At this time within the smartphone sphere, the camera is king. The pace of development is rapid and the number of lenses is a technological arms race. The variety of focal lengths allows the manufacturers to work around the limitations of a fixed focal length in a small body. Just recently we have seen Huawei add a wide angle lens to its Mate 20 Pro, whilst Apple used their second lens for a somewhat telephoto focal length. As a means to an end, dual, triple and soon to be quad camera arrays make sense. However, the sensors remain minuscule and although to their credit, IQ could be better still if the sensor grew in place of multiple lenses. I have cameras of multiple sizes, from full frame digital, to APS-C, 1:2/3rd of an inch et al. My everyday camera happens to have a 1″ sensor type, giving it an advantage over the usual size for compact cameras. The more light that can meet the sensor, the easier it is for the camera processor – an area where phones have really hit their groove in recent years.
So, what if a mobile firm decided to use this existing advantage to its advantage and paired one, larger lens opening with a 1″ sensor? Given the space required for three lenses and their processor, I can’t imagine the footprint would be significantly larger, especially with the size of current flagship phones. Given their work with Leica, I’d love for the inevitable Huawei P30 Plus to take a bold step and offer this set-up. A real giant leap in pushing mobile photography – which I genuinely enjoy – and one achieved with photography in mind. Sure, I’d miss the dedicated monochrome sensor, but it appears they have removed this in lieu of the wide angle already on the aforementioned Mate Pro. Using a larger lens and a sensor better equipped to gather light would provide enough comfort, however.
Taken on my Nikon D3300 with the 35mm f1.8 DX lens.
Zoom lenses are one of the more developed areas of modern photography, covering ultra wide angle to extreme telephoto and with increasing capability. They provide convenience and less compromise with each new version. This is to be applauded, more quality glass is always a good thing. I’m not without zoom lenses myself; I have the Canon 17-40L and 70-200 L F4 in my collection. However, my most favoured lenses have become primes. It all started with the Canon nifty fifty, that plastic, noisy lens that just happens to be good quality and at the bottom of their price range. Auto focus was loud to begin with, but stray sand got into the barrel to the point where it sounded like a robot with arthritis. So I began to manual focus it and I loved it. Prior to this, I often shot the Sigma 10-20 on my 20D and my style at that time was decidedly wide angle. That 50mm lens changed my style, for the better.
Shorn of bending perspective to my will, with results that don’t often look good to my eye a decade later, I was now shooting in a more standard way. Of course, that 50mm lens was 80mm in APS-C money, but I was now looking at potential images differently. More abstract, wooed by the fast aperture. More often stark, black and white to go with it. Primes made me change drastically from stock landscapes and long exposures, and 10 years later, had a bigger influence on my style. My next prime love was the Helios 44M. With a screwmount adapter for EOS, I was able to make use of a lens I’d idly collected when I went through a phase of buying cheap film SLRs. Wow, what a creative spark it ignited. On one trip with it I re-imagined a leaf as the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury and the light between two tree trunks as the Hot Gates from Spartan mythology. I was thinking more about the final image, because I had one focal length and that was anything but a limitation.
Fast forward to this year and I bought the Fuji with its 35mm equivalent focal length. I also bought the Sony RX with its 24-70. It’s not that I’m zoom averse, but I just prefer the tactility of primes when manually focused. The reason I have so many different options is because I’d rather shoot with something designed for that purpose, more often. The Sony is perfect for my work bag, but unlikely to be my choice if going out specifically to photograph. This also ties in with my recent posts about smartphones and the fully manual Canon I wish existed; disparate notions, but both speak to my preferred approach to photography. That is, work within confines to boost creative thought and shoot manually as much as possible, so the act of taking the photo is all part of the experience. A good prime ties-in both of those ideals pretty well.
Thanks for reading. Matt.
The above image is similar to the header of this site – no coincidence as they were shot on the same day. The B&W was taken on my Fuji X100F, whereas this colour shot is taken straight from my Huawei P10 Plus with the Leica Dual Lens set-up. At 28mm it’s a little wider than the Fuji at 35mm, but the composition is similar. However, I read a lot of negativity about smartphone cameras and it’s something I feel quite strongly about.
“Want to get a decent image, buy a DSLR” – yeah, my 5Dii with the 17-40 L slips so readily in my trouser pocket. “They’re toy cameras” – at £700-£1000 the latest top models are expensive toys, then. “Pros use full frame only” – is that why billboards and magazine covers have been shot with iPhones? Honestly, the rhetoric you see against camera phones is asinine. Sure, it might not have the print fidelity, but I’d say it’s professional enough if you’re seeing them on billboards and covers. The funniest line I see is “get a real camera” – to which I always think, why would I use my Canon Ixus that takes less satisfying images than my phone?!
The rate of development in this corner of photography should be celebrated, not decried because everyone happens to have one. That’s a good thing. The more photos taken, the more drive for innovation, the higher chance this hobby continues to grow and develop. If you’re a professional photographer worried about these phones eating into your market, up your game. Don’t belittle these cameras just because they’re social cameras. Be glad you can capture usable images in a highly convenient way. It’s not as if ‘back-up’ cameras haven’t found an audience with hobbyists and pros and those haven’t always been the ultimate in image quality, either.
And on a significant point, if you consider a smartphone to be inferior to an interchangeable lens camera because it lacks features, or optical zoom etc, then how about embracing the limitation to inspire your creativity? The fixed focal length means you think more about the image. Heck, if operating a decent camera manually wasn’t so enjoyable, I’d set my camera to auto and just focus on the composition – something I have done with the aforementioned crappy Ixus. The only limitation that truly matters to any camera is the user, be that full frame, mirrorless or the smartphone.
As a parting shot, one of the most pleasing colour photos I’ve taken in a long time is the one below. Straight from the Huawei, inside the rainforest Biome at the Eden Project. Cheers, Matt.