You’ve read or heard of the Hans Christian Anderson story “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” It’s a tale of vanity and comeuppance amongst the upper classes, including the emperor. Whenever I think back on that story, especially in the context of contemporary digital photography, I keep substituting “image quality” or “bokeh” or one of the other subjective judgements used to separate the “real” photographer/photography from the so-called pikers and “lesser classes.” Or so the “real” photographers think. The “real” photographers are manipulated through their vanity into spending inordinate sums on expensive equipment in a fruitless attempt to make their photography look ever better, when in reality it remains barren and bereft of real meaning. I certainly feel I’m headed down that path.
I have an eclectic collection of digital cameras, but they all share these features in common: their sensors are much larger than smart phone camera sensors and they have (at times fast) interchangeable lenses. Whenever I got a phone with a camera, such as the HTC myTough 4G when I had T Mobile as my wireless provider, it had a camera that I could easily ignore. It produced rather terrible photos.
But then I switched wireless providers to AT&T and in the process picked up a Samsung Galaxy S4. The camera in that smart phone was supposed to be so much better than the HTC, and was supposed to be as good as the iPhone. And everybody, of course, knows just how good the iPhone is. After all they’re replacing Pulitzer-winning photojournalists out in the field with regular journalists and iPhones. And we all know how well that’s been working out.
So today, while waiting for my wife who was undergoing a medical procedure, I went outside the building with my S4 and VSCO Cam (an Android app) and proceeded to just experiment with the camera and the app. I’m not happy with the direct output from the camera, but I decided that if I used VSCO to doctor it up (like Instagram), then maybe I could produce something acceptable. Or maybe not. The following images are from that experimentation. I played with cropping (a lot at 1:1), grain, saturation, black and white, contrast, and a number of presets that I think were meant to be like certain films. I’m working on a longer-winded review of VSCO and Snapseed for ThewsReviews, but for now I’m putting out the “fruits of my labors” to see how good or bad the world judges they are.
As small images they’re almost acceptable. But one of the joys of digital photography is the ability to zoom in (not to pixel peeping levels) and discover levels of detail. When I zoom in I don’t see that here I see smearing of fine detail, and it drives me crazy. Maybe it’s a product of over processing with the tools. Although I doubt it. I do know that I like the effects from VSCO over the simple JPEGS that the camera produces.
One other observation: pulling out a smart phone to take a photo is about as intrusive as pulling out a large DSLR. Everybody has become sensitized to that action, for better or worse.