Chris Hannah

Some Thoughts on Smartphone Photography and the Rise of Good Photos Over Great Photos

I'm having a bit of a photography-obsessed afternoon today, and while I was researching people's opinions on using old cameras/phones for photography, I came across a video focussing on using an iPhone 7 to do street photography.

If I'm honest, I don't think the video review itself was very useful, or at least it wasn't what I was looking for. It seemed to focus on the raw camera qualities of the phone, being able to take super fast photos, and taking a really small crop and still being able to have it printed, rather than what kind of photos the camera produced. But it did make me think about what I appreciate about photography, so that's something.

There was one quote from the video that stood out to me though, although probably for different reasons than intended:

In Apple's quest to make every photo a good photo, sadly no photo becomes a great photo.

While I don't think it's particularly true that you can't take great photos on iPhones, or that this is a result of Apple's goal to improve its camera. I do think that in general, too much focus is put on taking a good photo, rather than creating a great photo.

When you watch reviews of cameras online, they spend the time talking about the fastest shutter speed, resolution, aperture, and battery life, but very rarely the characteristics of the photos that they produce. Maybe it's because I see photography as an art form, rather than an act of documenting the world. It could also be that this just is what modern photography is nowadays.

When I think about what a great photo is, it's never the level of detail in the image, or that every face is clearly lit. I care more about the feel of the photo and the mood that was captured. Maybe that's why I stray towards old cameras/phones, 35mm film, and "retro" camera apps.

There's definitely something about harsh shadows and a bit of grain that I appreciate, but I think it goes deeper than that. Film photos feel more like real life to me. Whereas I get the feeling that camera manufacturers (inc. Apple) want to remove the messy human element and create photos that are technically good but have no feeling to them.

I guess this somewhat relates to what Marques Brownlee said in his recent videos about the iPhone camera, where the emphasis was being placed on making every photo good, but in some cases, the photos felt unnatural, the sky was a little off, or the shadow from a face was removed. There's even a thing called the "Netflix Look" which is the accusation that everything on Netflix looks the same.

With the right skill and tools, you can take amazing photos on the iPhone, but it certainly feels like the rise of the smartphone and its emphasis on computational photography has led to a kind of photography gentrification.

Maybe the reason behind people becoming more interested in old phones, film cameras, and retro-camera filters, isn't just because of some TikTok trend. Maybe it's because they realised that there's more to photography than the generic smartphone sensor and post-processing effects.

Create a 9-Patch Border with Broider

Pretty cool little tool by Max Bittker to make 9-patch borders in CSS. Reminds me very much of the pixel art in GameBoy games. If you notice a new border anywhere on my website soon, you know where it's from.

Comparing Every iPhone Camera

MacAddress have just released a video where they go through the effort of testing every iPhone camera*, so they could see how it has evolved over the many years. It's pretty amazing to see what the cameras are capable of now compared to the original iPhone. (Although I'd still like to see a little less processing on current iPhones).

One thing they quickly rushed over in the video was that the 3GS is apparently gaining some popularity due to the style of photos that the 3MP camera produces.

PetaPixel published an article "TikTokers are Obsessing Over the iPhone 3GS Camera from 2009" which is also a fascinating read. After looking at the comparisons in that piece, I have to admit, photos taken on the 3GS do have a nice retro/film/nostalgic look to them, that I definitely find pleasing. I think I may have an old 3GS somewhere in my house, so I might need to experiment with that at some point.

*For reasons they explain in the video, this didn't include an iPhone 3G or 5.

Ivory for Mastodon

I can't give any higher praise to Ivory other than that it's largely the reason why I'm still using Mastodon today. Before Ivory, I always felt friction when I tried to use Mastodon. I was drawn back to Twitter because it was easier. But when I finally got on to the Ivory beta, it gave the platform much more weight for me. It was as if this client app suddenly gave Mastodon years of experience in one go, and now I was using a seemingly more mature platform.

You could say that is exactly what Ivory did to Mastodon. Because essentially Ivory is "Tweetbot for Mastodon", and Tweetbot was already a fantastic Twitter client, and had evolved so much throughout the years to reach its final state. And now all of that growth has been applied to a brand new platform.

I won't go into a full app review—Federico Viticci has done a great job of that on MacStories—but I will say that if you're on the fence about Mastodon, I would suggest giving Ivory a go. To get all the functionality you will have to pay a subscription, but you can test it fully for 7 days for free. Which I think is more than enough to discover how much this app enhances the experience of using Mastodon.

If you do feel like giving Mastodon or Ivory a go, you can find me on my own instance at @chris@bulbasaur.garden.

We're All Just Saying Things on the Internet

I was scrolling on my phone on the commute home today, and I came across someone talking about how you could subscribe to their content for a certain price. I can't remember where I saw it, or who posted it—not that it matters—but it certainly sparked a few chain reactions in my brain.

For context, either I didn't read it fully, or what this "content" was, wasn't explained to me. I can't quite put into words what my first thoughts were, but I couldn't understand the value proposition at all. One thing that flashed across my mind was that this was just someone asking for money and that they were probably going to create this "content" no matter what. So why would someone need to pay a subscription?

I then started putting it into the context of a blog or newsletter to try and understand my thoughts a little better. I kept coming back to the idea that we're all  just saying things. Which surely isn't worth anyone's money? But then maybe there is value behind it. Otherwise, how do you explain blogs, newsletters, podcasts, etc? There's clearly a desire for the opinions and viewpoints of other people, and maybe that's worth money to some people.

It made me think about what I share on my blog. Sometimes I wonder if my blog should contain small fleeting thoughts, my review of a product, or a deeply thought-out essay on a topic. Is this just me "creating content" and hoping someone throws a bit of money in my direction? I don't think so.

I like to think that my blog is just an online representation of myself, my thoughts, opinions, and maybe also just things that I think others may find interesting.

So why would people read my blog?

Well, I guess it's for the same reason that I follow people on Mastodon, why I subscribe to people on YouTube, and why I read so many blogs.

Most of the "content" I consume seems to stem from people going onto the internet to either express their thoughts or share their perspectives. That all seems rather simplistic, but I think it's true.

Does that mean a blog is someone just saying things on the internet? I think that's what I do. I think it's what other people do as well. And I think I like it.

Now on to more current thoughts, is this blog post, me talking to myself, or am I talking to the internet? I'm not sure. But if you've read this far, then you have just caught a small glimpse into what goes on inside my head.

Motorola Are Making a Lenovo ThinkPhone

Lenovo have announced that they are releasing a new phone, the ThinkPhone, which will be made by Motorola.

From the official announcement, it seems as if this will be aimed more at the enterprise market, and especially at users of ThinkPad laptops. Users of a ThinkPad look to gain the bigger advantage of the ThinkPhone, as there various integrations, similar to what you would find in the Apple ecosystem, which they call "Think 2 Think". Here are a few that interested me:

Not a bad list! And being a fan of the ThinkPad myself, I certainly appreciate the design of the ThinkPhone. Although, even though I am starting to appreciate more Android phones, such as the Pixel and the Nothing Phone, I can't say I have any intention of trying this one out. Although, like I said about the Nothing Phone, I still hope this does well.

When I first saw the headline about Lenovo releasing a ThinkPhone, I was partially hoping that it was based on a new OS, not iOS or Android, just to offer another competitor to the market. I guess the wait for that continues.

Like Buttons

Matt Birchler, defending like buttons:

I think of likes on social media kind of like non-verbal responses in the real world. When I say something clever and someone around me smiles, they don't have to think of something thoughtful to say as a response, I know they liked what I said, and that makes me happy.

Totally agree. I think it's a trendy trap to fall into, to dislike the like button. Because it may seem as you're replacing real human communication with a digital thumbs up. But similar to Matt, I think a like is more of a subtle affirmation.

If someone wanted to reply in writing, but they saw a like button and decided that clicking the button was a suitable alternative, then it probably is. Otherwise they would have taken the effort to write something.

What is Happening with iPhone Camera?

Marques Brownlee has made a great video about the iPhone camera, how it's evolved over the years, and it's position in the current landscape of software-based photography advancements.

9to5Mac also published a piece based on the video, around the subject of the exaggeration of the iPhone's post-processing techniques.

I don't feel like I have a particularly strong opinion on the iPhone camera, or even more specifically, it's post-processing. However, I do think it would be a good idea if there was a bit more control around this sort of stuff. I've had a few occasions where photos looked a bit odd, usually a sky being strangely blue (for Britain), or a sunset/golden hour scene missing the orange glow. So it would be nice to be able to at least see if turning off the various software tricks would improve that.

I've spent a decent amount of time using Xcode over the years. But in the past few years, I've been using a few other applications such as IntelliJ and VS Code, and I've started to realise that Xcode seems to be missing quite a few features.

Occasionally I complain about this on social media, but I thought it would be better if I documented my complaints here. So, I've now created a new page, What is Xcode Missing?, which I'll regularly update as I get annoyed using Xcode.

The initial list contains annoyances around duplicating files, not having a concept of a code style, and project navigation.

Success Is a Lagging Indicator

Ryan Holiday:

The solution to my writer’s block that day was not to write at all. It was to stop for the day and go research the topic more. It was to go for a run and a walk. It was to do the prep work.

Success as a lagging indicator is a phenomenon that holds true across most areas in life.

When I look in the mirror and I’m a little flabby, that is a lagging indicator that, for weeks and months, I’ve slacked on eating healthy and exercising.

This is something that I think I need to keep reminding myself of. It's obvious once explained, but also, for me, something I tend to forget quite quickly.

In the book Atomic Habits, James Clear explains why being goal-oriented is not the best way to progress in the long term. And instead of having an outcome-driven process, it's much more effective for your actions to be identity-based.

By basing your actions on an identity, it can be easier to do the right things. Since you aren't chasing a singular goal, you are aiming to be the kind of person that would achieve that goal. For example, instead of having a goal to write a book, work on becoming a book writer. Focussing on a goal can mean you forget about the process. As he writes in the book, "winners and losers can have the same goal".

However, if you let a desired identity become the core of your habits, the processes will fall into place, and eventually will the outcomes. Put simply, if you keep putting in the work, success will be something that just happens as a result of your actions.