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Phoning it in

I do love having a camera in my mobile phone. I think it’s got a higher resolution than my first digital camera and it’s certainly more capable. The key thing though is that it means always having a camera with me. And because a mobile phone is really a computer (and way more powerful than my first computer. Or second. Etc) I also have photo editing tools on it and some alternative camera applications. So I can do long exposures, weird effects and all sorts of image manipulation.

It’s brilliant for experimentation. Being digital I can try what I like at no additional cost. If it works, great – shift the file across to the PC and make like I meant it. If not, so what?

To retain any shred of analogue credibility I will also add that I’ve got a light meter application on the phone. It can do both incident and reflected so it’s one less thing to carry when I go out with a real camera. Not as groovy as my Weston meter, but it has numbers I can read without specs.

But back to the phone. Things I like:

  • Variable format -wide through 4:3 to square
  • HDR, if I ever find a use for it that isn’t showing off
  • Burst mode – great for a sequence or getting the peak of the action despite the shutter lag
  • Paper Camera app – nice special effects that I can use on stored files, so I still have the original
  • Stabilisation – handy when you are basically holding a bar of soap
  • Night mode, so I don’t have to fight with it so often
  • A long exposure app – great for playing with. You can even get blurry water like a real landscape photographer
  • A useful photo editor so that I can tweak-up a snap before sharing it with someone. Basically level-up, crop and correct so I look like a better photographer than I am
  • Mono Art, which is a reasonably capable mono conversion app that imitates filters so that I can do the dark skies/ white clouds thing or gothically-pale faces.

Things I hate? It can be a fight to get a level horizon and there is some serious shutter lag. The horizon thing got better when I switched on visible grid lines on the phone screen. The shutter lag is just a pain. It’s also proctalgic to have to unlock the phone before I can use it. Yes, the camera will open on its own with a hot key, but it’s no substitute for a loaded and primed camera that you can just raise and shoot.

So it’s no good for street-type sniping, but it is good for those ‘wow, I wish I had a camera’ moments. It’s also fun during those waiting-for-something-to-happen times to pull-up a previous image and play with it. I’ve never shot mono film through a magenta or cyan filter, but I can see what it does to things. Same with playing with tilt-shift blurring, posterisation or extreme edge effects. I may not be using these to make the primary image, but it can be fun to send someone the picture of themselves that they were really not expecting.

It was a very big tree…

Would I buy a phone because of the camera? No. If I was spending that much on a camera, I’d buy a camera. Would I choose between phones based on the capabilities of the camera? It’s on the comparison list, so I would take it into account, but it’s not top of the list. It’s a nice to have, not a necessity like coffee or beer.

So what do I use this marvel of miniaturised mechanismo for, I hear you ask? Snaps, mostly. Immediate gratification through digital cleverness, if you want to get all Viz about it. But I also shoot a lot of black and white film in the real world, so the Mono Art app is great for previsualising the effect of filters or post-processing. Using an orange or red filter for a portrait can usefully lighten skin tone and hide blemishes, but it can also make lips pale and eyes dark. A blue filter on your standard-issue pale male will make them rugged, if not handsome. Or it could make them look like an acned goth, so it’s worth checking.

Face filters
As seen through orange and blue filters. From vampire eyes to rugged.

Same with landscapes: do I need a yellow, orange or red filter to punch through the haze and what happens to the tones in the grass or sky? A red-brick building nestled in green hills against a blue sky? I can make it appear as a white beacon of hope or a black carbuncle of despair against a background that runs from brooding to sunny. I used to shoot through filters all the time so I knew what the negative would look like. Less so now, so it’s useful to see what might happen and whether it corresponds with what was in my head.

The other thing that the phone can do that a proper camera can’t is get into small or awkward spaces. I’ve taken macro shots from inside a bunch of flowers and really low-angle shots that a man of my years couldn’t make without help to get up again.

I also have a secret love for the Paper Camera app, particularly the Comic Boom, Gotham Noir and Neon Cola settings. I know that special effects don’t make up for taking rubbish pictures, but how else do you turn a picture of a mate DJ’ing into something more interesting than bloke with headphones peering at turntable?


Album cover

So yes, I think phones are good. They killed the point-and-shoot, didn’t they? Wim Wenders says that phones killed photography, but that’s like saying that burgers killed cookery.


Author: fupduckphoto

Still wishing I knew what was going on.

3 thoughts on “Phoning it in”

  1. You use an iPhone? The Mono Art app sounds really cool but can’t find it in the Google Play Store! I have a Pixel 2 phone, love the camera on it 🙂

    1. I took a longer look, and the Mono Art app appears to be only available for Blackberry. Try a few of the Android ones, there is bound to be an equivalent.

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