Can smartphones now replace a “real” camera?

Can smartphones now replace a “real” camera?


All photos taken with a smartphone by Brandon Hoover.


This is question I’ve been often asked and see discussed online each time a new phone is released. New features are often labeled as revolutionary, or game-changing therefore supposedly eliminating the need to carry another camera. There are few ways to think about these statements and factors to consider when seeking an answer to this question. Note, this post is very much written for the masses and does not include each and every variable in the mix. We could get far more technical with this discussion, but at this stage it’s about the big picture.


Screenshot 2013-11-02 14.26.59Sensors in smartphones, for the most part, are absolutely minuscule in comparison to DSLRs and are quite a bit smaller than most point and shoot cameras. There are some physics involved in this discussion but generally the larger the surface area of the sensor, the more capable it will be at resolving detail and creating less noise in low light conditions. Granted, technology has rapidly improved the ability to maintain decent image quality in challenging environments. There’s speculation that the first iPhone sensors were creating images so poor in terms of resolution and noise that this gave rise to apps that could utilize filters such as Instagram and Hipstamatic in order mask the faults, much in the way that Lomo cameras became an artistic fetish with random light leaks and unpredictable additions to the final image. So while technology marches on, there’s only so much that can be accomplished with tiny sensors and software. This is an area that may and should see further improvement and may continue to close the gap.



Brandon Hoover

This is what I view to be one of the most limiting factors for current smartphones. The lack of an optical zoom has created a whole generation of sub-par images captured by people digital zooming in on a scene. Take a look around the audience at any event and you’ll still see this pinch/zoom happening. It’s not the user’s fault; it’s been something proudly stamped on the sides of cameras for years, aka “100x digital zoom”, etc. Consumers, unaware of the differences, enable digital zoom and greatly degrade the final image quality – to the point that prints from these images would look quite horrendous. The counterpoint to this is that in reality how many people are actually printing photos from smartphones? The vast majority are posting them online in reduced resolution and calling it a day.

As a lover of prime lenses (lenses that don’t zoom), there is absolutely a time and place to slow down and creatively constrict yourself to one focal length (which is what every iPhone is essentially). But the average person generally isn’t treating their phone in this manner and therefore is using digital zoom.

This is what I view as the next step in smartphone photography; the advent of optical zoom and improved lenses. This will be a challenge as it requires additional physical space or attachments of some sort, much in the way third party companies have tackled this need in a less than elegant manner. A company like Apple won’t resort to an unrefined solution, so it’ll be interesting to see how they approach this design.



Brandon Hoover

Brandon Hoover

One massively important benefit that smartphone cameras have over most traditional cameras is the ability to immediately and easily share memories captured. This point can’t be stressed enough. This is a huge limitation to most cameras. Sure there are workarounds and some companies have tried to create solutions, but there is simply no comparison to the sake of ease one experiences when snapping a pic and uploading it directly to social media within seconds. This, for many people, drives them to use their smartphone instead of another option despite the other disadvantages. Quite often I’ll see people carrying DSLRs still taking photos with their phones – for this very reason. Camera manufacturers should find methods of embracing the desire to share. Building wifi or apps into the camera isn’t enough. We need a very simple and straightforward method of quickly getting photos from our cameras to the cloud. There will come a time when many consumers will abandon point and shoot cameras for this very reason – as smartphone technology catches up, there will be little reason to consider bringing a compact camera. Declining sales in this area have already begun and the landslide will only continue.




I personally find the process of throwing on some good music with a steaming cup of coffee and editing photos in Lightroom or Photoshop to be supremely relaxing. But I freely admit I’m absolutely an oddity in the minority. For most people, this would sap any desire they had to share their memories. Once an event passes, it’s exponentially more difficulty to work up the time to go back and edit pics from the time. I’m sure this is even more true for the under 35 crew; Instagram, Whatsapp and Facebook are avenues for quick sharing and harvesting of likes and comments. Tying in with the previous section on sharing, the ability to quickly edit and share in a spontaneous manner is critical for many people. Beam your DSLR pics to your tablet or smartphone, edit quickly and share. Yes, to an extent this can be currently done, but it’s not a mainstream workflow and hasn’t been a priority for companies.

vscocamWith apps such as Snapseed, VSCO, etc, there’s something fun and almost tangible about touching the photos you’re editing on your phone or tablet. For many, this is likely to be far more approachable than the intimidation presented by professional editing software.


Wrap up

Brandon Hoover

Brandon Hoover

This all comes down to the often repeated statement that the best camera is the one that’s with you. When film cameras were king, far less people had a camera with them all the time. There’s no doubt that being able to capture and share memories on the fly is highly desirable; and for many this trumps any of the geeky points discussed above regarding image quality. This is a huge advantage for smartphones, and weighs in heavily to this discussion.

I can see no foreseeable future in which I personally will give up taking a traditional camera with a bag of lenses with me to travel destinations or while striving to create photos to hang in a gallery. There’s simply no current substitute for the quality offered by a full frame sensor with fast glass, or  a mirror-less camera with a decent lens. But I’m admittedly outside of the norm. And for most people, there’s equally no substitute for sharing that special moment with your closest 400 friends in seconds and ultimately that may be what determines the answer to the initial question.

Yes. Current phones can now replace a ‘real’ camera, not because of image quality or sensor technology, but because of the shift in society that has transformed what it means to capture and share a moment in time.


My photos on 500px and Flickr

Mostly phone pics shared on Instagram

A Day Made of Glass 2 – A Mind-Blowing Glimpse into the Future

This phenomenal vision will require immense leaps in technology, bandwidth, processing power and a mind-shift in the way we interact with our environment. It’s both exciting and frustrating to know what’s possible and yet to realize we’re not there yet.

From Mashable:

Gorilla Glass manufacturer Corning has unveiled a follow-up YouTube video to its wildly successful “A Day Made of Glass,” providing another look into what the future could be like with the growth of glass touchscreen interfaces, from innovative chalkboards and activity tables in classrooms to uses for it in hospitals.

Corning released two versions of “A Day Made of Glass 2″ — one with a narrator and another, abbreviated version without commentary — the video follows the life of young Amy and her family as they go through their day using various products made of glass. Amy does classwork on a glass tablet, controls the temperature of the car from the backseat and even attends a field trip at the Redwood Forrest with an interactive signage that brings learning to life. Her teacher also works with students on interactive touchscreen activity tables. Corning expects these activity tables to be rolled out in the near future.

Kimono and yellow umbrella

Kyoto, Japan

Obviously I’d prefer if you view this one in the larger size (click through the photo or here’s the direct link).

Taken in Kyoto, Japan, handheld in the rain. You may see this girl again in other photos which I’ll upload in the future, as I had previously asked her if I could take her portrait. I took a lot of photos in Japan based around different series and themes but still have yet to figure out a good way to display them.

By the way, this is what, the 10th photo from Japan that I’ve uploaded? Only 3,500 more to go through. 😉

Canon 5D Mk II | Canon EF 135mm f/2.0 L USM @ f/2.8 1/250sec

An important article in The Huffington Post written by my cousin, "GM Goes Grassroots. A Son is Torn."

The following article in The Huffington Post, was written by my cousin, Jake Brewer. The article speaks not only to his father, my uncle who has worked for GM for 34 years (and helped start up Saturn), but to the entire nation during this desperate and critical juncture.

An excerpt follows, but please read the article in its entirity. My cousin writes from his heart, while maintaining his passion for a clean energy future. This crisis puts our family in a very difficult position. I have other family members also in quite successful positions in America’s automotive industry. Perhaps Jake said it best, ‘I “support the troops, not the war.”‘

“On November 12, Tom Brewer received an “URGENT call to action…” along with all other General Motors employees in the United States from GM North American President Troy Clarke. The return email address was “” The urgent task at hand: Call your members of Congress to request that the American auto industry receive a government “loan” of at least $25 billion.

Employees were then directed to a website through which to take action:

As a grassroots clean energy advocate and strategic communications professional, it’s a type of request I know intimately. I’ve written and received countless emails just like it. Two this week. Tom, however, has not.

Tom has been an employee of General Motors since he graduated from Evansville University in 1974. At the time, for a Midwestern kid from “stonecutter” Bedford, Indiana, it was kind of like going to work for Google today.

As you can imagine, Tom’s seen a lot happen in the energy and auto industries in the last 34 years, but before this year he never considered that his retirement, his health care, and indeed his professional future would be in such dramatic jeopardy. In fact, without ever changing careers, he once worked for the largest and arguably the most influential corporation in the world; now he’s getting these emails. He never dreamed that he’d need to be calling his congressmen to save the company to which he’s always been loyal, and upon which he and his family’s livelihood has depended. I can speak with such certainty about Tom’s past because I’ve known him for 27 of the 34 years he’s been with General Motors, and we’re very close.

Tom is my dad”

“Today my organization is calling on me to mobilize hundreds of thousands of young people to fight in Congress and the halls of politics nationwide for the clean energy future that we MUST achieve for the future of our economy and our climate. This week your organization is calling on you to get on the phones with your congressmen to save the 100 year old auto company to whom you’ve devoted your entire professional life.”

The Twitter Post

A phenomenon has swept across the internet. Twitter.

No, it’s not new, in fact it was developed in March 2006 according to Wikipedia. I personally started using it in March of 2007, after reading Kottke proclaim:

“Twitter is the first thing on the web that I’ve been excited about in ages. Like years. The last thing was probably Flickr.”

I used it consistently since first joining, updating at a steady rate of about 1 ‘tweet’ per day. I approached it with the parallel mindset of posting a blog entry or a photo to Flickr. All was well in my slow and steady Twitter world, until the end of September 2008. My Twitter updates skyrocketed, and my network expanded. View the graph below. (only goes back one year)

Twitter posts by month:

This is due to two primary factors: my iPhone 3G and the discovery of ‘jtug’ – Jakarta Twitter Users Group. This has radically changed my Twitter experience, and completely enhanced the usage of Twitter for me. The iPhone enables me to use Twitter anywhere, and the Twitterific application is generally a pleasure to use, both on the iPhone and the desktop based version.

The Jakarta Twitter Users Group is a congregation of primarily Indonesian users based mostly in Jakarta. They’re a wonderful, vibrant, and positive conglomeration of Twitter users from diverse backgrounds, who often post in English (but the Bahasa Indonesia usage is helping me to learn more!). As an expat living in Jakarta, I find it refreshing to meet many new Indonesians that I most likely would not have had the chance to get to know. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet up with many of them in ‘real life’ offline as well, opening up a new world of friendships that otherwise would never have sprouted.

I pulled some data from TweetStats to view a breakdown of my own Twitter usage.

Here are the visual results.

By hour of the day:

As you can see, generally I peak first thing in the morning, usually in reply to the messages sent overnight, or to those people I follow in the States, Europe, etc.

Around 3-4pm it picks up again, as I’m leaving work or arriving at home.

And finally around 9pm is the third peak of the day, generally after the gym and dinner in the couple of hours before I sleep.

Conversations trends:

  • The first conversations of the day tend to be more tech based, news related, tips for working, and replies to overnight tweets.
  • The afternoon conversations are often more casual, unwinding, reflections on the day, social tweets.
  • The evening conversations seem to snowball; sometimes totally quiet, but other times, this is when some of the Jakarta users go crazy and begin Twittering like crazy. Some of the oddest and most entertaining chats happen in the evening.

By day of the week:

Having spent so much time online during the week, I tend to break away from the internet on weekends. Monday through Wednesday, as with many online services (and hits to my blog), tend to be higher on these days than later in the week.

And finally, what Twitter client I prefer to use:

The client I’ve traditionally used is Twitterific, on both the Mac as well as the iPhone. Twitterific remains one of my favorite clients for its simplicity and small size. However, I’ve dabbled with a few others, and most recently found TweetDeck to be a nice option if you’re using a second monitor, or have a large screen. On a laptop I think it requires too much screen space. However, when using a second monitor, it’s great for organizing contacts by group, replies, and direct messages.

Some of you are thinking, “How do you find the time?”. Well, first off, I work in front of a computer most of the day. Secondly, I actually have quite a few professional contacts and coworkers that use Twitter to bounce ideas, share links, and communicate quickly with. I often work with many applications open at once, and can quickly glance over at Twitter without losing focus on my current task.

Ironically, very few of my family members are on Twitter (but Novita is!), and somehow it seems odd to know what my contacts are eating, reading, watching but yet, have no idea what my own family is ___, ___, ___,. Is this wrong? Well, perhaps not, as email is still my preferred way to keep in touch with them as it allows for more introspection than 140 characters provides (Twitter’s maximum message length). But it would be great to see more of my friends/family/Flickr/Facebook contacts join Twitter. If you wish to follow me, my username is (surprisingly) ‘javajive‘.

Many people recommend following each and every person that follows you. I do not share this opinion. I’d much rather follow 100 witty, intellectual, interesting people that I can keep track of, than hundreds of people that simply fill my account with static.

If you’re just getting started, it may help to have a purpose, to have an idea of why you’re going to create this network, and what kind of contacts you’d like to follow. A great site that offers many interesting articles, tips, and resources regarding Twitter is TwiTip. Here’s an article in Wired about its exploding popularity. Monitter is an awesome site for real-time keyword searches (just try it!) and gives an example of the potential for future news and information in streaming real-time.

What does the future hold for Twitter? Is this a fad that will die out? Will it morph over time? Will it become a Friendster-ish decay?

Surely Twitter will change dramatically for better or worse. But more importantly it represents the power of simplicity. People have video chat, podcasts, instant messengers, tumblr, blogs, facebook, myspace, flickr, etc, etc, etc. And yet, with the advent of services like Twitter, or another example, the mini-games that you can pick up and play on the iPhone/Touch, or the approach to blogging as Posterous presents (just need to know how to use email), the people have spoken. They appreciate quick, direct, and simple tools in this perpetually advancing landscape of technology and complexity.

This article from 'Daring Fireball' pretty much sums up why I've been gushing over my iPhone 3G

From ‘Daring Fireball‘:

Let’s just say it up front: the iPhone is the greatest piece of consumer electronics that has ever been made.

If I could travel back 20 years and show my then 15-year-old self just one thing from the future of today, it would be the iPhone. It is our flying cars. Star Trek-style wireless long-distance voice communicator. The content of every major newspaper and magazine in the world. An encyclopedia. Video games. TV. Etc.

Read the rest here.