless camera vs phone shootout soon resurfaced as a palliative strap over a deeper wound that can wait a little longer to be dealt with.
If pointlessness was to survive one more day, it would do so in full extatic colour. The deeper debate is of some importance, if grabbing remains my sole future. But the resulting photographs don’t have to scream “Why so serious?”, right?
Recent camera releases failed to totally enthuse. And the cost of replacement of my phone with something like an iPhone 14 Pro takes me deep into real camera territory. Going against my natural inclination towards smaller (and less obscenely priced) phones would only make sense if shooting with a phone does something for me in the first place.
It does. Kinda.
Simplicity is key here.
David had one other surprise in store for me on Friday. After reading some of my comments about the weight of my X1D and glass, he threw an unexpected dead donkey gauntlet in the shape of a massive Nikon Z9 body with a 58/0.95 Noct lens. Rumour has it the Scots considered it for the tossing event of their Highland Games but reverted to felled pines instead, after excessive numbers of back injuries.
That thing. Heavy.
But it felt great in the hand and looked superb to the eye. There’s that feeling of machinery and purpose that more than compensates for the knowledge that three of your vertebrae are snapping with every passing hour of use. I cant’ believe the excitement of the meetup deprived me of an opportunity to use it, which David had offered. Stupid Stupid Stupid.
Still, big & heavy ain’t the issue with Hassy or other trad monsters.
Workflow is. It should be smoother, more shareable, more fluid. Is it normal that my phone nails white balance more often than a camera costing more than its weight in white truffle? And convenience is just one example of the advantages of recent phones.
Editing on the phone, via an app that lets you correct perspective and background defocus, also rocks my boat. Auto backup. Fun presets. An inconspicuous footprint noone frowns upon. No bag hanging off my shoulder, creasing my impeccable outfits. Direct access to WhatsApp and mail. No 16th century Venitian-torture ergonomics. No forgotten cards. Or cards that fail. No computer.
Then, there’s the fact that I don’t want to be perceived as The Hassy Guy. The photographer whose images look sharp and well coloured because of his gear.
The phone has a lot going for it. And I haven’t begun talking about the “look” of phone images which, in some instances, has been honed to elegant perfection by some of the manufacturers.
And yet …
… no cigar either.
Initial images, when this ludicrous comparison idea emerged, were strongly in favour of the camera. But a Willem Verbeeck video correctly pointed out that phones are rarely used with the same amount of deliberate effort as cameras, introducing a quality bias from the start.
This immediately struck a chord, and yielded results. Processing the all-phone images on this page has made them look transparent and quite good enough for the web destination that constitutes 99.9% of my photographic uses.
And it also motivates the use of the best possible phone, in RAW, with the best possible technique, in order to close the quality gap.
But the debate isn’t about quality.
Polaroid exhibitions prove how little quality has to do with impact.
The debate is about process. Mine is to walk and grab. If that doesn’t yield images I can feel proud of, the process has to change, not the gear. And the gear is only to be considered in the context of a finalized process. Does it hinder it, help it, inspire me, deter me … ?
I used to adore Zeiss lenses for their unique blend of quality and character.
The switch to Hassy was made for the character-free lenses and high DR camera that deliver a file as close to a blank slate as possible.
Phones, like film cameras, tend to occupy the other end of the PP timeline. While my X1D and its glass let me get as much untouched data as possible to delay interpretation until the computer-based PP, phones tend to encourage finalised in-camera results. Much like Fuji cameras. And film.
Which is best for you is for you to decide.
Which is a very hypocritical sentence for me to write, since I am so obviously unable to make up my own @&$£!! mind for myself 😉 The very fact that I’m still in two minds about such polar opposites is revealing of many lingering questions.
At the end of the day, though, here is the epiphany: none of this matters.
When a photograph is intentional enough, viewers will care very little about the instruments used to create it. It is only when the technical quality of the image is vastly superior to its composition, lighting, colour, processing that it will draw any attention to itself. At that point, you have bigger worries than answering phone vs camera 😉
And I believe that is also true of shooting style. I need not worry. Grabbing can lead to interesting photographs, if the intention is obvious. Intent. That is where my focus must be, for now.
The rest of the day saw us taking a tangent from La Villette to Belleville, a decidedly more edgy part of town with interesting shops, murals, gardens, and people.
In one of the most renowned graffiti streets, a fashion shoot was taking place. All very interesting. But the most fascinating part of it was that onlookers were mostly as exotically dressed as the models. Really cool.
France being a slave to Voodoo, it is forbidden to steal people’s soul by photographing them. So you’ll have to imagine the onlookers for yourself. My guess is the public display of models is fair game. If you don’t hear from me soon, I was wrong.
Another amusing, parting, note: some of the rebels so rebelliously painting on other people’s property were displaying IG accounts.
This Son Of a Boomer remembers a time when artists very literally raged against the machine. A president challenging democracy, helped by social platforms, would have started a craze of artistic and popular protest. Now, it seems, cozying up to the barons of silicon valley is more of a thang? Sic transit.
SOB out. Enjoy the rest of the photographs, and let me know what you think 🙂 Talk soon!
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Pascal, what an excellent set of images. Phones take excellent images in good light as has been written many times on this blog. As yet I’m not prepared to take the plunge that far but I’ve decided to lighten my bag. All my Zeiss Milvi are going, 25, 50, 100macro and 135. They have been replaced by Voigtlander 21/1.4, 40/1.2 & 75/1.5 and the Laowa 12mm. Ralph Gibsons book from what I’ve read is excellent. Take care Dallas PS if any readers are interested please contact me.
Thank you Dallas! Much appreciated 🙂
I want to sell some gear. If you DM me a precise list of what you are selling, and some pics of the lenses, I can maybe send an email with your gear and mine, just in case a reader is interested?
Thanks Pascal, I will over the next couple of days, your kind offer is very much appreciated. Dallas
My pleasure, Dallas.
Hi Pascal , I am going to stay out of the technical debate and leave that for the experts. For me though the one standout image is the 3rd last image of the bondage style underwear juxtaposed against the background mural of people of a certain ethnic persuasion. The humour in it makes it the hands down winner for me. Any idea how many times the shop owners premises have been burnt down ???
Hi Ian, I don’t know the area well enough to comment, but it felt like a pretty chill place. Not one where extremism might go rampant. I still found the juxtaposition amusing 😉
A question on cell phone based work flow and post processing – does it easily allow for cropping or content aware healing in that I see you have a distracting element in the top left corner of the image – i.e. the downpipe cutting across the corner. Also does it meet your normal high standards 😉
Right now, I’m just using the standard Samsung phone app to edit the photographs. This allows me to crop and “perspective crop” (ie, drag the corners inside the frame to correct for converging lines. This has been done a bit in that pic, but doing more made the geometry a bit weird, so I left it at that. It offers no content-aware healing that I know of. There seem to be more advanced options out there, one being Halyde (Halide?) for iPhone. But I’ve not tried them yet.
I’d say the PP options are “interesting enough” to give a try. Quality is another subject. And, from what I’m seeing … no. It’s definitely not good enough. It’s great for walking around like this, but not for any kind of more PP-heavy work. There are a far better phones out there now, with RAW files, better sensors and better signal handling. Whether these would make a significant difference, I honestly don’t know. And don’t want to spend 2 grand to verify 😉 I’ll try to download files from dpreview or a similar website.
didn’t a world famous photographer once say “Gear up, man. Stop half-arsing it!” ? 🙂
Yeah. I fear you may be right 😆
Well, to do this justice, I’ve had to open two copies of your post, Pascal – one to read and the other (this one) to scribble on!
So you’re finally weaned off Hassy’s. and it’s back to basics. No longer possible to fire up a Kodak Box Brownie, so you’re steaming with a contraption like my ‘phone. I use mine mainly as a substitute for an iPod – stuck in the appropriate pocket of my navy blue workmen’s shorts, playing classical music, as I walk the dog around the district. The pixel count can be whatever you dream of – I prefer shooting with 23MB in a half frame camera, rather than 125mb in a cellphone whatever. Apart from those considerations, I resent the way those contraptions simply take over. I won’t complain if a restaurant sends my food to the table with a robot, but I’ll be damned if I’m passing the keys to the kingdom over to Silicon Valley. C’EST MOI – it is me who takes the photos!
That said – a chacun son gout, which roughly translates as “we each row our own canoe!” So we’ll all wait for the produce from the Samsung. Actually I don’t mind cameras being mirrorless instead of SLR – but I CANNOT warm to something with a viewfinder illuminated by the sun streaming down behind my head. My photographic ancestors always flung a black cloth over their heads & cameras, when shooting with wooden framed cameras and wet plates, and I can quite see why!
Blazing forward. I think your shot from the Jardin des Plantes must be the WORST bit of macro photography I’ve ever seen! Serves you right that you had battery failure – I owe Karma yet another thank you note. Actually someone should have told you – if you MUST use a phone like that, you also need a portable charger, fuelled by a much larger battery, so that you can keep the phone alive all day.
Before you end day one, your visit to the gallery of photos, reminds me of my attempt to go through the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, during my first trip to Italy, half a century ago. Mind blowing! But I’m afraid it’s impossible to take it all in, on a single trip. You need to live there – so you can go back, and back, and back again. Savour each exhibit. Otherwise, after a while, viewing all those magnificent canvases suddenly metamorphoses into flicking through an endless album filled with postage stamps. And the more you see, the less you see.
Day 2, and you capture someone else using a telefonino just as I do – to play music, instead of taking photos!
“Whisky Tango Foxtrot” – hmm – must remember that one, could be handy! Interesting to read your clash with the “unnamed”. This is of course another example of “politically correct” being turned upside down, and becoming far worse than the [perceived] problem that it is supposed to correct. Making the solution a worse problem than the original one solves what? Nothing of course. It just proves how humans are the only creatures that believe that humans are the most intelligent form of life.
Danger danger – using a cellphone instead of a “proper” camera CAN set you off just being snap happy. What you have to do is turn this on its head – just like your issues with the “unnamed” turned other realities upside down. Except this time, your goal is to be more creative, and to prove that cellphones really can “do” it. Have fun trying – you have the knowledge base, the skill set, and the cellphone. Go fetch! No “grabbing” – you’re above that. What you ave to do is work out where that places you, and how to move forward. How to outflank and outdo the 7.9 billion people grabbing shots to put on Instagram! And create works that could one day find a place in the gallery you’ve just visited.
I’ll ignore your snide remark about the Z9 – Nikon is once again doing fine, and you would already be aware of their recently released 600mm workhorse for birders & sports photography – capable of being cranked up to nearly 1,700mm in two short jumps! Tell your cellphone to beat that!
The flavour, throughout, carries an undercurrent of wistful Hassy oriented comments, posed against a desire to go forward into a future limited to cellp;hones. Bon chance, mon ami – I currently have 5 cameras, I use them all for different purposes, and a selection of lenses. I DO try to go the extra distance, plan my shots, and do what this ageing chassis of mine allows in the way of gear. I even have a “helper” on standby, promising to help with some of the more elaborate and heavier gear! Yours to enjoy – you have been expressing a morbid fascination about cellphones for some time now. Ce n’est pas pour moi, but then the objective IS to be different, isn’t it?
There’s one “fail” though with cellphones, which your Hassy could never have suffered from. Their images are so tiny, and that limits the degree to which they can be enlarged, and still look great. Worse, if you have to crop the image – which all of us do, a lot of the time. No matter how clever Silicon Valley is, I think this is one drawback of cellphones as cameras that they simply cannot devise a solution for.
There – another challenge – prove me wrong!
Aaaah, you know me well 😉 Yes, there is a lot of wistful Hassy oriented comment behind this all. My X1D is feeling long in the tooth and I don’t want to wait for failure. It makes more sense to be proactive in those situations. If the X2D was 50Mp, with all the other bonuses such as a bug free operation and good IBIS, I’d have ordered one long ago. As it is, the 100Mp files really do not appeal to me. They’re a hinderance more than a help, and I’m still unsure whether the file quality is as good at the pixel level. But beggars can’t be choosers and 100Mp it is. Having elsewhere, I found nothing of real interest. Except that Z9, the other day. Very big and heavy but certainly purposeful and inspiring.
I don’t exactly like using a phone, other that it is quite inconspicuous. The form factor is not that pleasant, the files aren’t that great. But phones are something that needs to be studied before shelling out big money on larger cameras that fail to completely inspire.
An assistant? I wish 😆 Most of my photography is made during travels, and with my wife. She doesn’t even wait for me to take pics, let alone assist? Grabbing really is the name of the game here 😉
For once I can’t chose favorites!
I admire your combinations of framing, light / shadows and perspective. And contrast between curves and straight lines!
And humour, as in the b/w row of naked arms, or with the face on the wall in the next to last photo and with the monkey showing off his writing skills!
– – –
Personally the motives I see are mostly of a viewing angle corresponding to a short tele – hence my choice of the RX100 VI, phones with added tele cameras often being rather large for my pockets.
And the RX can zoom & frame with precision using the lens ring – rare among pocket cameras.
It can easily transfer photos to a phone by NFC or WiFi. Bluetooth connection is also available.
It fits my pants pockets easily, and with a padded pouch the side pockets or on the belt.
I find the reports of complexity of its menus rather exaggerated. The Fn button opens a window with 12 places for parameters you want to change quickly and the My Menu has three pages for other stuff – the menu always opens where you last closed it.
The Auto ISO can be set to time = 1/f +/- 0, 1 or 2 EV with a choice of max and min ISO, which I find ideal with Aperture priority – which makes it work almost like a phone…
+ for the occasion Manual is available!
( Although some phone apps have that too.)
So Pascal, if you want more than one focal length, don’t forget also to check the few still available good pocket cameras!
I hope you’ll find your way through the wood soon!
Thank you, Kristian. Those are interesting propositions.
The single lens camera has always scared me off. The Sony RX series has always been high on my list, as has the Leica Q series. But the fixed lens always acted as a deterrent. I mostly leave home with a single lens on the camera. But that lens is never the same 😉
Still, as someone who values simplicity greatly, I see your point and will give it another rond of thoughts 🙂
After all, Pascal, most phones are.. do have a single lens camera…
Staying with your lens choice ideal, you’d soon own a collection of phones – just imagine the chaos in your SMS:s and notes…
Pascal, a detail:
I forgot to mention that out of the box the RX100 VI NFC works only against Android phones – says the manual.
I have no idea about the firmware upgrade.
OK, thank you 🙂
Ah Pascal, I forgot:
For perspective change (and editing) there is also
Photo Editor for Android
( It can’t handle RAW. And it seems to forget EXIF data, at least when resizing photos.)
Thanks, I’ll check it out 🙂
Do, and the resizing of pixels is, I think, very nicely implemented.