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?