Think about the future and put away your phone

Phones while convenient, should be used with caution

For those that restore cars/bikes/planes/boats etc think about the reference pictures you keep with your vehicles. You can feel the emotions, sights, smells and noises that they invoke. Be it cross-ply tyres scrabbling for grip, death trap Formula cars from the times when men were men, or the smell of old school carburettors tuned by screwdrivers rather than computers. Holding that photo in your hand, someone took that photo not knowing where or when it would end up.

What you would give today to see an 8x10" photo instead of that tiny fuzzy polaroid ? Or colour instead of black and white ? Or an album of original photos instead of a single dog-eared 4x6" photo.

Now let's fast forward to present day. Every phone these days has a camera in it, why would should you buy an actual camera any more? All these phones are touted to have dizzying resolutions. Good question...

A little primer, digital cameras take pictures by capturing light on an image sensor. The sensor is a grid of tiny little pixels that get exposed to light to take the photo (more info here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image_sensor). The more pixels that capture the light, the higher resolution the image. The first cameras had pretty small pixel counts - termed "megapixels" - today we have some astounding numbers being bandied about. A phone camera with 41 Megapixels, sounds impressive doesn't it?

Megapixels ≠ Quality

Dispelling this straight away, large megapixel counts does not automatically mean high quality. In simple terms it's easy for marketers to say "this a 16MP" camera, whereas it's a lot harder to say it has a "APS-C" sensor. All things being equal I bet if you heard two cameras one had 16mp and one had 20mp you would automatically choose the 20mp camera..

What are the other things that determine quality ? Lens optics, processing software, sensor quality and more. However the single biggest determination of quality is the size of the sensor. Put simply digital cameras work by capturing light on a sensor. The larger and higher quality the sensor the better quality the photo is. Phone camera sensors are simply orders of magnitude smaller than midrange and high end DSLRs. How much different are they? Well here's a quick reference chart showing you the difference in relative terms between a pro camera sensor and your mobile phone. The phone in your pocket is at the far right (for instance an iPhone 5s). A $3000 professional DSLR would be a "full frame" sensor at the left:

In a workshop, garage or warehouse environment the quality difference is exaggerated as those environments are typically lower light than outdoors. That tiny little sensor has less light to work with indoors and as a result the pictures come out what's termed "noisey". The sensor has to capture light for a longer period of time (as there's less of it) which results in a drop in quality. Larger sensors deal with low light more effectively. If you want a graphic example compare the pictures on your phone that are taken at night versus the day - they're likely to be blurry, or obviously have reduced quality.

Why does it matter?

Taking that analogy back to paper photos in good light phone cameras are good for printing 4*6 and maybe 8*10 but you're starting to push it. APS-C sensors are good for approximately 19*12" and Full Frame Sensors even larger. (refer here Megapixel size chart). So if you knew you were never printing the photos at large sizes or only using the pictures you captured on small screens it would be okay to use phone camera's, ish...

Now let's pause for a moment to think about the lifetime of the photos you're taking now. Screen quality is going up - 4K displays are entering the mass market now, tablets have insane resolutions, "pixel density" has reached beyond what the human eye can see on small screen devices. So imagine where we'll be in 10 years time.

Printer quality and services are also improving in leaps and bounds. Print services are now offering large format books printed on top quality canvas paper. Not something that you'd want to put a tiny phone picture on.

You can always make things smaller, but you can never add detail to images afterwards.

So what should you use?

You need to make a decision about portability, how you'll use the device etc. We recommend at a minimum either a "Micro Four Thirds" or "APS-C" sized device here. dpreview.com has a number of buying guides to show you.
1) DSLR's http://www.dpreview.com/articles/0450645720/consumer-slr-camera-roundup-2014 or
2) Compact System Cameras: http://www.dpreview.com/articles/7802516432/mid-range-mirrorless-camera-roundup-2013

One device we really like:

The Samsung Galaxy NX. Let's just first say it's not cheap however - it has Android in the back of it. Which gives you a very very good solution for taking high quality photos AND reducing your time in managing photo files - for a tool it would pay for itself easily by time savings by eliminating manually transferring files. Of course with GlobalWorkshop you can use our Android app on this camera and upload direct from the camera. We're going to publish our test review soon, but so far we're loving it. Infact on one trip recently where I took my Olympus I actually missed the connectivity of the Samsung.

It's an enigma of a device - the photography press generally panned it for being too expensive, and having some quirks. When you treat it as a tool and need to upload images regularly it's an amazing device. We will have a full review coming up soon on it.

What we're keeping our eye on

The Panasonic Lumix CM1 Just shown at a photo show and releasing in November this year, it pairs a phone with a large 1" sensor. In our eyes for point and shoot photos where a proper camera is just not practical but still you want portability this looks like an excellent option. You can expect we'll be hunting eBay for one given we are very unlikely to see one in our home market initially. See more here http://www.theverge.com/2014/9/15/6151671/panasonic-leica-cm1-android-cameraphone

In closing - take the best quality you can

Those photos of your work will live on for your years. We believe quality is paramount and no matter what the load on our servers we're happy ingesting original JPG images. (We're not yet dealing with RAW files - at 20-80mb per image these need some horsepower to work with, no-one to date has wanted to upload RAW, but when the time comes...)

Featured Photo: Robert Overy

We liked this image and invited us to give his opinion and tell us about it. Definitely not something done on a phone! In his words:
"..It was my first time to the Silverstone classic, I knew Group C were racing so I made a beeline to the pits. Don't ask me why but after all these years I'm still drawn to the Leyton house colours and it couldn't be on a better car - the 1987 3 litre 962C Porsche. I shot this with my canon 1DX with a 50mm f1.2 lens which never fails to surprise me. The front panel leaning up while mechanics work was just perfect to add some interest and the Leyton house name
You can follow Robert on Twitter for more pictures of amazing machines - @robertovery


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