Mirrorless AND Smartphone - The Shock of the New.

Yesterday I wrote a piece entitled Mirrorless or Smartphone? But the two obviously don't have to be mutually exclusive. We're talking small, light picture creating devices here and yesterday I went out with four of them.

  • LEICA D-LUX (Typ 109) - 4K VIDEO & 12MP Stills
  • GOPRO HERO4 (attached to Leica) - 4K VIDEO & 12MP Stills
  • SAMSUNG K-ZOOM - 20MP Stills + Zoom Lens ('24-240')
  • APPLE iPOD TOUCH - 8MP Stills and up to 38MP Panoramas

I pretty much had everything covered and since it was a very hot muggy day with a few small hills to climb I was very glad of the small size and weight of the whole outfit. I was able to take a variety of shots and even take some video grabs from 4K video footage, enabling me to put together a selection of stock images for various libraries. This is of course in complete contrast to how I've been working in the past. There are no interchangeable lenses here. I just reach for another camera to get what I want. 

Back home I used Photoshop or Snapseed to edit the images and I'm now getting into the habit of producing edited versions from each. Some libraries like the filtered versions, some the 'straight' versions. The examples above show a mixture of processing styles.

Apart from anything else this is great fun and allows me to experiment and create different types of images. I particularly like the super wide GoPro images and the iPod Touch panoramas. I imagine some might think I'm compromising on quality here, but in terms of what I want to produce, not so much. The bulk of picture library sales across the world, for everyone, everywhere, are less than A4 (and often a lot less than that) and publishing is now at least 50% (and probably a lot more) via the internet. I used to write about big MP files being useful for cropping, but to be honest there is so much good stuff available for sale that I suspect it's extremely rare for picture buyers to have to crop images to get what they want. So if I do lose any sales because of the smaller file sizes, I doubt it's in any way significant.

This is becoming my method of working these days. A 'conventional' camera and 1, 2 or even 3 smartphones. As you can see I've got an adapter to put the GoPro onto a hotshoe and the iPod Touch is very small and light so it's really no hassle whatsoever to carry all these options around. In fact a lot less weight, bulk and size than the camera bodies and extra lenses I've been using for the majority of my photographic life.

For me, most of all, the appeal of working this way is thats it is (at last!) an embracing of digital capture that doesn't restrict my photography with all the encumbrance of using film camera design and philosophy. Because, ultimately that stifles creativity, encourages habits that keep photographic expression trapped in some perceived golden bygone age (it wasn't!) and has little relevance to how images are being used today. The notion that somehow mirrorless cameras are 'revoutionary' (an idea, yes, I might have had some part in promoting) is patently not true. The differences between an interchangeable lens Medium Format system, an interchangeable lens DSLR system, an interchangeable lens rangefinder system and an interchangeable lens mirrorless systems are only differences of scale and size. The method of operation is much the same and the perceptions of how people create images with these systems are rooted in the past. And the vast numbers of people taking up and using photography and ignoring all of that is surely proof of a change.

What happened when the DSLR and the photographic enthusiast / hobbyist was the face of non-professional photography? Camera clubs and their competitions, camera snobbery and one-upmanship, mystical chemical fomulas, elitism, the zone system (look it up) and other assorted nonsense designed to make and keep photography esoteric and the practioners of it full of a sense of undeserved self-importance and of course members of some kind of 'exclusive' club. And it meant very limited numbers of people taking photographs. Sound familiar? Yes it's exactly what the forums and the fanboy sites are still full of. Plus, of course, until relatively recently, saying you were a photographer was the equivalent of admitting you enjoy clubbling baby seals to death with a pickaxe, in the eyes of some. The people who 'killed' Princess Diana, Terrorists and Paedophiles seemed to sum up those of us who chose to roam the world with a camera and some lenses. And more and more restrictions on photography were introduced and it seemed this was doomed to be the kind of activity carried out only by consenting adults in the privacy of their own homes.

Enter the smarphone. The democractising tool of photography. And yes the quality was terrible to start with and yes it has unfortunately created the ghastly phenomenon of the 'selfie' but it is the medium of expression and information that really does open a window on our world. Watching the news today I've seen some extraordinary footage of a chemical plant in China exploding. Truly shocking, but compelling none the less. It was of course shot on a smartphone by people living close by. So all that 'advice' handed out to photographers about always carrying a camera is now reduntant. We all (or most of us) do that as a matter of course. And the quality of these mobile devices is getting better and better. As ever these days I'm seriously impressed by the small sensor, small lens cameras I seem to be accumulating. I've already enthused about the Nokia Lumia 1020 and I have to say that the GoPro Hero4 and iPod Touch I've just boaught are equally impressive. Both are way beyond the somewhat low expectations I would have had of gear like this only a short time ago.

But there are hobbyist / enthusiast / amateur / leisure photographers who can't actually cope with this. In a conversation I had with Heather at Mirrorlessons in a comments section she wrote this 'Thanks for the comment, David. I really like what you said about smartphones turning photography into an activity that has become "the centre stage in people's lives". Many photographers bemoan this change, in part because of the competition it has spawned, but I believe it is a change we must all embrace.' And I agree 100%. Because it's moving away from the notion that what makes a photographer special is the gear they use and not the images they create. And some find that very hard to cope with. (I would point out that they aren't all my age either.) And whether it's insecurity, jealousy, loss of respect or simply because they aren't doing something different to the crowd any more, it's obvious that many people who own cameras retreat into a kind of lash out in every direction, angry, agressive, defensive, specification obsessed paralysis, which means they can't take a picture unless they believe they have the right gear (or attempt to convince themselves and others that is the case). And yes I will freely admit to having elements of that in many of my early articles for this blog. 

But one thing I am able to do is change. Change my opinions, my ways of working and my attitudes to things. I have no hesitation in being convinced by the evidence of my own eyes and dogma and the inability to take another route are not part of my personality. (Though I fear my undying and undiminished support for Birmingham City Football Club will be with me to the grave. Illogical, misguided and painful though that might be!!!) And to be honest, part of the reason I often get rid of a certain camera is that I don't want to be associated with those who suffer from that particularly hard to understand affliction, camera brand loyalty. I have no way of knowing, since I've never compared it with my peers, but I get a lot of stick in terms of comments when I 'dare' to write that something isn't perfect. You don't get to read this bile, since I moderate it out, but it does turn up in my email. And another benefit of using smartphones is that I don't get that. Simply because smartphone photographers aren't the least bit interested in reading some blog about photographic gear.

So am I actually 'sabotaging' my audience and moving away from the people who read what I write? Well maybe I am, but I would hope to take at least a few of you with me. If not doing what I do (which I always discourage anyway) but just out of interest as to where this might lead. And this blog isn't my 'day job' anyway. Creating images, editing, captioning, keywording and uploading them to picture libraries is. And the point is I can do that just as well, if not under some circumstances better, with smartphones and devices rather than interchangeable lens systems. That's not to say that I will at some point go 'device only' I like using my DSLR's and other cameras too much for that. Plus if I did that I'd be restricting myself just as much as what I'm writing about. 

And I have to say that the thought of having a choice of a Nikon D750 and / or a GoPro Hero4 is something that excites me in terms of possibilities. I haven't yet got round to attaching the GoPro to the Nikon but it's something I'll probably try and I have no poblem with contemplating it and doing it. Because more than using cameras, more than writing about using cameras, what floats my boat is creating photographs. And the more options and choices I have to do that with, the more I like it.