I have a funny confession to make: this year, I photographed the entire Geneva Motor Show with my smartphone. No DSLR camera, no high-end camera without a mirror to work as my alternative: I literally flew to Geneva with a Google Pixel 2 XL, my laptop, and hoped that my high regard for the Google camera was not wrong. After taking more than 2,000 photos, posting 303 of them (so far), and then collecting compliments instead of complaints about my photos, I can say that this experiment has been a resounding success.
Why try this at all? Three reasons
One is that I have long claimed that the Google Pixel 2 camera competes with the image quality of a DSLR. I wanted to put that demand to the test in Geneva, either to prove my point to others or to admit that I could have been too generous with my praise. The second cause is circumstantial: I just returned the Hasselblad revision unit to its manufacturer and I still have to decide what my next high-end camera will be, so I decided to be lazy and trust Pixel in my pocket. And finally, I really wanted to know how much more convenient it would be to photograph a program with my phone.
There are some specific circumstances about a car show like Geneva that made it the perfect place to try a careless photographic effort like mine. All the subjects that I had to photograph were (a) motionless and (b) flooded with light, eliminating two of the biggest challenges for mobile cameras. Without the need to capture moving targets or any threat of low light destroying my photos with high ISO noise, the Geneva Motor Show becomes a much less daunting task. The cars are also ideal for the wide-angle fixed view of a phone camera: I wanted to shoot at that focal length anyway.
There are still important reasons to want a high-end digital SLR like a Nikon D850 with you in Geneva. The shallow depth of field you can produce with a full-frame sensor, that is, the portrait mode of your phone but achieved through optics instead of error-prone software, can not be touched by a comparatively insignificant camera. With a full-frame camera, he could have focused the viewer's attention on the car in front of him, keeping it focused and relegating the people around him to softer shapes and silhouettes.
Porsche Mission E Gran Turismo
But a D850 weighs almost a kilogram even without a fixed lens, which is approximately 5.22 Pixel 2 XLs, while the current price of the DSLR of $ 3,300 also eclipses the smartphone several times. And, take note, everything I did with Pixel 2 XL was also possible with Pixel 2, smaller and cheaper, with which the advantages of size and cost are even greater.
I want to emphasize my belief that Pixel 2 is the best modern smartphone camera with which I could have done my experiment. In the weeks leading up to this year's Geneva Motor Show, I spent many hours and days comparing the Pixel 2 camera with the HTC U11 and U11 Plus, the Huawei Mate 10 Pro, the LG V30, the Samsung Galaxy S8 and the Apple iPhone X . all of them, with their greatest advantage in the dynamic range.
Bugatti Chiron Sport
Sections of scenes where other phones would produce a solid block of white, due to overexposure, still had visual information on them in the Pixel. With a greater dynamic range, the Pixel camera was able to capture the reflections and flashes of the car's bright exterior. All this brought a more realistic and three-dimensional feeling to Pixel's photos. It also made it difficult to distinguish Pixel's images from those taken with a dedicated camera, since burned reflections are often the hallmark of phone photography. (Although Pixel is not completely immune to them, as shown by the Bugatti dashboard shown below).
Google's photo processing system is not only technically different; It also incorporates a different philosophy to most other mobile cameras. Google's attitude of prioritizing detail retention over image noise reduction goes against the more populist approach of adding a touch of noise reduction blur so that mobile images look good on mobile screens. Google Pixel photos are designed to be seen and appreciated on larger screens, where you can really zoom in and see exactly how detailed they are.
As much as I relied on Google's algorithms to automate the photography process for me, I still could not have made my photos look as good as they did without the help of some professional software. Adobe Lightroom helped in a great way and a litany of little ones. I used the desktop version on my MacBook Pro, after synchronizing the photos on the computer through Google Photos.
The main improvement that Lightroom brought to the procedures was its built-in lens correction for Pixel's camera. Rectified the geometry of each of my shots, reducing the subtle fisheye effect of the wide Pixel lens. Adding a smooth and outstanding recovery, illuminating the shadows and a contrasting pothole (just because it made the cars explode more), I was able to convey the beauty that surrounded me in Geneva.
Lamborghini Hurricane Performante Spyder
As recently as last year, I would throw disapproving glares at anyone who passes by the last supercar and ruined my professional shot just to take a picture with his little smartphone. The public of smart phone images in Geneva has evolved over the years, and now many people use gimbals to stabilize their phones and record great videos in the program. But I could not respect your efforts to take still photos. Needless to say, after my experience in Geneva 2018, my mind has changed about that. I left aside the prejudice that only people with photographic equipment of the size and weight of a human baby can be considered professionals.
The most transformative moment for me came when I arrived at the Aston Martin gallery to photograph the incomparable Lagonda concept car. In fact, I was driving to Renault, having made unplanned stops to see the Hennessey Venom F5 and the PAL-V Liberty contraption, but the Lagonda caught me for another detour. Aston Martin did an amazing job of lighting and decorating its theater-like stage for the Lagonda, and I'm delighted to be able to get pictures of the car in that luxurious setting.
Aston Martin Lagonda
If I had brought a "proper" camera, I would not have been able to photograph three extravagant vehicles on a whim as I walked in front of their bleachers. Each take would have taken more time to compose, each image would have required more time to download from the camera to my laptop, and the basic hassle of taking the camera out of the bag could have discouraged me from even trying. The Pixel 2 XL helped me produce more without massively degrading the quality of my work.
One of the most subtle advantages of using a smartphone for the photography of my car was that it could more easily capture interior and steering wheel shots. It's a practical nightmare to sit inside a car with a voluminous full-frame camera and try to shoot anything. With a phone, on the other hand, you do not even need to step on the luxurious Aston Martin Lagonda rug to take the pictures you need.
Rimac Concept Two
There is still a part of me that feels like I have sinned in some way. As if I had offended the gods of photography by making my work too easy and comfortable. I can not even begin to describe the job update that makes fast and reliable wireless photo synchronization. In the time it took me to settle into a desktop to process images, my phone was already connected to the Wi-Fi network and I uploaded my photos, which allowed me to simply open my laptop and start working on the photos immediately. That kind of perfection is the future that we were promised for so long, but we have never done it before.
So, what am I going to do at the Geneva Motor Show next year? Well, the cars are likely to be even more extravagant and more extravagant, as they seem to be every year, but the act of photographing them will not be more difficult. Mobile photography should move very well from here to there, with a new Google Pixel, at least a new HTC flagship, an updated iPhone and Samsung's next Galaxy Note in 2018, so I hope and hope to be here again with a smart phone in my hand as my only camera.
Photograph by Vlad Savov / The Verge