The Bare Minimum For Rewarding Photography

You might think the bare minimum for rewarding photography is obvious, especially since so many of us now walk around with a very capable camera in our phone these days.

But despite trying my phone as my only camera a few times, it’s repeatedly fallen short for the same reasons.

Not much wrong with the images or the performance of the phone.

But the handling, the whole (lack of) tactile experience has always been so disappointing, especially compared with a compact camera with excellent handling like my Ricoh GRD III or GX100.

In fact this is an area I feel has got worse as the cameras and software has improved.

Back in the mid 2000s I had two or three Sony phone cameras which were about as chunky as a small compact digital.

Plus they had proper buttons (even a shutter button with a half press to lock focus), which were positioned so that when the phone was held sideways, gave decent ergonomics and control.

They even had ridges and contours on the body to aid grip, unlike the super sleek slabs of plastic and glass we have nowadays, forever a split second away from sliding out of our fingers and crashing to the floor.

Oh and those old Sonys had a hole in the corner of the body that allowed for a camera strap to be attached to save the phone in such incidents.

No such thing in today’s slender shiny mobile monoliths.

So if my smartphone isn’t cutting it as a sole camera option, what would?

The smallest camera I’ve used that’s still been very usable and enjoyable on the handling front is the Panasonic Lumix XS1.

The diminutive Lumix XS1, making my already very compact Ricoh GRD III look positively chunky

Although a Sony L1 I had, tiny in a different way, was also cleverly designed to handle far better than its size suggested.

What else would I need, aside from the camera?

Well, a way of viewing the images, aside from on the camera’s screen.

This could be a phone or tablet, but I always prefer a “proper” computer with a keyboard. Plus some kind of associated storage, whether that’s within the computer’s HD, a separate HD and/or cloud storage.

And that’s about it, the bare minimum I need for rewarding photography.

You could also make a case for having somewhere online to share your images, which for me is Flickr and WordPress.

But that’s for getting your photos to other people, and not part of the core practice of making the images in the first place, so I wouldn’t consider it essential for the purposes of this conversation.

So let’s summarise my requirements.

One compact digital camera (the XS1 only cost me £12.50), plus a way to upload the images online.

I recently bought a Chromebook (around £230) though previously used my daughter’s sometimes (even cheaper, around £180). Plus a card reader that cost about £7.

How about you? What are your minimum requirements for rewarding photography?

As always, please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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13 thoughts on “The Bare Minimum For Rewarding Photography”

  1. I also prefer a proper PHONE with a keyboard. This all-in-one obsession of manufacturers where even your refrigerator is connected to the Internet has -never- worked for anything in the past, and it continues to not do so. And touchscreens are still the poorly-functioning garbage they were when first invented over 30 years ago.
    I have a Samsung Rugby that works as a phone, the little Fuji FX80 as my minimalist camera which I’d wager will ‘out-shoot’ most ‘smartphones’, and an actual (and ‘ancient’) Gateway laptop computer for doing the computing.
    You can make a tool that’s a knife and a wrench and a hammer and a toothpick all-in-one, but they are never very good at -any- of the functions they are asked to perform because accommodating the other functions requires compromise to the one you want to use. This is an unwavering engineering fact, and it applies to electronic goods as well.
    In yet another coincidence, I have a couple of blog entries coming up that touch on this same subject. We must think alike. Great Minds and all that, eh? *LOL*

    1. I have to admit I’m not a big fan of the touchscreen either Marc. It’s quite a good approach for something super simple like viewing photos on Flickr, when all you need is swipe left or swipe right. But for anything more complicated it becomes a hassle. I use my iPad less than ever for anything involving typing, in fact I hardly use it at all since I got a Chromebook. Nothing beats a proper keyboard and screen! Trying to select, copy and paste a section of text with an iPad is a great test of one’s patience, and a test I fail spectacularly every time I forget how fiddly it is and attempt it again!

      With my phone again some things are good with a touchscreen, like setting up your email so it’s swipe left to delete, swipe right to move to a folder. Or pulling down to refresh a webpage/app. These actions are actually easier and quicker than on a laptop. But typing I try to generally avoid, aside from short messages, and quick searches – but then Google usually helps and finishes my words/sentences for much of this anyway so I’m not often typing a lengthy string of words.

      Another thing I don’t like with a touchscreen is that they are constantly dirty from being touched all the time! With a laptop you can wipe the screen over maybe once a week or two and it remains clean. With a tablet or phone, even the most thorough clean is undone in a few seconds of swiping again.

      And yes I also agree about the Swiss army knife effect. Yes, it would get you out of a bind in an emergency and be usable as a pair of scissors or pliers. But to do a decent job, it’s always best to use the right tools. No single device can be optimised for multiple tasks and applications because that contradicts the whole definition of optimised, ie being designed and engineered for one specific purpose.

      Even cameras these days try to do too much with wi-fi and GPS and touchscreens and everything else. And yes the whole smart home thing is bizarre, who really needs their fridge or vacuum cleaner to be hooked up to the wi-fi and communicating with other devices?? It’s very scary how dependent we are becoming on the network(s) we’re part of.

  2. These days, my requirement for rewarding photography is a 35mm film camera with manual focus, manual aperture, manual shutter speed, and no additional manual or automatic controls or functions. (Not sure if that is a maximum or a minimum.)

  3. I would say the minimum is:
    – a good quality camera that is easy to operate (easy to handle, easy access to the main functions) : I like when you can focus on the view and the camera is only an extension of our senses.
    – a phone with a tool like snapseed to make the desired adjustments to finalize the image as we imaginated it.
    With that minimum it can be 100% rewarding.

    1. Joël that’s a good point about a phone as a processing tool actually. A couple of years back I would have never thought it possible, due to the controls, and the size of the screen. But I regularly tweak family photos with Snapseed and it’s more than adequate. The only thing lacking with the cameras I favour is getting the photos on to the phone – or off the camera’s memory card and online. I imagine there are memory card readers that will hook up to a phone these days though, or I could explore wi-fi SD cards.

  4. Yes, same for me! I would also like to avoid the usb cable to download the images to the computer, then transfering from the computer to the phone via dropbox or any other solution… A few years ago wifi cards were easy to find, but I thing there is no longer a market for it and they tend to disappear.

  5. a bare minimum for me includes sharing- and I’m a little lost in the woods on that, right now. I love sharing some of my photography on WordPress but the pictures I pick out always end up being chosen mainly to prop up a feeling or idea I had about something I wrote, a thing that oftentimes may not even necessarily come through in my writing. i’m really hindered by a slavish, pointless devotion to quality control that’s misplaced for such n utter middling hobbyist. I’ve been working on some printing projects for family, an extended winter project, making photo books. it’s very gratifying and giving me the missing outlet for the moment although it has been humbling as I have come to terms with the fact many of my favorite images are really just……. not very good. But as disappointed as I’ve been it’s been reassuring in affirming my love for photography and realizing there’s still a lot I have to learn, which is part of the fun.

    I’m always trying to get better at taking pictures with my camera phone. It’s quite, quite low on my list of preferences for tools, not nearly as rewarding as my SLR but iv’e capture enough serendipitous moments over the years that I’d be a pretty big fool to not try and get better as I can. I’ve got big hands, really long fingers but I prefer the smallest phone for carrying….it adds up to a combination ripe for fumbling and ineptitude. I’m not a clumsy person. I just have the most terrible time with the ergonomics of taking pictures with a slender, rectangular piece of metal and plastic

    1. On the first point Jason, I remember writing posts on a former blog before I photographed so much myself, and poring over Flickr for a Creative Commons picture that would match the content of the post (it was coaching, self-development stuff).

      I often spent more time looking for a picture than writing the post. Crazy!

      But then one day I just decided to use my own photographs, and just ones I liked and had taken recently, with no connection whatsoever to the content. It was liberating, and meant I had more time to write.

      I’ve done the same pretty much ever since, except if I want a specific type of picture to illustrate a point or demonstrate a specific camera.

      I agree about the handling of phones, I have pretty small hands for a guy (I’m slight anyway, 5’8″ and under 60kg), I do mourn the days when phones were actual designed to work side on in landscape mode and felt like a little digital compact camera. Like these –

      Oh and do you process your phone images? I’m not a fan of post processing as you probably know, but use Snapseed for my phone images, it works wonders with very little work! Fun to play around with if you’re interested.

  6. I haven’t had much luck taking photos that include strangers with anything that looks even vaguely “Professional” (D3400 with lens hood). So much better using the GR2 or a tiny Sony DSC W830. Whenever I go out,I practice shooting with the camera held aloft at arms length,or at knee height (Hold camera lefthanded upside down,correct in post).Allow for a little cropping.
    After a while you’ll get what you’re after more often than not.I tend to use a touch of flash,so I’m not trying to escape being noticed. Occasionally I’ll get in first,asking someone to stand beside a massive street tree to give an idea of scale,for example.

    So,to answer your question,a half decent compact is my minimum requirement for most of the stuff I enjoy.

    It’d be nice if the commenters on this blog could post an image as an example of what we’re banging on about!

    1. Craig, please feel free to post a link to an image or two if you want to. If they’re on Flickr I think the image just appears in the post too, rather than as a link.

  7. For almost ten years, all I had was a small Sony DSC-P200. It’s not very ergonomic, but it does fit in a pocket. The optical viewfinder is so small it’s useless (though everyone is probably surprised it has one!) and the small screen didn’t help much when out in the sun, either. Plus, if you haven’t pre-focused, it took over a second from the time you pressed the shutter, to take the picture.
    Yet I took all of our family and vacation pictures with it until I got my first DSLR in 2013.
    So I’m not sure I have a “minimum requirements” camera. From the time I got the original LG Aristo, I feel that the phone cameras were good enough even for medium sized prints, and for viewing on the computer.
    Yet I do appreciate a camera with a lot of controls, large-ish sensors (like APS-C) and fast lenses. So I don’t see why I would give that up.

    1. Chris I think if you’ve never experienced something, you won’t miss it. I was the same with my first camera, a Nikon Coolpix. It did everything I wanted really, and was very compact. I kind of needed to go through a hundred plus other cameras to realise what I needed most of the time was right there in my original Coolpix.

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