Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Photographic Heresy: Ditch Your Digital Camera

It's time to ditch your digital camera and just use the crappiest camera you own:  your cell phone.

Digital cameras, even compact ones, can take incredibly beautiful photographs.  Works of art.  But so what?  Unless you're angling for a career in photography or want to moonlight as a photographer, making art isn't the objective.  The point of having a camera isn't to see how good a picture you can take -- it's to share photos.  And when it comes to photo sharing, cell phone outshine even the world's most advanced cameras.  It's no surprise that the most popular camera on Flickr, the world's most popular photo sharing site, is the iPhone, which excels at sharing. 

The quality gap between stand-alone and cell phone cameras is narrowing.  Cell phone cameras keep getting better and better, adding greater resolution, better lenses, auto focus, flash, image stabilization, spot-metering, red eye reduction, white balance adjustment, macro mode, and more.  My prediction:  Within 3 years the cameras on most cell phones will be as good as most stand-alone digital cameras sold today.  Perhaps even better. 

My other prediction:  Digital cameras will never be able to do the one thing that cell phone cameras can -- share photos easily. The iPhone, Blackberry, Windows Mobile phones, Android phones all have the ability to instantly and easily let you share photos in a variety of ways:  by email, or by posting photos on Flickr, Facebook, Photobucket, Twitter, CNN, and elsewhere.  Camera phones let you send photos phone to phone, too, so you can spread those smiles no matter where your friends are.  There's even an iPhone app, PicPosterous, that will automatically upload photos you take to sharing sites without any extra action on your part.  It's always risky to make predictions about technology.  (Thomas Watson, the former chairman of the board of IBM, said circa 1948, "I think there’s a world market for about 5 computers.")  But I'm willing to bet that stand-alone cameras won't ever be as good as cell phones when it comes to adding photos to your Facebook status, your MySpace page, your blog, or just sending them to your friends.  Why not?  For the simple reason that if you want to share photos you need to be connected to the Internet, and there's no market for $50 a month always-connected cellular service just for cameras.  (Some cameras have wifi built in, and more will have it over time --and you can buy the Eye-Fi wifi memory card at www.eyefi.com-- but wifi is a long way from being universally available or free.) 

While the majority of cell phone cameras currently take only semi-decent photographs, camera phones offer the ability to tweak and edit photos before sharing them.  That is an amazing ability, one that makes you proud to share your photos.  Here four photos I took and edited with my iPhone, which show just some of the tools at your disposal when you use a camera phone:





Editing -- that's the brilliant part:  You can edit photos on smartphones, because these phones are computers.  While there's no full-featured Photoshop application for any smartphone, there is an impressive array of apps that will let you process photos and turn a so-so picture into something that is as dazzling as it is beautiful.  Some of the tricks that smartphone photo apps can do include:

* Create panoramic photos
* Crop, adjust sharpness, reduce noise, add contrast
* Convert photos to sepia or black and white, (or convert just part of a photo to black and white)
* Add frames to photos
* Work with layers
* Darken or lighten photos, increase or reduce color saturation
* Have a soft focus or glow effect
* Add "flash" to photos, especially portraits, where more light is needed
* Make 3D photos (the kind you look at with those funky 3D glasses)
* Give a photo a Polaroid look or make a retro-looking miniature photo
* Include captions with photos

And here's my favorite cell phone-beats-camera ability:  Cell phone camera photos are geo-tagged.  The GPS chip that's built in records where the photo was taken.  Click on www.flickr.com/photos/billadler/3416145488, and on the right hand side of the Flickr page there's a link to map:  Click on that and, well...that's pretty cool.  Geo-tagging means you don't have to write down the name of the bridge or building that you snapped a picture of; your cell phone camera knows where it is.  Score one for camera phones. 

You probably have your cell phone with you all the time.  Not so for your heavy digital single lens reflex camera, or even your compact camera.  So leave your regular camera behind and save your lower back from the weight of lenses and filters.  Instead, download some great photo editing applications for your cell phone camera, practice using them, and you'll have a photographic studio in your pocket.  And when you snap a photo (or video), you can share it from almost anywhere in the world.

The state of the art when it comes to cell phone cameras quality: C-.  The state of the art when it comes to editing ability: B+.  The state of the art when it comes to sharing photos from cell phones: A.  As cell phone cameras' quality and editing ability improve, replacing your stand alone camera with a cell phone camera as your main (dare I say only?) camera is the way to go.

You can read reviews of some of the best cell phone cameras at http://reviews.cnet.com/best-camera-phones

One last note about cell phone cameras.  Keep that camera lens clean.  Cell phone camera lenses usually aren't protected, and fingers have a tendency to find the center of that lens.  No amount of editing can fix a picture that's shot through a lens that has remnants of a Big Mac on it. 

Get those cell phone cameras out and start sharing your photos.


Bill Adler is the co-owner of the Cleveland Park Listserv, www.cleveland-park.com, and the author of over 20 books including "Boys and Their Toys: Understanding Men by Understanding Their Relations with Gadgets," and "Outwitting Squirrels." He is an amateur photographer, whose photos have appeared in advertisements, magazines, art shows and as the #1 photograph on Flickr

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