Thursday, 11 May 2017

An impressive night-time performance

No, not some sexual adventure! More arcane stuff on my new phone's camera, specifically what it can do at night. I'd had an evening meal with friends Emma and Steph in East Preston, and was now, with midnight approaching, passing through Shoreham. The moon was up, the water in the Harbour was making reflections, and I could glimpse all kinds of colourful lights on the harbour footbridge and nearby. There was a picture to be had. I parked Fiona, walked over to a good vantage point, then took this shot with Tigerlily. Handheld, at one-ninth of a second exposure:

Click on it to enlarge. That's astonishingly crisp and well-exposed for a smartphone late at night! I admit the moon is well over-exposed, but that's really the only technical defect. And pictorially it doesn't matter at all. Tigerlily has even managed to preserve the subtleties of the cloud in the night sky.

I'm sure that my main camera, the Panasonic LX100, could have produced a slightly better picture, but this is more than good enough to show. It can even bear some degree of zooming into. I have travel books with night-time location shots in them, taken in film days, that don't look nearly so good. And my shot above was taken on the bog-standard 'Auto' setting. Gosh.

Just to get all this in perspective, here's another harbour-scene-in-moonlight picture that I took with my Nikon D700 full-frame digital SLR camera in October 2008, at Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk, with Nikon's fabulous 24-70mm F/2.8 zoom lens on it, and taken moreover at a rather steadier one-thirthieth of a second. The Nikon's 12 megapixels were the same as Tigerlily's:

The Nikon camera and zoom lens were almost the best you could get at the time - I'd spent over £3,000 on them in August 2008 - and there's no denying that they gave me a nice moonlit picture. But there's noise in the rendition - a slight speckled effect. It's a shot that, despite the quality of the equipment, doesn't actually bear much zooming into, though at the time it would have been thought excellent, at least in so far as the amount of night-time detail captured. But it seems to me that in modern digital photography, what matters is not the name on the camera, but the capabilities of the sensor in the device used to get the shot, whoever made it. And how good the algorithms used to generate the photo file inside the camera are.

This is why the best 2017 smartphones can produce nicer pictures than one could get, just nine years ago, with a full-frame SLR.

Of course, 'real' cameras have moved forward too. I'm not saying that I wouldn't be blown away if I spent another £3,000 on a 2017 Nikon. But I would say that, unless I were dependant on photography for my livelihood, I wouldn't now commit big money on a big-name camera. Because unless you can swap sensors in and out (much as you can upgrade the software) any beautiful but expensive machine will quickly get out of date. The days of prized and beloved cameras giving dream-quality service for decade after decade are over.

I'm rapidly convincing myself that phone cameras - fully integrated as they are with the many other functions on the phone - have a very bright future. Any user in 2017 who needs a lightweight, quality image-capturing device can use one with confidence. They all seem good. The ergonomics are still questionable, of course: modern phones are not easy to hold tightly. But, speaking for myself, I'd say that practice makes perfect. I am definitely getting better at holding my new phone in 'landscape' mode for shots out of doors. So expect a few more posts on capturing pictures that I wouldn't have thought possible with a 'mere' phone!

Back to my moonlit picture. Did I say midnight was approaching? That didn't mean Shoreham was dead and eerie. This was at the town centre, and all was well lit, with buses still stopping and some people here and there. Enough people in fact to make me feel ever so slightly vulnerable, and definitely on the alert for possible difficulties, although really there was not the slightest actual cause for concern. I was however glad to get inside Fiona again, lock the doors, and resume my journey home. But before I did, I got this shot of the ancient Marlipins warehouse, now the town's Maritime Museum:

Handheld as before, though the exposure was slightly faster at one-tenth of a second! Despite the risk of camera shake, the detail is clear and impressive, and really the only serious technical issue is the over-exposure of the pub's outside lights. Fiona is in this shot, below the lit-up Boots shop logo, and you can read her number plate easily.

More test shots are needed of course. I might feel compelled, for a while,  to go on more late-evening outings! Subject to reported sightings of werewolves, zombies and mad axemen, naturally.


  1. Lucy, have you tried any of the physical buttons on the whiz bang phone, sometimes they can act as a shutter release. I hate the tap screen to release shutter idea. The results certainly looking impressive...

  2. You can indeed set one of the buttons to be the shutter release, but I prefer to tap the screen with a fingertip. You can add a movable second button to place a virtual shutter release wherever you like on the screen.



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