Details, Details: Zooming In With Cellphone Cameras

I got into photography when I was about 16. I bought myself a Konica TC, which was a lightweight SLR.

Konica TC SLR camera
My first SLR camera, a Konica TC

I developed my own B&W film, and after a few years I bought myself an enlarger and darkroom equipment. Extra lenses. When I went to Europe for my first trip abroad, just as I was turning 19, I brought extra lenses and scads of rolls of B&W and also color film. Oy, it was heavy.

After that, I carried two camera bodies on trips, one for B&W and one for color. And the lenses. And all the film. I rolled my own. I was into it. For awhile I had a Konica FS1, which had a built-in motordrive so I could take 3 pictures a second, or thereabouts.

Degrees of Separation

Photographing as I traveled was a way of composing or filtering all that I was seeing. Organizing all the new stuff I was experiencing. In those days, I didn’t take what I called “tourist” shots — landscapes or monuments or iconic buildings. (And the selfie hadn’t been invented yet, thank God.) I also didn’t take a lot of “people” shots, feeling that they were an invasion of privacy and therefore rude. Textural abstracts and close-ups of architectural details were my favorite shots. I still have them all. Thousands of slides and prints. Thousands.

Freshly plastered wall
Freshly plastered wall [click to enlarge]
After awhile though, I began to feel that the camera was getting in the way. It was another degree of separation between me and whatever was in the world around me. Between me and the moment. Gradually, because I traveled a lot and often to the same places numerous times, I stopped “seeing” pictures. And I stopped bringing a camera. Shocking, but true.

Martinis on a tray
Martini, anyone?

Then the mobile phone was invented and somebody bred it to a camera. When that hybrid first came out, I thought it was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard of. Who would want a camera in their phone? A phone is for talking! Are they’re going to make one next that mixes martinis? Changes tires? Sheesh!

But I am the person who, in Seattle in 1979, was offered a chance to be the American distributor of an Italian espresso machine manufacturer, and I turned it down because just I didn’t see there would be much scope in it. Who was going to buy all those expensive machines? So don’t bet on any horse I choose…

The Smartphone Camera Tide

Eventually I succumbed to the smartphone tide. And those phone cameras come in very handy. Samsung and LG phones take pretty good images. You never run out of film, they’re lightweight and not bulky.

There are a few things about phone cameras which are not wonderful. First thing is the time lag between when you click the shutter and when it actually snaps the shot. How many stunning shots are missed because of this lag?! Nobody knows, but let me tell you about the National Geographic that got away… Each iteration of cellphone camera has reduced this lag, but it is still there. All very well for people cheesing for frozen selfies, but not for real pictures. Not for that perfect moment.

Abstract from a ruin bar in Budapest
Ruined shot or the next Jackson Pollock? [click to enlarge]
And often you cannot even see what you are actually capturing because the phone’s screen is overcome by too much daylight. So you just snap away and hope what you wanted got caught.

I have only a philosophical fix for this problem. Think of it like opening Christmas presents when next you get into shade and swipe through the gallery to see what you’ve been lucky enough to catch. Just like at Christmas, “you get what you get and you don’t have a fit”. Sometimes good, sometimes instant donations to the digital trash basket, but always a surprise from the universe. If you missed that great shot, well, it teaches you about cosmic impermanence and being here now.

Fixing the Zoom

Exterior of Peranakan Museum in Penang
Exterior of Peranakan Museum in Penang [click to enlarge]
There is also the problem of being able to zoom in to frame a shot, but then the quality of the image goes down, it gets grainy or fuzzy. For this problem I do have a fix: Don’t zoom in when you shoot.

Details on Peranakan Museum
Details on Peranakan Museum [click to enlarge]
Zoom in and recompose your image afterwards, using Photoshop or other image editing software. The image captured by your phone camera is way bigger than you need, if you have a good one like a Samsung or LG. You’ll still have close to the same clarity as in the original large shot.

Some of the images below were taken up close, and some were zoomed in on and reframed afterwards.

Reframed statue at Khoo Kongsi Temple, Penang, Malaysia
Reframed statue at Khoo Kongsi Temple, Penang, Malaysia [click to enlarge]
Detail of Khoo Kongsi Temple, Penang, Malaysia
Detail of Khoo Kongsi Temple, Penang, Malaysia [click to enlarge]
Reframed detail of Kek Lok Si temple eaves
Reframed detail of Kek Lok Si temple eaves [click to enlarge]

Temple painting detail, Penang
Temple painting detail, Penang

Old window frame and tiles, Penang
Old window frame and tiles, Penang [click to enlarge]
Antique tiles
Antique tiles frame a window in Penang, Malaysia [click to enlarge]
Calligraphic tile
Calligraphic tile [click to enlarge]

Stealth selfie
Stealth selfie
Photography Museum wall art
Photography Museum wall art, Penang [click to enlarge]


One Reply to “Details, Details: Zooming In With Cellphone Cameras”

Comments are closed.