I don’t want to ride a horse since we have no camera

We were in Penang over the weekend for a bit of R&R, a little bit of work, and a lot of eating. We stayed on the beach and on our last afternoon, Sara saw that you could take the horse for a ride on the beach. Guided, of course. I told her to go for it, and she protested, saying we had no cameras on us at the moment.

To which I decided, that we do. In my pocket I carry a HTC Google Nexus One and a BlackBerry Bold 9700. She had on her an iPhone 3G. So between us, we had three rather capable cameras, that do video to boot.

Sara on a horseMy strategy was to do still images with the Bold 9700, and take video using the Nexus One. I have to say the results were quite pleasing. They’re not of the calibre of my Canon PowerShot G10 (which I always seem to have in my backpack these days), or of any of my SLRs (which I’m carrying much less nowadays as I don’t have time to focus on making pictures), but they seem to get the job done of capturing the moments.

I have heard praises of the iPhone 4 and the Nokia N8 (from a camera perspective). I’ve been going to events these days, taking photographs with my Nokia N900, and they seem to be passable, suitable for on-screen viewing. You’re probably wondering what about print, and to that I have a retort: when was the last time you made a print of a photo? I’ve got about four years worth of holiday photos to print for my mother, and we’ve still not gone on to this batch operation.

Today, we are capturing our moments with our most personal devices, the mobile phone. There seems to be a megapixel race in the mobile phone space, like there was in the camera space, but all this gets reversed eventually (see Canon G10 vs G11 for an example). Its about sensor size. It is about the optics. Its about the value-add of having built-in geo-location. It is about the apps.

What makes the iPhone 4 a great phone camera? Not only it’s amazing quality, its HDR capabilities, but also the apps you can use to make better pictures, in-phone. While I was in Istanbul, a colleague was stitching panoramas with his Nokia N900. I’m sure Nokia knows this, with regards to apps on the N8 in the Ovi Store.

Where does this leave pocket camera manufacturers? The low end of what Canon/Nikon make will become less and less useful, as more consumers ditch the second device, and go for the integrated solution. Is the iPhone 4 or the Nokia N8 there? I’ve not played with either for a significant period of time, so I cannot judge.

The Two Apostles But the Nexus One, the BlackBerry Bold and the Nokia N900 already perform better than the first digital camera I owned (a Kodak, from about ten years ago). Heck, they even perform better than the standalone cameras from about five years ago. The image of The 12 Apostles, which has been printed for a gallery show, was from my second digital camera, a Kodak DX3500, and taken in 2002. It was a mere 2.2MP camera!

A very smart photographer Stuart Murdoch once told me “the best camera is the one that you have on you” (someone’s decided to trademark this age old wisdom, unfortunately). His colleague Nigel even discouraged putting on lens caps on lenses, because you never know what you’re going to miss with the lens cap on. Stuart is also the man famous for the “mophone” tag on Flickr – he loved shooting abandoned shopping carts using phonecam’s of yesteryear.

So, when will I look back at this post and say I’ve stopped carrying my Canon G10 equivalent and just rely on whatever is in my pocket? I don’t doubt that SLRs will go out of fashion (they have their uses), but I do think that pocket cameras will eventually disappear and have SIM cards in them. I’m all for device convergence.

Here’s to the age of the phone cameras!


  1. biatch0 says:

    The N900 is also capable of HDR and more with the FCam and BlessN900 apps… couple that with better optics and I'm fairly certain that the N900 is still a superior camera to every other device available now (possibly even the N8).

    • colincharles says:

      Absolutely. I find that the N900 does a pretty good job with being my camera. Its my “roaming” phone, and considering I roam quite a bit, I find most of my pictures to be satisfactory.

      Built-in HDR in the iPhone 4 could be a pull factor that others don't see. In fact that is what's missing on the N900: applications that are “just there”.

      I love my N900 dearly. I don't know how it compares to the Nokia N8. We'll see if I get my hands on an N8 for a comparison or not…


  2. Carolyn Chan says:

    I started splurging on smartphones because I love taking pictures. I went for the Nokia N96 because it was the only phone with a 5MP camera. I later realize, MP wasn't everything. I changed to the iPhone 3GS which has only a 3MP camera but I had 10x more fun taking pictures with it. The apps were what made it all fun to use. I could do everything on the phone alone. I didn't have to transfer pictures to my PC and process them in photoshop. Was a breath of fresh air.

    • colincharles says:

      I presume things like Instagram, Photoshop Express, and all the other cool apps on the iPhone have contributed to you liking it so much more.

      That's what the other platforms seem to miss. The apps to make it a great photo taking device. The N900 is pretty good in that respect, but everything else seems to pale in comparison. Maybe its time to dig deeper for some cool Android software too.