Up until recently, I’d always viewed mobile phones from a purely communications point of view. They were used to send and receive messages, auditory or textual, and that was it. This isn’t to say that that I was somehow a Luddite when it came to mobile devices. I have both an iPod Touch and iPad. I had just always compartmentalized my devices: this is for listening to music and podcasts, this is for mobile computing, and this is for making phone calls. And while my phone could take ‘fun’ photos, they were only suitable for Facebook and Twitter and barely so. If I wanted to take real pictures I had a real camera.
And then an HTC Desire HD came into my possession (thank you to you-know-who) and my opinion changed. Well, a little.
It only takes one photo to realize that the camera on this thing is more then just a glorified pinhole as is the case with most cellphones. Yes, it’s 8MP, which is more then enough to get decent prints from, but that’s not what I mean. What I mean is that the camera actually has the mechanics of a camera. As I pan the phone…err…’camera’ around, gears turn as the AF kicks in. This is important because it means the the lens aperture is large enough that autofocus is actually needed and the AF isn’t just some software-layer interpolation. It’s the closest thing to a ‘real’ camera that can be physically shoved into a phone.
And that brings me to the first problem: fitting an actual glass lens with proper AF mechanics into a phone means a rather large bump on the back. The HTC Desire HD is already a large phone, but it’s made larger by the camera. The camera lens actually sticks out of the back, making me feel real uncomfortable whenever I set the phone down. Do I set the phone down on the front and risk scratching the LED display or the back and risk scratching the lens?
Applied to street photography, which is what most interests me, there are certainly some benefits. The most obvious of these are it’s pocketable size and inconspicuous profile. Something else that I personally consider a big plus is the “always connected” nature of the device. For example, SugarSynch automatically backs up every photo I take into the cloud. With the push of a button, I can send that same image instantly to Dropbox, Flickr, any FTP site, and so on. Micro SD cards aren’t known for stability, but with a feature like that it’s never on my mind.
Of course, there are downsides. It is a phone after all. The biggest issue for me is the relatively slow AF speed. It was truly annoying at first because the camera did a forced ‘final focus’ after hitting the shutter button, creating a horribly long shutter lag. Eventually I discovered a software setting that disabled this. Another issue are the slow shutter speeds. If the day is a dull one, expect some blurring. One final nitpick, and one that I’m sure will be addressed in a future HTC Sense update, is auto-white balance when the flash fires. Having a dual LED flash is really nice, but when it fires the auto-WB seems to shut down. For example, if I am in a heavily fluorescent-lit room and I take a photo with the flash, the resulting photo has a green cast.
So does this replace my E-P2 as my primary street camera? Of course not. Here’s how I see it: Every soldier carries a primary weapon. An assault rife. But they also carry a Swiss army knife in their pocket.
This is the Swiss army knife.