Are your cell phone photos starting to take over?

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MinAZ Veteran Member • Posts: 5,653
Are your cell phone photos starting to take over?

I went on vacation with my family, it was a socially-distanced affair (we avoided public places).

For this trip, I literally had to dust off my old Olympus OMD-EM1 and 12-100mm lens, charge the batteries from apparently zero, and brought along a small flash and transmitter. The goal was to get some portraits of the kids growing up in nature.

This time, I wanted to take a more simple approach to things because we are still recovering from the pandemic and with the additional restrictions, I didn't want to overburden everyone with heavy gear (hence the Olympus) and stressful photography schedules. I would take the photos that presented itself, flash or no flash, and just kinda live day by day. (As a comparison, in the past, I had dedicated entire days on family vacations to finding the perfect spot in the perfect light. But that was not the goal of this trip.)

So basically I had a micro 4/3 camera with flash and a single all-in-one zoom (albeit a very capable one - see reviews on the 12-100 f/4 lens if you are not familiar with the amazing lens, and one of only 3 lenses I kept when I sold off most of my m4/3 system). I also had my cell phone camera (Huawei Mate 20 Pro).

It has come to a point whereby the photos out of my cell phone are superior to my "real camera" photos maybe in one out of 3 shots. I noticed this more often in particular types of scenarios:

1. Harsh sunlight - without a diffuser, it is tough to take a portrait in harsh direct sunlight. You could use a flash to try to overpower the sun, but with my small mini-flash that I brought along, it wasn't going to happen. You could try to find shade etc... but one thing I have noticed is the cell phone has a way of processing the image so that the contrast is minimized and harsh lighting reduced (also shadows are lifted automatically). This goes beyond what can easily be accomplished by post-processing the raw files from the "real camera."

2. Low light - as everyone probably already knows, cell phones do the best job for low light photos due to the computational photography. Short of using a tripod and long exposure, I often find cell phones do better than even a fast lens, esp. on m4/3 where low light isn't a particular strength.

3. Shallow DOF (fake) - ironically, one of the best photos I have of my daughter on a pier was with my cell phone. This is because it did that artificial DOF trick on the photo of her standing in the middle of the pier and everything in the background was thrown OOF in a very convincing manner. I took the same photo with my "real camera" and at f/4 (FF f/8 equivalent), it just did not have the same magic. Some of you will now say "oh of course, you didn't use an f/1.2 lens, which is available" but the reason for the irony is that a cell phone usually has an f/11 or greater equivalence due to the tiny sensor size, yet due to AI processing, the images taken look like they were taken at f/1.2 on a FF sensor.

4. AI enhancement of certain scene types - if my cell phone can determine the type of scene, it will display it on-screen, so for example it could say "Beach Scene" or "Ancient Monument." Whenever this occurs, there is a good bet the resulting JPG will be leaps and bounds better than the standard JPG produced by the "real camera." Of course, there is an unlimited amount you can do with the raw files, but it would take me considerable effort to get it to where the cell phone already had it to begin with.

5. Framing - for whatever reason, as a personal matter, I find it simply easier to frame and compose with a cell phone camera. Thus, all the technical arguments above aside, I often take a better photo with my cell phone camera because I managed to frame it better. I have no firm concept of why this is, but it may have to do with the larger viewscreen on the cell phone coupled with its smaller size.

It has come to a point that I actually have to ask myself now, why bother to bring the "real camera" at all? Sure there are a handful of situations where the "real camera" could prove useful, but honestly there are not so many where it is clearly the superior option. On the other hand, I am already definitely bringing my cell phone, so that is a super strong argument for leaving the other at home.

Does anyone else find this to be the case? I will admit at this point, my PP skills are only moderate, so I factor that in to the convenience case for the smartphone.

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