Smart phones? Smart cameras!
By Martin Williamson
For most Jaguar XK owners the concept of taking a photo with a watch or talking on a mobile phone was the stuff of international espionage in our youth. But since my first phone with a camera in 2002, a Nokia 3650, with a measly 0.3MP sensor, the technology has come on in leaps and bounds and less than ten years later Nokia were producing a 41MP camera on their 808 Pureview phone. With the added 3G/4G signal on all smart phones, photos can be loaded to the internet within seconds of taking them, too, if social networking is your thing and if you can actually get a suitable signal at a car show.
Of course, the DSLR still stands supreme as a camera for the keen enthusiast, with vastly better lens quality, bigger sensors in terms of dimensions, not just pixel count, and the ability to manually control the settings for that perfect shot at the right shutter speed with just the right amount of depth of field and exposure.
But these days, with the proliferation of excellent quality smart phone cameras from Apple, et al and, in my opinion, the king of phone cameras, the Nokia Lumia 1020 model and forthcoming 950 models, it is far easier to leave the DSLR behind. Not only have you not got the weight of the DSLR to lug around all day, but increasingly so, you are faced with huge crowds that are seemingly less considerate than ever walking straight into your shot because you’re having to stand 10 metres back to get the whole car in the frame! With the phone, you can get the car in the frame from just a few metres away. On the other hand, a phone can be just as expensive as a budget DSLR, and then again battery life isn’t marvellous on a modern smart phone compared to that of a compact or DSLR camera.
Nowadays much of my photography at car shows is now done with my Nokia Lumia 1520 sporting a 20MP camera with Carl Zeiss Optics. What attracted me to the Lumia, without getting into arguments about the operating system, was the excellent camera, the Nokia photography ‘apps’ and its image stabiliser allowing some excellent shots in extremely low light conditions such as you find at the NEC in Birmingham.
Photographed in the Lake District late afternoon in a wooded area without flash with the camera handheld.
Consequently, if you will pardon the pun, I will focus on what’s on offer from Nokia in the way of ‘apps’ although in most cases these apps are available for Android and Apple, or at least similar variations exist. However, the bigger the sensor size on your phone, the better the resolution allowing one to either crop into an extremely small part of the image and still have a sharp image or to have sufficient resolution for good quality printing up to even A3 in size.In terms of ‘apps’ for taking photos, the Nokia Camera app is worth having if you like to take manual control of the camera. The touch screen options allow one to adjust the focus, exposure, shutter speed, white balance and ISO setting. As with most phones there is a Nokia Panorama ‘app’ allowing one to shoot a long line of cars.Another ‘app’ is Nokia Refocus that will take a series of images allowing you to then select what you want infocus which is great for those shots of bonnet mascots up close in what would be macro on a normal camera. It also has a colour popper that allows you to create those monochrome images with just the subject in colour.There are a range of third party ‘apps’ that also offer various opportunities to control the camera.One of the benefits of the smart phone is the number of apps that allow you to take an ‘arty’ shot rather than having to post edit it. Most notable is Instagram (iOS, Android and Windows) that allows you to shoot, add aneffect and then share it online albeit, until recently, in square format only limiting car photo opportunities to anextent. Some even preview the effect prior to taking the shot such as LazyLens and Kaleidoscopic but myfavourite is SophieLens that offers software filters for different effects, my usual choice being the Cinematicfilter for dramatic contrast with a dark vignette.
An example of using a filter such as SophieLens whilst taking the photo.
Post editing at the computer. However, whether it be your phone, your compact, DSLR or even your tablet with which the photo was taken, any image can easily be manipulated via a plethora of ‘apps’. The best thing is that many of these are free to use. Naturally, some of the features are restricted in the free version, but even the paid-for ‘apps’ don’t cost a lot compared to the professional photo editing packages from the likes of Corel or Adobe at their eye-wateringly high prices. One package worth mentioning is the oddly named GIMP, or The GNU Image Manipulation Program that is free to download, but not the most intuitive to use. Over the years I have always favoured PaintShopPro although I stuck with Version 8 when it was still part of JASC before being absorbed by Corel. Both Corel and Adobe offer free trial options so it is worth downloading these and seeing how you get on with them as they do offer far better control on ‘photoshopping’ an image. For example, I use my PaintShopPro software to trial out styling ideas on my MG where I can create a black roof and bonnet to see how it looks before heading down to the body shop, or you simply want to add some sun flare to the photo or edit out an annoying lamp post spoiling the view behind the car using the cloning tool.
Adding a sunset flare effect to the photo.
Try out styling ideas before committing to the bodyshop.
But sometimes you just want a simple to use program or app to create some artistic shots from your more mundane photos. There are various Windows ‘apps’ for Windows 8, 8.1 and 10 for use on the phone, tablet or computer such as ColorPop, Fhotoroom, KVADPhoto, Photo Editor, PhotoSplash, Phototastic and PhotoWeaver. iOS and Android again have similar offerings and of course Mac users also have some very creative tools. In the case of the Windows variants listed, all offer simple controls to modify the brightness, contrast, temperature, sharpness and hue, as well as cropping and rotating of the image to correct the composition. In addition, many of these ‘apps’ offer filters to add effects such as a vignette or change the texture of the image. My favourite is a free ‘app’ called “Fotor” that has simple slider bars with instant application of the effect allowing me to see the result. It is simple enough to undo and try again with a different setting, and more importantly it is saved as a new image so the original image file is left untouched. There is a good choice of filters with a slider bar allowing the intensity of the filter effect to be set.
An image opened in Fotor prior to editing.
Edited with some tweaking of the contrast, saturation and temperature, and added vignette.
Or just a simple effect filter.
A more recent development in smartphone and DSLR photography terms is an old technique known as HDR and this feature is worth looking for in any app or on a camera. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range which uses multiple images to help recover details in dark or bright areas of the photograph. It’s not always possible to use HDR in taking the photo owing to movement, and if not used correctly can end creating an artificial looking image. However, existing images can have an HDR simulation applied which can be quite effective at adding the wow factor to a photo.
Post editing using an HDR simulation on the image on the right which has lightened up the darker parts of the Bentley and darkened up bits of the cloud to add more detail.
Having Fun? Some packages also allow the option to create water colour or oil painting effects as well. Others let you go all out for the Andy Warhol look.
A street scene from the 1940s? No, taken in 2008. Photofunia is another package that allows you to blend your photos into another to create interesting montages.
Consequently, anyone can achieve some fantastic results that, despite having been taken on a phone, or look a little bland from the DSLR or pocket camera, can result in images that are worthy of having printed to canvas at your local printing shop.