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Getting started with the Manual camera on your smartphone

So you got a shiny new phone with a gazillion megapixels which has a Pro mode. Wow, that’s cool ! How do you use it? Well, my friend, you’ve come to the right place….

For starters, the Pro mode exists to give you more granular control on the software side of your camera’s abilities. So, when Tap to focus is easy and fun, the Pro mode exists to give control every aspect of the photo : ISO, Exposure, Shutter speed, Focus. Those are the factors we are going to cover today. Let’s go!

*All photos are clicked in 16:9 aspect ratio(native aspect ratio of most our displays), and with grid lines(for having a better orientation)turned On*

The picture above is shows the Camera UI on the OnePlus 2

1. ISO

ISO is the sensitivity of the sensor to light, also factoring in brightness and digital noise (the dirty specs of red and white and green colour you usually see all over,in dark photos) So, basically, ISO 100, which is the lowest, is usually the darkest side of the spectrum and has the least noise. Naturally, if you have to click in a darker environment, you would turn the ISO up, to 3200 or 6400…… but, life isn’t that easy, because a lot of digital noise would creep

^ this is how an entirely dark image could look a little brighter, and a whole lot noisier when the ISO is increased.

Here’s an example in broad daylight, with both the ends of the ISO scale

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so long story short, increasing the ISO is not the best way to bring in more light into your photo. We have Exposure compensation and Shutter speed for that, more about them coming up.


2. Exposure 

There are 2 ways of this. Under normal terms, Exposure is  the overall tint that your photo has, viz Cloudy, Fluorescent, Daylight, Incandescent. The differences between them are not very easily distinguishable, so once again, I will show you the extremes.

Cloudy=yellowish, Incandescent=bluish

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The other one, Exposure Compensation (EC) is the corrective factor of difference between when you tap to focus on the brightest part of your viewfinder and the darkest part. Negative EC (like -0.3) will make your photo darker, and so on.

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Extremely high EC (aka Blown out) and a lower EC. EC changes the lighting in a lot more natural way than ISO, and is much easier to operate. In fact, it’s so easy that it’s the only sort of manual control available on iPhones


3. Shutter speed

Hold on to your hats, this can get a little tricky. In easy words, Shutter speed is the amount of time the camera sensor is taking information/light in. So, when you want to take in a lot of data, you increase the shutter speed to  a few seconds (the standard in good light is 1/64 i.e. the shutter is open for 1/64th part of a second) This can be done in very dark areas, where you can let the camera stay for a few seconds and get in more light. However, since it’s going to be taking in info for so long, you need very very stable hands or a tripod to get a non shaky photo at shutter speeds more than a couple of seconds. The best example of this would be Light painting and here’s a cool example I clicked on a highway in the States


doesn’t it look delicious?

On the other side, comes extremely low Shutter speeds, like 1/8000 (yup, that’s 1/8000th of a second) which is very fast and the lens is open for a very short time. This can be most applicable when you need an exact frame that lasts for a very short while, like Cats  sports.

Manual Camera

Though, you also need to consider how much darker this photo would get, hence you need to make up for that using ISO and Exposure ( behold, the famous Exposure Triangle)

Here’s the same photo at around speeds of 1/120 and 2

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as seen, in ample light, even a shutter speed of 2s can be too much




4. Focus

Focus is the part of your photo which is the sharpest (subject) as compared to the background, or even the foreground. (camera aperture sizes and sensor sizes determine how thin the focus is, and how blurred the other elements can get) So when the focus is set to a minimum(usually shown by a flower symbol) the objects closest to the camera is sharp, and you get a good background blur(depth of field) This is called Macro

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try to notice how much closer I have gotten to the face, and notice the blur in the back

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and same photo, set at the highest focus distance (resembled by an Infinity symbol, or mountains)

Other applications of playing around with focus are, keeping the focus at a minimum with some light sources in the back. This causes them to look like cute little bubbles, called bokeh . Here’s my example from Miami Beach

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and here’s another interesting shot, which I think some Travel bloggers could make use of, simply by pulling the focus all the way through

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as you can see, smartphones have come a long way ahead in terms of camera performance. Hoping that this post helped you a little. Surprised at how well a OnePlus 2 can shoot?


I will leave you with some other camera samples(unedited)(all from my recent visit to the US of A), with the condition that one of you now teach me selfies….


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