Dear Phone Manufacturers/Brands,
It has been raining phone launches of late, and while most of the attention still is hogged by the design-processor-display-price quartet, a recent trend that I’ve observed in many of your events is a stress on the camera of your phones. From Samsung on the Galaxy S6 to Huawei on the Honor 6 Plus to Xiaomi on the Mi 4i (yes, yes, Hugo Barra DID talk about HDR mode), the camera suddenly has got increased importance as far as being a phone component goes.
Now, this is certainly not a bad thing – after all, phones take more pictures today than do “normal” cameras, and rare indeed is the waking hour that passes in many of our digital lives without our being involved with a phone’s camera in some: whether it is seeing someone take a picture, seeing a picture taken by someone, or taking one ourselves. There are thousands of apps based around photographs and cellphone photography has got so important that Google’s announcement of Google Photos got as much attention in the mainstream media as the features of Android M. And heavens, ‘selfie’ was the new word of the year not too long ago, if memory serves me right.
So, no, I have no problems with your waxing eloquent about the cameras on your devices. It certainly makes more sense than talking about the processor or RAM, because a camera is something a person can actually check physically without depending on benchmarks and the like. Talking about what a phone’s camera can do and its features is therefore, a very good idea indeed.
My problem, however, is that far too many of you far too often use a DSLR as a reference point to the quality of your phone’s camera. If I had a penny for every time I have heard the word ‘DSLR quality’ in a cellphone camera presentation, I would have enough to buy a really swank camera myself. I have been taking pictures on phones since 2005, and although I’m a relatively new DSLR user – I started using one only in 2010 – but even I can tell you that you are barking up the wrong tree there.
In fact, the very term ‘DSLR quality’ is a dubious one. For, believe you me, most people who know a bit about photography do NOT buy a DSLR for stunning image quality. You can get very good image quality from point and shoot cameras like the Sony Cyber-shot RX100. In fact, if you define image quality in terms of color and detail (and most of us do), a decent point and shooter can often run a DSLR close.
No, what makes DSLRs special is not the quality of the output they give, even though that is very good too – some point and shoot cameras have better sensors.
What makes DSLRs special is the level of control and customisation that you get. In many ways, a DSLR is a camera version of Google’s Project Ara, allowing you to change the device as per your needs. You want close ups? Get a macro lens. You want to snap away at wildlife? Get thee a telephoto lens. You want a different flash? Attach it. Want a microphone? Attach that as well. All this without compromising on the core sensor and processor of the device. It is this ability to add and subtract at will that makes a DSLR a long-term investment for many photographers – “You buy a DSLR camera only once. After that you buy lenses and stuff for it,” a photographer friend of mine once remarked.
So you know something? When a person talks about a DSLR, he or she is not just talking of image quality, but of something more – an incredible amount of flexibility that lets them adapt the camera to their needs and requirements.
And let’s be brutally honest – cellphone cameras are nowhere near offering anything remotely similar. At the most, you might attach some lenses externally to a phone (a phone’s camera is not designed to accommodate other lenses) and maybe rig up a flash to one of its ports, but by and large, a phone’s camera cannot be changed – it is simply not designed for it.
What a phone’s camera IS designed for – is to deliver decent results – simply and with minimum fuss. Yes, it might try to mimic the controls a DSLR has in terms of white balance, different modes, ISO tweaks and the like, but at the end of the day, for most users, their phone’s cameras biggest asset is its simplicity. In many ways, a phone camera is the ultimate point and shooter!
What it certainly is not, is a DSLR. And believe me, most consumers would not want it to be one. Because all that felxibility that a DSLR provides comes at the cost of convenience – DSLRs are big, bulky and difficult to carry. Just try taking a selfie with one if you believe us not.
No matter what the camera companies tell you, a DSLR is a device best suited for someone who knows a bit about photography.
A phone camera on the other hand is for anyone who wants to take a picture.
In short, anyone can use a phone camera well, while a certain amount of skill is needed to get to grips with a decent DSLR. Why would you want to change that? Why these comparisons with the image quality of a device that is better known for its flexibility? A phone’s camera is a thing of beauty for its simplicity and ease of use, its sheer accessibility, why compare it with something that is more compex and designed with a different objective?
Instead of saying “DSLR quality images” why not simply say “high quality images, rich in colour and detail, images that you would want to share, that you would like to see, that you would like to keep on your device because you will never tire of them…”
Because most cellphone photographers – or Cell Shutterbugs, as I like to call them – are not chasing photographic excellence, but simply a photograph. They are not looking for a shot that can be framed and kept on a wall or printed in a book, but something that will be good enough to get a like on Facebook or Instagram.
Do them a favour. Drop the DSLR word. You don’t need it.
Cellphone photography is a simpler world. And believe me, that’s not a bad thing. After all, a man once said that
simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But…once you get there, you can move mountains.
He should know. He was the man behind what many people call the world’s most popular camera. Cellphone cameras have moved the world. They have brought photography out of the studios, yanked it out of the hands of big-bag-toting photographers who insisted taking a picture was a tough task, and made it mainstream. They are the most popular cameras in the world today and if photography was a democracy, an iPhone would perhaps be its Prime Minister.
They are not DSLRs. They do not need to be. Why compare them then?