Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 22 January 2020

A smart-photo journey to the southern tip of Africa

Carefully, I peer over the cliff edge, shifting my weight slightly and adjusting my footing; with care, I watch for loose rocks and position myself. As I cast my eyes downwards, my view sweeps away past the drop below me and follows the easy contour of the foothills below the initial precipice. My gaze follows the downwards curve and over the city, whose hum is clearly audible even from this distance, and carries on to the peninsula, bathed in crisp morning light. Beyond that, a ring of golden-blue mountains frames my perspective.

As a photographer, my first reaction is to reach for my trusty, 20-year-old Leica M6 35mm Rangefinder. Loaded with a black-and-white roll of Kodak Tri-X, I take care with each frame, measuring the light and always double-checking the focus. As I glance in the viewfinder, a figure walks into the foreground and makes me think twice about shooting the frame. A tourist, wearing a colourful backpack/bumbag combo and ill-fitting head attire, his two arms stretched in front of him, has his eyes fixed on the small screen firmly clasped between his hands. A digital click announces the capture – a precursor to the inevitable review. All this with a Dh5,000 DSLR camera hanging unused round his neck.

I’m on top of Table Mountain, looking down at Cape Town in all its spring glory on a fine, sunny South African day. The light is beautiful. Microsoft/Lumia has invited me to my hometown, where it’s hosting a selection of Middle Eastern and North African journalists on a trip to the southern tip of Africa to experience some of its new devices.

I discard the Leica frame for a moment, at least until the tourist decides to walk away. Reaching into my pocket, I pull out my phone for the trip, a Lumia 930, which has a 20-megapixel camera, among other standout features. Unlocking the phone, I work my way through the menus and select the panorama app. With a couple of clicks, I end up with a sweeping panorama. This image is in full colour this time and ready to be shared at whim to any social-network platform of my choosing – perfect for inspiring jealousy in Facebook friends stuck in the office on a Tuesday morning.

Living in an age of unprecedented technological development has given us more choices than ever before, not just in the equipment we use to capture images but also in the ability to travel to the most far-flung corners of the globe at the click of a trackpad button. Never before have we had the chance to so fully participate in other individuals’ experiences – liking, commenting or judging them as we go. The surge in self-documentation and the ever-increasing desire to share to the masses is here to stay.

Many friends and travellers often ask me what cameras they should buy before their trips, and I often tell them the best camera is the one that’s with them – and usually nowadays, that’s their phone. The image quality of cameraphones these days is unprecedented, and it’s hard to argue a case for a DSLR when the average user can apply countless filters and effects and send the image to their friends and family within a few clicks. Coupled with the familiarity that the user has with the device, it becomes a rather easy decision on what to take along on a predawn hike or cross-country bike trip.

Ultimately, the best camera will indeed be the one that is with you and ready to use when the moment presents itself. But aspects like weight, battery power, ease of use and functionality all play a major role. Carrying a DSLR to capture that perfect moment with friends while on an island holiday might not be everyone’s idea of a good time. And with the lines blurring between taking pictures of one’s travels and travelling to take pictures, it’s tough to rival an ­ever-present device that captures great images.

Options abound in the realm of uber-portable and constantly shareable image-making devices, but the three major players currently are Samsung, Lumia and Apple.

Samsung

With a broad fan base and more than 25 million Galaxy S units sold by 2013, it’s hard to beat a crowd favourite. The highly stable and ultra reliable Android OS offers users an ever-increasing array of apps through the Google Play app store. Must-have apps: ­Google Camera, Camera Zoom FX, Camera FV-5, Instagram.

Lumia

With Lumia having recently been fully acquired by Microsoft, we’re seeing more and more third-party apps being released for the platform. In Nokia-like style, Lumia offers a plethora of options that might be hard to choose from in the beginning. My best advice is to decide which features you’re most likely to use and then pick accordingly. The Lumia 930 offers a ­20-megapixel “Pureview” camera, ­surround-sound recording and the option to charge wirelessly. The 5-inch display allows the camera to sit comfortably in most palms, allowing easy access for one-handed use. Must-have apps: ProShot, Movie Maker 8.1, Lumia Cinemagraph, 6tag for Instagram.

Apple

The still relatively new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus pack a bold punch, with reliability and a familiar, user-friendly interface. With an app for every possible need or want and support across a wide range of products, it’s the king of the hill. Features like its Retina HD display, 8-megapixel “iSight” camera, 1080p HD at 60 frames per second, 240 fps slow-mo and time-lapse video set it apart from competitors. Must-have apps: Instagram, Camera+, ­Snapseed, VSCO Cam.

An honourable mention also goes to the HTC One M8, which comes with either Android or Windows OS (user preference applies).

Some mobile-phone add-ons are so bulky that they start to erode the whole point of using your phone instead of a proper camera. But the following are some of the best accessories currently available on Amazon.

Lenses

Get hold of the Yopo Universal 3-in-1 camera lens kit for smartphones. Getting that unique view is what it’s all about. The fish-eye is great for all-encompassing bubble views, while the macro makes for great detailed close-ups of found objects. No one likes a ­poor-quality, ­digitally zoomed Instagram post.

Battery

Pick up the Anker 2nd Gen Astro Mini 3200mAh portable charger for times when you’ve been too trigger-happy and a power outlet is nowhere to be found. Constantly managing battery usage when on a trip or photographic excursion is a drag. Keep this small, lipstick-sized portable battery in your pocket for when you need it the most.

Support

The Joby JM3-01WW GripTight GorillaPod Stand firmly holds most smartphones and gives you the freedom to roam while your phone captures the moment. You can use it with a timer app or via remote triggering device to give you more visual options for your travel and creative photography.

Angles

The iStabilizer Monopod selfie stick might fall into the love-it-or-hate-it category, but there’s no denying the fact that unique angles make for interesting pictures. Use it to stick your lens into unique vantage points not usually accessible by mere ­mortals.

arobertson@thenational.ae

Updated: January 29, 2015 04:00 AM

SHARE

SHARE