Travel is not for broadening the mind, it is for making the folks at home miserable with envy. We used to send postcards, but they don’t cut it any more. These days it is all Instagram and Duo (Android) or Facetime (iOS) “look at me” pictures. For the best “see where I am” videos a tripod comes in handy.
Naturally we are not talking tripod in the sense of a whacking great three-legged thing that will weigh us down as we trudge up the Matterhorn. We mean a tiny device that fits in the pocket and is so small and light that we don’t know it is there until we need it for a bit of steady-cam.
Joby, the clever people who gave as the bendy GorillaPod, produce a range of little phone mounts which can either stand on their own tiny legs or can be screwed onto one of the smallest GorillaPods for binding to the nearest pole or railing. joby.com/mobile/griptight-micro-stand
Make sure that you check the width of your phone and the size of the clamp, and it helps to measure the phone with its protective case if you have one. Our Joby GripTight Micro Stand fits our naked Nexus 5X but not with its case on and cases are a nuisance to mount and dismount.
Joby also make a GripTight Bike Mount Pro that can be used for either a phone or an action cam. joby.com/mobile/griptight-bike-mount-pro Now there’s an idea for a Christmas present for the action man or supergirl in the family.
Selfie sticks are OK for video postcards but there’s no getting aay from the feeling that the person with a phone on the end of a stick is sort of sad. Nothing says loneliness like a selfie stick, whereas a tiny tripod looks positively professional. You can be just like one of those pompous know-it-alls from Oxbridge wandering through the ruins of ancient civilisations.
Oh look – there is the Colosseum. And here is me!
Price: $882 street price with 14–42mm lens
THE LOW-DOWN: This micro four thirds camera from Olympus has a 16 megapixel sensor in a compact and pretty body. Inside it has the workings of the Olympus E-M10 MkII. It is a cosmetic upgrade of the E-PL7 with an emphasis on style aesthetics and self-portraiture. The LCD can tilt down under the camera and point forward. In this orientation the camera automatically displays touch controls on the screen for focus, shutter and movie start/stop. The tiny kit lens is brilliant, keeping the unit compact without any mechanical or optical compromise. The 28–84mm focal length (film equivalent) provides a decent wide angle and short telephoto ideal for portraiture.
LIKE: The image quality is as we expect from Olympus – good white balance and exposure. The camera is nicely made and feels substantial in the hand. Images up to ISO2500 are useable with noise only obvious at high ISO speeds.
DISLIKE: The absence of an electronic viewfinder is perplexing at this price.
VERDICT: The E-PL8 is apparently aimed at the fashion conscious smartphone users who are impressed with the choice of different coloured faux leather skins and straps and who think they might like the better quality to be had from an interchangeable lens camera with a bigger sensor and better image stabilisation. And because phones are selfie devices then the camera has to conform. The E-PL8 is a fully featured camera and to use all its functions it is essential to copy the full user manual from the supplied disc. Also consider the Olympus E-M10 MkII, a seriously superb camera with a proper viewfinder that costs only $40 more.
Google launched the new Pixel phones this month and they went straight to the top of the DxOMark rankings of best smartphone cameras that money can buy. (check DxO here) And in this case it is a lot of money – up there with the Samsung S7 and the Apple iPhone 7.
The diminishing Aussie dollar has pushed the least expensive flagship phones over the $1000 mark, but do not despair. Have a look at the DxO ranking table their web site. If you don’t need the latest and best for bragging rights then there are bargains to be had.
Google’s Pixels start at over $1000 but the superseded Google Nexus 5X phones can be had for about $400 with a bit of assiduous bargain hunting. DxO rates the Nexus 5X and 6P (they have the same camera) the same as the iPhone 6s Plus and above the iPhone 6s.
The still available, Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge gets the same camera rating as the new iPhone 7 but costs roughly half the price. And the Sony Xperia Z5 also rates with the iPhone at half the price. (The prices suggested here are for outright purchase from on-line discounters, not from telco shops or on plans.)
Many different phone makers use Sony camera components so the differences in performance will be the result of different internal processing.
Right now we have a Google Nexus 5P and an iPhone 6s side by side and they both produce exceptionally fine photographs and videos. They both shoot 4K ultra high definition video but they have different default camera apps and the iPhone’s is better because it has exposure compensation adjustment with the slide of a finger. There are third party camera apps for Android but none is as elegant as the iPhone default. On such small differences the deal may be done or broken.
You may have noticed an Apple TV advertisement that is called The human family and is a montage of photos and videos taken with an iPhone 6s. (tinyurl.com/j3b6hhz) but you might have missed the disclaimer at the bottom of the screen: “Additional software and equipment used”. They don’t say what. But it is a warning that the advertisements are as much about the skill of the professionals who take the photos as about the qualities of the cameras. That is where DxOMark, the industry reference, is so helpful in making a choice.
Whenever the super-talented child struts the stage in the school concert, singing and dancing and warming the cockles of the doting parents’ hearts, one thing is for sure – the smartphone comes out and the video production begin.
And why not? Never has it been so easy to capture such high quality moving pictures with such a small device. The latest phones even take 4K videos, four times the resolution of any HD TV channel. Sadly there is one thing the phone does not do well and that is to capture the sound of the Infant Phenomenon’s angelic voice. The phone’s microphone is not up to the job and in any case is pointing in the wrong direction.
Help is at hand in the form of external microphones. If you are a stingy parent then you might make do with a cheap and cheerful stereo mic from eBay. tinyurl.com/gp4f2mn For $3.50 or thereabouts expectations are not high and expectations are met.
It is not often that we get to recommend an Australian made product in the high tech category so it is exceptionally encouraging to be able to advise that the Rode VideoMic ME is the outstanding microphone for the job. For $77 RRP you get a beautifully made (in Sydney) directional monaural microphone that plugs into the headphone socket (sorry iPhone 7 owners) and records brilliant sound.
The little mic comes with a clever clamp to stop it moving around in the headphone socket, and a wind-sock, looking like a dead baby wombat, comes in the box.
One word of advice: make sure that the phone, Apple or Android, is in aeroplane mode when you are recording because the wifi and Bluetooth transmissions from the phone cause a sort of scratchy interference static.
Believe us, the Infant Phenomenon has never sounded so sweet as she will with the Rode.