When I first got my Galaxy Nexus, the thing I was most excited for about it was the ability to share my photos without first offloading them to a seperate PC. I’d had a camera for about a year before that, but I didn’t enjoy having to offload my shots first before sharing them or editing them. I did a little shooting when I first got my Gnex, but ultimately didn’t do too much serious photography on it due to the rather mediocre shooting experience of the stock Android camera app, and the Gnex’s rather shoddy image quality. About 6 months ago, I first heard of an app called VSCOcam. I didn’t know much about it, but from what I saw of it I knew I wanted to have it on my Gnex and if I did, I thought I’d enjoy shooting much more. This was back when VSCO had only just announced the Android beta-testing-period of their app, and the Galaxy Nexus was definitely not one of the devices they were focused on testing, so I never got an invite. As a result, I didn’t shoot much in my daily life, and photography took a back-seat as a hobby.
Fast forward to this December. Not a week after I’d gotten back from New York, VSCOcam for Android finally hit the Google Play Store and I jumped on it quite literally the minute it was out. Even though at that point I knew I was getting an iPhone and was ready to switch from the aging Galaxy Nexus at that point, I still had a ton of fun shooting with it. I went out on shoots only with my phone and the app, trying to get the best results I could out of the old phone. It was a better time than I’d had shooting in a long time, on either my smartphone or my dedicated camera. So as I began to use it more and more, I started to get more and more excited about photography in general.
I’ve been taking a photography class for four months now but up until the past month or so, I didn’t really enjoy it all that much. Part of that has to do with the fact that up until then we’d been primarily shooting with manual film cameras and developing in the traditional darkroom. This was a cool process to learn, but not one that I think really sparked my creativity. The cameras the school had for us to use weren’t the most reliable and I had to reshoot one assignment 3 times due to the chemicals in our photo lab being mixed incorrectly, and the camera I had checked out didn’t advance the film properly. All that aside, the switch to digital has greatly increased my interest in the class, as well as VSCOcam’s recent arrival. Even though my photography teacher looks down on smartphone photography with a certain disdain, just the fact that I was finally able to shoot and edit with some well-designed software and then share it easily both to Instagram and my VSCO grid portfolio made the whole experience that much more fun for me. I started shooting random shots as I went through my daily life that I wouldn’t have bothered to stop and take before. Whether it was a little sprout poking out of the snow or my front ditch frozen over, I couldn’t get enough of it.
iPhone 5s - Edited in VSCOcam
Then I got my iPhone 5s, and it changed the game for me all over again. You see, up until then I’d been operating under sort of a split workflow. If I wanted a shot to actually look good, I’d take it using my Pentax Q (which I may post my opinion of sometime soon) and then transfer the shot over to my Galaxy Nexus so that I could edit it and share it in VSCOcam. It worked, albeit taking a lot of extra time and effort in order to get a nice looking shot done. Once I got my iPhone however, that has all changed. Since the iPhone not only has much better image quality than my Galaxy Nexus did, and much better control while shooting, I’m able to get halfway decent to great shots without having to rely on my Pentax. I still have it around, it’s undeniably still the best camera I own, but the ability to whip my iPhone out of my pocket at a moments notice and capture a shot that catches my eye is a luxury that really does impact me as a photographer. If I get to call myself one of those yet, that is.
The iPhone 5s’s camera really does take some terrific photographs. It’s still an 8 megapixel sensor, just like the 4s and 5 before it, but Apple’s increased the sensor size this time around by about 15%. In daily use, that means more light gets to sensor than before, and in turn that means more details resolved in both well-lit and badly-lit situations. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the camera’s lowlight performance overall. I guess coming from a Gnex that’s not a huge surprise, but the fact that I can shoot in near-pitch-black conditions and still get some detail out of it boggles me. Now, I wouldn’t use any of those low-light shots for actually photography or professional work, but it’s still good for when you need to snap a picture quickly at night. Plus, if your shot even has a little light in it then it usually comes out usable, so I’ve gotten some cool night shots around town that I never thought I’d be able to without some long-exposure magic. As for that dual-tone flash I can’t really comment about it. I’m not a flash shooter, not on phones, not on dedicated cameras. I do not like the frontal flash look in any photograph at all. My philosophy when it comes to that sort of thing is that if you think you need the flash to get a shot, then you shouldn’t take it at all.
iPhone 5s - Edited in VSCOcam
I should mention as well that the Panorama feature is pretty stunning. Before, the iPhone would choose an exposure at the beginning of the capture and continue to use it across the entire frame. This led to some areas being over or underexposed and was an unfortunate side effect to having a panorama done automatically for you. With the 5s, the exposure is dynamically changed all throughout the capture. So while you’re panning across the frame it’s monitoring the exposure and adjusting accordingly before taking the shot and knitting it together to form a panorama. The results are gorgeous. I had a particualrly stunning photo of the Detroit River waterfront, and I was extremely impressed not only with the field of view and amount of detail resolved, but also with how well it nailed the exposure end to end. It’s a great addition to the camera, and I think I’ll be taking a lot more panoramas now.
iPhone 5s - Edited in Lightroom
Apple’s pulled off a balancing act with the 5s camera that many other OEMs are trying but few are succeding at. They are managing to keep the megapixel count and thus the resolution rather high, as well as increasing the sensor size to let in more light and improve the actual image quality of the shot. We’ve seen HTC and Samsung take the opposite sides in this conflict. HTC with it’s 4 “Ultrapixel” camera on the One and Samsung with it’s 13 megapixel monster in the S4. Both of those cameras weren’t total failures, but they’re not what I’d call perfect. Neither is Apple’s implementation but In my opinion it strikes near a perfect balance between the two extremes, and what it spits out into the camera roll is pretty damn nice looking.
iPhone 5s - Edited in VSCOcam
All in all the past two months have been sort of a transformative time in terms of my photography for me. A few months ago I still didnt shoot all that much, when I did it wasn’t by choice, and I never really had a solid workflow for editing and sharing. That’s all changed in recent times, and I’m really glad. Photography is helping me express my creativity, which is hard for me sometimes. So I’m really glad that I’m getting back into it. It’s a lot of fun.
I originally thought I would put my full thoughts on VSCOcam in this post as well, but it just got too long as I was writing it and too cluttered, so I split it up into two posts. Expect the VSCOcam “review” up in the next day or so. ~M