Why have a camera as opposed to a smartphone?
For most people, including me, the vast majority of photographs are taken with a smartphone. That includes just about every photograph of family, almost all travel photographs and almost every photograph of documents or meter readings etc. So why have a camera at all?
The revelation to me over the last few years has been that high-quality portraits (with soft backgrounds) of my grandchildren for example are not only possible on the smartphone, but they are often better, because the phone is much less intrusive than a large camera. The slightly impressionistic image on the right was taken with my smartphone of the time, and I almost certainly would not have captured the shot if I had used a normal camera. You can see an album of smartphone shots here, and they are not only of reasonable quality, they all capture the moment in a way that a normal camera might not.
Is there any need for a separate camera any more? Well for people like me, the answer is still yes and is likely to be for several years to come. There are some things that a smartphone can not do well. The simple physics of a smartphone means that a telephoto lens for capturing things at a great distance is extremely difficult to fit into the small body. Noise is also a problem. The small phone sensor means that clever computational techniques need to be used to reduce the amount of noise in the image, and this in turn means that rapid bursts of high quality images are as yet impossible to achieve in a smartphone. For the same reason smartphones are not capable of taking very long exposures since the longer the exposure the greater the amount of noise that is seen in the image. And finally, for images that need to be printed at very large sizes, the resolution of smartphones is unlikely to ever be sufficient.
And there is another area where smartphones just don’t work well. Quite often a photographer will take hundreds, if not thousands, of photographs to get just a few that capture exactly the right moment. They use real cameras with systems that allow the very rapid culling of the photographs that don’t make it, to select the perfect few. With smartphones all these photographs not only get saved to the phone, but they then are saved to the cloud and rapidly use up expensive space. Smartphones are pretty horrible devices for reviewing pictures and do not easily select and delete large quantities of them. Moreover, advanced processing of the image is computationally very intensive, and detailed processing and examination of an image is hard if not impossible even on the biggest smartphones.
What kind of photograph requires a real camera?
Translating this into photographic styles, an actual camera is going to be necessary for wildlife, sport, and action photography, where the subject is some distance away and may be moving fast. Street photography, where rapid bursts of shots are needed to be sure of capturing the right moment, and long exposure photography, to smooth out the flow of water in waterfalls, rivers and seascapes also are impractical on smartphones. Finally, landscape photographs that may well be shown or sold in very large sizes demand the resolution and flexibility that a smartphone cannot provide.
I specialise in birds in flight, street portrait photography, and long exposure shots of rivers and seascapes. As a result, I am always going to need a specialist camera system. Some recent trends have made choosing the best system quite difficult. So the question for me is, who now makes the best system for my needs? I spent a very large part of my enforced lockdown in 2020 trying to answer this question, and in a subsequent post I will describe the results.