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).
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.
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.
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.
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?
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).
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