#1249. (An ode to) Simplicity

By Adrian | Opinion

Dec 09

Sometimes we all need some simplicity in our lives, and that extends to photography too. In a hobby of more pixels, raw files, lightroom, monitor colour profiles, focus stacking, exposure stacking, and everything else that some enthusiasts see as absolutely necessary to create good photographs, sometimes it feels like less is more.

Modern Overhang

As the cost and complexity of long haul travel has also been anything but simple, this year I’ve visited Barcelona several times instead, as I can leave home in the morning and be there for a late Spanish lunch.

Coming and Going
 

It’s an easy going city that’s easy to navigate, and offers a fine blend of history, arts, entertainment and of course the sea.

Babe In Arms
Man In Arms
Quiet Space
Into The Blue
Alone At Sea 1
 

At the recently opened viewing deck at Torres Glories there’s a multimedia installation that explores the relationship between man, the city and the environment. I found it quite inspirational, and it made me want to look at the city differently – less Gaudi and more urbanisation.

Design Museum
Obligatory Gaudi Staircase (Casa Vicens)
Green Square
Alone At Sea 2
 

To add to my simplicity, I haven’t been travelling with a laptop for backup and editing duties, instead using the Sony Imaging Edge mobile app. This allows jpegs to be automatically or manually copied from your camera to your phone as 2Mp images.

Triangle
Sliver
Artificial Tree

Editing JPEGs on a phone is simplicity itself, and can be done from a coffee shop, a park bench, or even the beach.

Solar Array
Sun Spot
Transmitter
 

When contractors working in the street tore out the fibre connection to my home, I bought an inexpensive 5G phone so I could continue to work as normal. It has a 108Mp camera but produces photos around 12Mp, all those pixels used for digital zoom or down-sampling in low light, making very clean photos at a claimed ISO 15,000.

Man Made
Hole In The Sky
Angular Sunshine
 

Out of curiosity I compared similar photos taken with my phone and my Sony A7S, also 12Mp and a camera that for me redefined available light photography. The results on a small screen were surprisingly close.

Sony A7S
Sony A7S hand held twilight mode ISO 20,000
Honor 50 Night Mode ISO 800
 

One day towards the end of my recent trip I couldn’t be bothered to take my camera out, so instead I took a “snap” with my phone. A few simple edits on my phone produced the picture below.

Out At Sea
 

Pascal and I were both surprised at just how well it had coped with shooting straight into the sun.

Why?
 

In a world of increasingly complex and expensive cameras, my phone offered the greatest simplicity to take, edit and share photos. The photographic industry really should take note.

 

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  • Thank you for taking us along on your journey to Barcelona, Adrian. I enjoyed the adventure and the images. Brings up the old question of which is more important, the image or the process used to make it? Phone cameras are becoming more sophisticated with each generation. Not so easy to tell a phone picture from a “real camera” picture anymore.

    • Adrian says:

      It’s become obvious to me that it’s only certain types of enthusiast photographers who think of “real”/”proper” cameras. Consumers don’t care, and just use their phone in the same way they might have used a compact camera before. All cameras are “real” cameras, the most important thing is understanding how to get the best from them.

      • Volker says:

        Hi, I have no problem with the picture quality of my iPhone but I cannot get used to the form factor. So 99% of my photos are taken with APSC and small full frame cameras (S5 and Leica M)

        • Adrian says:

          Whatever works for you. Being thin, phones aren’t easy to hold, and the shutter release can be problematic (some brands use a physical button or a user positional release on the screen). Nokia once made a case for one of their Windows phones with a very high resolution camera which had an extra battery, a grip and a shutter release button – which isn’t a bad idea.

          The article contains only a few images from a phone and a mixture of photos from full frame and APS-C cameras.

          The “simplicity” theme was partly because Pascal and I both feel that phones contain so much AI and post processing that they make good looking photos so easily, and also because I had happened to have a set of photos that were quite “simple” (minimal).

          I’m not making a judgement that phones are better than cameras. However, I do feel that some “enthusiast” photographers can be very wedded to the idea of “proper” cameras and their superiority, and that camera sales of models for enthusiasts are continuing to decline. The consumer camera market is dead, but it’s a creeping death that is gradually moving up manufacturers ranges as even low-tier APSC models no longer exist. I worry that the conservative nature of many camera manufacturers and many of their customers will ultimately be their demise when phone makers include so many features that simply make it “easier” for the vast majority of people taking photos.

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    I’m delighted to see such wonderful images coming from an artistic eye and a simple cellphone! I too find myself reaching for my cellphone rather than fiddling around with my camera. Due to weight issues, I’ve given up on my Canon 5D MarkII and am trying to use a Sony mirror less camera instead, emphasis on “trying”.
    Your images perfectly showcase the visual wonders of Barcelona, making me rethink my vacation this year, Adrian. Hopefully we’ll see more of them in DS – kudos!

    • Adrian says:

      Hi Nancee, the photos were taken with a mixture of Sony A7S (full frame), Sony A6500/A3000 (APS-C) and phone. The lenses used were full frame 16-34mm f4 and APS-C 18-135mm, an excellent consumer “suoerzoom” which is both light, highly versatile, and has excellent image quality – I now use it mostly instead of several prime lenses as for stopped down work it’s so versatile and easy to carry with very little compromise. “Man Made” and “Out At Sea” are both phone images, and I hope that using pictures from full frame, crop frame and small sensor phone together show how little format may matter for some types of photo. Pascal and I have discussed that since phones include so much image processing and intelligence to optimise the resultant image, there is increasingly little difference, and in many cases that optimisation actually makes it easier.

  • jean pierre guaron says:

    Barcelona . . . I’m afraid I’m a Gaudi fan – I know that walking backwards into an oncoming tram, and killing yourself, isn’t the best way to prove how clever you are – but the man was, unquestionably, one of the greatest architectural geniuses of all time. God willing, I’m going there for the centenary of the Sagrada Famiglia – which it isn’t, of course – it’s the centenary of the day he stood back to admire it. And to all intents and purposes, already finished. Dunno why – it’s a journey I feel I want to make.

    You’ve focused on another side of Barcelona – very impressive – but lacking that total “originality” of Gaudi’s work. Skyscraper stuff is all over the world.

    Phones vs cameras. I think that’s a personal choice. Plenty on DS are happy forgetting cameras and using their phones instead. And if it makes them happy, why not? In your night shot comparison, the cellphone certainly manages the shadows and highlights far better than the Sony did – much like Pascal’s wonderful Hassy. Cameras manage panoramas better than cellphones, I think – small panos work, but I’ve done a comparison with another guy’s iPhone on a wider pano, and the iPhone result was truly bizarre! You might also find cameras are an essential choice, if you want bigger enlargements – but up to about A4, few people would notice the difference.

    I love all your marine shots, Adrian – I’ve yet to get to Barcelona, and the only photos I’ve seen before this centred on Gaudi and the extraordinary architecture of the city – so I’d never even thought of it as a coastal town. Which, of course, it’s always been!

    • Adrian says:

      Hi Pete, I have visited many of the private homes designed by Gaudi, but I feel that Gaudi’s influence on Barcelona is so promoted by the tourism industry that I get a kind of “Gaudi fatigue” – but that’s just me. In my defence I did include the charming but not well known street lamps which he designed at Place de Palau!

      There are other very charming and interesting homes and buildings designed by other architects such as Casa Amatller, Palau del Baró de Quadras, Casa Llotja de Mar, and the Palau de Musica which are well worth seeing.

      The comparison shots are a little unfair as the phone used an exposure stacking mode that takes multiple shots and merges them (Sony cameras have a “HDR” more that takes 3 shots and merges them, but I didn’t use it). I’m sure if I post processes a raw file I could get a similar or better result, but my point was that phones now make many photos far simpler than using a camera at a “good enough” quality to not be an issue. Sony tend to have far more “trick” modes such as multi-shot NR, multi-shot HDR, and stitch-panorama modes than other brands, and are often lambasted by “enthusiasts” because of it, yet a modest phone makes it much easier than any “proper” camera.

      If you visit Barcelona I do recommend going somewhere “up high” – the cable car from Barcelonetta beach to Montjuic, Montjuic itself, or a tower like Torres Glories. Seeing the aquamarine ocean and clear blue sky for miles to the horizon is so beautiful, and at the Torre D’Alta Mar restaurant in the cable car tower by the beach once brought me to tears.

  • Frank Field says:

    An excellent post and one we all need to take to heart. Many have written on the importance of photographing daily. One major benefit: It helps to further develop and maintain visualization skills. Yet, a traditional camera almost gets in the way of shooting daily. I don’t care who made it, the task of getting images from that camera to a desktop for minor editing and cataloging is an obstacle added to our daily routines. Hence, most of us make photographs far less frequently than daily. The phone is a low threshold device: sort out the keepers, touch up the exposure or white balance, and save them for bulk transfer to the desktop at our leisure.

  • Pascal O. says:

    Adrian, I genuinely enjoyed your pictures. Sheer pleasure.
    Of course, I cannot miss the fact that some originated from a phone, but to a reader like me, this is of little consequence except to confirm that talent comes way way ahead of technology.
    To the manufacturers of cameras of course, this means they have some significant rolling up of sleeves to do. The message is loud and clear. Will it be heard?

    • Adrian says:

      Pascal, thank you for your comments.
      I was firmly of the belief that larger sensor cameras were better until a few years ago when I started to use my phone as a camera, rather than just for a “snap”.

      Of course they have limitations, but their manufacturers have also used technology very cleverly – for example a 108Mp sensor that can downsample to 12Mp to create very clean images at high ISOs, that previously required an expensive full frame camera. The AI and processing built into our phones mean anyone can take a photo shooting directly into the sun and get a decent result – something that would require skill and post processing with an SLR.

      There have been seismic shifts in the camera industry which has seen the death of compact cameras and lower end products, yet the manufacturers seem to only retrench further up an ever dwindling market. Even the mirrorless systems that Canon and Nikon offer are essentially a repackaging of previous products.

      I enjoy photography, and like many (men?) I also like cameras, but as a hobby it is becoming so expensive that it’s unaffordable to most when a new camera body is £3000-4000.

      I fear those companies are painting themselves into a corner, possibly because their conservatism means they don’t know to respond to what’s obviously happening. If I were any of the camera brands and saw that a £300 phone could take a photo that’s as good as a £4000 camera, I would be running for my life.

  • John Wilson says:

    Interesting post Adrian. Almost 11 years ago on a trip to Cuba I got turned on to using a cell phone camera. Back then things were still pretty primitive, but what really struck me was the way the phone “sees”. You can get it into all sorts of framing positions that would be awkward or downright
    contorsional with a “real camera”. Once a I got a phone with a decent camera, I went wild for a few months and got some really interesting images in the process, but eventually the “new toy” effect wore off and I can’t remember the last time I shot anything with it. What really blow my mind is the low light capability of the current cameras and that’s got me lusting after a new phone … but I’m still just lusting. Maybe … just maybe …

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