Yacht Club

As we continue to search for the best smartphone camera, let's take a minute and enjoy the damn pictures

When, exactly, did we become so damn cynical about smartphone cameras? In my lifetime we've gone from Polaroids and those point-and-shoots with the crazy five- or six-shot (I don't remember how many) flashes to friggin' computers with 4- or 16- or even 20-megapixel shooters in our pockets. We're able to take multiple pictures, select, edit and then share them with the world just seconds later. No more 24-hour processing. No more hoping you get the right prints back. No more lugging out large photo albums that you might care about once or twice a year. We have unlimited virtual storage.

So why the hell can't we just enjoy the shots?

I've come around on filters. I've come around on overprocessing pictures simply because you can. I'm cool with it now. There's a time and a place for it, sure. Instagram in a newspaper? Not good. HDR isn't quite a factual representation of what something looked like, but find folks who know how to use it properly (I'm not one of them), and you get some truly amazing shots. And while news photos always have some toning done before publication (as do some of ours here at AC, for what it's worth), that's a different intent, with a different result.

Photography is art. Art isn't perfect. Art shouldn't be perfect. We're not all going to be Ansel Adams. (Hell, it's enough just to get most folks to shoot in landscape, right?) So many of us have found that using HDR on every picture can make up for our smartphone cameras' shortcomings. Need MOAR HDR? No problem. There's an app for that. Consider the above picture, which I shot Friday evening at the Pensacola Yacht Club. I essentially grew up there on the weekends as a kid, sailing with my family and swimming with the other kids there to do the same. I was to have my wedding reception there nearly 10 years ago, except Hurricane Ivan had different plans for the venue.

So when I look at picture above and see that familiar scene, remembering all those trips through the channel, that exact spot where you ease to starboard to head out into Pensacola Bay, I don't care that I processed the hell out of it. I don't care that the blacks are noisy. The sun had gone down. There wasn't much light left. And in the space of a few seconds, I had what I consider to be an engaging picture of a scene that takes me back some 30 years.

And that, boys and girls, is what really matters with these toys.

By the way, here's a look at my train of thought here. I was using the HTC One M8. First, I took a standard pic on "Auto," which is how I shoot most of the time anyway. And then took one with HDR turned on. Much better. And then I ran that through Snapseed's HDR Scape filter. Which is what you see above.

Pensacola Yacht Club in Auto ModePensacola Yacht Club

By biggest regret? Not getting the horizon straight on that second shot. Oh well. I can always crop it.

A few other thoughts on the week that was (and what's ahead) ...

  • Can't think of anything I really disagree with in Alex's GalaxyS5 review. It's a really good phone. Samsung's getting there with the software. For the vast majority of folks out there, it'll be a great buy.
  • Still not sure I can say that about the Gear Fit and Gear 2 watches. More on that in the next week or so.
  • Samsung's game controller looks pretty sweet, though.
  • I'm pretty pleased with how our GS5 coverage has gone thus far. We're breaking it down feature by feature. And, yes, a lot of basics — remember that there will be a ton of folks switching to the GS5 (and to Android) for the first time, and you'd be surprised how popular those stories are. I think we're doing a pretty good job balancing that with the usual news. And we're even managing to sneak in more accessory reviews.
  • Now that it's got Google Play Music support, I finally broke down and bought a Sonos. Expensive, sure. But you get what you pay for.
  • Major props to Google for its new Camera app. It's really cool to see a pretty big influx of Photospheres on Google+.
  • For those who prefer the Android Central Podcast videos in a straight feed instead of YouTube, we should have that back up and running soon. Had to move to a new provider.
  • Cool to see all the love for the LG G2. Still a very underrated phone.
  • We'll finally (officially) see the OnePlus One this week. It's set some lofty expectations, for sure.
  • Keep an eye on your inboxes Monday for Google I/O lottery winners, if you registered. Good luck to everyone.
  • Who the hell doesn't update their apps? Some 22 percent of folks who have the official Android Central App are on an old version. Bizarre.

Aight, that's it for this week. Let's get back to work.


Reader comments

From the Editor's Desk: Process all the things


I think you meant Google Play Music and not Chromecast for the Sonos, and yes, I did the same thing this week. Like you, lack of GPM support was the one thing keeping me from buying a Sonos.

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I have a friend that hates updates. He hates when an app is completely changed and has to semi relearn an apps layout. Same with phone updates. Whether it be a removed feature or (again) a layout change he can't stand. I mean look at facebook, best example. I understand his crazy logic but at the same time I absolutely UPDATE ALL THE THINGS!

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I have a coworker that does the same thing. She has never ran an update ever. Even on the OS. I get that people like things a certain way but there's more than ui changes going on! lol

And thus the popularity of the iPhone which literally takes years to change even tiny things. Kept more or less the same UI for 7 years

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I always feel like super OCD when I see someone's phone/tablet and it shows there are a bunch of updates because I am the first to update right away and I just want to take their device and hit update all. But I can see why some people can't be bothered with it.

My girlfriend rarely updates her apps. I usually do it when she's not paying attention or if she hands me the phone to do something else.

As for cameras, I'm a pro (well, I've been paid for some pics, some shoots, and have had a few shows), and I completely agree with all of your points. Look, it's not the camera itself, it's the person holding it. Take the shots you like. That's how you'll be happy with them. Seriously.

Funny, my GF is the same way. She won't even let touch her phone because she thinks I'll screw it up when I try to update the apps and the OS.

You are so right about the G2 being underrated! In my opinion it was the best phone of 2013 hands down. I owned for a few months before switching to the Moto X on Republic. Before I had the G2 I had the HTC One too. The G2 had a great combination of perfectly sized screen, great resolution on said screen, fantastic camera, and blazing fast UI.
I really love my X but I miss the screen and the camera from my G2. Of course if I switched to anything else I would miss the hell out of Active Notifications, its unbelievable how impressive that feature is until you have it.

Posted via Android Central App on my Republic Wireless Moto X

Even Ansel Adams processed his photos, although it was dodge and burn techniques during printing. They weren't straight out of the camera, developed prints. Its more about the artistic process.

I keep struggling to find the perfect camera app. There are several good ones out there, and having options is always a good thing. The trick is knowing which app to use before taking the shot. I still prefer my DSLR when I know the photo is going to be important, but I am finding that the one on my phone does just fine more and more for everyday photos.

Sweet pic of Pcola bay from the yacht club! I've got a boat, Phil. I'd be happy to take you fishing someday.

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I actually prefer the original picture. The HDR makes it seem unusually bright also I initially mistook the processed photo for a painting, video game screenshot, or something.

I've never seen a palm tree with a purple trunk in real life. The regular shot is a bit underexposed, but both of the HDR shots have a definite overall purplish feel to them. They certainly look off to me, on two different displays (Nexus 7 and MacBook Pro).

Maybe I misunderstood you. When you wrote "By biggest regret? Not getting the horizon straight on that second shot." I took that to mean you were happy with the HDR shots. My only regret in your scenario above would have been if I'd not taken the non-HDR shot.

Overall, good point, though; let's just enjoy the pics and memories.

" So why the hell can't we just enjoy the shots"

Agreed! Like you said Phil, look how far we've come with cameras. We're spoiled so rotten with tech items now...

Posted from my Note 2 via Android Central App

I update apps about 3 times a week. I even read the changelogs and if the developer didn't put one up, I get upset. :-)

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People are super critical of smartphone cameras. As if a better camera is going to make them take a better photo. A better camera is never going to make up for bad composition. You have an eye for it or you don't.


Heh, enthusiasts in any field are super critical, period. If you never have, you should check out a forum focused on photography gear (rather than photography itself, a very clear distinction these days), something like DPReview's boards...

You'll find droves of enthusiasts obsessing over the smallest differences in the sensor performance of today modern cameras, arguing about DxO scores (the equivalent of a synthetic performance benchmark for today's cameras), making it seem like a camera with a one stop advantage or slightly less noisy ISO 6400 is gonna make a world of difference etc etc.

The difference between modern DSLR & mirrorless ILC cameras is diminutive compared to the difference between smartphone cameras but the debates rage on regardless. Never mind that it's usually lenses that make the biggest difference, and the one you get the the camera is often the weakest link (yet the majority of people with a DSLR never buy additional lenses, or they buy a poor 10x travelzoom cause it's convenient).

Oh and even if you cut thru the crap and you're mostly lurking in threads about lens choices you'll end up seeing arguments about how a thousand dollar (or more) f1.2 lens will make a world of difference compared to the f1.4 worth a couple hundred, so on and so forth. Don't even get me started on sensor sizes...

To be honest there's nothing wrong with that, it's the nature of the market, smartphones sit at crossroads of technology, social interaction, and artistic tools so it's only natural... Even then the arguments aren't nearly as bad as more niche markets.

I've dropped around two grand in camera gear in the last six months (nothing too expensive by itself, one camera, 2 zooms & 2 primes) and I KNOW it exceeds my abilities but I'm enjoying the learning process and growing into it. Hasn't diminished my appreciation for a decent smartphone camera either but it certainly brings some context.

THANK YOU, PHIL! I have been complaining about this very thing for a long time. It's a damn phone camera for God's sake. Yes, yes I know many people consider it to be the most important part of the device, as evidenced by the all the reviewers who devote seemingly half of their long reviews to the camera. They parse and dissect every aspect of it like it's a high end DSLR. For the love of God, STOP! Enjoy the damn phone, post some phone pics on your favorite social networking sites, and get on with your life.


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I know at least four people who never or rarely update their apps, usually I notice the app update icon on the top of their screen or if the app has been majorly updated that they are using an older version of the app.

At the airport the other day and saw at least six people using the older version of the UNITED Airlines app, I chuckled to myself and moved on, I have sense that most people are just not that tuned in or simply just don't care.

Though one would think if one has Android Central's App on their phone they are clued in and care about such things as updates, so I do see Phil's point.


Probably why automatic updates are currently the default, if you're on Wi-Fi anyway, which many people don't even bother with on their phone... It's be irresponsible to enable automatic updates on mobile data in today's market tho.

Good article. The bottom line is the differences in todays' smartphone cameras are negligible for the preservation of memories. If I take a shot of my kids with an HTC M7/M8 inside, it might be a bit lighter. 5S, a bit darker with less noise. Moto X, sharper, but noisier. 1020, lighter, more clear, but a bit yellow. Nexus 5, somewhere in between all of those. But guess what? In each picture, I'll see my smiling kids and remember the moment. I guess the only sticking point would be the camera needs to be able to capture the moment (speedwise).

+1 these are differences people only notice because they are looking for them or comparing side by side which is rarely if ever done in the real world.

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I'm waiting patiently for the OnePlus One. Hopefully you guys get a unit and can do a review soon. Since I'm sure it'll be a while until I get one with this invitation system. I'm looking to get it with the denim or kevlar back cover.

With the faster focus on the new Google camera app, I'm mostly happy with it, I wish it wouldn't turn off hdr on me all the time though.

I don't get not updating, not even a little bit... Unless there's a specific update that breaks things. Then I hold off until that's fixed.

Posted from my Nexus 7 2013 via Android Central App

I love the HDR feature with Snapseed. I use it often with the HTC One M8 and consistently happy with the photos I get.

Thanks for the great article; many excellent points made. All too often we take things for granted while we being overly critical (as if it shows us to be more intelligent). Happy Easter!

I am hoping for one day that you can set a naming convention in the app without doing it after the fact. My newspaper I shoot for with my dslrs allow minor adjustments if it doesn't change the picture. Best book I read was understanding exposure. Now most of my shots need very little post processing.

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I don't use the AC app (no use for it, browser works fine for what I need! :D), but I'm one of those who don't always update their apps (ex. still happily using Maps version 6.14.4 and GMail version 4.2.1).

It comes from years working in IT seeing first hand how updates can cause issues and break stuff. I've seen it too in the few years I've been using Android. So I always turn off any type of auto-updating (OS and apps) and instead prefer to evaluate updates (via change logs or others who have installed/reported on it) to see if it's worth updating or not. Many times there's no justifiable reason to update. In fact there's often a reason NOT to update, such as unwanted changes in functionality or UI layout, or even introduction of new bugs that require another update to fix (have no patience for that!). I prefer to operate via the old axiom, "If it ain't broke....." :) Guess you can call me a curmudgeon! :p

"When, exactly, did we become so damn cynical about smartphone cameras?"

Considering some of the high quality cameras that are on some phones I don't think it's unreasonable to expect a good camera on a phone. I do get your point though, it's not about the camera it's about the pictures and memories associated with them. Only issue is when I try to use my DNA camera in poor light I might not be able to see what's in the picture, not much point then. My next phone decision will largely come down to the camera, even if I need to switch the OS up.

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I don't update any apps often except Google's own. Only if I know of a bug and hope it gets fixed or if there is something new that I actually want. Too many things break as well as improve in updates, so don't fix it if it isn't broken. I am on the current AC app, but using an older AC forums app since I didn't like some of the changes with the major update a while ago. Will be happy to accept update when it will successfully upload photos on posts.

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I tend to be one who updates as soon as the "latest and greatest" update hits. My wife can not stand updates. She has her phone or the few apps she uses set to her liking and any changes send her over the edge.

Some of the best photos I've ever taken were with my old Motorola Droid 2 (non-global) at the Grand Canyon and I am still using those pictures as backgrounds on devices years later. Find the right view and the equipment stops mattering

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Photos... The trouble now is an over exposure of people's lives. One thing we didn't consider is that when you have to go through the rigmarole of processing pictures, you're pretty selective with what you shoot. With that restriction gone people are taking photos of everything. I really don't want to see your tea tonight, the comedy slippers you're wearing, or a hundred selfies of you duck facing. We need to learn that we won't fade and vanish if we stop posting up pictures. Also, people seem to focus more on the taking of pictures at an event than actually enjoying it. I think this is terribly sad.
Let's moderate our picture taking a bit and enjoy doing things instead of enjoying telling people were doing things...
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The push to make smartphones slimmer has ultimately been at the expense of quality photos. These phones are so thin it's sometimes laughable to see some people trying to keep their phone steady while taking a picture. The result is that about 50 to 75% of the time users get a blurry pic because they can't keep the phone steady by holding it up and in front using only your fingertips. Then people go an blame the camera for it but in essence, the quality of the camera really had nothing to do with.

Patenting tip for someone who would like to make some money: something that can quickly/conveniently attach to a phone so that someone can actually hold the thing steady while taking a picture.

Ugg, there is just not enough detail in cellphone photos. Even though you CAN do an HDR with camera photos, that doesnt mean that you SHOULD. The amount of noise in this photo is unacceptable even for an over baked HDR.

Phil, Snapseed has a straightening feature.. Why not do something about that horizon? I think both pictures look well.

Picked up Snapseed after reading this article; what an excellent app! The controls in particular make editing really easy.

FWIW, I think the final image looks far better than either of the original shots. Yes, it looks surreal, but it's about getting an image that evokes an emotional response, not achieving an exact representation of reality.

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