WHEN my blog turned two years last month, I started to feel the pressure. I have an award-winning work*, people are starting to talk about it, and potential partners are listening to my sales pitch. But, I felt lost in the differentiation game. In a time when almost everybody travels, writes, and takes photos, what makes me different? What makes me relevant? After some self-talk and dirty work on my notepad, I came up with a strategy. Among others, one bold decision was to ditch my DSLR and swear on the power of smartphone.
Warming Up with Blackberry
My first travel photos on Facebook were all products of BlackBerry Curve. They were trying-hard photos, good only for the consumption of friends and family members who can forgive me for lousy shots.
Keeping the Momentum With Flare
When my BlackBerry failed to resuscitate (it got soaked in Caramoan saltwater), the cheap Cherry Mobile Flare came to my life. For P4000, it boasts of a 16MP camera good enough for a learner in photography. That’s when my curiosity in photography started to peak, although taking good shots was painstaking. In well-lighted environments, the Flare needed super steady hands and, most of the time, post-processing to correct exposure and saturation. Resolution was barely passable for a full-spread photo, and shots in dark environment were most of the time unusable.
My friends goaded me to show off my photos in a blog, instead of just compiling them on Facebook. Peer pressure. I gave in. Then, I started to get curious about blogging. I rummaged through the internet, checked a hundred of travel blogs, and took inspiration from their work.
It was Martin Flordeliza, the writer behind Walks of Kulot who seem to have dropped me the clue: I can blog even without a “real camera”. It’s not the equipment that makes great photos anyway, he said, but the photographer behind the camera, his passion and imagination. And those words gave me so much faith in my phone. Until I joined Choose Philippines and caught some publicity with my article on the Gapuz Grape Farm in La Union. Indeed, I was able to make it–without a DSLR.
Death By Zen Fone
After two years of a job well done, my Flare had to rest. I got the ASUS ZenFone 5 and then later, the ZenFone 2, hoping they were good replacement. Both have a manual camera, depth of field settings, and elegant user interface design. It’s refreshing for someone who has used BlackBerry and Flare for a long time. The ZenFone 5, however, was the phone I never used in blogging. Its camera gave me a difficult time achieving the image quality I wanted. For instance, exposure and color rendering were a usual problem. And the biggest trouble? The battery. It was a pain in the ass to the point that it would no longer turn on unless plugged in to an electric source!
The ZenFone 2 camera, however, doesn’t disappoint. It promises sharp photos and delivers sharp photos. Its autofocus functionality gives good color rendering, very minimal noise, and works well (I think, very well) in low-light environment. Ours could have been a long-term relationship, but later on, I realized it was like the other guy. Like the ZenFone 5, it has efficiency issues. Battery life was undesirable and product support was really weak.
Discovering the Power of Huawei
And then just recently, I decided to switch to Huawei. Its Mate S has an elegantly sleek design and metal build (7.2 mm thick, 5.5-inch display) and is one of the beautiful phones in the market today. The UI design is basic, nothing revolutionary, but other features (audio, video, camera, efficiency) were way better than my past phones.
With its 13MP rear camera, I’m able to take sharp photos both in lighted and dark environments. It has a Super Night setting that captures great shots in low-light conditions and a user-friendly slider for adjusting light saturation. The manual camera also does well in getting the desired shutter speed, exposure, and focus to give your pictures a professionally distinctive look.
One function I love in the Mate S is Light Trails. It’s best for shooting waterfalls, moving lights, and creating light paintings. (You’ll see more posts about the power of Huawei Mate S as I continue to experiment with this phone.)
Joining a Photography Club
Because of my new cause—promoting mobile photography and local travel—I challenged myself to join a group that can help me learn more about mobile photography. Fortunately, there’s an active phoneography group in Cebu City who’s brave enough to take their high-end cameras in the backseat.
Formed in 2014, PHONEography CEBU is currently 1,500 strong according to its Facebook page. Its members come from different backgrounds including both amateur and professional photographers and multimedia experts who have established names in their field.
Aside from keeping a Facebook group to feature the work of its members, PHONEography CEBU has also conducted a number of photowalks, competitions, and workshops in the past two years. In 2015, it joined the 8th Scott Kelby Photowalk, making it the first group in the Philippines—if not the world—to use only smartphones in the annual worldwide event.
On April 2016, it held a fashion shoot complete with professional models and talks from fashion photography experts, but without any DSLR camera. It was a breakthrough, a bold move to defy the conventional. And it was totally fun and a lot of learning for me. The energy of the team members and their confidence in their phones were exactly what I needed to feel to keep my faith in my Huawei Mate.
DSLR vs Smartphones
Before switching to Huawei Mate S, I’ve used a Canon 1000D for about a year. As a beginner, I had to learn the jargon of photography first (aperture, shutter speed, ISO, white balance, etc.) through video tutorials on Youtube. I bugged some friends for tips (thanks Philip and Lester) and experimented a lot with settings. And then suddenly, I decided to ditch my DSLR. I wanted to continue what I started: to inspire everyone to travel around the Philippines, take stunning photos, and even keep a travel-photo blog just using their mobile phones!
Why go for a DLSR?
- Superior image quality (higher resolution; more details)
- The ability to have artistic control over the exposure
- Faster shutter speed for shooting action
- Versatility (from using interchangeable lenses and accessories)
- Better low-light shooting capability
- High depth of field
- Zoom in to the subject even at a distance
- Better color accuracy
- Longer battery life
A DSLR is definitely bulkier than a smartphone, especially when you use interchangeable lenses. Also, the price can make a lot of difference when a smartphone that costs a few thousands of pesos can give photos as good as a DSLR.
And why go for a Smartphone?
- Convenient (lightweight ; portable)
- Easy to use (selfie photos; automatic settings)
- Images are immediately usable and shareable online
- Easy editing (built-in apps; third-party apps)
The advancements in smartphone technology are unstoppable. We now see a number of smartphones capable of functions only DSLR cameras used to have, like the following:
- Panorama images (no complex editing)
- Long exposure shots (light trails, silky water)
- Shooting slow-motion and time-lapse
- Blurred background (depth of field)
- Burst shots
The tradeoffs: battery life and image quality. Need I say more?
Can Live Without
Should you cut the relationship with your DSLR, too? You have options: mirrorless cameras, point and shoot cameras, action cams, and smartphones. Which one to pick is a very personal decision, mostly depending on the nature of your work and what you want to accomplish. If you’re a professional photographer who’s into large print and commercial work, say product and fashion photography, DSLR is the weapon of choice. And it will be for many more years. For the everyday consumers on Instagram, Facebook, and your blog, I believe it’s worth settling for a smartphone.
With camera features now driving the competition among smartphones, manufacturers will continue to push the technology further–and they’re doing it faster than ever before–until we develop DSLR-like smartphones.
Perhaps, smartphones will never replace DSLRs. And they probably don’t have to. But there will come a time that our technology for mobile photography will see more innovations, our smartphones will get better and better, and phoneographers will become the new breed of professionals.
Game for mobile photography?