I just enjoyed reading Have you considered using a camera? by Joe Rosensteel over at Six Colors. It says many smart things about photography with a phone as opposed to a real “camera”. Also, it’s funny; I recommend it. But then down toward the end it made an assertion that was so shocking that I had to stop and read it twice, then again: That shooting with a phone is easier and faster than with a camera. Because I believe the opposite is true.

I quote:

“The big thing that you’ve probably noticed from shooting stuff back and forth between the camera and the iPhone is just how much more effort and thought needs to go into your camera shots. Even if you’re using a third party iOS camera app, it’s still doing a lot of the heavy lifting for you. Your camera, mostly as a product of its age, is going to be hella slow.”

In the spirit of his article, here are two pictures of flowers — not the same flowers, but from the same tree — one with a Pixel (not the latest), one with a Fujifilm mirrorless (likewise).

Cherry tree blossoms, busy background
· · ·
Cherry tree blossoms, camellia-bush background

Both pics are competent, neither remarkable; in neither case is the limiting factor the quality of the camera involved.

Faster, you say? · Let’s see. On your phone, you have to get the camera app fired up. iPhones are quicker at this than the Androids I’ve used if you’re starting from from scratch, they have that swipe-left thing. But if the phone’s already awake, both iOS and Android have a double-tap gesture. On my Pixel it takes maybe a third of a second for the camera to be ready once I’ve hit the icon or done the double-taps. Often the time-lag is dominated by getting my fingers arranged so the phone’s pointing the right way and my fingers aren’t over the lens and I have one loose to shoot with.

With a camera, when I’m in photo mode, I’m carrying it loosely in my hand with my index finger on the power/shoot button and the rest comfortably round the grip. The trigger finger hits turn-on as the camera is heading for my face and by the time the viewfinder is up against my eye, it’s ready to shoot. Now, with some of my older and klunkier lenses, the auto-focus can be a little less than instant; but usually not.

Maybe I’m weird, but phone shooting, iOS or Android, feels way slower and less immediate than with a camera.

And easier? · Now, any reasonably modern camera has an auto-everything setting and I suspect that most photogs, like me, leave it on that setting when turned off, simply for speed. All you have to do is press the button and (just like a mobile) you’ll get the camera’s best effort which, these days, is usually (just like a mobile) really good. Easy? call it a saw-off.

My experience with phone photography has regularly been damaged by my own fat fingers. There are just so many places and ways your finger can contact the screen, whether when waking up the camera or while it’s running, that fuck things up.

Maybe this never happens to you, but loads of times, when I’m fumbling to start shooting, or when I’m shifting around to get an angle, Something Happens and a pop-up menu has grabbed focus or I’m not in the mode I want, and the picture won’t take.

On a camera, when I’m putting my face to it and when I’m in shooting position, it’s hard for me to do anything that’s going to get in the way of the next picture I want to take.

Sharing · After you’ve taken a picture you like, how about the task of sharing it with the world? No contest, this is effortless on every mobile device and klunky-if-possible with a traditional camera. Why does it have to be like that? I’d love a nice modern mirrorless camera with a SIM card and a basic Web browser that could upload to the social-media flavor of the month.

Fine-tuning · Now, let’s talk about going a little deeper than pointing and shooting, which is to say adjusting the camera parameters to make the picture look like you want it to. Basically, as of today, every camera, and every mobile camera app, comes with more adjustments than you probably need.

So what matters is, how easy are the adjustments to adjust? News flash: Knobs and dials are better than screen-tapping (as the auto industry is in the process of discovering). Now obviously, this is a matter of taste, but the reason I’ve been in the Fujifilm camp for the last few years is that those cameras give you physical adjustments for photography basics, knobs that are easy for your fingers to find even when the camera’s up against your face.

Fujifilm X-E1

I went so far, back in 2013, as to pronounce the Fuji control scheme “perfect”. Today I’d revise that to “perfect for me” since I’ve learned that other apparently-sane people genuinely prefer a PASM-based control scheme. Good on ’em.

There is no way you can convince me that your phone’s Camera app will let you adjust your aperture or shutter speed, or do exposure compensation, as fast as the controls in that picture.

So on this front, I’m giving both the “faster” and “easier” points to the real camera.

Then of course, there are the “effects” and “filters” and so on that phone cams offer. Some cameras come with “profiles” designed to mimic the look of classic film projects, but those are nothing like as fancy as the apps can do.

Doesn’t matter, I don’t use either, I process both my phone and camera pictures in Lightroom, sometimes when I’m doing working on one I forget what I took it with and have to look. The real-camera files tend to have more “depth”, in that you can rescue over- or under-exposed parts of your picture. But either way, this is a saw-off.

Phone-cams are great! · I love mine, and I take more pictures with it than my “real” camera, including most of my faves.

But an actual camera doesn’t also have to be a flashlight and an app platform and an alarm clock and a vibrator and an sound-recorder and a music-player and all those other things. So in any sane world, a camera is generally going to win on picture-taking ergonomics.

Anyhow, Joe Rosensteel is a smart guy and that piece I linked is good, if you care about photography you’ll probably like it. But seriously, if you want to take pictures fast with minimum effort, get a camera.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Koobee (Apr 29 2023, at 22:07)

The transfer/uploading process is the biggest difference between them. So much easier on a connected phone. That’s the biggest pain point I notice when I pull out my old Nikon.


From: Roland Tanglao (Apr 30 2023, at 20:02)

If "real" cameras would auto-sync JPEGs (and RAWs but JPEG is fine) without bluetooth paper cuts :-) to my phone, I don't think I would ever use a phone camera again. Don't get me wrong I love phone cameras! I have taken 400,000 photos with phone cameras since my Nokia 7610 in 2014 but I like so-called real cameras more especially if auto-sync was rock solid rather than the mess it is today.


From: Tim (but not THE Tim) (Apr 30 2023, at 23:37)

My favorite 'fat finger fails' (Android):

Somehow changing to video mode

Somehow taking a 'burst' of shots

I agree that it is way to easy to screw up with a phone camera.


From: Paul Boddie (May 01 2023, at 03:57)

It's actually easier to get the pictures off my Olympus E-M5 than my smartphone: just take the SD card out and plug it into my computer, then copy the images from the file browser that offers to open itself. Taking the SD card out of the phone would be an annoyance, and although I can plug the phone in via USB, I then have to use adb to copy the pictures because Android and the phone industry conspire to be awful. Meanwhile, the camera behaves like storage media if plugged in via USB, if I tell it to: a simple and intuitive interaction seemingly beyond the usability wizards at Google.

The only way the phone might make it all easier is if I were to want to upload my phone's mediocre images directly to some cloud service, either over Wi-Fi or mobile data, presumably at substantially reduced speed. But I have no interest whatsoever in such a "cloud-first" lifestyle.

As for the ergonomics, I completely agree with you, Tim. People are going to get all sorts of chronic injuries with the grip where you have to hold the edges of a very thin, flat object while prodding at the surface of that object, squinting at the screen and trying not to obscure the super-wide-angle lens. But I suppose all of that is "easier" for some people if they tell that to themselves enough.


From: Doug K (May 01 2023, at 09:48)

recently I used an actual camera, for the first time in years.. a Nikon 1 with telephoto lens, to get pictures of sage grouse on their leks.

I'd forgotten just how fast and easy the camera is, and how much better its pictures are. The problem is committing to carrying the camera.. the phone is always there and quickly accessible. The camera is either an albatross around the neck, or buried safely in its protective case and has to be dug out.

For the future I'll take the camera if planning to take pictures. That is seldom unfortunately, just don't get out enough.

My Motorola phone switches on the camera when you shake it twice. This is handy and I use the feature daily..


From: Simon Griffee (May 02 2023, at 17:04)

One can take a photo nearly instantly with a camera by pointing it and pressing a button, and the button’s motion feels good, followed by the soft shulssshhh of a Fuji X-100S shutter or clanky kuh-cheeee of a EOS Digital Rebel 300D.

You’re working, and playing. You’re drawing. Photographing.

The phone feels cold and glassy and slow despite all the gestures, but it’s easy to share a quick snap, and to take photos of things like the Milky Way at night with the latest Apple models.

It, like the dedicated camera, serves well as a mirror to oneself, to see around corners, and as a light in the dark.

Both are good.

Both need to talk to each other more readily with whatever digital comms language works, such as blue teeth or whyfi.


From: 205guy (May 08 2023, at 20:59)

I was hooked by Joe's article, because my first camera was the Minolta X-700 that he has, and I also have one of the waterproof Panasonic/Lumix DMC-TS*. I have to agree with you about the ergonomics of the (D)SLR, as I chose the X-700 because of the very easy to control aperture priority mode. That lens ring makes it so easy to control depth of field in every situation (long or short). And wouldn't you know it, DoF is exactly what phone cameras can't do or still struggle with (and Joe highlights the issue of iOS's artificial bokeh).

But the huge irony (or blind spot) is that the Panasonic Lumix is my go-to absolutely fastest camera, and he dismisses it as a water camera only. I actually use mine as a rugged all-weather hiking camera that is always in my pocket. With physical buttons, I can hit the power-on as soon as I grab it in my pocket, then move my finger by feel to the shutter button, and with a fast power-up, I can take the picture as soon as the display appears in less than a second. No, it is not a top-of-the-line sensor or processor, but it does take very nice photos very quickly in places I would never expose my phone or want to carry anything larger.

I have noticed that the DMC-TS 3/4/5 are better quality than the DMC-TS 25/30/40 so maybe that's the difference. I have used mine underwater, it's OK, but nothing as good as an expensive camera in an expensive housing, and I have ruined more than one with sand in the seal causing a leak--but I keep buying them for the small and rugged form factor, super fast start-up, and rugged hiking abilities.


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