Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Little More About Sony's Xperia Phone Cameras

Silver Lake At Sunset

I had a lot of good things to say about Sony's Xperia Z2 in my last post. This time, it's still good, or at least as good as the above sunset photo I took with it. This time, the Phone-Cam was truly the only camera I had with me, in other words, the "camera of last resort". But I can now see why perhaps Phone-Cams have become so popular, and maybe deserving of being more than "this will have to do --- it's all I've got with me".

This made a good exposure for a sunset, and it was the colours in this scene that made me want to pull over to the side of the road and take the picture. I am not disappointed at all - the colour is very well captured here. In this case, the ultra-wide angle lens didn't let me down either, although if I wanted to capture a distant cormorant in flight, I would have been brutally out of luck.

While it's true that Phone-Cams keep getting better, and the Sony Xperia line is one of the top contenders in a very competitive field, the nature of the beast is what makes for the greatest limitations for this type of device. After all, the "Super Phone" is not built to be primarily a camera. Rather, they're the pinnacle of today's communication technology, capable of being a personal assistant in every direction, including GPS / Mapping, music and video streaming / storage, truly the only computer you might really need if you take the time to bother mastering it, and of course the more lowly telephone and texting device that started the whole thing many Decades ago. Cameras have been built into cellular phones for many years already, but it always has come down to one obvious problem - a device that is meant to be so many other things does not handle very well as a camera. With lens limitations aside, getting a smart phone up and running, and fitted into your hand ready to take a shot is usually a tricky business. I keep mine holstered to my belt, but turned off, because I'm still very suspicious of the harm that all the near-field radiation can do to my person (right or wrong, I am afraid about such things). So, unlike turning on a compact digital camera, a smart phone, like the full blown computer it really is has to be booted up before you can use the camera, and that's a process that could take up to a minute or even more.

The Sony Xperia phones are among the few with a dedicated three-way camera function button, which helps speed the process along, and provides a very convenient focus / shutter button, but the downside of this feature is that if you keep your phone turned on, every time you un-holster the phone for other than photographic reasons, you'll invariably turn the camera on as you accidentally hit this button. But again, it's a matter of learning the right moves, because Sony has provided lots of real-estate on the top and bottom, not to mention ample thickness and weight, to allow you to get a more goof-proof grasp on the device, unlike many other makes, especially Samsung.

To summarize, yes, smartphone cameras have come a long way when it comes to picture quality, and there seems to be a lot more attention being given to their own breed of the mega-pixel race. In particular, if you're into wide-angle photography, these truly amazing multi-devices will serve you very well. There's also a tremendous advantage when it comes to on-device picture editing, with hundreds, if not thousands of Apps now available to give you the most personalized shooting experience possible. But for me, handling the device is, and as far as I can tell always will be, the most challenging issue. A smartphone is just a small, very thin rectangular slab, which by necessity must throw a Century of good camera ergonomics to the wind - case in point - nothing can replace the feeling of confidence you get from shooting with a Canon EOS series SLR camera, whether film or digital. And if you're accustomed to Nikon, same goes. A camera must be able to get itself up and running very quickly (or, as I've often said here, many of my favourite film cameras are fully mechanical, and always ready to snap a picture in the blink of an eye). A camera must also have a bit of heft, body depth, and a good hand-grip, and many still legitimately insist on a good optical viewfinder, although I personally am finding this less important all the time - but that's a great subject to be left for another Blog Post.

But at least from what I can see, if a good scene presents itself to you, picture quality should no longer be an issue when it comes to your "camera of last resort. They're all good, if not great now, when it comes to image quality - just as long as you're able to handle the damn things.

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