2017 – The Year of the Camera Phone

(All of the images in this post were taken with a smartphone)

Fun Fact:  I took 10,000 fewer pictures in 2017 that I did the year before.  Sure, 2016 was the year of the Epic Trip to Italy, but that wouldn’t account for all of such a big decrease.  I do have small children running around, and that takes up a lot of my time, but it still seems like I was missing something.  As I was trying to think of a theme for this post, I might have stumbled upon the answer.  I took a lot more pictures than usual with the camera in my phone.

I’m  basing the 10k-fewer number of the number of images I have in my Lightroom catalog (the software I use to organize and process my images).  That number tells me that I have 10k fewer image files for 2017 than I do for 2016 (it’s the first time the number didn’t go up year-to-year).  But this only accounts for the pictures I took with my DSLR; it doesn’t account for the ones coming from my phone.

The last two phones I’ve used have had excellent cameras in them.  I wouldn’t trust them in super low-light situations or when I need telephoto reach, but in good light without applying any optical zoom, the images aren’t too bad.

The above is the very first picture I took on my last phone, the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Plus.  That was back in 2015, and I thought the image quality was pretty good then.  I started 2017 with that same S6 Edge+, but it died in Washington DC in the Fall.  I’ve been using the Samsung Note 8 (with its two rear cameras) ever since.

I’m pretty sure that the concepts of interesting subject, composition and lighting apply regardless of the camera being used.  After all, the camera is just a tool, and it’s the end-result that really counts.  Of course, that’s not an excuse to be lazy.  A crooked horizon is still a crooked horizon even if you took the picture with your phone.

Then there are the situations when I just don’t have the big DSLR with me.  Honestly, that’s not often.  As a photography enthusiast who has invested a lot of money in gear over time, I do carry that thing around with me almost all the time.  Having kids changed that a little.  I need to be able to grab them out of danger in an instant, so I need my hands free.  But when a double rainbow that’s half on land and half over the ocean presents itself in Hawaii, you gotta take a picture of it.

The image above of Portland’s Marquam Bridge is kind of a unique situation.  I took the picture with my phone even though I had my DSLR right there with me.  I was in the location to shoot the Portland Fall Classic (crew regatta).  If you know the area, then you might know that I am standing on the Tilikum Crossing and that it’s a bit of a hike to get up there.  Since I was there to shoot the boat races, I had my huge 200-500mm lens on the DSLR, and I didn’t bring anything else up there with me.  I needed the phone to take this wide angle shot.  So I set the DSLR, with its giant lens, down and whipped out the phone with its wide-angle lens.

Here’s another situation when my DSLR was nearby.  I didn’t have it on my person at the time because I had to help haul rowing gear to the launch.  When I left our area I didn’t think there’d be any photo-ops anyway since the weather was so lousy.  However, when we got to the launch, the sky opened up, and a rainbow even came out for our Junior Women’s Four.

In good light, without applying any optical zoom (which is the same as cropping the image anyway), today’s smartphones have image quality that is close to a DSLR.  There is still a functional gap in many areas (like focus speed, low-light noise and lens choice), but in a pinch the images are usable.

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