In the part 1, I have introduced the purpose of the tests I am doing. In this 1st part, I have genuinely compared the Samsung S20 Fan Edition FG (“S20 FE” in this post) with an APS-C camera (Nikon Z50) and an old but respected full frame Nikon D750. The point of these tests is to evaluate how far I can trust a modern smartphone as an enthusiast photographer. The smartphone has proven to be a quite good camera in non-demanding conditions (still subject, plenty of light available), at least for its wide-angle camera and to a lesser extent for the ultra-wide angle. The tele lens has proven it was quite limited though.
In the part 2, I have compared the same cameras in low light conditions. The results of the smartphone as soon as you shoot RAW are very much aligned with what you could get with enthusiast compact cameras just a couple of years ago. This is making the smartphone a real alternative for such conditions, with some limits of course but from this viewpoint, the smartphone has certainly become a “real” camera for enthusiasts in low light photography. Like all cameras , it comes with some flaws but a nice tool.
In the part 3, I came to the conclusion the smartphone was potentially a very interesting tool for panoramas, with some limits but again, quite relevant in many occasions.
In the part 4, I have done tests with regards to portraits and smartphones and I have been somewhat disappointed by computational effects of simulated depth of field. I am struggling for now to trust this camera for portraits.
In this post, I am bringing some feedbacks about the limits and the strengths of this smartphone for an enthusiast photographer with regards to controls and ergonomics.
Obviously, a smartphone ergonomics are no match compare to a traditional camera. But we cannot get everything at the same time. We can carry smartphones in almost all circumstances. The Samsung S20 FE is like many other smartphones, water resistant and dust resistant, more than my Nikon cameras can be. So, not everything is wrong by far for an enthusiast. I can now take pictures with a very decent camera whereas I could not before with traditional bodies.
But what about controls? Controls mean a lot for an enthusiast. We can prefer to mitigate in favor of better controls compare to a great sensor or other technical specifications.
Well, they are not that bad thanks to the big touchscreen of the camera. If you switch to “Pro Mode”, it is easy to change aperture, shutter speed, ISO value and to over/under expose an image. That said, you cannot choose to be by default on a Pro mode. You need to click on 2 menus each time you start the camera to switch to the Pro mode. Very frustrating when you shoot a few dozens of images during a couple of hours.
However, there are many limitations. For instance, I am wearing eyeglasses and of course there is no viewfinder on a smartphone. So, I must wear them to take pictures. Not convenient. More important:
Even if so call “Pro mode”, you just have the choice between program “P” or “M”. No “A” or “S” mode. Either it is fully automated or fully manual. At least you have manual controls, but the lack of other modes is both disturbing and limiting.
Similarly, the flash can only be “Automatic”, “On” or “Off”. You cannot be more specific like in many cameras.
Another limitation comes of course from the lack of Pro mode for the tele lens or the super wide angle.
As a summary, the smartphone is a prime lens camera with either a “P” or a “M” mode and a considerably basic flash.
The lack of modes – just “P” or “M” is probably the biggest impediment. The need to navigate through 2 menus each time you want to switch to Pro Mode is terrible for an enthusiast. Add to this the “prime lens only approach of a 26mm equivalent full frame on a small sensor” and you have a good idea of the limits of a smartphone as an enthusiast camera.
On the other side, the small size, and the flat aspect of the smartphone, always with you, and IP68 water/dust proof quality of the smartphone are great assets.
Yes, modern smartphones have become great tools for enthusiasts’ photographers, with many limits but unique features as well. But given the limitations, the rationale looks like “Do not shoot with your smartphone, unless you have to, because you don’t have other camera with you, whatever the reasons”. Don’t get me wrong, it is much better than no camera, and it is a real camera, but let’s be honest, the worst camera I have shoot with for years from an ergonomics perspective, for an enthusiast photographer !