Smartphones and / or Mirrorless

The original title for this post was Smartphone Snobbery and snobbery may not be the right word here, but there is I believe still a 'misunderstanding' as to just how good some smartphones can be. The above shot, taken on my Microsoft Lumia 950X shows just what the best are capable of. I deliberately picked a shot with grass and vegetation because in the past compact / smartphone / small sensor cameras have rendered something like this as 'mush'. As you can see this is not the case here and there is sharp crisp detail from a subject shot from distance. 

It should be remembered that this is from a camera that has a 1/2.4" sensor size and 1.12 µm pixel size. Plus like the majority of smartphone cameras the lens is extremely small. Though the optics are by Zeiss and presumably uses a similar array of micro lenses that make the Nokia Lumia 1020 such a good camera. 

 

IMG_2857.JPG

 

 

And this is why I constantly write about the progress that smartphones are making. Considering the limitations on size, the 950X takes remarkable pictures in good light. Yes, low light is still a problem and bokeh isn't great (or non existent in most cases) though that fixed f/1.9 lens helps with both. 

It is simple to use as well. There are a few basic settings but it really is point and shoot. And yes there are lots of things that it won't do, but how many people want anything other than their camera to take a good, sharp image when they are out and about? Certainly that's what I want the majority of the time I'm out shooting stock. The greatest problem the 950X has is that it's a Windows phone, still a very unpopular OS. 

I've constantly written about my love of the point and shoot simplicity of smartphones, the quality of the screens (usually much better than those pathetic things that are attached to 'proper' cameras) which allow me to see the image I'm creating in front of me and of course the size and weight benefits. One wide angle lens is obviously a restriction, but I doubt the Apple iPhone 7 will be the last camera with more than one camera module on board.  

The other thing to remember is that R & D and tech. development is concentrated on the smartphone market because of it's size and while it seems that the quality of the camera is far from peoples top priority when they choose a phone, the manufacturers know that beefing up the camera specs. certainly won't hinder sales. And just like the entry of non historically photography based companies created and shook up the camera market with mirrorless, many of the top smartphone manufacturers don't have that history either, or in the case of Samsung have decided to abandon the orthodox camera marketplace and concentrate on their phone divisions. Plus it was interesting to see a report from Photokina about Leica signing an R & D deal with a Chinese smartphone company - 

 http://leicarumors.com/2016/09/23/leica-camera-and-huawei-establish-new-rd-centre-in-wetzlar.aspx/

I don't actually see this as the death of the stand alone, predominantly interchangeable lens, camera market. Again, as I've written many times, I see it going back to film camera type levels of sales serving those who have a long standing love of photography (or camera gear!!!) and 5 even 10 years down the line I would be surprised if DSLR's and Mirrorless cameras were not still very much with us (Though probably with a few less famous brands than we have now) but like the MF v 35mm, film v digital and DSLR v Mirrorless 'debates' I have no doubt that the initially regarded 'inferior' option will prevail as before. And as far as I'm concerned that's a good thing. Over complication, size and weight plus a general antipathy to sitting down with manuals are significant 'turn offs' for many people, myself included and this is where smartphones will obviously succeed. I went to see an iPhone 7 the other day and while I've decided not to buy one at this time due to a couple of upcoming planned purchases, I was pretty impressed by the sleek, simple, minimalist design and the way that all the advanced camera tech. was invisible. The extra camera module taking up very little extra room. 

So what of mirrorless? Well first off I think it's now headed in the right direction. The compact camera / smartphone upgrade path that many mirrorless cameras were aimed at was always a non starter as far as I was concerned. It was obvious that smartphones did the 'happy snapper' / social media thing much better anyway. Finally mirrorless manufacturers have realised that their true market is serious photographers looking to take advantage of the advantages mirrorless offers. And while I don't see DSLR's disappearing anytime soon, it's become obvious that there are things that they just can't do, particularly with regard to any kind of hybrid requirements. Plus at the high end of that format the gear seems to be getting no lighter or smaller. Mirrorless allows for some incredible specs. for the Olympus EM-1 Mk II (just exactly what was wrong with EM-2??) and the Panasonic GM5. Just look what Sony FE offers in terms of specs. and the fact that Hassleblad and Fuji can offer in terms of small(er) medium format. All because the cameras are mirrorless. And sure, companies will probably have to cut back on all those pointless upgrades and offer us more for our money, but that of course is no bad thing. 

Going forward I can see serious photographers having a wide range of choice. We will still all go out with our DSLR's and Mirrorless 'marvels' but how many of us won't take our smartphone with us as well. Not many I suspect. And is the current phenomenon of someone carrying around a big camera and yet snapping away on their phone, which is something I see all the time, going to become a more common sight? I suspect it will. Again referring back to what I have written before, I don't see the fall in stand alone camera sales as a bad thing. It's obvious that there were (are?) too many manufacturers chasing too few customers and this 'pruning back' does have it's benefits. Some of the few significant announcements at Photokina strike me, for the most part, as being worthwhile improvements. I'm still unconvinced by the middle of the road 'shelf filler' cameras that Canon, Panasonic and Olympus have unveiled and I'm really not sure who will buy into the Fuji MF system, but it strikes me that some companies are embracing a leaner future by giving us gear that our smartphones just can't compete with and I suspect never will. And yes fewer of us will buy them, but then as professionals / enthusiasts / serious hobbyists we have always been and always will be the group that will continue buying (and changing) cameras and who are open to all the tech. advances the designers come up with. It's us that will discuss, praise and rubbish them on the photographic internet and more importantly go down the shops or surf the internet with our credit cards. It seems that both smartphone and mirrorless manufacturers have finally realised that, because that 'photo enthusiast' market is, I'm convinced, a lot bigger than many people think and certainly a lot more inclined to spend money on camera gear.