Welcome To The F-Stop Cafe

September 13, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Welcome

Welcome to the first episode of F-Stop Cafe.  Many of you know that as much as I love photography I love to teach people about photography almost as much.  My goal for F-stop is to discuss everything photography.  I plan to talk about all kinds of gear, techniques, ideas, advice, and the technical details behind taking fabulous photos.  My goal is not to make you a pro, unless that is where you want to go.  My goal is simply to give you the tools to take amazing pictures, and maybe to help you understand why you don’t so you can fix them.  Lastly, I hope to keep these posts short and sweet for bite sized morsels of photography goodness.

I get lots of questions about all kinds of things so will be using this forum to answer those questions so that others may benefit from the information.  Feel free to discuss the topics here in the blog in the discussion area and I will chime in from time to time help answer questions.   These kinds of things are most beneficial when there is active dialog.

All about the camera

Since you can’t take pictures without a camera, the first installments will be about the kind of cameras available and their pros and cons.  One of the most common questions I get is “what kind of camera do you use”, or the other variant “what kind of camera should I get?”  Let me go on record as saying the best camera to use is the one you have with you.  Yes it’s a cliché, but it is so true.  If you don’t have it with you, you can’t take the picture.  So what are your options?  There are several classes of cameras available today and the lines continue to blur but for the purpose of this particular post I will try and distill it into a few basic categories.

Cell Phones

Of course the one that is with you is the best one to use and your cell phone is usually with you all the time.  It’s true that cell phones have had cameras for several years.  However, the cameras in cell phones have traditionally been marginal at best.  Generally limited by their sensor size and other compromises in a nod to the phone functionality, cell phone cameras have steadily improved over the years and now are quite useable for simple snapshots and videos of family and friends.  One of the biggest drawbacks to cell phones is their low light performance and difficulty dealing with scenes of high contrast.  However, when I see a shot I want to capture and I don’t have my rig with me I reach for my trusty iPhone 4s and its 8 megapixel camera.    For an idea of what can be done with a cell phone with decent technique check out this gallery on Flickr with some wonderful examples http://www.flickr.com/groups/1659623@N23/pool/with/6665369943/#photo_6665369943

So whats the bad news about cell phone photography? Instagram! ;)  Seriously though the bad news about cell phone photography is many fold.

  • They use really small sensors - Less sensitive to light leading to very noisy pictures and pictures that by default have a very large depth of field.
  • They don’t have any real controls (this is changing with newer apps) - Basically a shutter button is all you get, but as I mention that’s changing as app developers get creative and provide greater controls.
  • Horrible ergonomics for taking pictures - A thin rectangular chunk of glass, plastic and metal is not designed to be held securely for taking pictures.  We will talk about his in later installments when I talk about technique.  But this is one of the primary reasons you have blurry cell phone pictures.
  • Slow shutter response - In addition to the horrible ergonomics the slow shutter release is also a contributor to your blurry pictures.  Slow shutter releases leads to pictures with half a body in them or a lost expression and other throw away pictures.
  • No real flash - The little blinky LED on the back of your cell phone is what they consider a flash.  Unfortunately unless your subject is within an arms-length from you , the flash on your cell phone will only lead to confuse the meter and produce a dark or poorly exposed image.
  • No Optical zoom - Since the lenses in cell phones have to be so thing you really don’t have a zoom.  You can “zoom” in by telling the camera app to focus on a section of the already tiny sensor and blow it up.  Generally speaking this leads to a poorer picture because of the small number of pixels being used to create the final image.  More importantly the lack of any real appreciable zoom limits the reach you can have with your pictures.

 

So what’s the good news about cell phone photography? 

  • Mobility - The single most positive features of cell phone photography is that is mobile and in most cases its on your hip, in your pocket or in your purse.  With a camera at arm’s reach at any given time you simply have the ability to capture life as it happens.   Many family memories have been captured on my iPhone that I would have missed without it.   And as I age, capturing them is very important if you know what I mean.
  • Accessibility - Because of their simplicity, mobility and ubiquity there is almost always a cell phone handy somewhere even if you don’t have yours.  Can you send me that picture has become a very common statement or even ice breaker today as more capable phone cameras become more prevalent.
  • Sharability (yes that’s not a word but it is a Kevinism) - Facebook has put the cell phone front and center in the world of social media, without it I think Facebook might actually have trouble surviving.   Some stats to chew on based on current 2012 statistics:

845 million active monthly users

425 million mobile users

250 million photos uploaded daily

Summary

So I think its clear to see that the best camera to have is the one you have with you.  Cell phone cams have their limitations and they are significant, but they are having and incredible impact on the world of photography and are ever increasing in their capabilities.  Is it the right camera for you?  There appears to be strong evidence that its “good enough” for a lot of people.  The only thing I worry about is the long term satisfaction of the images they produce within the limitations of their technology.  Good enough today may be a bit disappointing in 20 years.  However, in the right light, in the right conditions and working within their functional limitations they can in fact produce some wonderful images. 

Come back for the next installment when we talk about Point and Shoots and Bridge Cameras.

~Kevin

 

 

 

 


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