Discovering The Real Me (6 Pro)

Not wanting to be too much of a slave to the upgrade parade with anything, nonetheless I do have to succumb to planned obsolescence periodically, or my devices become more irritating than enabling.

My last couple of phones (an iPhone 5C then Sony Xperia) managed about three years each.

The latter reached the point where the battery barely lasted the day and increasingly frequent freezes meant a forced reboot two or three times a day. Not disastrous, but frustrating and becoming unreliable.

So I started looking for a replacement phone with a pretty simple checklist –

  • Decent screen.
  • Excellent battery life.
  • Android (I’m too embedded to change, plus Apple lost me a few years back on both complexity and price).
  • And of course, a great camera.

I nearly went for a Motorola G series – our daughter has a G8 as her first phone and it’s been excellent for her – but then a couple of reviews mentioned Realme phones that do everything the Motorolas do, and some things better, all at a comparable or lower cost.

The Realme 6 Pro I went for was significantly less than my Sony (£220 versus £350) but it’s testament to how much technology has evolved in just three years as to how much device £200 buys you today.

The Realme has a pretty lovely screen – larger than the Sony but no so it’s unwieldy and nudging into iPad dimensions – it’s Android OS, and the battery lasts a day and a half, sometimes two (and charges in about 45m from nearly dead).

The camera spec sheet is rather overwhelming, as is the case with many phones these days, with phrases like “64MP AI Quad Camera” abound.

The specs that interested me most though are a 26mm f/1.8 main lens, coupled with a 1/1.7″ Samsung GW1 sensor, which is larger than in most digital compacts I’ve had, and the same size as some of my favourites, such as the Ricoh GRD III.

An ultra wide 15.7mm lens, 54/2.5 telephoto and 2MP 4cm focus macro lens complete the quartet.

But enough jargon, what’s it actually like to use and have I made a good decision in replacing the Sony Xperia that for three years has made more images than any other camera I own?

Overall the phone is not radically different in use to the Sony (my intention, staying with Android), and I’m largely using the same apps, so the experience hasn’t evolved much, aside from the larger, slicker screen.

I’m still synced with Google Photos to back up my photos (with a periodic HD download and back up) and Snapseed for any minor processing.

As this is mostly a photography related blog, and not about smart phones, the following thoughts are specifically about the Realme 6 Pro’s camera(s).

Aspect Ratios

Of the available aspect ratios, there’s the standard 4:3 I’m well used to from growing up with TVs with those screen proportions, and years of shooting with digital cameras and phones.

There’s also 1:1, a great addition as I love experimenting with square photography every now and then, and would much rather frame and shoot square from the outset than shoot in 4:3 then crop to square afterwards.

Then there’s 16:9, the “standard” widescreen mode that many/most phones and digital cameras used to have as their default screen aspect ratio.

But even this seems a bit small on the Realme 6 Pro, as there’s a further Full Screen ratio, which, well, fills the whole screen, which is 16.6cm diagonally, and 20:9, positively cinematic!

This setting, combined with the 15.7mm wide angle lens, means you can fit a huge amount in a photograph. Not usually my thing, but something I’ll definitely experiment with.

Lenses

With my Sony, I had a standard preparation set up before taking a photo. Press the home button twice to open the camera, then use the volume up button to zoom to the far end of 1.4x.

With the Xperia’s 25mm lens, this meant I was around 35mm. Anything wider and photographing people (the most common use of my smartphone camera) meant too much distortion.

This zooming in was a bit of a chore, though I did get used to it.

With the Realme, the default camera setting is 1x zoom, and the standard lens 26mm, so very similar to the Sony, and as such usually too wide.

But, handily, as well as being able to set the volume buttons to zoom (or you can pinch the screen), there are options at the bottom of the screen to jump to set zooms.

To the left of the default 1x is the ultra wide lens. I assume this means the camera then physically uses that 15.7mm lens, not the standard 26mm.

To the right of 1x is 2x, and it’s this option I nearly always start with. I believe this then uses the 54mm f/2.5 lens, as my experiments in very low light never show an aperture larger than this.

Finally there is 5x, not something I’m likely to use much. The camera does zoom to a faintly ridiculous 20x, something I may use if I’m on the coast one day and want to see what’s occurring in France across the Channel, perhaps.

The 2x setting works really well for family shots – as I said, the bread and butter of this camera’s purpose for me.

But when I tried to shoot some of my more usual flower close ups, I remembered the helpful screen warning when you switch to 2x – “Maintain at least a 30cm distance from the object”.

This distance is fine with a DLSR and 50mm or longer lens where you’ll achieve a very shallow depth of field. But with a much smaller sensor, and therefore greater depth of field, at 30cm, too much remains in focus for my liking.

Plus 30cm just isn’t close enough for many of the shots I’m trying to make.

The standard lens focuses much closer (let’s leave the dedicated macro lens for now) at around 8cm but as I said above, it’s too wide. And I don’t really want to be zooming in every time I shoot, as with the Sony.

So I wondered what would happen if I tapped the screen to choose the 2x, then used the volume down button to click back a notch.

What I believe happens is the phone switches back to the main camera, displays 1.9x (so around 49mm) and so I regain that closer focusing capacity, and larger f/1.8 aperture.

Here, at the 49-ish mm focal length and 8cm, I’m plenty close enough for most of my photography needs, and with the maximum aperture of f/1.8 and 1/1.7″ sensor, the depth of field options make me really happy.

Of course this set up is never going to rival the bokeh of an APS-C DSLR with a Helios 44 lens, but for a small digital camera, it’s very decent and flexible.

So to recap, for family shots I just fire up the camera (a swipe up from the bottom right corner when the phone is locked), tap the 2x and take the shot(s).

For my more artistic close up explorations, I do the same, then tap the volume down once to knock the zoom back to 1.9x and more importantly, force the phone back to using its main f/1.8 lens.

I haven’t experimented enough yet with the ultra wide or macro lens (though the 2MP of the latter makes me sceptical) to comment as yet.

Exposure / AutoFocus Lock

This is, I imagine, much like many other phones these days.

Tap anywhere on the screen to make that point where the camera focuses (AF) and meters the exposure (AE), and slide the little +/- up or down to manually increase/decrease exposure, ie exposure compensation.

As with any digital camera with a decent screen, you of course get real time visual feedback on your adjustments and can click the shutter when you’re happy with what you see.

If you move the camera, it readjusts the AF/AE with it, so you need to decide on your composition first, then hold steady as you tweak the AF/AE within that composition if required.

To lock AF/AE, so it doesn’t readjust when you move the camera around, hold your finger on the part of the screen you want, then release to see a little padlock appear, then shoot. You can still use the +/- slider for manual exposure compensation when it’s locked, which is handy if you want to lock the AF at a certain place , but the exposure needs adjusting.

This sounds long winded when you write it out, but it’s very simple and intuitive in practice.

Filters

Most digital compacts don’t give me the colours (or contrast) I like straight out of camera. So I either favour those like the Rich GRD III, Panasonic Lumix LX3 and its tiny sibling the XS1 with their high contrast b/w modes, or, as with my old Sony phone, I use Snapseed for minor tweaking afterwards.

The Realme 6 Pro has a range of 10 different presets to choose from before shooting. And again, because of the direct visual feedback, you can ensure you like what you see before you make the shot.

A couple of these are interesting.

One gives a look closer to that I use Snapseed for with family shots – increased contrast, warmth and saturation – though it’s not quite as appealing.

That said, if I didn’t want to use Snapseed I could very easily use one of these filters (or just the standard no filter) and be more than happy with the images.

The other one that’s caught my eye initially is the b/w filter which also does seem to slightly boost the contrast.

The main appeal of this filter for me is so I can compose in b/w, then use Snapseed afterwards to add extra tweaks (like increased contrast). I far prefer doing this for b/w photography than shooting in colour and having to perform ongoing b/w conversions of the scene in my head as I go, then converting in Snapseed.

To be honest, across the range of the 10 filters, there isn’t a radical difference, the b/w one aside.

Perhaps Realme have realised that the era of the overly intense or saturated or “vintage film” filters that used to dominate Instagram and iPhone photography, has moved on, and opted for far more subtle options.

I think if you’re going to offer these in camera though, I’d personally like a couple that are more radical, like the cross processed film setting on my GRD III for example, or a high contrast Moriyama-esque monochrome.

The Realme 6 Pro camera(s) in summary

In some ways I’ve exhausted all of the essentials of the Realme 6 Pro’s camera, and know what I need to get the kind of images I need.

In other ways, I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg.

Aside from the standard Photo and Video options, there’s also Night, Portrait, 64M and More (which contains Time Lapse, Ultra Macro, Slo-mo, Pro Expert and Pano).

Along the top of the screen in the standard photo mode there are options for Flash (Off, On, Auto, Fill Light), HDR, Chroma Boost, the aforementioned filters, then a drop down menu for apsect ratio, timer and further settings.

I anticipate I’ll mostly leave all of these alone, and perhaps pick a new mode once in a while (like Night or Ultra Macro) to play with.

The overall design is simple and slick enough that, shot to shot, I only really need the 2x button, the volume to zoom, and a tap on the shutter button to take the picture.

Phone cameras – even pretty advanced ones (try reading about that Samsung sensor) – should be point and shoot simple in my opinion.

Because most of the time it’s the camera you have with you, and you want to be able to grab it capture the shot, whether it’s a child’s spontaneous pose, a beautiful sunset or a flower on the side of the road, or something you see in a shop you want to later research online.

And the 6 Pro does all of this very well, aided by a pretty impressive screen, far superior than anything I’ve used on a digital compact of course.

So does this praise mean I’ll be selling the rest of my digital compact cameras?

Well, no.

Whilst I could easily live with the Realme as my only camera (and it’s a dead cert contender for a future One Month One Camera experiment), as with all modern camera phones, it’s the handling of a dedicated camera I miss.

Especially something slightly larger with excellent ergonomics like the Ricoh GRD III or Lumix FZ38.

How much do you use a phone camera, and could it ever be your sole camera?

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).

Thanks for looking.

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15 thoughts on “Discovering The Real Me (6 Pro)”

  1. After two years of struggling with a Samsung phone (issues that were not photo-related, the camera was decent), I recently switched to the Sony Xperia 5 II. More expensive than planned, but the device and especially the camera “pro app” – very similar to my α6000 settings – are excellent. It is the first phone camera with which I think it’s worth shooting in “raw” (= .dng files). The 24mm lens is way too wide for me, but the 70mm looks a lot like the vintage lenses I like to use on the α6000, so that’s currently the default lens when opening the camera app.

    A phone could certainly be my only camera (it has been in the past), but I do prefer to be able to alternate with other cameras.

    1. Robert, well Sony to have an excellent history with digital, arguable as good if not better than anyone. So you’d hope their cameras performed well, as my now three year old Xperia did/does too. Does it have a separate 70mm lens? It seems to have taken the manufacturers absolutely years to realise that trying to make a tiny lens that covers a larger zoom range is never going to be great at the extremes of zoom, so it’s better to offer two or more “prime” lenses in the same body.

      1. Dan, the 70mm is indeed a separate lens, in addition to a 16mm and a 24mm lens. I would prefer 28mm, 35mm and 70mm, but in JPEG mode you can choose step zoom (35mm, 50mm etc.). You will of course get a crop, but the image quality is so good that you can easily get away with it.

      2. I love step zoom. I have a Ricoh GX100 that’s sadly neglected but it goes from 24 to 70mm and you can enable step zoom so it goes through 24, 28, 35, 50, and 72mm. So much more useful than zooming through random focal lengths with no clue what they are. Combined with an excellent 10MP CCD and up to 1cm close focus it’s a wonderful little camera. I’m wondering now why I haven’t used it in ages!

  2. 1/1.7″ on a cell phone is sweet indeed. At around 49mm I suppose you are only using a small portion of that, but the results are looking great on your posts!
    My current phone (Samsung A51) is the first one I have that actually has a decent camera. But I still hardly ever use it….

    1. Chris, yes I was quite shocked at the sensor size, especially as it’s still a pretty thin body. Thanks for your comments. Know what you mean I think, even though I’ve been shooting with phone cameras for probably 16 or 17 years now, I still don’t class them as “proper” cameras, and they’re not something I reach for when I really want to enjoy the photography experience to the fullest.

  3. I have no ‘smart phone’, and my truck doesn’t double as a boat. 😀
    Coincidentally I have contemplated selling off -all- my equipment for one top-of-the-line DSLR, but the financial imbalance would still be too severe. I’ve just found I don’t use many of my cameras very often, and wondered why I was once again able to use the phrase “many of my cameras”. I’ve got eight in the ‘stable’ now, which is a bit absurd.

    1. Yes this is why when choosing a new phone I try to optimise the things I know I’ll use most. I don’t want it to make my breakfast or lace up my shoes, but I don want simple things like a good screen and camera and be logical to use.

      If you had to sell seven of the eight tomorrow, which would you keep?

      1. Ooh tough choice. If it weren’t failing I’d say the P610 because it is the best all-around. But the T100 has the best image quality.

  4. I used to have my iPhone with me all the time and took quite a few pictures with it. I started wearing an Apple Watch last year because of its cardiac and fall monitoring capability and I found I had less and less use for the non-camera functions of the iPhone, so I started leaving it at home. And I don’t miss it. My photography has become more deliberate. When I see a possible photo subject now, rather than pointing the iPhone at it and pressing the shutter, I think about what the picture might look like as the light changes during the day, and what film and lens might be best, and dictate my thoughts on the watch to follow up with a film camera on a deliberate outing.

    1. I admire that Doug, I’ve never been that committed to photography that I’d make notes and return to a scene at a certain time of day or certain weather conditions. I just kind of capture what I stumble upon. When my iPhone became too unreliable to use as a daily phone, I contemplated using it just as a camera, as it’s quite fun to use, especially with a square aspect ratio. But then I’d have my main phone with my anyway, and if I’m going to have two “devices” on me, I’d rather make the second one a camera I really love using.

  5. In my Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus I have currently 2200 photos, I am deleting/selecting each day around 50 photographs. What I love is its Pro mode, I can fine tune the colors, highlights, temperature bias, warmth, contrast, white balance and get something that will not require editing. Today I shot with it some red petals and they were better than my Fujifilm X100S and a macro achromat filter. I have a compact Sony WX80, the experience is far better than using the Samsung cellphone, but sadly most of the photos are simply not good and require time editing… Curiously today I purchased a cellphone for another chip. I got a very old Sony Ericsson R600, it has a vga camera; the seller recommended me against it because he had a less old Nokia, but I felt a camera a bit similar to the Samsung, good but not that much that would require editing the same than with the Sony WX80 would be a bad experience. I preferred something just fun that wouldn’t compel me to edit the photographs but just enjoy them. I am glad you are getting joy of discovering what there is out there in the technological world, Dan : )

    1. The Pro mode sounds like what I do with Snapseed.

      I love the old Sony Cyber-shots, I’ve had a few. But yes the images always need some processing.

      The technology from the last 15 years now available to us is utterly mind boggling! I could could easily go out and buy 20 old phones and cameras and enjoy using and exploring each of them in some way.

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