Friday, October 21, 2016

The Best Camera

Phone Conversation - Salt Lake City, Utah
Renown photographer Chase Jarvis said, "The best camera is the one that's with you." He was speaking specifically of cell phone cameras. His point was that any camera is a capable photographic tool, and you shouldn't be afraid to use whatever camera you have available, even if it's the one built into your phone. This was several years ago, and the cameras on cell phones have evolved immensely since then.

The great thing about the camera built into your phone is that you have it with you all of the time. It's an ulta-compact digital camera that's also a phone and a computer. This is pretty amazing stuff when you think about it. And the image quality produced by these cameras are getting better and better and better.
The Closed Road - Fish Camp, California
Captured using a Nokia Lumia 1020 cell phone.
A few years ago Nokia released the Lumia 1020, which had a tack-sharp lens, medium-format-like resolution and could save in RAW format (it wasn't without serious faults, including a really limited dynamic range and poor ISO performance above the native ISO). I used this cell phone for a couple of years, and captured a number of good images with it. It was the first camera phone that I felt had sufficient image quality that you could "get away with" using it instead of a "real" camera if you needed to.

Earlier this year I "upgraded" to an LG G4, which has a slightly better camera built in. The dynamic range is noticeably larger and it can go a stop above base ISO before the image quality begins to significantly degrade. The lens isn't quite as sharp (but it's still reasonably sharp) and it doesn't have as much resolution (16 megapixels vs 41 megapixels). Overall the G4 has a better camera, but not by a huge amount. It's plenty good enough to capture good pictures.
Steam Locomotive Wheels - Ogden, Utah
Captured using an LG G4 cell phone.
There are several camera phones that have come out or are about to come out that seem interesting. One is the iPhone 7, which has two cameras on the back, allowing you to shoot at 28mm (equivalent) or 56mm (equivalent) focal lengths, giving a little more versatility (Apple also finally allows you to save in RAW format). Up until a couple of weeks ago, the HTC 10, Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and the Sony Xperia X Performance were tied at #1 for best cell phone camera (by DxOMark). Then the Google Pixel came out, which is a cell phone designed with the photographer in mind, and beat them all (just barely). Kodak's upcoming Ektra camera phone is supposed to be similar to Google's Pixel. And let's not forget Samsung's Galaxy K Zoom, which is a pocket zoom camera with a cell phone built into it.

The point of all of this is that the lowly camera phone is a good tool that photographers can use when they need a camera and don't have their more expensive gear near by. These cameras are better than you might think and, while they are not as good or versatile as a DSLR, they can produce reasonably good image quality. In fact, unless you said so, unsuspecting viewers will have no idea that a cell phone camera was used to capture your images. So don't be afraid to use your "best" camera, which is the one that's with you when you need a camera.

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