photographer, visual artist and designer.

On Computational Photography

Sogang University Seoul South Korea

As a photographer, I’m ashamed to say that I only recently learnt the term “computational photography” while reading up on the capabilities of iPhone 11 Pro as a camera. I’m so impressed by the images that I’m seeing out there, but I’m holding out for iPhone 12 despite the temptation to upgrade from my iPhone 8 (which is very capable of producing amazing images, except it’s limited by the field of view).

A photography-enthusiast-slash-engineer friend once asked me about using manual lenses, so I shared my knowledge and experience with using manual lenses. But the conversation came to a stop when he started talking about the physics of photography.

“Sorry, people like me go by feels.”

I stopped the discussion because there was no way I could continue with the discussion as an art student. The science of photography is something I never really paid attention to because it’s not in my field of interest.

A good image conveys emotions. That’s all I care about.

Yet, ever since I learnt about computational photography, I’ve been very interested in what the future may hold for photographers and videographers like myself.

I asked the same friend if he thinks computational photography can replace mirrorless cameras and DSLRs and whether he thinks the future of photography will be pocketable devices like our smart phones. This was what he had to contribute:

Hard to say. If [the] industry keeps working at it. And computers get more powerful, maybe. Like how CG replaced many props in movies. […] Physics still plays a part in CG. But there are physics engines (coded algorithms and calculations) to make things real. One day something as small as [a] smartphone can replace the big cameras – compare the current cameras to the huge camera obscures [in the past]. [It’s] not too unimaginable.

That really made me wish the future is now.

The past year has seen me asking my travel buddies if I should take my Fujifilm XT2 with me on my travels, or if I should travel light. I even conducted a poll on Instagram Story, and the majority voted that I should take my camera with me on my travels. And so, I went with the majority.

But after a few overseas non-work related trips, I think I have found my answer.

During my trips, I found myself consistently reaching out for my iPhone that fits nicely into a small shoulder bag more than I had wished for my Fujifilm XT2, which was left in the hotel room most of the time because it’s just too cumbersome for days I wasn’t planning on shooting. As a bokeh whore, I sometimes do wish that I had my XT2 with me, but there’s really nothing that’s stopping me from producing interesting pictures with my iPhone. With all the photography and videography apps available these days, it’s not too difficult to create an interesting picture good enough for personal viewing and social media.

Although the image quality is far from what my Fujifilm XT2 is capable of, what my iPhone 8 provides is speed of setting up and light weight. Sometimes it’s just quicker to take out your smartphone, swipe for the camera app and press the shutter button, without having to meddle with all the camera settings. Computational photography does most of the work for you. And decently so.

Apps I use:
Instagram | Lightroom | VSCO | Moment

Japan Flight
The sky was grey and the light wasn’t all that great, so I focused on the water droplets on the window. Taken with the native camera on iPhone and edited on VSCO to make it look a little more moody. My XT2 was safely packed in my backpack and stowed away, so reaching out for my iPhone was just the most sensible thing to do.

Shirakawa Japan
After taking some photos with my XT2, I whipped out my iPhone for a few snapshots so I could update friends and family instantly. In fact, I think I liked this image straight out of camera much more than the one I took with XT2, especially with the HDR function turned on. Edited with VSCO.

It rained quite a bit while I was in Nagoya, Japan. My fascination with water droplets continues and iPhone’s macro function doesn’t disappoint.

Ho Chi Minh Cafe
My next trip was to Ho Chi Minh, where I pretty much did nothing except eating. iPhone does a great job with flat lays. No questions about that.

Saigon Skydeck Ho Chi Minh Vietnam
View from Saigon Skydeck, Ho Chi Minh. I actually had with me my XT2, but I wanted to test the how well the iPhone 8 deals with low light. This was shot in RAW and edited using VSCO. Could have more details in the shadows, but I expect with an iPhone 11 Pro, it would look better.

If you’re looking for super sharp and clean images in low light, iPhone might disappoint. However, I recently tried shooting with my iPhone 8 at Christmas Wonderland and was quite impressed by the amount of details I could get in the pictures with the Moment app.

Sogang University Seoul South Korea
I took a quick snapshot as the man was quickly walking out of frame. The original shot was skewed, but I am very impressed by how the iPhone photo editor could straighten it automatically.

Taean Sunset South Korea

Taean, South Korea. Great dynamic range.

Daegu Sunset South Korea
View from my Airbnb in Daegu, South Korea. I honestly wanted to enjoy the sunset more than I wanted to get back into the room to get my camera out and fiddle with the settings.

Daejeon Jangtaesan South Korea

Jangtaesan in Daejeon, South Korea. After a long hike, the last thing I wanted to do was to pull out my XT2 (although I eventually did). This picture is good enough for my own viewing pleasure.

Going through these pictures only made me realise how much I would love to travel light with just an iPhone in pocket, and I am really excited for what the next version of iPhone in 2020 would bring.

What are your thoughts on computational photography?