July 29, 2023

Choose your "film"

Photo of the Hudson River. Samsung Galaxy S22. Google Photos Honey filter applied.

I've been shooting with smartphone cameras since my first Lumia 520, right up until my current Samsung Galaxy S22. After the Lumias I went for a series of Pixel phones and learned that I really liked what Google was doing with the color science. This GSMArena article from late 2018 is a good overview of what various phone companies were doing in that regard. 

Of course this is an always evolving feature that each company wants to use to one-up the others. For example, Google has recently been touting their work on getting skin tones right. And, of course a lot of pro photographers use iPhones, touting their excellent color science.

Science is one thing, but what you like is another. For example, online I am seeing lots of digital photographers displaying photos with strange washed-out hues that resemble what I would consider subpar film looks of the past. I can vividly remember arguing with my photo friends about the merits of Kodachrome vs. Fufi, or even Agfa and others. Some of us liked one and were right, while others like something else and were wrong!

One of the great things about mobile photography is you can choose your own "film" and get it just right for what you want. The first big choice is of course the brand of your phone. As I noted, I found I liked the Pixel look, even though I moved to a Samsung phone for the features, better reliability, and better reception in marginal areas, where I am often traveling and photographing.

Right out of the phone I find the Samsung colors rather saturated and punchy, but sometimes just wrong for the scene. Sometimes they are great, and other times they are terrible! Lately, I've been experimenting with some Google photos filters, and I've found that with nature shots and landscapes the Honey filter often makes the shot look more like it came from a Pixel--contrasty, darker, with rich colors still. Of course there are numerous apps that can provide filters and more editing tools, but I like to keep things simple so I am currently experimenting with the ones provided by Samsung in the native camera app and those provided with Google photos, which is where all my shots get uploaded.

One word of caution is necessary when searching for your favorite "film." Keep the original shot after applying edits and filters, then blow both up and check them out carefully side-by-side on your screen. I did this with one highly-rated camera app and I found that despite things looking good on the phone screen, when blown up I could see the new app was destroying sharpness, introducing artifacts, and ruining shadow detail when the shots were challenging.

Find the "film" you like, and don't be afraid to use different ones for different shots.

Photo: Summer Saratoga. Samsung Galaxy S22. Google Photos Vogue filter.

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