Can you REALLY shoot stock on a smartphone? Part 1 Microsoft Lumia 950X


LOCATION - Shottery Village - Stratford upon Avon, UK

SEASON / TIME OF DAY - Winter / Afternoon

GEAR - Microsoft Lumia 950X smartphone

The answer to question in the title of this post is obviously yes, since I and very large numbers of other photographers shoot and sell stock photography created on smartphone cameras. Now there are some obvious differences between a camera phone and a 'proper' camera. With a smartphone you are restricted to:- one fixed lens (though there are one or two that now have options) one fixed aperture (usually f/1.9 or f/2.2) very little manual control and that view screen, press the button way of working. However, assuming that you are happy with a wide angle, fixed everything, auto everything output, which the majority of camera phones provide, in terms of low ISO image quality, these things are pretty good. I watched a Matt Granger (Aussie photographer + YouTube pundit) video and he stated that the best of the current smartphone crop produce, under the right circumstances, files that are as good as Full-Frame and Medium Format digital cameras from 10 years ago. Now you may think that's overstating what smartphone cameras can do. 10 years ago I was using cameras like the Canon 1ds Mk II (16MP) and Kodak Pro 14n (14MP) and I went through my files to take a look to see whether that was true.

Well, my current favourite smartphone camera in terms of IQ is my Microsoft Lumia 950X and at the lowest ISO setting it does compare very well in terms of sharpness, resolution and even dynamic range as you can see in the gallery above. And in terms of stock photography, there would be little discernible difference in terms of print reproduction even up to A3. Now smartphones in low light? Forget it and if you shoot a lot with telephoto lenses you can forget that too with a smartphone, but shooting the kind of pictures I do, scenic stuff in sunshine, I have no problem using the 950X or indeed any of my other phones. 

Some stock picture libraries have embraced smartphone pictures, but some still reject them. If they know that they were shot on a phone that is. I've been uploading smartphone images with the exif data removed to several of these 'no phone picture' libraries for some time and of course when they have to make a judgement on an image without knowing what camera it was shot with, 9 times out of 10 it passes quality control. And while camera phones are far from the answer to everything in terms of any kind of 'pro' photography, for certain uses they are perfect. Often when I'm shooting, I don't want to attract any attention. Not that I'm doing anything I shouldn't, but there is still a certain suspicion about photographers with big serious looking cameras. However, the entire world is now full of smartphone 'happy snappers' and nobody takes any notice of them, nor seems to have any way (or the inclination) of stopping them photographing what they want where they want. And the sight of someone walking along looking intently at the screen of their phone is such a common sight that me walking along doing that and taking pictures attracts no attention. These days if you want to be a 'street photographer' and work unobserved, forget the Leica, use an iPhone instead. 

So I'm going to do a series of posts on the various phone cameras I use and where and how I use them. And as I indicated the first is the Microsoft Lumia 950X. Now you may be surprised that I like it more than the Panasonic CM1 I also have, which with it's 1" sensor is probably the best specified smartphone camera out there, but then that is a camera with a phone built into it. I will be discussing that next and there are a couple of issues that it has in terms of use plus, to be honest, it really doesn't produce sharper results, or as punchy colours as the Microsoft. Obviously Zeiss microlenses help and Nokia, who Microsoft took over, always made a point of putting great cameras into their last cameras. It was just a shame nobody bought them!! And if the same sensor and lens was put into a premium compact then people would be writing about how good it is, but because it's in a phone then it seems to get ignored. 

In terms of tech. it is a Windows phone and since that OS has such a small market share I doubt they are ever going to get that popular. Plus it seems that the quality of the camera isn't really that much of priority for phone users, which seems strange since the phone manufacturers are really pushing the quality of their latest camera modules when they announce their new models. 

These days I class my smartphones and their sensors and lenses as just another one of my photographic tools to do my job. In many situations they are just what I need. Plus when I want to travel light they are ideal. I am also intrigued by the thought of just how good they are going to get. Because from what I see, in most cases, they are way better than the majority of the compact point and shoot cameras they are turning into land fill. I don't remember seeing any samples from micro sensor compact cameras that come close to what this 950X produces and at its best it produces stunningly sharp images, particularly when I process the .DNG raw files it outputs. So, I don't feel I'm compromising on quality and I do like the depth of field and saturated colours I get from my smartphones, both of which are advantageous for my stock photography. So, it's a very strong positive reply to the question Can you REALLY shoot stock on a smartphone? But then those of you who are already shooting seriously with yours knew that already.