We spoke the other week about cameranogamy – using just one camera – and some of the major benefits. I’m moving ever closer to this, but I’m not quite there yet.
A warning before we go any further – this post is a bit of a gear post. I will probably use phrases like ISO and AutoFocus.
But whilst I usually avoid (and advise against) this type of writing, I think here it might be of use to see why and how I’m comparing two cameras – the Ricoh GX100 digital compact and Sony XPeria ZX1 Compact smartphone – either of which could potentially become the only camera I use.
That said, don’t expect head to head spec sheets, and pixel peeking image comparisons.
My thoughts, and my way of judging one camera against another, is largely about how I feel when using them, or put another way, how invisible they become.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first.
Both of these cameras are technically competent enough to consistently produce photographs I really like, and having more than one of them is a luxury.
Neither can quite create the ideal look right out of camera on its own, and for both I run the in camera jpegs through a “Style” I’ve already set up in Snapseed.
95% of the time I process images from both cameras with the same Snapseed settings.
Essentially it converts to b/w, increases the contrast a little and decreases the exposure, or brightness. That’s mostly it, but these simply tweaks do, for me, make the final images far more endearing to my eye than straight out of camera.
The end photographs being much the same then, what can we compare?
Let me talk you through my experience of using each.
The Xperia is of course a phone. Size wise it’s just about right for me – still pocketable, but with a large enough screen that makes processing in Snapseed very doable, and composing photographs a joy. The screen when taking a shot is significantly bigger than any other digital camera I’ve used.
Handling, for a phone, is pretty good. The body is sleek yet kind of angular, but to aid grip (and protection) I have a thin silicone case.
I have it set up so two quick presses of the main power button takes us from sleep mode straight into camera and ready to shoot.
You can set another dedicated button as the shutter button, complete with half press to lock focus. This was a significant appeal in choosing this phone. But I don’t use it.
Why? Because with that big screen it feels far more intuitive to just tap the screen where you want it to focus, then tap the camera button on screen to capture the photo. It means I can compose then shoot without moving the camera, even if the desired point of focus is nowhere near the default centre of the screen.
It has other options to tweak, like shutter speed, white balance, ISO, exposure etc, but 99% of the time I leave all these on auto. It has an “Superior Auto” which I don’t like because it keeps saying things like “document” or “night scene” in the corner of the screen, so I leave it on the standard M (er, Manual) auto mode.
I have the aspect ratio set to 4:3, the same as I’m using across all cameras now, and resolution is 12MP (I really don’t need 19MP!) which I’d set even lower it if let me.
The standard focal length is 25mm. Zoom is done by pinching the screen or the volume buttons on top (if you’re holding the camera in landscape mode). I don’t use the zoom much.
When I do, it’s straight to 2.0. This, I think, means 2.0x the widest focal length of 25mm, ie 50mm. I have never used it at any other focal length because I don’t care to try to do the mental arithmetic and convert what 1.7 or 3.3 equates to as a focal length. And I just like to know what focal length I’m at.
The image quality is still very usable at 2.0 (50mm) but most of the time I leave it at 25mm and point and shoot.
The Xperia, er, experience is surprisingly fluid for a cameraphone.
That two press start up helps hugely, so really to use the camera for 99 out of 100 shots I just use that button to start up, tap the screen to focus, then tap the camera icon to shoot. That’s it.
The image pops up in the corner so I can tap it if I want to look full screen. Sometimes I do this and apply the Snapseed filter immediately, which takes precisely five taps and one swipe. Then if something doesn’t look right exposure wise maybe I can take it again but this rarely happens.
I have it synced with Google Photos, edit from there too and process with Snapseed (again direct from Google Photos), which is a breeze.
There’s little else to say about the Xperia. It’s very easy to use, reliable with exposure, plenty sharp enough, and the relatively wide angle lens seems to make sense more than say a 35mm or 50mm with such a portable device.
Over to the Ricoh GX100.
As we’ve seen, on its own, the Xperia could easily be my only phone. I find it a very fluid experience, especially paired (and synced) with Snapseed and Google Photos.
But when you return to a “proper” camera, like the wonderful Ricoh GX100, the differences become apparent.
First, the handling of the GX100 is excellent, probably the best of any compact camera I’ve had. It’s just the right size and shape, and the controls and buttons are all very intuitive and where you expect them to be.
Ricoh’s fantastic user interface and custom modes on the mode dial (MY1 and MY2) make it a joy to use, once you’ve set it up to suit your needs.
The lens zooms from 24mm to 72mm, with, again, an intelligent system called step zoom, so each time you press the zoom button you go up/down to the next step – 24mm, 28, 35, 50, 72.
Whilst I hardly ever zoom when out in the field, what this function does mean is you can set the MY custom modes with exactly the same picture settings, just with different zooms. So I have MY1 as 24mm, and MY2 as 35mm.
Lately I’ve been using the GX100 almost exclusively at 35mm, which just seems normal to me with compacts, film or digital. I pretty much forget it’s a zoom lens and treat it as a 35mm prime lens camera.
Very occasionally I switch the dial to MY1 to shift to 24mm for a scene where I’m backed against a wall and can’t fit enough in, but as I said, lately I’ve become so used to 35mm again, I rarely touch the zoom control via any method.
The screen is smaller than the Xperia, and much lower resolution, but perfectly fine for composing and judging exposure. Another big plus is the Ricoh can be set to b/w, so you see what you’re getting on screen.
With the Xperia, I still mostly shoot b/w (via Snapseed processing) but you can only compose images with the standard colour mode so more imagination is needed.
Another significant plus with the Ricoh for my style of shooting is the close focus of an amazing 0.01m, or 1cm. This is far closer than the Xperia (though it’s a still pretty close 0.07m or so) and my otherwise fantastic Pentax Q lags behind even further in this regard.
The custom set up options with the GX100 mean that whilst I mostly lock focus (half press of the shutter button), recompose and shoot without touching any other controls, much like the Xperia, I do have far more creative control when I need it.
I use the Ricoh on Aperture Priority (Av) mode and leave it on the widest setting (f/2.9 at 35mm) and only adjust if I want a large depth of field, or I’m shooting a bright subject and the shutter speed has maxed out so I need a smaller aperture.
Other functions like exposure lock, ISO and exposure compensation are all close to hand if I need them, but mostly I have the GX100 set to auto ISO between 125 and 400 and the exposure compensation to -0.3.
I could write all day about the GX100, but let’s try to sum up the two cameras here in comparison.
Sony Xperia – Super quick and simple to fire up (double press of power button), intuitive tap on screen to lock focus, and another tap to take the picture. Excellent syncing with Snapseed and Google Photos (in fact I like it so much I process all my photos now with the Xperia and Snapseed, including those made with the Ricoh GX100). Always with me. Reliable exposure, very capable lens, makes images I’m more than happy with even at “just” 12MP not 19MP. Could easily be my only camera.
Ricoh GX100 – Best handling and most intuitive user interface of any camera I’ve used (neck and neck with my Ricoh GRD III which is near identical to hold and use but only has 28mm as an option with its prime lens). Fantastic lens. Great b/w JPEGs that just need a little tweak in Snapseed. A genuine joy to use.
The only downside compared with the Xperia, which is simply due to technology evolving (the Ricoh is from 2007, the Sony 2018), is the GX100 needs to be physically plugged into a computer to download the photos, so it’s an extra step when processing. But this is very minor, and I could explore WiFi SD cards if I wanted to be wholly wireless.
My MacBook is synced with Google Photos too, so once I’ve downloaded them from the SD card in the GX100 I’m at the same place as with the Xperia and its auto syncing.
You can probably gather, I would highly recommend either of these cameras.
If you want just one camera, and you want it to be in the same device as your phone, email, web browser, music player, photo editor and processor, satnav, notebook, fitness tracker, watch, calculator, and more, then the Xperia ZX1 Compact is an excellent choice. It cost me around £350, which considering what else it does, I think is good value.
If you want a “proper” camera that handles like a dream and even after a couple of hours use becomes near invisible, then get the fantastic Ricoh GX100. Mine cost me a shade over £50 (used, obviously, it’s an 11 year old camera) which is an incredible bargain. Why spend hundreds on a digital phone that won’t do anything more or be any more of a pleasure to use?
When it comes to cameranogamy, I can’t see yet that I’m fully ready.
All the time I still want a phone with me wherever I go (and I do, if purely for emergency communication) then it makes sense to use the other features of it too, including its camera.
But whilst the end result with the Xperia photos is more than good enough for me, using just this device as my sole camera, I’d miss out on the delights of the GX100, the closest I’ve yet come – or can imagine coming – to invisible photography, where I’m completely at one with machine.
How often do you use your phone as a camera, and how does it compare to other cameras you use?
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