Ten years ago in 2005, Sony Ericsson released a phone in which the camera was not just an add-on or a slice of trivia on the spec sheet. The Sony Ericsson Cyber-Shot K750’s 2.0-megapixel camera might seem unremarkable and severely sub-par in the modern era, where even phones below USD 100 come with 8.0-megapixel shooters, but at that time it was a big deal. And it was also perhaps the first time a phone was sold on the strength of its camera – the keyboard was a bit cramped and the navigational joystick was not the greatest, but for many of us, the K750 represented the beginning of the era of the cameraphones, a period in which phone cameras suddenly started challenging point and shoot ‘proper’ cameras. Of course, social networking was not a rage at that stage so it was some time before the cameraphone revolution really began (the Nokia N95 would be the first major salvo fired in that), but when people ask us about the first really good camera on a phone or the first phone that could be used in place of a point and shoot camera, we think of the K750i.
Ten years have passed since, and the camera is now a core part of the phone and with sharing on social networks becoming the rule (hey, this is the “if it ain’t on Instagram, you did not do it” era), more photography is being done on phones than on ‘proper’ cameras – in fact, the iPhone is one of the most popular cameras even on Flickr! We could go on and on talking of the technological changes that have occurred in phone cameras in this decade, but we are instead going to talk of ten things that we have observed about people – and we mean, normal, non-geeky people – and the way in which they take pictures with their phones. No, this is not scientific research, but are are just observations based on how people take pictures with their phones – on the road, in a bus, in an office, in a cafe…in the normal business of life. You might not agree with some (or even all) of them, but this is what we have observed about mainstream users and phone photography:
1. Default settings are rarely changed
No matter how many options manufacturers add to the camera UI, most people are unlikely to change the default settings of the camera. We saw an example of this recently when many people complained that the new Moto E did not support touch to focus – it did, but was not turned on by default. Similarly, we have seen a number of people complain their phone camera was not taking full resolution shots, only to discover that the default had been set to a lower resolution.
2. The shutter button rules
In spite of features like smile recognition and gesture control, most people still use the on-screen or the dedicated hardware shutter button to take photographs. Perhaps there is a case for the hardware buttons for cameras to be brought back.
3. The default camera app is almost always used
There are several photography apps out there in the app stores and we have seen people download quite a few, but when it comes to using the camera, it is the default app that most people go to.
4. Touch to snap, not to focus
Touch to focus is available on most phone cameras now, but most users still prefer to keep the focus of the camera bang in the centre and do not use the feature that much. It might be because phones are getting so big that holding them in one hand and picking an object to focus on is not easy, or maybe it is just that most people do not care and just go along with what they did with point and shooters.
5. Shooting modes? No, thanks, auto will do!
Manufacturers might be stacking phone cameras with dozens of shooting modes (macro, sport, night, etc.), but when it comes to users, most stick to ‘auto’ and just carry on.
6. People love the flash
If there is one setting that people do change on their phone cameras, it is that of the flash. We have lost count of the number of people who actually force the flash to fire, considering it some kind of proof that a photograph has been taken. For all the talk of optical image stabilisation (OIS) and better low light photography, most people still tend to depend heavily on the flash when it comes to low light photography. Of course, this could also be because the default settings of the camera (where the flash is on auto, and will inevitably fire in the night).
7. People like brighter effects/filters
There are dozens of effects and filters available across several photo editing apps, but we have generally seen that people tend to go for brighter filters and effects rather than subtle ones. Instagram’s retro effects might be a rage all over the world, but most people we have seen prefer a brighter shot as compared to a more subtly hued one – Ludwig and Lo-Fi are very popular among the Instagram ones.
8. Food is edited more than selfies are
All right, this is weird, but we think that people actually tend to spend more time trying to get the perfect food shot than the selfie. We have seen heavily edited food shots and relatively plain selfies. In fact, it is very rare to see an edited selfie and an unedited food shot. Era of food porn indeed.
9. Mirror selfies remain popular
Yes, the front facing cameras might have got better than ever, but we still get amazed at the number of ‘mirror selfies’ that many take, even though this involves having the phone and the arm holding it generally well in front of you and obstructing the shot. Perhaps a lot of people do not realise just how possible the front facing cameras on some devices are!
10. A lot of phone photography is one-handed/portrait mode
We think that a lot of people take pictures with their phones using just one hand and more often than not with the phone in portrait orientation. We have asked a few people why they do this and their answer is that it allows them to grip the phone more firmly and also keep a hand free. Not too many people like holding a phone with both hands, unless typing. This is actually a far cry from the days on non-touch phones where a lot of photography happened in landscape mode.