The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

January 25, 2013

Joe Hadsall: Cellphone lenses soothe shutterbug shortcomings

By Joe Hadsall
jhadsall@joplinglobe.com

JOPLIN, Mo. — In photography, size matters.

The size of the lens makes all the difference. The bigger and better the glass, the better the quality of the photo.

The only problem is that lenses are expensive. And that is in direct competition with my inner cheapskate. But a Christmas present for my stepson led me to discover the beauty of smartphone lenses.

Normally I shoot pictures and video with a Nikon D5100, which Globe photographer T. Rob Brown says is a great consumer-grade camera, putting a little bit of emphasis on the words “consumer-grade.” If I had my way, I’d snag a 16-85mm wide angle-capable zoom lens and an 18-300mm telephoto zoom lens and never need another. The only problem is that those two lenses would set me back about $1,700.

Man, the pictures I could take with those two lenses. And there’s plenty I could shoot, from news assignments to the massive playing card collection at Geek Central. But not for $1,700. I have a hunch that the Globe won’t buy lenses just for me to take photos of cards.

As it turns out, my family is rich with photo-savvy people. The Lovely Paula has a sharp eye for images and can capture beautiful scenes. Duncan is also pretty good: Between an iPod repair session and a trip to Grand Falls, the kid took more than 200 pictures with the Nikon, and 150 of them would look great on our walls.

But Mitchell, he has the eye.

Let me back up. I identify three levels of photographers. This may seem harsh, but I am an editor, and I’ve been judging photos for journalistic purposes for more than a decade of my life:

• Those who don’t have a clue. These people are few and far between, but the one thing they have in common is that they say they are awesome photographers. Not even advances in technology can help them, and constructive criticism is lost on them.

• Those who are very good. There are many of these people, but the one thing they have in common is that they all think they are not very good at photography. They are greatly acquainted with the features on their camera and know when to use them. Technological advances greatly assist their pictures, because they have a large amount of competence.

• Those who have the eye. These people are few and far between, but the one thing they have in common is their photos drop jaws and stop breaths. They see the same things as us completely differently and know their equipment intuitively, whether it’s a smartphone or professional rig.

This group includes our award-winning Globe photographers such as T. Rob, Roger Nomer and B.W. Shepherd. It includes former Globe photogs David Stonner and Noppadol Paothong, who now have rock-star photo jobs with the Missouri Department of Conservation. It includes Peter McKinnon, a co-worker and friend with my second job, who can make a playing card look like a divine object from another world. It includes my cousin Holly, who is just as skilled with 35-mm film as she is with her iPhone.

I’d like to say that group includes me, but saying that might put me in my first group, and my ego can’t handle that right now.

But I know, without a doubt, that Mitchell has the eye.

He hasn’t had a professional photography job yet, but there’s one in his future. I’ve seen the photos he’s taken. He’s already won a photo award: He won second place in a competition at the Joplin Public Library.

As a high-school graduation gift, we got him a Nikon D3100. I’ve seen what he’s done with that camera, with our D5100, with an old point-and-shoot Samsung and his Galaxy S3 smartphone.

Because he has the eye, and because he loves that new S3, we found him some smartphone lenses for his camera as a Christmas present. After shopping around, we found the best deal on price and quality at Photojojo.com: We found a combo of fisheye, telephoto and wide angle/macro lenses for $50.

They attach magnetically, so as to not hurt the camera, and they came with enough ferrous rings for all of our smartphones to use the lenses. And they work incredibly well. So well that I bought my own set.

My BlackBerry Torch 9810 doesn’t have the best camera on the market — the 5-megapixel, 1.2 Ghz processor do pretty well in heavy light, but introduce a lot of digital noise in darker conditions. The iPhone and Galaxy take much better pictures.

Still, these lenses are the perfect way to address my camera shortcomings. They let me feel like I have access to those mega-expensive lenses for my D5100, and I can carry them around in my pocket.

Like I said, size matters.