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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Monday May 06 2013

That mobile phones have cameras means that even regular people now always have a camera with them.  Already, mobile phone cameras are quite good.  Soon, they will be as good as all but the best cameras, to the point where ever more people will be satisfied with their mobile phone cameras, and accordingly won’t want to be bothering with dedicated cameras at all.  This transition is already under way, a fact which I regularly track whenever I roam about London snapping (among other delights) my fellow snappers and their snapping machines. 

This photographer, for instance, looks like he’s using a “phone”, the inverted commas there being because these things are so much more than phones, to the point where the phoning is almost an afterthought.  As Michael Jennings said last night, it really is something of an accident that we just happen to call these things “phones”.

Here is a photo I took with my Google Nexus 4, very soon after I got it, of Randy Barnett (already featured here in this earlier posting - bottom right of the first lot of pictures there), speaking at Freedom Forum 2013:

image

As you can see, the quality is okay, but only okay.  Compare with the zoomed photo (at the link above) of Barnett, and you can easily see the difference that a better camera makes.  If the Google Nexus 4 camera has a zoom feature, I have yet to discover it.

As the picture above shows, I (of course) had my regular camera with me at FF2013.  But last night I was out and about for a short while, without that camera, only the Google Nexus 4.  I was dining at Chateau Samizdata, and collecting Amazon stuff that I have delivered there rather than at my own front door, because at my own front door there have been robberies.  So anyway, a recent arrive at CS was a keyboard, for use with the GN4, but although pre-warned that this keyboard would require two AAA batteries to make it go, I had forgotten to bring these with me.  So, I nipped out to buy some.  Without my regular camera.

Sod’s Law decrees that whenever you are out and about without your camera, interesting things will immediately present themselves to you.  And one such interesting thing did, in the form of a sign making use of the double meaning of the word Pole.  But, Sod’s Law was held at bay by my GN4, which I did have with me, in my jacket pocket, because keeping the GN4 in my jacket pocket at all times except when I am using it is The Rule.  Snap snap, which fortunately I had more or less learned how to do:

image

The GN4 may not be much good for distance Big Things, and the like, but it is fine for a sign.

And since the sign was the point, even though I do like scaffolding, here is the bit of the picture with the sign:

image

No computerised trickery there, apart from the cropping.  More than somewhat blurry, but entirely legible, the whole point of letters being that they hack their way through exactly such communicational barriers.

I believe it is possible to zoom in the Nexus 4’s camera mode. Touch the screen with two fingers, then move them away from each other in a motion akin to “stretching” the picture. Then you should get a “magnification” level displayed on-screen to confirm that it worked. (As a side note, this technique, along with the “rotate”, is best perfected using the Google Earth application, which I recommend if you haven’t tried it yet).

What I don’t know is whether this method employs optical or digital zoom, the latter being less useful, although still potentially saving you having to crop later.

Posted by Darren on 08 May 2013

It’s only a digital zoom though. Smartphones have lots of other components in them and, worse, are very thin. This means that it is not possible to fit in an optical zoom, and also that the camera’s sensor has to be physically very small and the low light performance is often poor, which I think is the big problem with the Randy Barnett photo. However, if you are taking photos in good light of things that are not very far away, smartphone cameras are getting to be pretty good.

Economies of scale are so huge that progress is being made on the low light issue (the new HTC One is very good in this regard, I hear). The lack of the optical zoom issue is harder to surmount. Samsung are doing interesting experiments though - seeing what you get when you start with a camera and add a phone rather than the other way round.

http://www.android.gs/samsung-galaxy-s4-camera-phone-is-in-the-works-its-called-galaxy-s4-zoom/

Posted by Michael Jennings on 08 May 2013

I agree with Michael Jennings’ doubts and there is another thing to add: bokeh. Photographers love it and phone will just never be able to give you any.

I thought the artefacting (lumpy bits that shouldn’t be there) in the Poles crop was pretty bad too actually and there was some fringing (CA) which will presumably be much worse in more challenging conditions.

Maybe we need a Campaign for Real cameras. Anyone think of a good acronym?

Posted by Torquil Macneil on 09 May 2013

I agree with all that’s been said - phonecams are undoubtedly inferior. But I thought one of Brian’s points was that this enables him to take shots he wouldn’t otherwise take (since he was just nipping out for batteries), and if the shot is primarily of “digital” data, such as the text on a poster, then the quality is not so important.

If Brian’s Nexus 4 means more blog posts like this, I’m all for it!

Posted by Darren on 09 May 2013

I don’t think “doubts” is quite the word I would use. Smartphone cameras have certain weaknesses, but there are still a great many circumstances when they are highly useful.

I do roll my eyes a bit when people inside the Silicon Valley and phone industries make remarks like “There is now no reason for anyone to buy a point and shoot digital camera”, though, as they have been prone to in recent months. The Fuji point and shoot that I can buy in my local Asda costs £50, has a proper zoom and a decent sensor, and is a much better camera than that found in any smartphone. Also, a decent smartphone will cost you £250 plus, so price alone would be a reason even if it wasn’t a better camera.

I can only conclude that people who say things like this have never used any other camera, but have noticed that smartphone cameras get better every year, and so now think that smartphone cameras are good, when they are in fact at best mediocre.

Which does not change the fact that if the smartphone camera is the one one you have with you, it is good enough to usually get the shot.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 11 May 2013

Apart from the fact that the device is made by Google, there isn’t anything exciting about Nexus4.

Posted by MNB Achari on 15 May 2013
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