Monday, 12 June 2017

Suspicion and envy in Scarborough

Much to my astonishment, I have wanted to use the camera on my new Samsung Galaxy S8+ smartphone for well-nigh every shot since taking the first few experimental pictures at the end of April. And now, almost 4,000 shots later (that's 4,000 shots in just six weeks), I am satisfied that the future lies in buying phones that feature a camera as good as this one.

That's quite a change of attitude on my part, towards cameras on phones. A couple of years ago I was prepared to scoff at them. No longer. In fact I think the camera I bought two years ago in 2015 - the Panasonic LX100 - will turn out to be the last 'conventional' camera I shall ever buy. In the future, it will only be necessary to buy a smartphone with a camera that suits my kind of picture-taking.

And those personal needs are pretty straightforward. A glance at my Flickr pages will instantly reveal the mix of subjects I regularly tackle. A phone with a good camera is adequate for almost all of it.

You see, you have to distinguish between the shots you actually do take, and the shots in dreams - you know, the sort of picture that the photo-equipment manufacturers splash across their webpages and glossy brochures, to feed desire for expensive, high-status equipment. The images captured by professionals might very well require 'proper' big-name beasts with monster lenses attached. But if all you actually do is wander around snapping things that catch your eye, or recording happy times with friends, then there is no need to tote such imposing kit. In fact, I rather think that only beefy men wanting to be thought 'real photographers' spend cash in that way. The rest of us, with no need to impress anyone, prefer to travel light.

I think the latest 2017 generation of phone cameras is now good enough to replace an ordinary camera without the loss of any capabilty that matters. My 4,000 shots say it's true. Tigerlily's camera can deliver the kind of shot I want. Which is: impeccably exposed, richly coloured, and full of detail. And - vitally - with everything in focus. For I want to examine everything in the shot, and anything out of focus spoils the picture so far as I am concerned. In that I'm at odds with the current fashion, which favours having a narrow depth of field to make the main subject stand out in sharp focus, but the rest of the picture gently softened. A large sensor and a clever lens will achieve that. But no thanks. It isn't what I want.

But a smartphone can give me what I'm looking for. A smartphone is thin. This imposes restraints on the camera design, so that it's impossible to achieve a picture with some things sharp and some things deliberately blurred, unless you resort to clever software that creates a not-very-natural illusion of soft focus. You can't do it optically, unless the subject is right under your nose. Some must deplore this severe limitation. I embrace it. The output of smartphones is exactly what I want.

I was in Scarborough yesterday. It was a sunny afternoon, and I was wandering around with Tigerlily in my hand, and every now and then I'd take a shot, or a number of shots, of something I had noticed. It was very easy to do this with the phone. Easier in fact than deploying a regular camera would have been. Quite a number of people object to being in a shot. I don't know what's up with them. These people notice proper cameras. They peer and stare and often frown. They look stiff and unnatural. Oddly enough, they are often the last people you'd really want to shoot seriously. But by staring straight at you they call attention to themselves, and may spoil the shot.

But phones are almost invisible. They seem to be in everyone's hand. And so many people are taking fun shots with them. They are harmless gadgets. Phones are not threatening. They indicate - if noticed at all - that you are nothing more than a happy snapper taking a casual shot that won't be of any great quality. It's a shot that can't matter. So the self-conscious don't mind nearly so much, and (mostly) remain natural.

That said, I was getting a few stares. I wondered why. Was it the way I was taking my shots? I do compose them with obvious care. But then surely a lot of other people do as well. It wasn't because I was talking to Tigerlily, either. Saying 'capture' wasn't possible in the sea breeze, nor where the background noise was intrusive. Then it occurred to me. My phone was tethered to my wrist with the lanyard. That was something you might see and wonder about. Absolutely nobody else was using a lanyard with their phone. It was surely getting me noticed. Worse, it was perhaps making some people wonder whether what I had in my hand really was a phone. What else do people tie to themselves? Did they think it was a suicide bomb? Hmmm!

There was perhaps another more down-to-earth explanation as to why some people were giving me scrutiny. Tigerlily was a recently-launched and very, very expensive smartphone, and looked like no other. Perhaps they wondered what kind of swanky show-off madam, with too much money for her own good, was walking through the holiday throng? I'm inclined to put it down to ordinary human envy more readily than anything else.

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Lucy Melford