WHY do phone cams turn me into a clumsy twat with dexterity of an elephant?
Bah! Stupid no-thumb trunk
Something for the Weekend, Sir? I was a little dismissive last week about the technical improvements Apple says it is introducing to the photographic capabilities of its blinged-up iChav smartphones.
Just because mimicking street fashion smacks of corporate desperation at – is it cuz I iz gold, innit? – this should not mask the details of the much-improved camera on the 5S model, I am told.
Digital photography is a sore point with me. Despite spending 20 years of touting myself around newspapers and magazines as a "digital imaging specialist", albeit to end up writing idiot ramblings published on Friday afternoons by a legendary online publisher that really ought to know better, I do not find digital cameras easy to use.
I can draw you endless diagrams to show how light is captured and turned into numbers. I can theorise how light and sound are effectively the same thing with different wavelengths. [Go and look up longitudinal and transverse waves - oh, and electromagnetic and molecular vibrations while you’re at it, Alistair - Ed]
I can measure precisely the extent of signal noise generated by a scanner during image capture and determine how well it compensates. If boring people to death by talking about colour management hardware profiling was a sport, I’d be guaranteed a place on the Olympic podium. I can strip down a printer and rebuild it in a dark room blindfolded; sir, yes sir.
Back in the mid-1990s and the early days of consumer digital photography, I must have tested hundreds of cameras – methodically, in detail, in laboratory conditions. I would have arguments with editors and colleagues about test shots, since they wanted bright colours, shiny things and pretty girls’ faces while I wanted corkboard, fur and crumpled newspapers.
For me, the ability to capture and reproduce colour digitally is an issue of gamut and hardware profiling, neither necessarily indicating the unique qualities of a digital camera as opposed to any other digital imaging device. Surely what matter most are the ability to capture detail without messing it up with artefacts and noise, while at the same time capturing at high enough real pixel resolution to ensure the contrasting illusions of sharpness and continuous tone are maintained.
So, given a certain pixel resolution, the quality of the images captured by a digital camera depends almost entirely on the size and quality of the lens.
Well, that’s just my opinion, of course: there’s more to photography than the glass pebble at the front. Besides, I’m no creative studio man or a pap, just a jobbing snapper using it as a journalistic sideline. Indeed, my press card still describes me as a "photojournalist". Armed with my modest professional bag of tricks, I do just fine. But the moment you hand me a consumer camera or ask me to use a smartphone’s camera function, I go to pieces. I hold it upside down. My finger falls over the lens. I press the pop-up flash button instead of the shutter.
Can you blame me? There are so many little buttons and bells and whistles and sliders and knobs and switches and flanges and port covers and displays and meters concentrated on a hardware surface of less than two square inches, consumer cameras are a mess.
Worst of all is the time lag in smartphones between pressing the shutter button and the dumb-ass camera app taking its hands out of its metaphorical pockets and deigning to actually capture what’s in front of the lens. Nothing on God’s Earth will hurry the bastard up: fix the light settings, disable the flash, disable whatever the hell you like, it makes no difference.
I think, “Gosh, I must grab a shot now!”, whip out my phone, switch to the camera app and touch the camera button. Nothing happens. I try again. Still nothing. I press and hold my thumb down on the button. I think, “Buggeration, too late again”, and it’s at the point at which I’m returning the camera to my trouser pocket that the little fucker decides to make a series of stupid fake scissor-like shutter sounds and captures a dozen shots of my groin.
I was sitting with my young nephew and niece the other week, trying to show off how cool Uncle Ali was by sharing some of the pictures I took at recent gigs – shake it, daddio – using my iPhone 5. Judging by the look on their faces, they were extremely impressed. This is Korn. I hope you can recognise all the members of the band:
Let me see your hands... er... hand in the air
Here’s Marilyn Manson. Love the outfit, so goth!
Surely "Doctor Who opening credit sequence"? - Ed
And this is Tenacious D.
Is that a phoenix on your stage or are you just pleased to see me?
I can’t tell you how much my nephew and niece, sitting on their uncle’s knee, appreciated being shown a photo of what appears to be a giant inflatable cock (it's supposed to be a bird, I swear it).
Anyway, let’s bring this back to Apple’s recent announcements: I’m beginning to think the bigger lens and faster processor on the iPhone 5S might make a difference after all. Perhaps best of all for casual, spur-of-the-moment photography such as my gig shots is its new burst mode which, as described, might improve my chances of taking home a photo of the band on stage rather than the backside of the person standing in front of me.
Burst mode, after all, is precisely the kind of feature that suits everyday consumer photography. When I’m snapping away with my phone handset, don’t show me buttons and control panels, just make it happen. This is the kind of thing that Apple always used to be good at, no? ®
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling IT journalism, editorial training and digital publishing. When asked for the hundredth time how many ‘dots per inch’ are required for an image, he impersonates a dodgy garage mechanic, sucking through his teeth and mumbling something about ‘lossy subsampling’ and ‘dithering your bits’.