Saturday, January 16, 2016

Mobile Photography: Dumping your DSLRs for Smartphones

As a casual photographer, collecting moments and memories, the last thing you'd want to carry with you is a bag with your DSLR camera, lenses and accessories. I have seen people travel with an extra backpack, loaded with a computer along with all their camera equipment and I wonder why they do it. Mobile phone camera photography is here to stay.

So if you're one of those who want to dump that extra baggage, here's what you need to ante up on.

  1. Selfie Stick that doubles as a Tripod
  2. Battery  Pack for your Smartphone
  3. USB OTG Cable & Flash Drive
  4. Binoculars Attachment
  5. Water resistant housing

Mobile Shooting Workflow

Shooting with a mobile camera is slower than using a DSLR, so get use to it. The super fast AF you get on a DSLR or mirrorless camera these days have no equal in the smartphone gadget store. It's a bit like shooting with a film ranger finder of old if you asked me. You need to anticipate a picture rather than spot and shoot it.

For the most part, the smarpthone's rear camera lens is as wide as it gets. It's normally in the ballpark of 28mm to 32mm in full frame speak. The lens on higher end smartphones has built in macro mode so taking close ups shouldn't be a problem.

To get great photos, you need to get close to the subject. During Robert Capa's days, he was using a 50mm lens. Should you have a phobia of being close to strangers, then get yourself a higher megapixel smartphone camera such as the 20 megapixel CM1 from Panasonic. By pinching and zooming the screen, you have digital zoom. With an iPhone 6S with a 12 megapixel camera, you can still do this but the end result is a much smaller picture. Any closer? Get a binoculars, and use the binoculars attachment. It makes more sense than those clip on lenses which have pretty poor corner sharpness. 

Bokeh effects, is easily obtainable in macro shots but not for everything you shoot with a mobile phone camera. For example, if you wish to have bokeh effects for a medium distance subject, you can only use Google's Camera App that runs on Android Kitkat or Lollipop. It has a lens blur feature where you need to capture a shot and move it upwards to create a depth map. Once you have this depth map, you can select the amount of Bokeh you want in your image. This app from Google is not available on iOS.

The Bokeh effect you see here can only be done for non moving subjects. This means as long as the person holds the pose or stands still long enough for you to take two shots, you'd be able to get a picture. It's not for action shots or any moving subjects.

Panorama features are standard too on the Google camera app, and sometimes it does a better job at it than a DSLR. For a DSLR to work the panorama magic, you need to preset the focal length to about 40mm to 50mm before it renders a smooth pano. Having a wide angle lens like a 28mm will wrap the image pretty badly. Mobile cameras? They do all the heavy lifting when stitching all the images together.

There is no problems with iPhone iOS as well. Panorama shots are supported in device.

Post Production on Mobile

Snapseed is free and the best. The only caveat is that all edited photos are saved to your device storage, you can back up the whole folder to Google Photos account, which is limited to a 16MB file size per photo...all for free but do it only if you have WIFI access or an unlimited mobile data plan.

Why Snapseed works so well is because they were the pioneers. Creators of Snapseed, Nik Software, was way ahead of the curve when they got bought out by Google. And yea, Nik Software was dancing rings around Photoshop Express at the time. Adobe's own Photoshop suite for mobile has undergone many changes, most of it were epic failures.

Ok imported this and edit in Snapseed

Enhanced image using Snapseed, now listed as a royalty free stock image!

When using DSLRs, you had to have a damn computer for you to download your photos for post production. And pay for Adobe Lightroom. Sure, it made you feel important to carry the extra load but trust me, digital photos are worth jack these days as proven by those one dollar royalty free photos.

As a casual shooter, the rationale for owning a DSLR just to get a superior image is superfluous. I mean, what are you going to do with that image? Are you uploading this to Facebook or use it as a print out wallpaper for your home? Would you be much happier if people told you that you took better images with an expensive DSLR? Or would you be elated if they found out that your spiffy image was shot with an iPhone?

Upload or Save to Flash Drive

So you have a 128GB iPhone? Cool. Then you got plenty of space. If you haven't then you should back up your pictures with one of these iPhone Flash Disk. The SanDisk iXpand can give you up to 64GB of back up just for your photos. So that should be enough at least for a few days shoot. If you need more space, consider a WIFI backup to cloud storage when you have access to it. Google Photos offers free 16MB file support with no limit. So even with a 12 megapixel camera, you won't be hitting that file size limit.

For Android devices running KitKat and Lollipop, you only need an OTG cable and any flash drive you have lying around. The OTG cable is a life saver for back ups to portable Hard Drives. Cloud back up is also possible but if you are shooting DNG files which come out larger than 16MB per file, Google Photos won't back them up for you.

One of the reason why back up is so important is simple, you do not want to store all your photos at one place. Should disaster strikes, you'd have a back up, just like the time you had to carry a whole Notebook to back up that DSLR SD card. Having a Notebook these days is totally unnecessary unless you're shooting as a Pro and doing it for a living. Everyone else can carry so much less when your Smartphone is the main camera.

Night and Low Light Photography

For Night or low light photography, well you need that handy tripod cum selfie stick planted on the ground. There are modes on both Android and iOS devices which have HDR and it won't work if you want to hand hold the shot. Some camera modes have their own Fireworks mode where you can shoot night time fireworks, which might help in certain situations. But if all else fails, then your best bet is still the HDR mode.

HDR or high dynamic range is just another computational term where up to three bracketed exposures are shot and analyzed for exposure detail. Most DSLR and mirrorless cameras have a faux HDR mode but that's fibbing it a bit.

You can also get a super flexible Gorrilapod with a Smartphone holder. This changes the dynamics a bit as you can flex its legs and curl the pod to a lamp post, which can't be done with a selfie stick.

Faux HDR is also available as a dramatic tone effect filter on Snapseed. It is the best tool to use even during cloudy days. The reason I say this is that weather and season can never offer you the perfect lighting so processing your photos this way really helps.

Weather Permitting

There is no such thing as having the perfect weather when you go about shooting and this is why a water proof housing would be an added bonus. Water is your worst enemy and trust me, disasters do happen. Having a water proof housing for you smartphone will save you lots of trouble later. First, most smartphones are not made for everyday disasters. Even having it in your pocket when you get drenched in rain will not save your cameraphone. Water and moisture will seep in and it's not a a nice feeling to have your device destroyed in such a manner.

DSLR photographers often carry two cameras, one as a main, the other as a back up. This is basically the plan to deal with eventualities. Having just one main camera, which hasn't got a water resistant guarantee, you'd be running for cover protecting your gear at the first touch of rain. You can ruin not just your camera but your camera lenses as well and end up with a water damage bill running into thousands of dollars. This is every photographer's nightmare. We spend a small fortune on camera bags too, making sure they will survive rainfall.The iPhone 6S is suppose to be water resistant so you won't need anything else unless you want a housing to take that underwater.

Mobile photographers have no such worries when you have a water proof housing for your smartphone. Just one device would do. Nothing else. Nothing more.

When is right time to Dump the DSLR?

I must say that it really depends on your sentimental feelings for the DSLR. I mean, look, you spent a small fortune on that machine and now you are using it less and less, pretty soon, you'd find yourself stuck with a camera that has little or no value as the megapixel race hots up and your 24 megapixel DSLR pales in comparison to the 100 megapixel version out in the market. Selling your DSLR as a used item would be the best first move.

It's like an ex-girlfriend who lingers in your memory. You had plenty of great times with her but it's time to move on.

Years ago, when I got my first digital camera, a 5 megapixel Nikon Coolpix 5700, it was the best there was for an all round prosumer model. Today, your iPhone has even more pixels than this same device which I paid a small fortune for in its day. I gave mine away as a gift to someone who showed interest in photography before it became an antique.

Today, the megapixel race may have slowed, but the prices of digital cameras hasn't gotten any cheaper.

Consider your shooting requirements first and foremost.

If you love shooting low light and night photos, the DSLR is hard to beat. Cranking up the ISO to 6400 is impossible on an iPhone or Android device. You are normally stuck with a choice of up to ISO800 anything higher would give you pretty poor images in low light. In my lifetime, there were very few occasions that I would have had the pleasure of using high ISO for low light capture. That's because even in the photography philosophies of old, the best time to capture night scenes is not at night, but at dusk. Once you miss that, you have to contend with high contrast images, which might or might not work to your shooting advantage. Using high ISO in daylight is not necessary since some native mobile apps already give you action capture mode.

Once you start making your smartphone camera as the weapon of choice, your view on photography will change.

There will be no more moments where you'd think you'd be better off with a three thousand dollar DSLR when all you do is indulge in a hobby that gives you joy.

Shooting with a mobile device has a different set of challenges, it does not have the same controls as a DSLR nor does it attract the same sort of attention. This I find is one of the problems with photographers who wish to live the lifestyle. They want to be seen with a large camera with a phallic length lens to show off their street cred. These people do exist...and I know of them even in the analogue film age.

Shooting with a mobile device camera is far less obtrusive. Scotland Yard won't be pulling you over the kerb if you happen to snap a picture of the MI5 building while you're strolling along the Thames it. It won't be the same if you had a mighty DSLR with a spiffy lens drapped round your neck. Prison time? Probably.


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