Now, there’s no doubt some phones have pretty good cameras and I’m a big fan of the one on my iPhone. I like to use it as a kind of photographic sketchbook or to get a slightly different take on a scene using a creative app like Hipstamatic (you can see a few below). However, I still can’t imagine going on holiday without a "proper" camera, even though I’m wondering if this is now becoming a minority viewpoint. The thing is, of course, the phone is always to hand and such a great multi-tasker on the internet. From a photographic standpoint, this is a notion we have certainly taken to heart - and camera sales prove the point.
Earlier this year the Camera and Imaging Products Association of Japan (CIPA) reported global shipments of fixed lens cameras not just flatlining but in precipitous free fall, down 41 percent in a year, a wipeout largely attributable to our take-up of the phone for our day to day photography. The forecast for camera sales for this year was pretty pessimistic and latest actual figures bear this out; sales of cameras of all types (yes, for the first time, even those fancy mirrorless ones) in all markets except Japan are in decline. Grim reading for camera buffs. So, as we enter the height of the holiday season, I thought I’d issue a plea on behalf of the good old-fashioned camera; if we abandon it completely this can only be to the detriment of our holiday photographs.
In my last post I touched on the merits of being more proactive in order to get better pictures on holiday, of adopting the role of director and guiding the action, if only for twenty minutes or so each day. If that was about approach, then this is about the tools for the job and I do remain a firm believer that if you want to get the best from your holiday photos, you shouldn’t just be relying on your phone for that. So, here are half a dozen reasons why I have been making room in my holiday packing for a camera:
The first, much touted and obvious point is quality, in terms of both capture and resolution but let's move this issue aside for a moment. I think there are equally important but more subtle factors to consider. Let’s start with frame of mind, for instance. We’re so used to carrying our phones all the time, the ubiquity of them clouds our judgement of what actually makes a good time for photography. Picking up a camera, on the other hand, forces us to think photographically about a scene, perhaps even to think about setting something up (there’s the director again) or to look and wait for a moment. I think having a camera at the ready puts me just a bit more on the lookout than merely having my phone in my pocket.
Then there's artistic expression; I mean this in the sense of recording a scene as you really wish it to be remembered. A camera has a degree more control over this. I’m not talking about the need to be an expert here - a camera just has far more processing power dedicated to addressing the basics of focus and exposure, even in Auto mode. The one thing I find most frustrating with my phone camera is trying to fine tune exposure and that can mean the difference between a glorious sunset and a muddy silhouette.
Let’s not forget the practical side of things, the ergonomics. I love the elegant design of the iPhone, but the qualities that ensure I have it with me all the time are not the qualities that necessarily make it easy to take pictures in certain conditions. Like at 20 knots in a speed boat.
And doesn’t it make you feel a little queasy holding your £600 phone over twelve feet of water, knowing you need it for a conference call later in the afternoon? I know, you would never call the office while on holiday and there are waterproof cases and all sorts of action accessories on the market. Well, in the same way I have never seen anyone not check their phone for emails on holiday, I don’t think I have seen anyone carrying a phone on anything so much as a lanyard either. The fact is the camera on the phone is a periphery on a device designed to handle all our other communications needs so in many circumstances we don’t want to risk using (or losing) it. That definitely compromises the kind of photos we can capture.
What of the photographs themselves? A well set up phone is presumably synching the photos with other devices and backing them up to a cloud service. I worry that’s where they stay, eventually buried with all the other stuff. The act of inserting a card into a camera and retrieving the photos later bears just a little semblance to loading a camera with film. Downloading the images as a discreet project allows for concentrated sorting and then editing the pick of the bunch for sharing and printing. I am not saying this can’t be done with a phone but I do think the process of doing this via a camera is a more photographically complete one, with more controls.
Ah, did I mention quality? There’s no escaping the fact that the tiny little sensor in your phone doesn’t collect as much light and doesn’t output as many pixels as a mid-range camera. While the results may look fine online, what works on Facebook could well fall down when it comes to printing that calendar at the end of the year. If our holiday photos represent our most appealing and enduring memories, then aren't we looking to print some of them?
Don't get me wrong, I love my phone for photography - I'm sure the quality gap will continue to narrow, maybe we're already at a point where it's "good enough". But for the time being, I’m backing mine up with a proper camera, even just a compact one. Happy holidays!