Mirrorless or Smartphone?



Excellent article by Heather at Mirrorlessons. I've been meaning to write my own post on this, but I've been so busy lately I haven't had time. However, in the comment section of the above post I wrote this:- 

'This is today's MF v 35mm, Film v Digital and DSLR v Mirrorless debate. And it's set to run and run. It's convenience versus quality and yes new versus old. The latter because smartphones / devices etc. are the first picture taking machines that have truly embraced digital, rather than just bolt digital capture onto what are basically still modified film cameras. Smartphones are wonderful because they have brought photography from an activity that was becoming regarded as deeply suspicious by many to something that is centre stage in peoples lives.

This is down in part to the devices themselves and the rise of social media. And while for most it is simply a way to document their lives, for some, like myself it's a way to approach photography from a different angle and basically shake up the attitudes and ways of working that I've been happy with for years. I love the immediacy, the flexibility and the 'invisibility' of using 'devices' and I've just spent several days experimenting with a GoPro and have been amazed at what it offers me.

And just like all those 'debates' I outlined earlier, there will be resistance to what is perceived as a qualitative 'loss' but then remember which alternative turned out to be the 'winner' in all those debates. In real terms the best smartphones / devices are a match for scanned 35mm film, the early days of digital and virtually all small sensor compact cameras and from the number of smartphone images that I sell and get published, it's obvious that the buyers of photography have less issue with the output than many photographers.

Finally it's clear that amount of R & D being thrown at smartphones is going to improve the quality. I'm actually stunned by the massive improvements I've seen in just the last two years and would even go so far as to suggest that if this rate of development continues, smartphone technology and quality could surpass ' conventional' cameras in a few years time. Because there is no doubt that this is where the market is. Smartphones outsell stand alone cameras 10:1 and there are many who feel no need to consider anything else for their photographic needs. And strange as it may seem coming from someone who makes his living from photography, that is an idea that seems to be creeping up on me.'

Thinking about this more I thought I would expand those thoughts. 

As time goes on I seem to use more 'devices' than cameras. (Though the two are not mutually exclusive) I now have 4 Smartphones, 3 iPads, an iPod Touch and a GoPro Hero4 Black. And for a while now my collection of DSLR's and Mirrorless cameras has been sitting on the shelf wondering what they have done to offend me. The answer of course is nothing, but I seem to get something from using the smaller, simpler mobile devices that I don't get from my 'conventional' cameras. And for whatever reason I seem to create more interesting images with them. I also spend as much time editing images with Snapseed on my iPad as I do with Photoshop on my computers and again I seem to get results I find more interesting. And gradually the people who buy my images seem to feel the same. It's a slow process, but I am steadily selling more smartphone / device images week by week. Even the stuff with substantial filtering added. So what is all this about?

Well I have no definitive answer, but I've got some thoughts as to what might be happening. 


There is no doubt that smartphones, which make phone calls, access the internet and offer apps. that can do a myriad of other things as well as take pictures are seriously good value. They are also very small. And since most of us carry them around anyway it's an easy way to have a picture creating device on hand 24/7. They therefore make picture taking nothing special and a 'run of the mill' activity.


The social network sites, which integrate seamlessly with smartphones offer a 'home' for our images. It's an easy process and despite camera manufacturers attempts to persuade us about their wi-fi capabilities it's easier and quicker to do it with a phone or tablet. And we have a reason to both take and publish pictures and share them with friends and family. Taking images on a stand alone camera is still pretty much a solitary process for most of us, whereas socially networked smartphone images are instant, up to date and part of an evolving relationship with people we are aware of and are aware of us. Personally, as I expressed in my respone to the article above, I think it's wonderful that still 2-D photography is at it's most popular and this is down to smartworks and the social network.


Now for some this isn't an advantage. It's obvious from the comments on many websites that lot's of recreational photograhers actually want to have the camera they are using noticed, because for them having their camera seen and 'appreciated' is a lot more important than the pictues they take. Smartphones and people taking pictures with them are now such a part of everyday life that no one notices any more. Handy for people like me trying to take images of everyday life of course but often not the priority for the gear obsessed hobbyist.


One of the reasons I think that 'Instagramming' images is so popular is that in many ways Digital Capture is so clean and accurate these days that it's actually a bit boring. One of the things I liked about film was the possibility to use different brands to get a different look. I've often written how my film scans sell a lot more proportionately than my digital images by quite some distance. They do look different and the sameness about digital sensor capture is an issue I'm constantly battling with. And I'm still editing every single image individually in an attempt to impose a 'film look' onto them.


In what might seem to be contradiction of the above paragraph I would make the point that a lot of cameras and 'advice' on how to use them is still film based. Now for me it isn't a contradiction because I like a 'film look' in my images, but I also try to resist using film based methods and film camera lookalike machines to capture those images. I argue constantly that the camera manufacturers are still making cameras that look as they have done for decades. Whatever you think about a phone taking pictures, it's sure a different looking beast. And after buying a GoPro a few days ago, any resemblance to an SLR or rangefinder design has been completely eleiminated. It's pretty much a matchbox with a lens. 


The best smartphones / devices are now incredibly good at capturing images. Despite the small sensors and small lenses with fixed apertures they do turn out some great images capable of large scale reproduction. I've just bought an iPod Touch as a wi-fi controller for the GoPro and as a camera in it's own right. For £160 I've actually got a cracking little camera, that shoots great stills, great video and amazingly good very high-res 100MB+ panoramas. It's the same camera as the iPhone 6 and I suspect I'll be looking very seriously at the next iPhone. The GoPro is also incredibly good. It's seriously sharp, the 4K video is breathtaking and for it's size it's simply amazing. I'll be writing more about it later, but it is a very different image creating tool for me, but one I seem to be warming to every time I use it.


And the end of the last paragraph is an indication of how this impacts on me. I've been doing this photography thing for a while now and pretty much in the same way. This 'smartphone aesthetic' is opening up all sorts of possibilities for me. Different ways of creating images and indeed different images as well. I'm much more inclined to take a chance and be experimental with my phones than a conventional camera. I've even bought a selfie stick. Not, I hasten to say to pollute the internet with even more grizzly self-portraits, but because I can use it to get images from those places I can't reach or get to. It is basically just a converted monopod after all.

So there it is, some thoughts on why I find this different way of working so compelling. Sure there are frustrations getting all this stuff to work together and it's nowhere near as 'hassle free' as the manufacturers make it out to be, but I'm having fun and creating lots of different looking images of different. As ever check out my social media accounts to see what I'm up to. 

So I'll wrap up here since I'm off out to see what that iPod Touch can do.

Finally here's a link to a set of pictures shot with the GoPro.