Aloha, Photography

I found Craig Mod's writeup about smartphone camera adequacy an interesting take, but I have to wonder about a few things in it.

There's some very good stuff in there, but I feel like he's talking from a very specific point of view.  He's certainly right that most people don't care about having an image larger than a computer monitor.  Of that, there can be no doubt.

One minor element he's missing is that computer monitors are stepping up a lot in resolution right now (from 2MP to 8MP), so what looks fantastic now might not in only a year or two.

But before we get too down into specifics, let's talk about what the advantages are to a dedicated camera (and, let me state here, I believe Mr Mod knows all of these):
  • Higher resolution, due to larger lenses (diffraction limits capabilities of smaller lenses)
  • Less noise (particularly at higher ISOs, but it can happen at pretty low ISOs also)
  • Greater control of depth of field
  • Greater dynamic range (more info in "dark" pixels)
  • Greater color range
  • Greater control over settings (particularly aperture, shutter speed, ISO; camera phone might offer control of these, but it'll be harder to change, if so)
  • Faster access (my D4 can be ready far faster than a cameraphone, and has less shutter delay, even if the camera app is already running on the phone)
  • Better support for long exposures
  • Support for filters (software has yet to be able to duplicate the effects of a polarizer or neutral density filter)
  • Higher quality lenses (again, this is related to size, but also to being able to change them)
  • Greater durability
  • RAW output (much more color depth and other info than a JPEG)
  • Much better autofocus, particularly of moving things
  • Battery life
  • Larger, more flexible flashes (in particular, the ability to bounce light off of walls/ceilings, but amount of illumination is also not to be sneezed at)
Now, of those, some are already changing (a quick-release tripod mount for an iPhone 5, for instance), and some will change eventually (software will get better at noise reduction, so that the difference will be negligible up to quite high ISOs.  And on-sensor phase-detect autofocus will move into phones someday, as well.  As will RAW output, likely).  And the iPhone 5s shows that some progress can be made with a small, built-in flash that would be harder to do with a larger model (the dual-color LED flash on that phone).  But some of them will not.

For instance, the flexibility of a smartphone limits options for controls, making it tough (if not impossible) to match a camera, and also limits how quickly you can get the camera available.

So, when you get down to it, what he's saying is that, for a particular style of shooting (landscapes with great depth of field), phones are now good enough for most purposes (ie: as long as you don't care about printing).

Note, also, what he says about his style of shooting:
Connected to that rule of simplicity is a bias toward constraint. I’ve always shot with one lens. Obsessed over a single type of film.

There's certainly something to be said for that (as an engineer, I agree that simplicity is always an important goal in design), but shooting with a single lens also means that you won't notice certain inherent limitations (width of picture being the biggest) of a smartphone.  So again, we're seeing a "good enough" for him that won't necessarily be so for everyone.

Anyway, despite all that, I like the way he laid out where he sees things.  He's right; for some things, the cameraphone really is good enough.  And they're still getting better at a frightening rate.  And there's certainly something to be said for a camera that you always have with you.  Sometimes that's meant that I have gotten a shot, because I had my phone with me.  But sometimes, it's meant that I didn't bother, because I knew that the phone wouldn't be capable of getting what I was trying to shoot.

A friend of mine who's an excellent photographer has been bouncing around in equipment lately, because he does a lot of hiking, and couldn't carry 20-25 pounds of gear on a multi-week hike.  So he's dropped down from full-frame (Canon) to Sony NEX and is now changing to Sony's new A7r.  I can certainly see where he's coming from (I don't hike, so the fact that my tripod is almost nine pounds isn't a big problem).  He'd like the phone to be good enough, I'm sure.

Me?  I'm looking forward to being able to interface my camera to my phone (probably via bluetooth) to upload things sooner.  It won't help with some pictures (ones needing significant postprocessing), but will be fantastic for others.

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