Twitter Question: Nexus 5X as a primary camera?

Cory Hixson asked me a question about the Nexus 5X that was interesting and complicated enough that my reply became a blog post:


I’ve just finished recording an Ihnatko Almanac about traveling with a phone as your sole camera, and about camera choices in general, so this topic is still on my mind. I’m a little stuck on the phrase “primary camera.”

In a way, I’m the least helpful person to ask for camera advice. I’m an Enthusiastic Amateur, plus I’m a technology columnist. This means I don’t know about the needs of the average camera user and I’m way too arrogant to try to find out.

I’m going to zero in on the word “you” in this question. I wouldn’t be choosing a phone as my primary camera. I’m too persnickety about the results, and I want to have lots of control. I’ve just come back from a week at Yosemite and I would have missed my flight rather than leave home without my Olympus OM-D E-M1 and some lenses.

Nonetheless, for three days in New York city the week before that, I left the gear at home and relied solely on the Nexus 5X. Mostly because I had to catch a 6:30 AM train, so I was grumpy, and in no mood to sling a camera around my neck and find room in my bag for an extra lens.

I also knew that the Nexus 5X camera was up to the job of Taking Swell Photos:

 

Added another Daniel Chester French to my Life List. Outside the Hamilton Custom House, NYC.

A photo posted by Andy Ihnatko (@ihnatko) onMar 9, 2016 at 12:00pm PST

When I choose a daily carry phone, I want the best camera I can get but I’m trying to maximize other variables as well. I think the iPhone 6S Plus has the best camera overall, but I wouldn’t switch back to iOS just to get the camera. I think the Samsung Galaxy S series has the best camera on any Android phone (and it’s better than the iPhone’s in many ways), but I see many advantages to Nexus devices, and their “fresh from Google” updates, that I want more than that camera. If I had bought something else, I’d only be trading an excellent camera for a better one.

It’d be hard for me to choose a phone as my primary camera. I tend to think in terms of an arsenal of devices. I’ve got the Olympus for situations where I foresee myself immersing myself in photography and wanting to come away with the best photo possible. I’ve can trust the Nexus for those situations where I’m expecting to take mostly snapshots, or didn’t know that I’d be confronted with something amazing, or I just couldn’t be arsed to carry the howitzer with me all day. I keep attempting to seduce myself into buying a nice, tiny camera, such as a first-gen Sony RX100. The argument for is “teensy camera with a big sensor, a big lens, full manual controls and handling, and RAW capture.” The argument against is “$400, and don’t you already have a nice camera, doofus?” But I keep wishing for a “daily carry” camera that was a big leap better than my phone.

One shouldn’t become like one of those weekend golfers who keeps buying new and increasingly-exotic putters, thinking it’ll improve their performance. Every camera has limits. Even this Olympus that I love so much has limits. But great things happen when you try to find a solution to a creative problem that works within those limits. Phones don’t have zoom lenses. Okay, but is the photo of that Daniel Chester French sculpture no good because it’s a tight crop of a much larger photo? The resulting 3 megapixel resolution forced me to be even more careful about the composition; every pixel was carrying such a great load.

Plus, our desktop tools for massaging photos are extraordinary. I can do things with exposure, depth of color, and addressing sensor noise that would have been a fantasy just a few years ago. So really, I could just concentrate on framing the shot correctly and tapping the shutter button at the right moment.

The direct answer to Cory’s question is that any premium phone, and even most midrange ones, will take excellent photos. So don’t worry about it. Buy the phone that presents the best total package for you.

These sorts of answers can be very very frustrating, however. So if pressed, I will sigh and say “If I had to rely on a phone as my primary camera, it’d be an iPhone 6s Plus. Image quality is a real tossup between it and the Samsung Galaxy, but the iPhone’s speed and reliability tilt the scales.”

Yeah. That answer definitely took more than 140 characters, eh?

Phone batteries

Apple announced a new Smart Battery Case today. Which seems like the sort of Product Opportunity that they’ve historically preferred to leave for third party makers. It just goes to show that only a fool thinks they know what Apple could, should, or will do. Does Apple plan to ship a new iPhone next fall? Er…I’d say so. But please don’t quote me.

Based solely on the photo, I’m going to rock the boat and say that I’m kind of pleased by this design. It’s quite literal. It looks like Apple just added enough extra volume to their standard silicone case to accommodate the battery. Their silicone cases are awesome, and because Apple took the simple route, the Smart Battery Case will work with any cable or charging dock that works with the standard version.

If I worked for Apple and had been part of the design or marketing team, I would have pitched a killer idea:

“We will also make one in Teal. It will ship with no battery. That empty space will contain a little note that says ‘You can hide weed or LSD in here. If you don’t use recreational drugs, bring your case back to the Apple Store and we will swap it for either a black or white one. Plus, we’ll give you a $15 iTunes Store card as a token of our appreciation for your continued silence about the truth about the teal ones’.”

I am a damn genius.

Why is Apple making a battery case at all? See Paragraph One. I imagine it’s just something they wanted to make (like when they started making their own rechargeable batteries and charger), and/or they saw the market for battery extenders and asked themselves why they were leaving that money on the table.

It does seem odd as an Apple-logoed product, given the iPhone’s killer battery life. I expect a device maker to design every accessory that the product needs, such as the keyboards for the iPad Pro and Surface Pro. Unlike most Android phones, the iPhone doesn’t “need” a battery extender. But that’s not true for everybody. Some people can’t even count on ending every day near an outlet.

Speaking of phones and power, I had another great experience with the Nexus 5X. I was out of the house all day on a meeting and was so tired at the end of the day that I just dropped my phone on the kitchen counter, got myself a drink, and slouched upstairs to bed.

I ease myself into the day by spending the first hour on my MacBook, in bed. Nothing gets me dressed and downstairs faster, though, than realizing that I forgot to recharge my phone. My old Nexus 5 would run out of juice after just six or eight hours off-leash, even if it was just in the pocket of the pants on my bedroom floor.

The 5X, with Android 6, is way way better. Even so, I wasn’t expecting it to light up this morning. But, yay! I still had 40% battery left. I plugged it into the charger anyway to make sure it’d be ready to go in an hour, when I was heading off for breakfast somewhere.

And then I left for breakfast without it. I kind of preferred it when I didn’t have a phone with me in the morning and I had something else to blame.

Ihnatko Almanac #00163: “Shaking a Stick at the Monolith”

Oh, boy! The latest Almanac is up!

(I’m not implying that this is a real “Oh, boy!” piece of news. But I’m posting this from my iPad Pro using the WordPress app. For some reason, the app thinks “add a blank line under the stock photo” is such a piffling change that it’s not even worth lighting up the “Update” button. So I had to add an “Oh, boy!” or something.)

(Come to think of it, those three extra sentences of explanation would have done the job, too. I guess now, I can delete the “Oh, boy!” entirely.)

(Wait…no I can’t. Because then there’d be three sentences of laborious explanation of something that no longer exists.)

(We seem to be stuck in a desperate circle here, fellow sensation-seekers.) 

This week, Dan and I talked about our respective Thanksgivings, and we mused on the fact that many of the stresses of the holidays are in fact self-inflicted. I cooked the best Thanksgiving dinner ever, and I explained how. And then he and I talked about new computers in our lives: an iPad Pro for him, and a Raspberry Pi Zero and a Nexus 5X for me.

This episode of The Ihnatko Almanac is presented commercial-free. Because I told American Cyanomid that they can keep their damn blood money and I don’t care how many times they keep doubling their offer.

Its new phone day!

I’m taking a break from work to do something that is only defined as quote fun on quote in my sick little vernacular: I’m setting up a brand new phone. I do that all the time, what with all the devices that I review. This one is special, because it’s a personal phone that I bought during the Black Friday sale last week: a Nexus 5X.

I bought it because, yes, I’m definitely trending towards switching back to Android. The switch to the iPhone 6 was never intended to be permanent, it was just a necessity of getting to know the Apple watch. But it was certainly possible that I was going to stay with iOS. Most of the decision was going to hang on what Google released in September or October.

These new Nexus phones really scored big. I only really cared about three things, hardware – wise: I wanted an iPhone-class camera, I wanted fingerprint security, and I wanted to finally have a battery that didn’t make me want to scream every four and a half hours, which is when I would need to find a new source of power for my previous Android phone, a Nexus 5.

And, well, what do you know: the new Nexus phones delivered all that stuff. The smaller of the two is a better fit for my needs, and the price is absolutely one that I’m comfortable spending on a phone.

I’m not officially back on Android yet. My SIM card is still inside my iPhone. But, yeah, that’s where I’m leaning.

I’ve been setting it up for the past hour or two. This isn’t a reflection of how difficult Android is; it’s a statement about how much of it you can actually customize. As you can imagine, I’m having a ball. It’s great to be able to configure something for my needs, specifically. It gives me the opportunity to think about how I use my phone, and how I can make things easier on myself.

image

I’m giving a lot of thought to widgets, for instance. I’ve been setting up this new phone so that all of the features I need are always right in front of me, and that I rarely have to launch an actual app. The new iPhone does a good job of this with 3D Touch. Android has always had a version of this solution, in the form of allowing apps to put their most useful features and content right on the desktop.

Mostly, I’m getting my head back in the game of relying on Android as my full time phone, if it comes to that. I’ve been using Android phones all summer, but always just in a casual capacity. Its reminding me of all the things that I like about Android.

One of those things is Android’s Material Design UI. It’s just much more in tune with how I think, and how I want a phone interface to look. Even after three years, the new iPhone user interface still seems so very stark, and isn’t as intuitive to me as the Android design language.

Another thing: I did actually pay for an Apple Watch, to make sure that I would have one in my hardware library forever and ever. I’m a little surprised that I don’t like it so much that it’s encouraging me to stick with the iPhone.

In the end, I think this speaks well of the diversity of the mobile market. The biggest reason why I’m leaning towards Android is simply because I prefer the looks of the interface, and it’s a better fit overall for me. This is maybe the first year when the software libraries are pretty much equal, and the level of hardware is also pretty much equal, and The level of polish and innovation in the underlying operating systems are 100% equal.

We are now free to make a choice based solely on personal preference. And that’s sort of perfect, isn’t it?

(Written completely on the Nexus 5X, using speech to text.)