A scene in Old Montreal

An Old World in Modern Times - Thanks to My Phone Cam

I’ve been taking photos since I was a kid, using all the classic cameras as they’ve improved over the years, but today I lament their passing despite the wonderful job they used to do.

This photo, as you can see right away, was taken with a very old camera, faded, a little unsharp, although the effect is charming. Ooops, sorry, didn’t mean to deceive you: the picture was actually taken in the port area of Montreal yesterday (February 20, 2012) using a phone-cam and an app that gives the shot an old-world look.

For the past couple of years I’ve been putting phone cameras to the test and while they were lamentable in their early stages I am now convinced that for most subjects the top-end models will get you by – and then some!

Admittedly, they still have their shortcomings, literally. You can’t get an effective zoom out of them without losing quality (although I’ll have something to say about that in a moment) and you can’t take any real close-ups (I’ll have something say about that too) but for the most part the latest iPhones and Samsungs are absolutely brilliant.

Aside from being able to do all the other useful things – finding your way home if you’re lost, browsing the web, dealing with emails, recording voices, shooting videos, oh I could go on – I’ve found that as a journalist my Samsung with its 8 megapixel camera is outstanding. While magazines and newspapers don’t like to handle photos that have been adjusted with an app, for your personal use the apps that are available on these phones turn average pictures into something special.

There’s one other advantage of taking pictures on a phone-cam – immediacy. Take a shot and within seconds it can be zooming its way to Flickr or Facebook or Twitter or whoever, not to mention attaching it to an email to send to an outlet that requires a full resolution, un-tampered with, picture. Unless you have a high-end camera that allows you to send a picture wirelessly to your phone or computer for on-sending, you can’t work with the same speed as a phone-cam. The time will come, of course, when the humble point and shoot will join the ranks of its higher-end brethren and have the ability to send its pictures from within its own brain. By then, though, it might be too late – the omnipotent phone-cam will probably be ruling the roost.

I’ve been reading the signs from camera suppliers who admit that the improvements in phone-cams are having a negative effect on sales of cheaper point and shoot cameras. Why bother buying an ‘ordinary camera’ when a good cellphone/mobile phone does much the same job and in many ways does it better? The phone-cam is also always in your pocket or bag ready for that instant picture – because you’re always carrying your phone.

Of course, there isn’t much scope for manual adjustments on a phone-cam, although the time will come when we’ll be able to work our phone-cams just like we would a normal camera….manual focus (hey, who needs that these days), aperture and shutter-speed adjustments and ISO variations.

A word about zoom and close-ups. Some firms are offering attachments for phone-cams that will give you a telephoto, wide angle or close up lens. I’ve read comments that say they aren’t particular effective but the time will come when phone-cams will have their own quality moveable lenses. As an experiment, I’ve jammed a mini-telescope (I call it a monocular) against the lens of my Samsung GalaxyS2 and, after a lot of fiddling, have been able to create unbelievable pictures  of subjects a long way away.

The same, in reverse, applies with close ups. I found an old loupe (a film transparency magnifier) in the cupboard and used that to take startling close-ups of beetles in the garden. A clumsy way of going about it, but it’s pretty obvious to me that the time will come when such pictures will be possible on your phone-cam.

Professional photographers, of course, will continue to use their high-end SLRs with their brilliant lenses and adaptability, but stepping down into the mass market I can see the point and shoot suffering against improved phone-cams. However, I must admit I do not like holding the phone up to my face and lining up a shot – I find I have a much better ‘feel’ for the picture looking through a viewfinder. Perhaps I’ll get used to it.

In the meantime, I have to go…there are pictures out there waiting to be taken. Guess what with?



War in Vanuatu (formerly the New Hebrides)

Jimmy Stevens and his Coconut War warriors, 1980

Back in 1980, with pen and notebook in hand and a camera around my neck,  I rushed to the tiny group of islands in the Pacific then known as the New Hebrides. A rebellion was under way! It was big news!

The islands were being run jointly at the time by Britain and France, under what were already chaotic, indeed crazy, conditions. If you were sent to a French jail you had wine with your lunch. If it was the British jail you had water. The road signs were all British but everybody had to drive on the right, like in France.

In the south, on the island of Tanna, a group of villagers were busy worshipping their very special ‘god’ – none other than the Queen’s husband, Prince Philip. Unbelievably, he had posed specially for them in the gardens of Buckingham Palace and had then sent them a formal signed photograph of himself holding the war club the tribe had sent to him.

Way up on an island to the north and and a few months before independence, when the New Hebrides was due to be renamed and become Vanuatu, Jimmy Stevens, an ageing tribal chief, declared his own form of independence, to the embarrassment and annoyance of the Brits, the French and the central government.

Madness descended throughout the country with French troops being prevented from flying to the rebel island by the Brits and vice versa. Meanwhile Jimmy, supported by a mysterious group of Americans allegedly linked to the CIA, appointed himself as the Prime Minister of the island – but his rule was short-lived when a ‘neutral’ force from Papua New Guinea grabbed him and he was thrown into jail.

The book I wrote at the time has long gone out of print but it’s now been revived and I’ve got it listed on Amazon as an eBook. But was the publishing process easy? Let’s put it this way – it took me longer to get the design and format right than it took me to fly from Sydney to interview Jimmy Stevens.

If you’re thinking of publishing your own eBook, you might find it easier than I did. Perseverance finally paid off and what I hope will be a fun book with historical qualities will outlive its paperback predecessor!



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North Korean Leader Kim Jong-Un

North Korean Leader Kim Jong-Un

Wild rumours that Kim Jong-Un, the new leader of North Korea, has been assassinated have been shot down amid claims he has in fact been preparing for his late father’s birthday.

A convoy of vehicles which surrounded the North Korean embassy in Beijing, where it is understood Kim has been staying, are thought to be behind the rumours which were originally posted on a Chinese social website.

A source close to North Korean dignitaries have told me that everything they have learned from the secret country suggests that life is continuing there as normal. If all hell had broken loose, troops would have been rushed to the borders and that didn’t happen.

The unusually-large number of official vehicles at the North Korean embassy in China were there because, it is now claimed, Kim Jong-Un was making preparations for a fantastic birthday party in memory of his late father, Kim Jong-Il, who died of a suspected heart attack in December.

There have been country-wide celebrations in North Korea each time Kim Jong-Il’s birthday has come around on February 16 and, said US officials, and it believed a number of advisers called at the embassy to discuss celebrations with the late ‘Dear Leader’s’ son before his return to Pyongyang.

Kim Jong-Il would have been 70 this month.

Rumours of Kim Jong-Un’s death are believed to have their origins in a tweet on a Chinese Twitter clone called Weibo.

A user called Hucaihe, who has an office near the North Korean embassy, tweeted that he had noticed some unusual activity there.

He wrote: ‘Downstairs of the office, the cars for the Korean embassy is increasing rapidly. Now it’s over 30 cars.

‘It’s the first time I’ve seen this situation. Did something happen in Korea?’

The post took off around the world, being picked up by the ‘Western Twitter’ with thousands of hits.

Soon another Weibo user, Fan Jing, posted a picture that purported to show the embassy parking lot filled with cars.

Rumours spread like wildfire. Kim Jong-Un had been assassinated…there had been a coup…Kim Jong-Un was on the run and had sought shelter in Beijing.

The stories of his ‘assassination’ grew to the point where it was claimed two gunmen had gained access to his room at the embassy and had shot him dead, before they were killed by bodyguards.

With the embassy strongly guarded it would have been virtually impossible for gunmen to have gained entry – unless it was an ‘inside job’.

Adding to the growing scepticism of an assassination, the Chinese news agency Phoenix has pointed out that a ‘Conference of Remembering the 70th Anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s Birth’ was scheduled to have begun on February 8 in Beijing.

Tours had been planned to China and North Korea by travellers from around the world to mark the anniversary.

The agency did point out, however that so far there was no way to confirm if ‘the actions’ of the North Koran Embassy were related to the celebrations of Kim Jong Il’s 70th birthday.

But it made no mention of any assassination.

ABC news in the US quoted American officials as saying there was no validity to the reports.

‘There’s nothing to this,’ said one official, adding there were no indications the reports were true.

Experts, said another official, were monitoring the situation and could see no abnormal activity on the Korean peninsula.



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North Korea's new leader, Kim Jong Un

Kim Jong Un - rumours of his assassination.

So the rumours have shot around the world – Kim Jong Un, the new leader of the secretive State of North Korea, has been assassinated.

What are we to believe? Personally, having toured the country last year, I know how long it might take for any official denials or confirmation.

But if you look at the source of the stories that claim Kim was shot by assassins who broke into the North Korean embassy in Beijing, where he was staying, and managed to shoot him, you have to wonder just how true they are.

The source is the Chinese equivalent of Twitter – a source that is known to spread wild rumours about the deaths of celebrities. Maybe they are right this time – or maybe it’s just another beat-up.

It is claimed an unusually-large number of vehicles with blacked out windows have been seen at the North Korean embassy in Beijing, giving rise to speculation that the rumours might have some substance. Then again, Kim might be throwing a party.

We should know soon just how true all this is.

Watch this space.



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