I am close to the photographic equivalent of a serial monogamist. I’ve been a Nikon user all my photographic life, save for branching out into the Bronica world for medium format work, and choosing a Lumix GF1 in 2011 as something a bit easier to carry. It’s never been a case of “familiarity breeding contempt” with me. I like my cameras familiar, predictable and reliable. I’m not particularly an “early adopter”. I was quite late to digital (2007) and still find opportunities to shoot on film. It probably also goes without saying, therefore, that this reticence has flowed over into my use of my smart-phone as a camera.
I’ve only ever had two. I bought an iPhone 4 late early in 2011, and enjoyed using it as a digital notebook, as well as a route into the social media world. The camera was pretty capable, and meant I missed fewer shots, because I was never one to carry a “proper” camera with me everywhere I went. I was also a slow adopter of any of the hundreds of photo apps that are around these days. That’s partly because, as I think I’ve said in this blog before, I could never be bothered to learn Photoshop etc. My photo editing ambitions have always remained pretty limited. Tweak the light now and again, tidy up a few rough edges, etc, that’s about all. A couple of quite basic apps do that for me.
I’ve always been keen on panoramic photography, though. I have a quite rare 135W panoramic back for my smaller Bronica camera. It shoots 23 panoramas to a 36 exposure roll of 35mm film and still gets regular outings. I was given an early tip about the Photosynth app, which I rate as one of the best iPhone apps ever, let down only by having a photo-sharing community limited to those with a Microsoft account. Rather ironic. I also love Autostitch. I’ve used it for about three years now to edit panorama components imported onto my iPad from my phone, Nikon or, most often, the little Lumix. Both of those panorama apps fall short of perfection, but there have been many times I’ve pushed them very hard. Biggest triumphs to date are a complete, interactive panorama of the interior of the Battisteria in Florence in Photosynth – walls, domed ceiling, floor, the lot – and a couple of Autostitch panoramas shot high up on Mont Blanc that were each built by welding together over 64 separate frames. If you were able to visit my exhibition in 2014 you’ll have seen a few of these kinds of pieces and there are several more on my web site.
I know quite a few people who consider themselves “proper” photographers have a downer on smartphone camera stuff. The breed is, and always has been, remarkably conservative, though. My own simple view is that if it takes photos of what I want to shoot, when I want to shoot, then any device counts as a camera I’m prepared to use. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve shot with an iPhone (surreptitiously or otherwise!) in places where I’d have got nowhere with a “proper” camera.
Recently, I’ve been preparing for a trip away from home that will involve very restricted luggage, but which is doubtless going to see me shoot a lot of stuff, in a variety of conditions and circumstances. Even making other sacrifices, I’m only packing my Lumix and a second lens. Often the Lumix accompanies me as a backup camera. This time, the backup job is being done by my iPhone. Not the old iPhone 4, but an iPhone 6 to which I upgraded a few days ago.
I think it was the 8 megapixel or so camera, and the superior performance of the newer phone with several existing apps that was a clincher for me. There was nothing basically wrong with the old phone, but hey, it’s Christmas, etc… I had a couple of hours today to take the new toy out and shoot somewhere I know very well indeed: part of the River Medway path near to home. To be frank, with just the iPhone, I felt a bit naked, and, I admit, more than a bit “amateur”. But even while shooting, I could see I was getting good stuff. It was very chilly, too, after a heavy overnight frost, and the Strawbs track that provides my title was in my head.
Pictures on my local walk often lend themselves to panoramic presentation. An app called DMD Panorama came into its own. I’d come close to ditching this from the old phone, but on the 6, it gave me seamless, continuous panoramas of really great quality and scant distortion. I will be looking for chances to try 360 degree shots with this. Its limitation is that it only works horizontally to left or right. Autostitch can do left, right, up and down, and therefore is able to build up successive sweeps across a view. The app has had its interface tweaked so that if using it as the camera app too, it almost eliminates edge of shot distortion, and comes close to guaranteeing a perfect join between adjacent frames.
Both shots in this blog are from the experimental shoot. I’ve not had a chance yet to blow any of the things up as large, quality prints yet, but that is, as they say, work in progress.