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Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author

 

“Our autobiography is written in our contact sheets,  and our opinion of the world in our selects”  

"Never ever confuse sharp with good, or you will end up shaving with an ice cream cone and licking a razor blade."  

 

Bill Pierce is one of the most successful Leica photographers and authors ever. I initially "met" Bill in the wonderful 1973 15th edition Leica Manual (the one with the M5 on the cover). I kept reading and re-reading his four chapters, continually amazed at his knoweldge and ability, thinking "if I only knew a small part of what this guy knows... wow."  I looked foward to his monthly columns in Camera 35 and devoured them like a starving man.  Bill has worked as a photojournalist  for 25 years, keyword: WORK.  Many photogs dream of the professional photographer's  life that Bill has earned and enjoyed.  Probably Bill's most famous pic is Nixon departing the White House for the last time, victory signs still waving. 

 

Bill  has been published in many major magazines, including  Time, Life, Newsweek, U.S. News, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, New York Magazine, Stern, L'Express and Paris Match.  :His published books include  The Leica Manual,  War Torn, Survivors and Victims in the Late 20th Century, Homeless in America,  Human Rights in China,  Children of War.  Add to that numerous exhibitions at major galleries and museums.  Magazine contributions include  Popular Photography,  Camera 35, Leica Manual,  Photo District News, the Encyclopedia of Brittanica, the Digital Journalist, and now RFF.  Major awards include Leica Medal of Excellence, Overseas Press Club's Oliver Rebbot Award for Best Photojournalism from Abroad,  and the World Press Photo's Budapest Award. Perhaps an ever bigger award is Tom Abrahamsson's comment: "If you want to know Rodinal, ask Bill."

 

I met Bill in person through our mutual friend Tom Abrahamsson.  In person his insight and comments are every bit as interesting and engaging as his writing.  He is a great guy who really KNOWS photography.  I am happy to say he has generously agreed to host this forum at RFF  From time to time Bill will bring up topics, but you are also invited to ask questions.  Sit down and enjoy the ride!

 


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Cellphone?
Old 11-26-2018   #1
Bill Pierce
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Cellphone?

How do you take your pictures - camera or phone? Popular as it is “real photographers” scoff at the phone. I’m one of the scoffers. I use “real cameras.” But, I remember when I started photographing with a 35mm film camera, an older, wiser and better photographer friend said to me, “Why don’t you use your real camera?” It was a 4x5 Speed Graphic, and as the local Associated Press photographer he had been able to get me a discount on it.

I think of others, better photographers than me, from Bresson to Duncan to Smith to Mydans , whose 35mm cameras were at one time looked upon by some as not up to the job. True, there are cameras that capture finer detail in larger prints, but there can be more to good photography than that. Is the phone the “Leica” of the digital world? In a way I think it is. Good lord, am I going to have to spend money on a cellphone with a decent camera? Your thoughts…
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Old 11-26-2018   #2
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It's about distribution channels. Take all the 4x5 Speed Graphic images you want, if you aren't part of a press pool, who cares? Take all the cell phone photos you want, and guess where they end up? In a pile of millions of other such images generated every minute around the world.

Go on Flickr. Look around. The number of good photographs is amazing. Sure, lots of junk, but you could generate one issue of any 'best of this year' collection from 40 years ago from any one day or less of images posted to the internet.

Shoot it however you want. It isn't what is important. Anyone can get decent photos with today's cameras and phones, unlike your Speed Graphic. Getting the image seen by the people you want to see it, that's the real issue.
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Old 11-26-2018   #3
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I enjoy making images (taking pictures, if you will), and I get much more enjoyment out of making images with one of my cameras, than with my iPhone. I like the way a camera feels in my hands, and my favorite cameras have a lens with an aperture that I adjust with click stops, and a shutter speed I can adjust, and a lens barrel that I can manually focus.

If you just "need an image" I'm sure a cellphone works fine. But I get a great deal of joy out of "making the image", and that requires more input from me than just pointing and tapping. YMMV.

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Old 11-26-2018   #4
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I don't own a smart phone and never will.

1) I can't afford one, and if I could I'd buy a lens or something else more useful.

2) I suffered a stroke a few years ago that left my right hand functions impaired. I cannot type on the tiny on-screen keyboards. I can't even use most tablets.

3) The image quality is ****. My mother has an ungodly expensive iPhone, supposedly the best camera-phone, and the images have absolutely ZERO fine detail resolution. Why bother when I have the wonderful M4/3 system?
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Old 11-26-2018   #5
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There definitely have been some nice books made with the iPhone. Office Romance by Kathy Ryan and Libyan Sugar by Michael Christopher Brown. And these were both done with older iPhones. Also, this Magnum photographer uses an iPhone exclusively... and does ok.

https://www.magnumphotos.com/theory-...implification/

I think if fine detail and resolution are your thing, then they won't live up to the hype. However, it is capable of a sharp photo under the right circumstances and you might have to dig into using different apps, etc. to get the best results. Still, you will be looking at pretty small prints compared to most digital cameras these days under most circumstances.

The best cellphones are very expensive...that is true. However, many people have a smartphone as their main computer these days. Really, I have friends that no longer buy laptops, tablets, etc. Their 6-10 year old computer is good enough for the occasional task they might do a few times a year. It's harder for us who are into photography. We need more equipment. We rely on big screens.

That said, I have decided to upgrade my phone to an iPhone XS and give it a shot for when I do not have my main cameras (which I am very happy with and don't need to upgrade). I will take it as a challenge, but not too seriously and I will look at it like a digital holga. I will make use of a lot of post processing and apps. I will print them small. It'll be just something extra that I do... not take over my regular photography. I will also experiment in the rain with it since it is water resistant... supposedly it can survive a dunk of up to 2 meters (6.5 ft) of water for up to 30 minutes. It is also useful to me in many other ways of course i.e. as a phone and computer.
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Old 11-26-2018   #6
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Got an iphone xs max. damn it is luring me in. always with me. really amazing. but I still take my M3 to bed with me, because i don't want to sleep with RF radiation.
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Old 11-26-2018   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kshapero View Post
Got an iphone xs max. ... i don't want to sleep with RF radiation.
That's a big phone! But the RF radiation concern can be handled by putting it into "Airplane Mode" while sleeping. I have my iPhone under my pillow every night to monitor my sleep patterns, and it's set to airplane mode largely to avoid being bothered with early-morning phone calls. But all RF radiation is shut down as well. FWIW I seldom use the iPhone's camera, but it's a potentially useful option.
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Old 11-26-2018   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Doug View Post
That's a big phone! But the RF radiation concern can be handled by putting it into "Airplane Mode" while sleeping. I have my iPhone under my pillow every night to monitor my sleep patterns, and it's set to airplane mode largely to avoid being bothered with early-morning phone calls. But all RF radiation is shut down as well. FWIW I seldom use the iPhone's camera, but it's a potentially useful option.
interesting i dont love my iPhone that much. hehe
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Old 11-26-2018   #9
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At our friends parties many started to take pictures with phones. They are this good.
Nobody is looking to buy new cameras. If they need, they are asking me. I take pictures, quick print and they are taking it to motherland for relatives.

Yet, my Ukrainian friends mom watching and liking my pictures taken with mobile phone in Canada on FB via Kiev's internet provider.

Here is no cellphones in Canada. They are mobile phones connecting to huge and located in significant distance transmission towers. Cellphones are connecting to low power grid of transmitters located on buildings and elsewhere.

Forest fires and blasting transmitters, if you want low density living.
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Old 11-26-2018   #10
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I'll shoot with anything. To some extent the camera determines how I work and the results, so I do enjoy my phone camera. Regarding detail, I tried shooting RAW with it once, and the quality was remarkable, but frankly, I don't much care about that part of what it does. In recent years, any relatively successful color I've shot has been with the phone. Horses for courses.
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Old 11-26-2018   #11
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I have been using my iPhone to make images that sell since version 4, did really well with a show a few years back, paid for the next ten iPhones. I currently use the new XS with 512GB in order to both create with the phone and curate content made with Wifi enabled cameras like my new Z6 and move it quickly to clients.

A friend of mine who is a fairly accomplished photographer considers the iPhone a photographic tool par excellence, has wrote a book about using it as such.

He won a Pulitzer in 1972 for his work in Vietnam, Cambodia, etc. He has also served as official photographer to the President of the United States in several administrations. I doubt anyone has ever said to him that his phone is not a real camera.
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Old 11-26-2018   #12
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I think its only fair to compare a smartphone camera to something as convenient. It shouldn't be entirely scoffed off though. The full manual control and RAW capabilities are great.

Samsung S4 & S7:


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Old 11-26-2018   #13
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I would think that one only needs to look at some of the amazing images captured with smartphone cameras along with some of the less-than-impressive images captured with very impressive cameras (be they film or digital) to realize it has much more to do with the person operating the camera than the camera itself, including smartphones.

Let me come at this from a different perspective. While I enjoy using a nice camera I'll readily admit that I myself am the weakest link when it comes to my photography. Given the assignment of photographing the same event or location, a truly talented photographer using a smartphone would likely consistently capture much more compelling images than those I would obtain using my pricey Leica film camera.

I myself sometimes grow tired of the world gone mad over smartphones. But despite my personal feelings (and regardless of how some feel about them as cameras), I'll admit that they are incredibly handy devices to have at one's disposal. I just wish that people wouldn't talk on them while driving.
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Old 11-26-2018   #14
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I hate taking pictures with my smartphone ( Sony Z5 Plus).
However, I must confess that, at times, when I fell the impulse of taking a picture and I have no camera with me, I say to myself: better a Z5+ photo than no photo at all".
Also in some cases I have incorporated some pictures taken with the phone (lacking a better picture) in a composite image. And the results have been decent
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Old 11-27-2018   #15
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Im with Chris on this, my last phone died so I bought a cheep smart phone off Amazon, a tenth of the price of the iPhone, the rolling contract I have is £5 a month. That near a grand difference? it will go towards getting a mini bus/van to make into a camper fund, its one or two nice lenses. I hate the way you are expected to use a phone as a camera it is uncomfortable, no eye level VF and plays havoc with my arthritis.
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Old 11-27-2018   #16
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I use mine (currently an iPhone 6) for quick snaps - nothing creative - although my Avatar was taken with an iPhone 4 during a walk at my old company's parking lot mid-afternon.


Some nice work here:
https://www.ippawards.com/
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Old 11-27-2018   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
...Is the phone the “Leica” of the digital world? In a way I think it is. Good lord, am I going to have to spend money on a cellphone with a decent camera? Your thoughts…
It is I think. The big amount of decent pictures taken with phones is comparable with
the way 35mm-photography made nearly hundred years before.

But I see phones as a distinct system. There is only small space for "improving"
their photographic capabilities.
And they need none. Like Polaroids never got highres lenses
or Leicas never had zooms.
They just are what they are.
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Old 11-27-2018   #18
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I have nothing against people using phone cameras but, according to the dates on the photos in my iPhone, I last took a picture with it in September 2016. Simply, I have no interest in using it as a camera. I use it for internet access, music, books, maps, communications and lots of other things but I don't even think about it as a potential camera.
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Old 11-27-2018   #19
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There are numerous ways to save raw files using cell phones. At high ISO values some phone may apply noise filters to raw data. This does degrade detail. At any rate, in many circumstances the perceived image detail is not an issue.

The main disadvantages with cell phone raw file usage are:
  • limited dynamic range
  • inferior signal to noise ratios in low light
  • limited flexibility – DOF isolation and telephoto applications
Otherwise contemporary cell phone images are comparable to early CCD DSLR images.

But if you use raw files, you can not take advantage of recent advantages in computational photography. Just one example would be post-acquisition DOF isolation.

I mostly use a cell phone for images that will only be viewed on cell phones or as small JPEGs. These images are not intended to be saved, printed or archived. They are shared immediately with one or more persons who will enjoy the moment.

One exception is a project I'm currently working on where a cell phone camera offers a real advantage in convenience. I would miss opportunities if I used my daily carry still camera just because of convenience.
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Old 11-27-2018   #20
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This year I've probably shot at least 20x more pictures with my Iphone X than all my digital and film cameras combined simply because of the convenience of always having the phone with me.
With its fairly small size and dual lens meant that I could shoot wide-angle and med-tele easily and anytime.

If I foresee shooting high-res landscape or portraits images then I'll bring a camera with me but if I'm not looking to print bigger than 8x12 or I'm just sharing pictures online or social media, the Iphone is more than capable.

As long as I'm taking pictures, no matter what camera I'm using I am happy.

Obligatory pictures taken with my camera phone this year




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Old 11-27-2018   #21
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The camera in a smartphone is a tool, just like a dedicated camera is a tool. Use the best one for the job. Street photography is one area where the ubiquity of the cellphone is a real benefit. Me, I just can't hold the damn things steady.
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Old 11-27-2018   #22
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I do occasionally when I don't have a Real Camera with me.

I don't like it! I just can't get used to trying to compose on a jerky screen held out in front of me. The thing has all of the ergonomics of trying to take a photo with a piece of buttered toast!

One guy I was talking to at Photo Plus on this topic talked me in to trying Open Camera, so I tried it, and, well, still more or less the same.
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Old 11-27-2018   #23
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It is my "third camera". Leica M8 and M9, and then it is my iPhone 8 Plus.

It is always in my pocket.
It is charged and has a short buffer time.
It takes nice enough images.
Image files can be changed slightly with PP, if needed.
People don't get alarmed by it.

I am not "insulted" by people using phones to document life around them.
Life is too short to worry about such an issue.
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Old 11-27-2018   #24
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Taemo, those great shots show that the tool isn't important, the person behind the ground glass is.
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Old 11-27-2018   #25
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I have the iPhone 7+ and have enjoyed the camera...

Spent a little extra on the Moment Lens system.

Great for 4K b-roll. Although not so impressed with the portrait mode always telling me to back up.
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Old 11-28-2018   #26
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It seems like if you accept it for what it is, it's OK. I think the problem is when people try to say they are "Dslr killers"...
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Old 11-28-2018   #27
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it depends on what makes them DSLR killers, for IQ and lens selection then I agree that it can't compete.

but if we are talking about size and ease of use then to me it kills DSLR, just how the Fuji X100 killed my Canon 5D Mark II over 5 years ago.
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Old 11-28-2018   #28
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Smartphones changed the photography market.

I like my iPhone 6s.

I find not enough is said, but just maybe the person holding the camera has something to do with the photos made.
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Old 11-28-2018   #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
Popular as it is “real photographers” scoff at the phone. I’m one of the scoffers. I use “real cameras.” But, I remember when I started photographing with a 35mm film camera, an older, wiser and better photographer friend said to me, “Why don’t you use your real camera?”
Ergonomically, all phones are terrible. Otherwise I think my iphone7 plus easily beats 35mm color film for resolution.
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Old 11-28-2018   #30
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I’ve just inherited my oldest son’s 7 Plus and am trying to get used to carrying it. I was using an iPhone 5 along with my Ricoh GR III until it stuck open one day. I’ve got a Pixtar Pro on order (March-ish delivery date) for times where I want more control. I’ve learned to begrudgingly accept the iPhone controls (though still have many new features to try/learn) that I can get ok images with. Sometimes they actually help me capture stuff that is better than I expected (completely by accident).

Most of the time I shoot stuff I come across and for that any camera I have is much better than all my cameras at home. While I can get better quality even with the addition of the Pixtar Pro I can’t beat the size. The quality of the two lenses is good enough.

There’s stuff that I love to shoot that odds are a smart-phone will never work for how I like to work (sports, distance, telephoto stuff). I think there’s some opportunity Zeiss, Leica, perhaps Nikon to co-develop and brand different phone, but I’m not sure of the value as so much can be done in software. I have a feeling that my 7 Plus will replace my favorite carry everywhere combo of all times (Bessa L & CV 25/4 Snapshot) in another few months.

B2 (;->
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Old 11-28-2018   #31
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Quote:
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it depends on what makes them DSLR killers, for IQ and lens selection then I agree that it can't compete.

but if we are talking about size and ease of use then to me it kills DSLR, just how the Fuji X100 killed my Canon 5D Mark II over 5 years ago.
Pure IQ... Not size of course.
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Old 11-28-2018   #32
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BillBingham2 View Post
...I think there’s some opportunity Zeiss, Leica, perhaps Nikon to co-develop and brand different phone, but I’m not sure of the value as so much can be done in software. I have a feeling that my 7 Plus will replace my favorite carry everywhere combo of all times (Bessa L & CV 25/4 Snapshot) in another few months.

B2 (;->
"How Huawei and Leica made a camera phone so good, we ditched our DSLR"

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Old 11-28-2018   #33
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Quote:
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"How Huawei and Leica made a camera phone so good, we ditched our DSLR"

https://www.digitaltrends.com/photog...t-photography/
The title says that... and they say "On a recent trip to Leica HQ in Wetzlar, Germany, we learned more about how this came to be —" but then say "That doesn’t mean we’re getting rid of our mirrorless cameras and DSLRs, though, and we will still lust after each new Leica special edition rangefinder." Total gear head nonsense.
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Old 11-28-2018   #34
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I don't like it! I just can't get used to trying to compose on a jerky screen held out in front of me. The thing has all of the ergonomics of trying to take a photo with a piece of buttered toast!
I finally accepted that my last phone (Samsung Note 4) could make photos of decent - within limits - quality, oh, but that horrible and slippery grip!

The ergonomics thing was solved (and also with the new phone - a Note 9) by addition of a PopSocket. Placed about one-third of the length from the bottom, it permits (for me) a secure and comfortable portrait or landscape hold when wedged between the first two fingers of the left hand.

Still want a proper viewfinder, though...
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Old 11-29-2018   #35
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Interestingly, all of the phonecam shots posted in this thread are variously too contrasty, have burned-out highlights, or have ugly travel brochure color.
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Old 11-29-2018   #36
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Hi Raid, that's a very nice picture of your daughter!

I've never had any fun taking pictures with a phone and so, I'll not go down that road. Let's see where the phone market is heading. So far, the market for high-end phones -with enhanced photo capabilities, is tanking. This said, I believe it is a given that most people will continue to look for all-in mobile products.
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Old 11-29-2018   #37
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.So far, the market for high-end phones -with enhanced photo capabilities, is tanking. This said, I believe it is a given that most people will continue to look for all-in mobile products.
Tanking? ...
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Old 11-29-2018   #38
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Cellphones are a tool, with its advantages and its limits.

I sometimes use mine (old 5s) to take visual notes. Sometimes I make photographs with it.

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Old 11-29-2018   #39
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Join Date: Dec 2008
Location: Blackpool ,England
Age: 68
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I use whatever is to hand.
Mostly that's a camera but sometimes not ….
I recall some years ago David Allan Harvey produced a book half the shots were with an iPhone and half with a Leica .
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Old 11-29-2018   #40
Out to Lunch
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Join Date: Mar 2009
Location: Vietnam
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Quote:
Tanking? ...
As in: "to do poorly or decline rapidly; fail". I hope that clarifies.
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