The camera itself was the biggest problem with camera phones once upon a time. Released in 2000, the J-SH04 was one of the world’s first camera phones. Things have come a long way since then. Tiny 0.11 megapixel images was all it could shoot. To give their phone a legs-up above the competition some mobile phone providers today have partnered up with Leica, whilst brands like Apple launched their “Shot on iPhone” campaign with other brands following suit, as nowadays the camera has become a big deal to any phone.
In-line with partnerships, it was revealed that the Nokia 9 PureView has Zeiss backing them up.
It features no less than 5 cameras. It has an excellent dynamic range, amazing low light capability, 3 monochrome cameras as part of its monochrome mode for RAW shooting, which all combines to capture a vast amount of detail. It’s a camera anyone would want with their phone for the best image quality you can get; what photographer does want that?
Well, camera phones are notorious for dashing those hopes and dreams so you might just want to slap yourself before embarking on your quest for the best one!
People just want one device; if you have a great camera on a device that can take calls and browse the web it means you can leave your pocket camera at home. The Sony Satio was one of the first ones to push the camera, then came the sleek but ultimately garbage Samsung Galaxy Zoom, the Panasonic CM1 looked like a camera, and the LG G5 came with a camera grip.
The above shot was taken using a Blackberry Priv.
This one was taken with a Samsung Galaxy Zoom.
This one was taken with the LG G5.
Again, the Blackberry Priv.
And finally, the Panasonic CM1.
There is good news and bad news. Every day, camera phones get more and more advanced, of this there is little doubt – that’s the good news. The Panasonic CM1 crammed a 1-inch sensor into a very small portable package. Relatively recent phones like this one can produce some pretty outstanding work. Getting stealthy shots is one advantage of being able to totally fake using your phone which makes camera phones ideal for street photography. That’s the first advantage. The second is the incredible frames-per-second. The old G5, for example, has 30 fps, and many modern phones offer increased fps.
But, there is an issue, despite camera phones being able to produce good images.
The Problem With Camera Phones.
The handling of the camera is something that they lack despite having the camera power. Phones have had “good enough” image quality for a few years now but the reason you can’t trust them is that every single camera phone out there are phones first. The camera feature has been added after the fact that they were made to handle like phones.
Notice the configuration of the hands in this image as someone attempts to get the shot on the camera phone.
This is very limiting for photographers and less than ideal. Because most phones will not allow for one-handed shooting this is especially true for street photographers. So, the lusting for ever-increased tech in phones becomes redundant because any new innovation can’t escape the fact that they’ll handle like all the other phones.
The Panasonic CM1 was a camera phone that many believed to be the zenith of camera phones, having both the camera power as well as looking very camera-ish. But, again, the handling. Even with a grip added to make it more camera-like the handling still remains phone-like. But that’s just it, phone manufacturers are thinking primarily about image quality over handling.
If you can’t get the images you want, it doesn’t matter how good your camera is. The LG G5 is a case in point: even though the handling isn’t great, even with a camera grip, the fact that is can shoot 30fps might lead you to believe that if you can just get 3 to 5 seconds worth of images there’s a possibility that you could get the shot. But it is simply not the case since you can never frame correctly despite the fps.
It all comes down to the realisation that if you can’t hold the phone well enough you’ll probably miss that crucial angle in the time it takes to pull out your phone and position yourself and there is nothing more frustrating than that if you can see the shot. Those types of in-the-moment shots are missed in the fracas of touching the screen or toggling the menus to change settings, for example.
Granted, this does not necessarily apply to those who don’t need to shoot quickly or at angles, like landscape shooters, for example. But for street photographers, even despite the advancements in the past 10 years, the result is still frustrating. Again, the handling is just not there as well as the ease of changing settings. Even the Panasonic CM1 that has a dial on the front just doesn’t cut it. If you need things fast, it’s not going to work if you have have to go press buttons to change the settings from shutter speed to ISO – at minimum, a serious camera needs 2 dials to change settings.
To have the entire photographic process from capture to publishing right in your pocket on the first device in history to be able to do so makes all this a little ironic. To have a device with a high IQ like 30 fps can still be less preferable to your 8 year old pocket camera.
The reason, again, simply, is the handling. It’s the one thing phones are missing. And on top of that, these types of innovations for camera-phones are probably never going to happen simply because phone needs are different to camera needs. The best camera phone would probably be like a camera with a touchscreen in the back. But what about the dials and buttons? As phone users, we probably wouldn’t want anything messing with that screen interface; as a camera user you want the buttons. On a phone, however, accidentally pressing random buttons could be a problem.
What do you notice when you take your pocket camera and hold it in front of you? Your thumb and lower thumb area are accommodated by the design of the back area. This design means a better grip leaving your index finger to press the shutter release button.
So, bulk… Camera’s are bulky and what’s great about bulk is handling. You can hold it better. Phones stopped being bulky a long time ago. When you want to hold your slabby phone with one hand it feels weird as your fingers try to get a grip on the back of the phone to not let it slip.
Is There A Solution?
Now to the good news: there is a solution to the conundrum between phone and camera. A modular phone. The phone can be removed to be its own slab, or you can put it into a camera module to get a nice grip with buttons. “Pictar” wanted to do this …
You can see how the guy is handling the phone, and observe the thumb rest area. Something like that, but with normal camera buttons in the back. But the way things are going with modular phones, where nothing ever pans out, this is more of a pipe dream than anything.
Because camera phones get even more awesome every day is the reason that they’re so loveable. But if you can’t get the shot it doesn’t matter how great they are. So, after 10 years of advancements the main problem simply comes down to handling. But the thing is, it would probably suck as a phone if you just add camera handling to one even though this looks like the solution to the problem on the surface. So, it will be interesting to see in future whether brands like Samsung or Nokia will make a move to produce a phone that makes photographers want to leave their dedicated compacts at home.
Words by Elijah (Content Marketer).