Do You Need A ‘Proper’ Camera?

FullSizeRender (1)I absolutely love my Sony A7iii camera. It’s a fabulous camera to use, and with it’s full frame 24Mpx sensor, unrivalled dynamic range, and superb Zeiss and Sony lenses, it’s capable of the highest quality images.  The downside though is that it’s a fair amount of kit to carry around, and needs to be used carefully to get the best out of it. Fine for a dedicated photo ‘expedition’ but overkill for casual photography – definitely not something to carry around all the time.

Enter my new iPhone XR – every iteration of mobile phones has a better camera built in, and the latest iPhones are no exception. A 12 Mpx camera is standard, and amazing processing power means that photos can be subsequently edited to alter the depth of field – something that defies the usual laws of photography. But how good is the camera for ‘everyday’ photos? – those situations where you wouldn’t realistically be carrying a ‘serious’ camera and lenses.

FullSizeRenderToday gave me the opportunity to check that out – a bright and cold start, with lots of great colours in the sky, and pretty much wall to wall sunshine for the rest of the day.  Photo #1 was taken very early, and just a few yards from home, while photo #2 was taken an hour or so later when the sun was fully up. The rest of the photos were taken late morning – looking across at a local wood, and then near the local canal.  All photos were taken in RAW format, using the Moment Camera App, and then processed in Snapseed on the phone to convert to mono or enhance the colour etc, and to add the border and frames.

Snapseed (1)A phone-camera is never going to be a match for a dedicated camera with a much larger sensor and inter-changeable lenses, especially for nature or sport photography, or in adverse lighting conditions, but for ‘casual’ shooting the results are pretty amazing.  I’m confident that with my new phone I can take photos that I wouldn’t otherwise get, just because I wouldn’t have a bigger or better camera with me. I have a wide angle adapter lens on order which will help with landscape and architectural shots, and I may also get a telephoto adapter too – ideal for portraits.

Judge for yourself whether you think these are ‘worthwhile’ photos – I’m certainly happy with them.


Zoom or Prime Lenses?

This week I’ve been following a lengthy thread on a photo forum about the merits of zoom vs. prime lenses. Quite heated at times, the arguments debate the convenience of zoom lenses (less weight overall, speedy change of focal length) with the quality of zoom lenses (wider apertures and sharper images generally). The zoom camp accuse prime supporters of being ‘pixel peepers’ – those only interested in the absolute technical performance of a lens rather than the ability to take good photos, while prime supporters maybe imply that zoomers are too lazy to walk backwards or forwards to best frame their photo.

Of course, these arguments are more or less valid depending on the situation; in a fast moving reportage situation the ability to quickly zoom in on action may be the difference between getting and missing a vital shot, while a landscape photo may benefit from a little extra sharpness that a prime lens can give if used carefully. One new argument (to me anyway) is that zoom lenses stifle creativity – its all too easy to just blast away without thinking about how best to frame a shot, and indeed if a subtle change of perspective will enhance a photo.

This got me thinking – since switching from a film camera to digital a few years ago, I’ve mostly used zoom lenses, and I have to say I haven’t always been happy with the photos I’ve taken.  Certainly the proportion of ‘keepers’ – those photos good enough for me to want to retain them even if they are not my absolute favourites, has dropped. Now of course one big factor is the negligible on-cost of each photo taken with digital, compared to the £1.00+ cost of each 6x7cm transparency – with film, you had to make every shot count, whereas with digital the temptation is to just blast away, and select the best later. But there’s more to it than that – even when I’ve taken a number of digital photos of a given subject, I’ve not always been satisfied that I’ve got ‘that’ perfect picture, even though I may have tried any number of exposure or focus combinations. It’s not necessarily that the images aren’t sharp or whatever, they just don’t quite work…

So maybe there’s something about using prime lenses that helps you take better pictures – perhaps its because you need to take time to frame the shot, moving backwards and forwards until the elements are just right, or maybe it causes you to look at a subject differently? So this week, to try and get a feel for this, I went out for an afternoon with JUST prime lenses to see how I got on. Subject was ‘The Roaches’ – a wind-carved outcrop of gritstone rocks in the Peak District National Park about 4 miles north of Leek, Staffordshire and 8 miles south of Buxton, Derbyshire. The weather wasn’t perfect – fairly cloudy for most of the afternoon, and also hazy following a few warm days.

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Anyway, I walked/climbed up to the summit, along the ridge to Docksey Pool and back – a couple of hours in total.  Armed with 14mm, 23mm (borrowed), 35mm and 60mm lenses, and a lightweight tripod which I didn’t actually use, I really enjoyed the more leisurely pace that shooting with primes enforces, in particular adjusting my position to best frame each shot, and taking the time to use a graduated filter to balance/darken the sky when needed.  I mainly used the 14mm wide-angle, but also took a few shots with the 23mm and 35mm, and have to say I was amazed at the sharpness and clarity of them.  I can’t claim they are masterpieces, but I’m sufficiently happy to want to continue the experiment. A few of my favourites from the day are here.