Smartphone Photography?

Taking photos is one of my favorite things to do when on vacation. It’s not as if I need to photograph my travels like National Geographic, but a photo record is handy for this blog and for keeping track of the memories.

I’ve been at this travel photography stuff for close to 50 years, moving from film to digital. I have used a rangefinder camera, an SLR with manual focus, an SLR with autofocus, various compact digital cameras, a bridge camera, a digital SLR and now a compact digital superzoom.

One thing I will not do again on holiday is to schlep a big heavy interchangeable lens camera with a flash and a bunch of lenses. I might not get the great image quality and low light performance of a DSLR, but carrying a 300g camera beats 3 Kg of gear.

But what if I simplified things further, left the camera at home and just used a smartphone? So many folks have made that choice today. I hardly ever see a compact camera on the cruise ship these days. Some dinos are carrying DSLRs or a mirrorless system but that is it.

My current smartphone is the modestly priced Samsung A50 shown above. It has a camera, of course – two in fact. The front one is for selfies. The rear one is a triple-lens model.

The rear camera has a main lens, a funky wide-angle lens, and a depth-sensing lens for focus and “computational imaging.” That is pretty good for a moderately priced smartphone.

Of course, the real photo enthusiast who wanted to use a smartphone exclusively would probably opt for a top of the line unit like a Pixel 4, an iPhone 11 Pro, or a Huawei p30 Pro. Those phones cost as much as a top-shelf travel camera. It’s not likely I’ll be in the market for one of them, at least not yet. So let’s just consider whether I could replace my travel camera with the one in the A50.

Reasons I’d Use a Smartphone on Holiday

  1. The best camera is the one you have with you. In North America, that’ll be the smartphone for sure. I just stick it in my pocket and I’m good to go. Bringing a dedicated camera is more gear to tote along.
  2. The camera is easy to use and has wide-angle capability. It works well in good light and probably 95% of my vacation images could be taken with a smartphone.
  3. It’s easy to take photos and share them online, or back them up online.
  4. The camera uses the smartphone software capably to add effects like focus blur. More expensive smartphones add some telephoto possibilities up to say 5X and with digital telephoto up to 10X. This can come in handy, especially the telephoto.

Not the greatest picture, but see how the smartphone’s camera blurs the background here and isolates the candle in the foreground. This is strictly a software effect. To do it optically you would need a very fast lens and a very wide aperture.

Reasons I Would Not Use a Smartphone on Holiday

  1. The best camera is the one you have with you. I’m not sure I’d be taking a smartphone on holiday in Europe or on a cruise. Costs for communication are high and Maria has a smartphone too. One should be enough. It’s better I bring along my tiny travel camera.
  2. The A50 wide-angle is OK for group photos but it has very limited control over composition and is quite high in distortion. My travel camera does wide-angle better.
  3. The 30X travel zoom I have absolutely blows away the smartphone when it comes to telephoto. There’s no digital enhancement that adds noise and crops the image. Even the most expensive smartphones cannot compete with a $400 travel camera.
  4. The camera has much better battery life and I can bring a couple of extra batteries as well.
  5. I’m not sure about picture storage capacity on the smartphone – it doesn’t appear to be an issue – but the travel camera can store thousands of images. Backup is easy on the laptop I’ll bring along.
  6. The camera has optical stabilization; the cheaper smartphones do not. I can use it in low light situations with more chance of success.
  7. The camera has a viewfinder so I can compose pictures in very bright light. The smartphone would be washed out and I’d be guessing about what I was photographing.

The above photo was taken in dazzling sunlight and was easy to compose with a viewfinder. Not so much with a smartphone or LCD camera screen.

Right now I lean toward taking holiday photos with a real camera, and using the smartphone for casual photography around the house and around town. Smartphone technology is always improving; perhaps I could join the many vacationers who now use a smartphone exclusively. I believe I’ll wait and see though.

Published by Ray MacDonald

Ray MacDonald is a retired food scientist who lives in Almonte, ON.
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