By Matt Birchler
Topic: photos
Posts: 7
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There is Still Room for "Real Cameras"

There is Still Room for "Real Cameras"

Over the past few weeks I've been selling a bunch of stuff on eBay so I could break even on a new camera. Now I'm a huge proponent of smartphone cameras, especially those in the iPhone 11 Pro and Pixel 4, being good enough for basically everything these days, but for me, there apparently still is room for a dedicated camera. Why? Let me explain.

Quality in the Details

First, let's get this out of the way: the iPhone and Pixel take great photos, but neither of them are perfect. They do great when looking at photos from afar, on a phone, and often even on a desktop monitor, but when you zoom in, they cut some corners. Here's a close up of my quarantine stubble:

Those were each taken in my kitchen with medium lighting, and while they both look good, the iPhone clearly approximates some of the data in my facial hair, while the Sony captures it quite well. You can also see some visible "liquefaction" in the bokeh behind me on the iPhone shot while the Sony camera has a "creamier" quality to it.

Better Portraits

Next up, let's look at some selfies. Here's the iPhone 11 Pro front-facing selfie camera:

Looks pretty good, although the sun got a little into the lens and washed some stuff out, but we could improve this in post. Also, since this is a fixed focus lens and has a pretty high aperture, the whole scene is in focus. Fine, but not always what I want.

Here's the same shot with the back camera on the same phone:

The quality difference is pretty stark, and this is clearly better in my opinion. I have far more detail and the background has a bit of softness to it. I'm quite happy with this photo, but let's look at the Sony:

Now this was shot in RAW, so I edited it a little to make the colors more in line with the iPhone photos, but the quality is clearly higher basically all around. My face has less sharpening applied so it looks a little more natural, and the background has a lot more bokeh happening, which I like for this shot. Of course, I could close the aperture a bunch on this camera to get it to not be blurred if I'd prefer. Also, the sky is a little blown out in this shot, but I could reclaim that data if I wanted (RAW 🙌), I just liked the blown out look over there.

Better Depth Overall

And depth overall is just nicer on the Sony camera. Here's an attempt to get a photo of a single leaf on a bush on the iPhone:

And here it is on the Sony:

I cranked up the bokeh to show the difference, but again, since I control the aperture, I could make the background more crisp if I preferred.

The iPhone is Still Better in Some Ways

Shooting on a normal camera again has made me appreciate some things on the iPhone and Pixel cameras more than I did before.

First, almost every photo I take on my iPhone or Pixel are good. Some of them are great, but 95% of them are at least good. You literally just point your phone at anything and it will get a good shot. The Sony can take better photos, but it also requires more work from you to get them. That shallow depth of field I love? That also means that I have less room for error when focusing, lest I miss focus and have a bad image.

Second, night mode is really something else. Now, the Sony doesn't do horribly here, but it's definitely not as good as either Apple or Google's current offerings.

And third, there's something really magical about taking a photo and having it instantly be uploaded to your online photo backup, or be able to share it within seconds. Having to plug the camera into my iPad and import the photos is annoying, and the wireless sharing option is not any more convenient unless I want to do it when I've only got my iPhone with me.

Wait, What Camera Are You Talking About???

I'm using a Sony RX100 Mark 3, which is a 6 year old camera which still retails for $600. Yeah, this isn't the latest and greatest DSLR, and there have actually been 4 more revisions on this exact model since it launched in 2014, but it's still a great camera. Here's a couple requisite Sherman pics I got with it in the my first day.

Portrait Mode Confusion

Portrait Mode Confusion

This photo comparison was really interesting to me. I shared a portrait taken from the iPhone 11 Pro and Pixel 4 and asked people which they preferred. Opinions were split, to say the least. Here are the photos for your viewing pleasure:

Pixel 4 Portrait Mode
iPhone 11 Pro Portrait Mode

I personally think the iPhone shot is way better than the Pixel one. The colors are far more accurate to reality, and also looks better in my opinion. When I zoom in on the images, the statue itself is sharp on the iPhone photo, but looks way over-sharpened on the Pixel one. The fake bokeh is similar on each photo, but I think the iPhone's is a little more pleasant and has a better roll-off on the statue.

But these feelings are not universal!

Devon thinks the PIxel one looks way better.

I prefer the look and feel of the second photo, for sure. Quality is all together higher, but could be lighting factors.

Kareem agrees.

  1. Not too bright. Not too dark, perfectly balanced.

Fouzan triples down.

IMO 1 is too vibrant for the overcast day it was shot in.

You could increase contrast with 2 and fix it. The DOF effect is very unrealistic with 1, and really bothers me. It wouldn’t be easy to fix.

What I find most interesting about these is that numerous people who thought the Pixel was better cited the "accuracy" as a reason for this. The reason this is interesting is that, as the person there, I can tell you the Pixel shot looks much different from the reality of the scene. For example, the fox statue is straight up not the color shown in the Pixel photo, while the iPhone one is pretty spot on.

Dynamic Range, Telephoto, and the iPhone 11 Pro & Pixel 4

Dynamic Range, Telephoto, and the iPhone 11 Pro & Pixel 4

One thing I've noticed in the last few months using the Pixel 4 and iPhone 11 Pro day-to-day is that photos off the iPhone's telephoto lens tend to be better quality. The Pixel 4 is no slouch, but side by side, the iPhone tends to do better for me.

As an example, below is a shot I took this morning directly into the sun. The sun is obviously super bright, but the ground is all backlit and darker. The photos have very similar colors, which is not always the case between these cameras, but you can see there is much less clipping on the highlights in the iPhone shot (look at the cloud above the sun), it avoids the lens flare that the Pixel has front and center, and the little details like the tree branches are more sharp.

iPhone 11 Pro
Pixel 4

Night Modes Are Great, but Have a Long Way to Go

Night Modes Are Great, but Have a Long Way to Go

I posted a photo comparison this morning to see what people preferred. Usually, this is an iPhone vs Pixel comparison, but this time it was the same iPhone photo (a) as it came out of the camera app and (b) after a few edits in Lightroom.

  • 4 people preferred the unedited photo
  • 11 people preferred the edited photo

It's slightly imperfect since I got a little too aggressive with the saturation on the edited image, but even still, the numbers still went that direction (i fixed the edit to be a little more subtle at the top of this post).

I did this test because I think that night modes on all cameras I've used so far are good at getting lots of image data, but are not to the point where they produce a pleasing image right off the bat. In most cases, the night mode photos I am happy with are the ones that I edit to look better.

And for all the hype that Apple got for making their night photos "not look like day" I still think they look too much like daytime before edits are made. This isn't a slight on what Apple's doing, or what Google or anyone else are going with night modes, just that we've got a long road ahead of these getting better over time, and that's pretty exciting because even in this early stage they feel like magic.

A Day in Wheaton, IL

Wheaton, IL is a really nice town with a great downtown area. Beth and I spent an hour there today, most ly on the hunt for coffee and macarrons. We succeded on both fronts, scoring some really good coffee from River City Roasters and some better-than-average macaroons from PompleMousse Bakery. We did get a bit of hipster vibe from a lot of the places we stopped, which was a little much even for us. Oh well, we still had some fun and will amost certainly be back for more.

As usual, I took the camera along but didn't find that much that was dying to get its picture taken. As such, today's gallery is a little sparse, but I still hope you enjoy.

A Day at the Orchard

While this is typically a tech blog, it's nice to break free from that every once in the while. Today I'm sharing a few photos from my wife and my visit to a pretty rad apple orchard here in Illinois (still technically "Apple news", yes?).

I hope you enjoy!

Let's do this thing! Let's do this thing!

Um, what's a potato tent? (spoiler, the potato tent was closed) Um, what's a potato tent? (spoiler, the potato tent was closed)

Selfie with the wrong shutter speed selected :(  She still looks good, though. Selfie with the wrong shutter speed selected :(  She still looks good, though.

Seven...hundred...dollars... Seven...hundred...dollars...

Well someone must very proud Well someone must very proud

Creepy #1 Creepy #1

Creepy #2 Creepy #2

Going home. The day wouldn't be complete without a ridiculously post-processed car shot. Going home. The day wouldn't be complete without a ridiculously post-processed car shot.

My Best Photos of the Year

A little over a year ago, I bought my first really nice camera. I got the Nikon J1, mostly because it's a good camera and I got it for a crazy low price. In that time, I've become more comfortable being "the guy with the camera" at events, which was a huge change that absolutely took some getting used to. I felt weird, and that probably made other people feel weird about it. The biggest thing I did to make everyone feel fine about it was to share the results of the photos I was snapping.

So here is a collection of my favorite shots I took this year!

This is my favorite picture of the year. Beth and I went for a walk through a forest preserve in the fall, and it was beautiful. I love this picture not only because it turned out well, but because it immediately brings me back to that day and what I felt then. And that's the whole point of photography.

This was a picture I got while golfing this summer. Right before teeing off, I saw this little guy just hanging out by the tee box. He didn't seem to have any interest in moving, so I grabbed my camera and got this quick shot before he jumped away.

Speaking of golf, this is my favorite golf shot this year. This is my brother taking a shot from the rough this autumn. I love the colors on display and the sharpness of this action shot.

Along the same lines, I love this picture for capturing my dad sinking a putt on the 18th hole. I don't remember what was at stake with this putt, but it captures the magic of getting that damn white ball in the hole.

We were dog sitting this little guy for a few days last February, and he liked to play in the snow. He had just been cleaned and was as white as snow. This image is completely unedited to show that yeah, you could lose this guy if he wanted to be stealthy.

This is the same dog this November. He's getting bigger and is a great walker.

This picture of Beth is one of my favorites. I don't think she likes this picture, but I think she looks adorable.

This was taken at my grandmother's 90th birthday party. We were passing around printouts of some old photographs, and my uncle got a kick out of this set in particular. I hope that some of my photos evoke this reaction someday.

Super serious. This is from the 4th of July, and my sister is plotting her next move in an intense game of Telestrations.

Also at the fireworks, my in-laws enjoying the show.

Turkeys roam our neighborhood year round, and this is the best shot I have been able to get of them. In a car (passenger seat)...driving fast...

I have this picture printed and on my desk at work. It's gotten so many compliments as being the "coolest" portrait my co-workers have seen. I think it's pretty rad.

I got frustrated that I haven't really ever had a LEGO set in my entire life, so I bought one, built it, and got a picture of Han Solo sticking up Admiral Ackbar while he's getting his morning space-coffee.

This picture is ridiculous, and I love it. I took this with my HTC One M8 and used its duo camera to get the shallow depth-of-field. I then applied a bunch of filters to it. My goal was to make something very "Michael Bay." I think I succeeded.

Them eyes...

I have no idea what this plant is, but it looked pretty cool, and this particular plant decided to grow twice as tall and every other plant in the field. You go, white mystery plant!

Now we're into the 2014 Christmas season. I randomly snapped this picture while I was figuring out the settings I needed to use for the morning's festivities, and it turned out really well.

This is Beth's side of the family on Christmas Eve. This picture is technically not my best, but I think it shows what makes Christmas so special to me. If you can't tell, he is holding a chocolate bar, and we're all getting a kick out of it. Just a chocolate bar, but in this situation, with these people, at this time of year, it's all the excuse we need to smile and have a good time.

That fortune cookie said something about being ready to kill the snake that comes your way. Fortune cookies are getting real...

And I'll wrap it up with two simple posed shots. The first is me, Beth, and my brother and sister, Mike and Sara. The other is my family, with too many people to list here. The curse of being the photographer in the family is that you yourself are not in as many pictures as anyone else. These are some of the few I get to be in, and it's just nice to see everyone together.

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