The challenge: capture a range of installations and low-light situations with a Lumia 920 and nothing else. Can it be done?
Each year, Vivid Sydney brings a cavalcade of light shows, projections and related events to the harbour city.
While the event attracts photographers in droves, armed with cameras of all descriptions and tripods at full tilt, how does a smartphone stand up to the pack when it comes to low-light capture?
It's a challenge met aptly — at least on paper — by the camera module on the Nokia Lumia 920. A bright f/2.0 lens and optical image stabilisation is desirable on stand-alone cameras, let alone a mobile phone. We took the 920 for a spin around the light installations to see what we could capture without a tripod.
All photos were taken on the Lumia 920 with the default camera app, which only allows for exposure compensation, ISO and scene adjustments. No modifications to the images have been made apart from cropping and resizing for web. See how the camera held up in the dark of night.
The first thing we noticed about using the Lumia 920 as a camera in such low-light situations was its tendency to try to boost the exposure to get a brighter overall shot. For situations like this, where it's desirable to get a stark contrast between the light and dark areas, forcing the camera to use a -2/3 exposure value in the default camera app produced the best results.
Without using a flash, the 920 does a great job of reproducing colours on the Night scene setting, again with a dip in the exposure value. Still, at 1/10 second, there's still a faint amount of subject blur at play — after all, the image stabiliser can't compensate for that.
Colour casts are pretty common when shooting in low light with some smartphones, but the 920 does an admirable job of keeping things accurate. Using the incandescent preset for white balance gave the best results in these mixed-light situations, but even auto mode copes well.
Sydney's iconic coathanger all lit up for the festival. The camera here boosted the ISO to 640 to get a steadier shot at 1/5 second. It's handheld like all the other photos here, but with some support from a handy railing to steady the phone.
Peering inside the piano again gives an idea of how much detail the lens can resolve. Of course, at web resolution, it's easy for many smartphone photos to look acceptable, but the 920 looks better than most when pixel peeping.
The 920 coped pretty well with all the low-light situations we could throw at it. Until it came to the Opera House, which was bathed in animated projections. The distance from the subject, combined with the movement in the animations, made it pretty difficult to get a clear shot without using a tripod. This was the best result.
Everyone loves animated GIFs, even if the world can't come to terms with their correct pronunciation. With the Cinemagraph app, they're within easy reach (see below). Straight from the camera, the GIF is about 11MB; the version below is a resized 7MB so that your bandwidth doesn't curse you as much.
What is difficult to gauge when using a smartphone for photography is perspective. The wide lens is great for getting lots in the frame, but distortion and fixing perspective goes beyond what most third-party apps can do.