Basic Portrait Photography Tips

Considering the entire country is under lockdown and there is nothing much I can do, I was digging through my photography archives and found these set of portrait shots of Carmen Hong that I have taken for the review of Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III quite recently. I thought it would be a good idea to explore simple, lifestyle/casual portrait photography and I can certainly share some tips on how to do that here. Carmen is an amazing friend and a talented photographer herself and of course she uses Olympus system. She has volunteered to be the model to test out the new Eye/Face AF tracking feature on E-M1 Mark III which helped greatly in my review of the camera. Special thanks to Carmen for being such a sport, and also Jackie Loi for some behind the scenes footage of me in action in the video. 


For any portrait photography, it is crucial to maintain a healthy and open communication between the photographer and model. It is important to listen to the model and not get her to do anything uncomfortable during the shoot. I highly encourage the photographer going into any portrait shooting to prioritize respect above all else. 

This is not a professional portrait shooting tutorial, but this may be a good guide for you if you are new to portrait photography. Remember, there is no right and wrong when it comes to shooting people, and my tips are aimed to simplify the shooting process by addressing some critical considerations that a portrait photographer should take care of. 

1) Use longer lenses
I highly recommend to start with telephoto lens for portrait shooting. The longer lens helps to get rid of excessive perspective distortion which can render very ugly looking human images. The perspective exaggeration due to wide angle use normally cause disproportionate looking limbs, legs appearing longer or shorter and also head looking weirdly big in comparison to the overall body size. To maintain a more flattering look on the subject, a long lens helps to minimize any odd perspective. Also, a long lens typically means you have less background to work with, having the compression effect to your advantage, aiding cleaner and simpler composition. On the other hand, a longer lens can create shallower depth of field, able to blur off the background more effectively than wider lenses. My primary lens for this particular shoot was the Olympus M.Zuiko 75mm F1.8 and also 45mm F1.8. 

2) Make Sure The Eye is in Focus
I know a lot of photographers are taught to use center focus and recompose method, but this technique should not be used for critical portraiture work, especially if you use long lenses with wide open aperture. Shooting with, say an Olympus 45mm F1.8 at a close up distance, the risk of miss-focusing due to focus and recompose is extremely high. I highly recommend that you shift the focusing point and place it exactly at the eye of the subject in your frame. Olympus cameras generally have reliable face/eye detect AF, but other than E-M1 Mark III, I still manually move my focusing point each and every time I shoot any portrait shot. For E-M1 Mark III, especially for this particular session, I just relied on the camera's newly upgraded and improved face/eye tracking AF, it nailed the eyes consistently throughout the entire shooting duration. 

All images in this blog entry were shot with Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III and M.Zuiko lenses 12mm F2, 45mm F1.8 and 75mm F1.8


Long lenses create a more proportionate look on human subjects

Use of longer lens can render shallower depth of field, combined with wide aperture. 

With a longer focal length, there is less background to deal with, having that "telephoto compression" effect. 

For more "professional looking" result, always opt for longer focal length. I'd highly recommend the Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm F1.8 (or the F1.2 PRO if you can afford that), or the 75mm F1.8



3) Use wide angle lens
This may contradict the first tip, but if you have an interesting background that can add to the story, to create an environmental portrait, then using a wide angle lens, such as at 14mm or 12mm wide end of your lens can be an effective way to tell a story. Just be careful not to fit anything that may not necessarily add any value to the photography, shooting wide angle is challenging because often times you may accidentally include something that can destroy the image. Just watch the frame from edge to edge and corner to corner, and make sure the background builds up the story, not take away the story. 

4) Adopt Creative Composition
To make an interesting portrait photograph, you can always make use of the environment and your surrounding to amplify the impact of your final image. For example, I always like to add reflection into the frame, finding reflective surfaces such as a puddle of water, a window, glass or metal walls to make the image a bit more dramatic. I also play with lines, repetitions, patterns, geometry, light and shadow, or anything interesting within my frame to add something extra to the composition. 


I always find ways to include a reflection to make the shot look more intriguing. 

Whenever there is a repetitive line, it works very well for composition too. 

The neutral grey tone and the vertical lines work very well against Carmen's flesh tone as well as her red dress that pops out of the frame. 

Playing with shapes and framing here, placing Carmen in the middle of the arch opening of the building, creates a natural framing around here. 

Repetition and framing used in this simple composition, Carmen is placed in between two columns, which immediately highlights her in the frame. 

Leading lines is a tried and tested technique, have been overused but is super effective way of drawing attention to your subject. The line of the hand-rail leads you directly to her right arm, which then points to her face/head. 


I don't use wide angle a lot, but if you have an interesting background, wide angle can help make a strong visual story-telling. 

Just be careful not to include distracting elements if wide angle is used. 

5) Lighting
For simple, outdoor portrait, I generally keep my setup minimal and I do not carry a lot of gear with me. I don't quite like to use strobes or flash on outdoor shoots, unless I want to create certain effect or look, or if it is demanded by clients. I also do not like to work with reflectors, I have seen many wrong execution of reflector causing light to shine unevenly, causing very unnatural looking skin tone. When I was shooting Carmen in this session it was an overcast day, the clouds completely covered the sky. The light was flat, even, dull and honestly quite uninteresting. Nevertheless, that meant that I can have very nice and pleasing looking skin tone. Else I would have to find shades to do most of my shoots, and find creative ways to work with harsh light. 

6) Communication, and shooting with LCD screen
Communication is key in any portrait shooting, you have to interact with your model. One way to improve your communication is not to shoot through your viewfinder all the time. When you shoot through your camera's viewfinder, you are blocking your face, the model, posing while looking at you and listening to your direction cannot see your facial expression. There is no eye contact. That is poor communication if you ask me. One simple and effective way to improve this situation is take the camera away from the eye level, use the LCD screen and when you talk to your model look her in the eye and make sure your instructions are clear. Any improved communication can enhance the outcome of the portraits you are taking. 






I hope you have found these sharing useful, and if you have friends who are starting out on portrait photography, why not share this blog post with them? If you have more tips to share about basic portrait shooting please leave them in the comments. 


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Lens Talk: Olympus M.Zuiko 9-18mm F4-5.6

Following up my article (and video) of the Olympus M.Zuiko 75-300mm F4.8-6.7 Mark II mini review, I thought why not do something at the complete opposite end of the spectrum - an ultra wide angle lens? I have also asked for a loaner unit for the Olympus M.Zuiko 9-18mm F4-5.6 lens and I have spent an entire afternoon shooting with this underrated lens. Being so small, light and compact, this lens deserves a bit more attention, and here is my mini review of the Olympus M.Zuiko 9-18mm lens. 


The Olympus 9-18mm was originally designed for Olympus DSLR cameras, there was a Four Thirds Zuiko version of the lens. When Olympus initially made that lens, they were very proud of their achievement especially in the Dual Super Aspherical (DSA) lens element used in the 9-18mm lens. The DSA lens element was particularly difficult to design, make and mass manufacture, with the center of the lens element being extremely thin and fragile. Olympus prides themselves to be able to overcome the challenges and included the DSA into their 9-18mm lens, making the lens truly small, compact and light yet with no image quality compromise, delivering sharp images. The same DNA is also found in the later M.Zuiko version of the 9-18mm made for Olympus Micro Four Thirds system, having similar DSA lens element. 

The lens is extremely small and light. It is about the same size as an Olympus prime lens, such as the M.Zuiko 25mm F1.8, which makes it quite incredible, being a zoom lens and having an ultra wide angle coverage. The lens weighs only 155g, being so compact and light, the Olympus 9-18mm matches the smaller bodies such as PEN E-PL9 or OM-D E-M10 series very well. Perhaps some will be quick to point out that at 9mm (18mm in 35mm format) is not exactly very wide in the world of ultra wide angle lenses, but 9mm is still a lot wider than the typical coverage from the Olympus kit lens 14-42mm EZ lens or even the M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 PRO lens. While I do not see myself using ultra wide angle lens that much, but I admit there were critical times when that extra width can make a difference, and having the 9mm wide coverage can be a lifesaver. When you need it, you need it, there are just no other solutions that can replace a true wide angle lens. 


Lens Talk: Olympus M.Zuiko 75-300mm F4.8-6.7 Mark II

I have been receiving numerous requests for me to do something with the Olympus M.Zuiko 75-300mm F4.8-6.7 Mark II lens, and I finally got my hands on a loaner from Olympus Malaysia recently. I thought why not have some fun shooting some cute animals at the National Zoo and at the same time invite you guys to come along with me for this short shooting adventure? No animals were harmed I promise, just camera shooting away with my trigger happy fingers. I brought my E-M1 Mark II and made a mini review of this lens, which is a budget super telephoto zoom lens that should sit high on your consideration list if you want to start shooting wildlife, bird or sports without the need to break the bank. 


The Olympus 75-300mm is made plastic, but the lens body does feel solid and there are no creaky parts. The lens does not have internal zoom, it extends out when zooming to the longer telephoto range. There is no zoom creep when the lens is fully extended, the lens holds its position without falling back in when pointing the lens upward. The lens is light - weighing only 432g, having a compact and lightweight construction makes this lens such a joy to handle. It should match any Olympus cameras perfectly, and handling was not an issue. I was shooting at the zoo for more than 3 hours, hand-holding the Olympus 75-300mm lens on my Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II camera body. I did not feel any strain or got tired from this combination, the lens felt perfectly balanced and using it for long hour shooting was not a problem. 


Practical Composition Tips For Beginners Besides Rule Of Thirds

Rule of Thirds has become the default go to recommended guide for beginners when it comes to composition but I personally believe there are other more practical tips to help you compose your images better. Composition is an important consideration for all photography, it can either make or break the shot. I have nothing against Rule of Thirds, I think it works for most cases but I also believe composition is more than just drawing some invisible lines in your frame and place your subjects along these lines. There are other more important things to consider doing proper composition if you want to step up your photography game, and I am exploring these practical tips. 


1) WHAT IS THE MAIN SUBJECT?
Too many newcomers to photography focused on how to shoot the subject, not many asked the more important question - "what is the main subject?"

The techniques in shooting can only get you so far, if you have not identified the main story, the idea,  message or emotion that you want to convey in your shot, that image will end up looking quite empty. Instead of thinking too far ahead, I strongly suggest you identify the main subject first, and do all you can in ensuring that your viewer's attention is drawn to that main subject. 

2) TAKE CAMERA AWAY FROM EYE LEVEL
We all love shooting from the viewfinder, but when we do that, we create images that look very ordinary and plain because everyone is standing at almost the same height and seeing the world through similar perspective. Therefore, one effective way to immediately create images that look a little different is to show them from a different level. Move the camera away from the eye level and start using the LCD screen to compose your shots. Most cameras these days do come with some sort of tilt or swivel screen which allows easy shooting from the waist level or even lower. Go as low as to the ground level to create some impactful shots looking up, or climb stairs, a hill or anywhere giving you a higher vantage point overlooking a vast area for a more dramatic outcome. Go high or go low and you will see that the composition will be stronger than just shooting everything through the viewfinder. 







3) CREATIVE FRAMING
There are many ways to direct attention to your main subject in your photographs that does not require drawing crazy many invisible lines that do not make sense. Forget the lines. Look for more practical methods to frame your subjects and here are some suggestions - use lines, patterns, repetition, color and geometry, the art basics for composition. Most of the creative framing opportunities are right in front of us, we just have to spot them and use them effectively to frame our main subjects in the photograph. Being able to see and identify these opportunities may present a challenge for many as they may not know what to look for in the first place. Then train yourself to see things more beautifully and do your best to find the beauty even in the simplest and normal every day things. Photography is not about capturing epic moments or visuals only, photography is also about finding beauty even in the most ordinary things, and should be a continuous effort that is done consistently. 

4) PAY ATTENTION TO THE BACKGROUND
I have observed many images that are greatly composed but somehow the photographer did not pay sufficient attention to what goes on in the background. The background can mess up your shot. Ask yourself if you do want to include the background to your main subject, which background to include if you have a choice (most of the time you do, by shifting the angle away to a different direction where you point your camera at), and how much background you want in your image. Avoid strong glaring colors like red and yellow that may distract the attention away from the main subject easily. Avoid unpleasing looking objects like rubbish bin or anything messy in the background. If the background adds to the main subject constructively, supporting the story-telling element, such as an environmental portrait, then compose the background carefully to enhance the image. Otherwise, take the background out and include as little as possible. 







5) FILL YOUR FRAME BUT ALSO LEAVE A BIT OF SPACE
If your photography is not good enough you are not close enough, the famous saying has been repeated countless times and still holds true. Fill your frame and your main subject will immediately become dominant. However, do not go too close, do leave a bit of room to breathe. In some cases when it is difficult to predict the movement of the subject (sports shooting, birds flying, etc) framing the subjects too tightly may unintentionally chop off some important parts of the subjects. Also, having a bit of room to breathe is not a bad thing, you may crop in a little during post (don't over do it) or straightening a slightly uneven shot will benefit from that extra bit of headroom. 

That's all I have to share in this blog entry, I acknowledge these are simple tips, but I am sure they can be effective in bringing out the best in many photography situations. I sure hope you have found them useful, and if you have more to add, please share in the comments below. 

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Real Reasons Why You Are Not Improving In Photography

Progression in photography is not always linear. It is a steady growth that requires us to take baby steps and improve gradually over a long period of time. I have observed some photographer friends being stuck in a place and not sure what to do to get out and move forward. Some of them ran out of ideas and inspiration to shoot, or worse, the desire to pick up the camera and use it. Some have burned out, or got tired of the hobby and decided photography is not really what they wanted to do. If you want to continue to play this game called photography and you want to move on to the next level, here are some tips that I can share on why you are not improving in your photography game. 


1) YOU CONSUME MORE THAN YOU PRODUCE
We live in the era of digital media dominance, we are blasted with buffet of images served right in front of our eyes. Whether you browse the internet forum discussions on photography, reading camera reviews on websites, or scrolling through the endless feed on Instagram and Facebook, there are too many images that we see day in and out. It is great to explore photography work published online out there, be inspired and learn what good photography is. Here is a more important question we have to ask ourselves - what is the ratio of time between consuming images and making images? Do you spend as much time shooting as viewing images? Is it 50/50? I think in reality, generalising most modern camera users these days, the number is closer to 90/10 - 90% consuming and 10% producing. That is a generous estimate. 

My point is, knowing good photography, seeing what others are doing is not sufficient, you have to do the work, you have to clock in the hours. I always use pornography as an analogy. Just because you have watched countless hours of porn does not make you any better in bed, if you do not have adequate real life experience. Similarly in driving a car, you can read the driving manual 100 times over and watch videos on YouTube on how to drive a car but if you have not had enough practical experience actually driving a real car, you won't improve any further. I am not saying stop consuming images, or viewing so many images is a bad habit, far from it. I am merely suggesting tipping the ratio a little heavier to the producing side. Spend more time shooting, and you will have no choice but to get better. 



 2) NOT TRAINING ENOUGH
Photography is not too different from sports. Any competitive sports, say tennis requires the athletes to condition themselves regularly and sharpen their skills in the game as frequently as possible. Champions such as Maria Sharapova and Roger Federer did not just happen suddenly, they did not just decide to pick up the racket one day, play tennis for a few months and win a Grand Slam. They picked up the racket and played the game even before they hit puberty, and won their first huge title 10 years or more later. You have got to put in the work, the hours, you need to sweat, eat and breathe photography to go far in the game. 

If you are a professional photography then this article is probably not for you. For hobbyists and enthusiasts, here is another important question - how many hours of shooting do you do in a week? Are you a weekend warrior? Say, a shooting session with your buddies on a Saturday afternoon, perhaps 2-3 hours a week? How is that sufficient to grow your photography skills? Growth can only happen after a long period of time, through repetition of doing similar task, over and over again. You start by making sure you are able to get certain things right with the photograph. Then you keep practising until you don't get it wrong ever again. 

How good is your muscle memory with the camera? If you are blindfolded, are you able to operate the camera? I am not asking you to compose or frame an image, but can you turn on the camera, adjust the shutter speed, ISO or any other important settings without looking at the camera? You need to have quick reflexes, the camera control should be second nature and you can change the settings on the fly to accomplish your photography objectives when you shoot. Your mind should not be worrying about camera settings - you should focus your energy and thought process on the story-telling of your photography. There are a lot of other aspects that make great photographs - lighting, composition and moment to name a few. Train yourself to be faster and more efficient in operating the camera. Then you can focus on your artistic growth in photography. 


3) POOR CURATION
One critical mistake I have observed many people doing (even myself, I must admit) is not curating your own work. Curating process is not simplistic, but it starts by not showing too many photographs, and only displaying your best work. Great photographers may shoot great images, but more importantly, they know how to hide bad ones. You don't see their bad ones because of their curation. Learning how to curate our own work, being brutally strict on showing only the best of the best will push ourselves further and help us be a better critique on photography. 

One good way to learn about curation is to go to a photography exhibition. Visit an Art Gallery (may not necessarily be just photography, any art gallery is fine), and spend time observing and absorbing the art on display - the starting image, the ending image, the images in between, how the images flow from one to another, the consistency and how everything came together nicely to form a large body of work. I am not an expert in curation, it is a work in progress but to have a successful exhibition, the curation process can make or break it completely. 

Try to limit your series of images. Set a number - say 10 or 15 images. You may have hundreds of images to begin with, but slowly cut out the bad ones (you know you have bad photos, everyone does, even the greatest of us) and narrow them down to a few dozens. From the smaller pile, ask yourself which are the best ones. If you have a hard time deciding for yourself, as you are emotionally attached to your own images (they are your babies after all), then it may help if you get an extra pair of eyes to help your curation process. Bring a friend or someone whom you respect in the photography universe you belong to. 



4) LEARNING EVERYTHING - NO FOCUS
For many newcomers to photography, the hunger for knowledge is insatiable. You want to learn everything and anything you can get your hands on. The camera basics, the composition, lighting, post-processing, secret techniques, etc. You attend workshops after workshops, you buy many photography books and you watch endless tutorials online. Can you really absorb everything all at once?

The learning cup has a limit, once you pour too much knowledge into the cup too quickly, it is filled to the brim and any additional knowledge you try to pour in will be overflowed and you won't be able to contain or keep those new knowledge. I am not saying you should stop learning or limit your learning, in fact quite the opposite. Instead of learning everything that you can find, why not start to be more focused in what you are picking up, and slowly shape your learning to the direction of the photographer you want to be?

Say you want to be a street photographer, then pick up skills that are related to journalism or street shooting, attend relevant workshops and go on actual photowalks with other street photographers, instead of spending an afternoon learning how to style a plate of hipster food or attend a workshop on getting better at OOTD posing and fashion tips. Similarly, if you aim to be a successful wedding photographer, what are you doing spending so many ungodly hours shooting the Milky Way? Do not get me wrong, you are free to do anything you want to with your camera and spare time, photography is open for everyone to enjoy. However, if you truly are serious about your game, you will have a better focus and more directed approach in learning. 

We only have limited time in a week to spend on photography, to work on our own personal goals. Minus the hours spent on work (including professional photographers who to work on shoots), sleep, and other necessary activities like self-care and socialising, we are left with limited time for photography. Time is not infinite. Spend it wisely!


That's all my tips on how to overcome the plateau and continue to grow in your photography journey. Everyone is different and not all these tips may apply to you, but if you do have some useful advice I would love to hear from you, do share with everyone!

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Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite Camera Review

I managed to get my hands on a loaner Samsung S10 Lite, and was curious about the camera performance. Smartphone photography is surely the future and is gaining popularity, and I acknowledge the rise of modern smartphone cameras breaking a lot of imaging boundaries. The S10 Lite can shoot 48MP stills, had dedicated ultra wide angle and macro lenses, and can do video up to 4K 60p recording. The specifications alone have surpassed many advanced and even PRO level dedicated cameras, so I thought why not bring the Samsung S10 Lite out for some shutter therapy and see if the camera lives up to expectations. 


Before we dive in, here are some important disclaimers. The Samsung S10 Lite smartphone was a loaner from Samsung Malaysia and will be returned after this review. I have no affiliation with Samsung Malaysia or any retailers selling the smartphone. Samsung Malaysia did not commission me to do this review and I chose to do this entirely out of my own curiosity and willingness. I am not getting any compensation out of this, and my review is done entirely based on my personal experience using the smartphone camera over the past two weeks. This is not a tech/gadget oriented review, I will only be reviewing specifically the camera performance of the S10 Lite. I am a photographer and I do have a few things to say about smartphone cameras. 

Looking at the camera specifications at a glance, the Samsung S10 Lite has 3 separate camera modules at the back of the phone:
1) Main Camera 
48MP, 26mm equivalent focal length, F2.0 and has image stabilization
2) Ultra Wide Angle Camera
12MP, 12mm equivalent focal length, F2.2 
3) Macro camera
5MP, 25mm equivalent focal length, F2.4

In terms of video capabilities, the Samsung S10 Lite can shoot up to 4K60p.

That gorgeous 6.7 inch Super Amoled Plus display!

 The Samsung S10 Lite has 3 camera modules:
Top - Macro camera
Middle - Main camera
Bottom - Ultra Wide Angle camera

Close up on the cameras on S10 Lite, I am fully aware of the dusts, but heck I ain't not spending time to clean up this photo!

MAIN CAMERA IS BRILLIANT

The one camera that you should be using 99% of the time on the Samsung S10 Lite, if you own one, is the main camera. The camera is capable of shooting 48MP, but the default camera setting is 12MP, downsampling the whooping 48MP to a 12MP optimized image file. To me, even as a professional photographer, 12MP is more than sufficient for any photography needs today, and I don't see how 12MP cannot deliver sufficient details. 

The main camera was tested mostly at 12MP and it produces very good results in good lighting condition. Images come out sharp and detailed with rich colors. The camera does analyse the individual shooting scenes and apply some processing to optimise the image output. The images do tend to look a bit over-saturated and the highlight and shadow regions are heavily balanced to induce the HDR-like look. I have shot images from near and far testing the main camera, mostly on the cityscape of Kuala Lumpur as viewed from the newly opened Saloma Link, overlooking the KLCC under harsh afternoon sun and also some hispter food shots in a downtown cafe. The main camera does a superb job in rendering beautiful results.

For consumer photography, this works wonderfully as the images are ready to use straight out of the camera without any need for further editing. On the other hand, the heavier processing does produce smudges to fine details and I wish there was an option for less aggressive JPEG processing, but this is just me nitpicking and for general day to day use, the main camera is performing better than I have expected in the first place. After all, we don't usually pixel-peep and see images in 100% magnified view. Unless you are a photographer who knows what he wants, doing the photo editing yourself does not guarantee better results than what the phone is capable of doing immediately to your photographs after taking them.

Main Camera

Main Camera with Live Focus (fake bokeh effect)

Crop from previous image

Main Camera close up shooting

Main Camera

Main Camera

Main Camera

Main Camera

Crop from previous image showing heavy JPEG processing, smudging fine details. Not an issue if you do not pixel-peep your images. 

Main camera

48MP ADVANTAGE

The main camera can shoot up to 48MP which sounds insane on paper, but less impressive in real life applications. I am not saying that the 48MP is not useful, it is in fact a great move to capture a lot more details and then downsample (via pixel binning 4 to 1) to 12MP images, which are more optimized. By doing so, the 12MP images have better clarity, color information as well as overall better dynamic range and high ISO performance. How much better can this pixel binning/downsampling method do in contrast to the native 12MP image sensor is up to debate, but even if we can gain 20-30% improvement in overall quality, the difference is significant and can be immediately noticeable in the final image output. I always mention in this blog that I'd take a lower resolution camera but each pixel is fully optimized over a super high resolution camera that has sub-par pixel information.

Personally I would not suggest the use of 48MP for the main camera - the 12MP is more than adequate for most photography use. 48MP may sound superior but it does cost you more storage and data, if you intend to upload in full size. If you plan to resize the 48MP images for use on social media or web display, why even shoot at full 48MP in the first place? That workflow is counter-productive, and I strongly suggest staying at 12MP setting for best optimized image output as well as storage management. 

Main camera - 48MP mode

Crop from previous image
Left - 12MP, Right - 48MP

Main camera 48MP mode

ZCrop from previous image 
Left - 12MP, Right - 48MP

ULTRA WIDE ANGLE CAMERA

I think it is very useful to have an ultra wide angle camera in a lot of modern smartphones today. I would not recommend using wide angle for the sake of having the wide angle effect in your photographs. An ultra wide angle can come in very handy in situations when you need to fit in a bit more into your frame, such as a large group shot in a tight space, or a sweeping landscape shot that you want to cramp in a few more buildings at the sides. Used correctly an ultra wide angle lens can create beautiful and impactful results. 

There is no autofocus when using ultra wide angle, and the camera module relies on fixed focus. This is not a surprise, considering the ultra wide angle used on a camera with smaller image sensor can yield almost infinite depth of field, having everything sharp in focus from near to far. This also simplifies the shooting workflow, minimising errors on photographer's part, having less to worry while shooting images. The ultra wide angle camera produces consistently sharp, details and beautiful colors as seen from the main camera. However, since the camera module is different overall the image quality is not as good as the main camera. This can evidently be seen at higher ISO settings, the ultra wide angle camera falls apart much sooner than the main camera. Use the ultra wide angle only when absolutely necessary. 

The ultra wide angle lens is sharp at the center of the frame, and exhibits obvious corner softness, a typical characteristics of a wide angle lens. There are also noticeable purple fringing and vignetting, but these are not dealbreakers and should not be any concern for consumer level photography. A good news here is that Samsung S10 Lite has built in distortion correction to get rid of any visible barrel distortion, leaving straight lines almost perfectly straight. Having said that, I did have a tremendous amount of fun playing with the wide angle lens, capturing city landscapes. 

Ultra Wide Angle Camera

Ultra Wide Angle Camera

Ultra Wide Angle Camera

Crop from previous image 
Ultra Wide Angle lens exhibiting severe corner softness and purple fringing issues. 

Ultra Wide Angle Camera

Ultra Wide Angle Camera

Ultra Wide Angle Camera

Ultra Wide Angle Camera

MACRO CAMERA

The macro camera module only has 5MP, and for many people this may seem lackluster. To me, I think this is better than not having a macro lens at all, and macro lens can come in very useful when you need to go close to your subjects and reveal minute details. Example of uses - shooting jewellery, small product photography (lego, miniatures), food details and even flowers and bugs. 5MP is still a lot to go around, as long as you don't carelessly crop your images. 

Perhaps a more useful lens to be included in the S10 Lite would be a tele lens, something close to 50mm to create a more proportionate and normal looking image with minimal perspective distortion. However, I feel that the tele-lens is also not fully utilised by consumer level photography who still prefer to shoot everything in wide angle mode. I can understand Samsung's decision not to include the tele-lens, and the macro lens would have been far more useful in this scenario. 

Much like the ultra wide angle camera, the macro lens does not have autofocus and anything that falls within close shooting range (between 3cm to 5cm from the lens) will be in perfect focus. Use the macro mode only to shoot very close up subjects. 

Macro camera

Macro camera

LOW LIGHT SHOOTING AND NIGHT MODE

If you are dealing with very low light situation with the Samsung S10 Lite, I highly recommend you use only the main camera. Having 48MP being pixel binned to 12MP gives you an advantage of cleaner image output than the ultra wide angle camera. Furthermore then main camera is optically image stabilized, giving you steadier hand-holding results, especially shooting in darker environment. Use the ultra wide angle only when absolutely necessary.

The main camera's low light shooting performance is quite good. It produces images that look quite clean (without pixel peeping of course), and this is achieveable even without using the camera's dedicated "night mode". The camera will not hesitate to choose higher ISO numbers, there were a few cases I saw the numbers jumped as high as 2500. Typically the camera will try to capture the images within ISO800. In the camera's PRO mode, the selectable ISO can be adjusted from ISO100 to 800 only, the cap being at maximum 800, which I is not adequate for very low light shooting. I'd expect Samsung to include at least ISO3200, no matter how bad the results may be, but higher ISO is necessary in those extreme conditions. The ISO maximum limit at 800 in PRO mode is also true for most Samsung smartphones, as I have also reviewed the Note 10+ a few months ago.

I would suggest not to turn on the "night mode". From my testing the night mode tried too hard to brighten the darker parts of the images, resulting in very artificial looking bright images. To me, the darker parts of the images can stay dark, I don't need everything to be bright and sunny when I am shooting a night scene. The night mode also applies a more aggressive noise reduction/HDR/sharpening algorithm - the final result does not look good. I much prefer the main camera's default mode for shooting night photographs, the images look more natural and pleasing to my eyes.

For the high ISO shooting, I would not go higher than ISO400 if I have a choice. Even at ISO400 the images show high amount of noise, and at ISO800 it was almost unbearable. The noise reduction kicks in quite aggressively, smearing off all fine details, and the artificial sharpening takes place resulting in garrish looking edges. Of course, all this is only true if you zoom into specific parts of the images for scrutiny, and without pixel peeping the low light shooting results from S10 Lite is perfectly serviceable. It is not fair to expect a smartphone to accomplish a high level camera quality, again, for what the S10 Lite can do, I was decently satisfied with the low light performance. If I truly wanted cleaner results, I would not hesitate to turn to my own arsenal of Micro Four Thirds cameras.

Main Camera ISO800

Crop from previous image
I'd stay at ISO400 or below for better results

Main Camera ISO640
Without pixel peeping, the image actually looks quite good

Main camera ISO1000

Ultra Wide Angle Camera ISO800

Ultra Wide Angle camera performs worse than the main camera for low light shooting
I recommend staying with Main Camera for low light if possible. 

 Night Mode on Main Camera - this artificially brightens the image too much

Might Mode - I really don't like how the camera over-processes the image. 

Main Camera ISO640

CAMERA LIVE VIEW AND AUTOFOCUS PERFORMANCE

My biggest complain for Samsung S10 Lite is the low refresh rate on the live view screen as well as minor lag.

The 6.7 inch Super AMOLED Plus screen was quite a joy to use, large and bright, easy to see even in bright sun and helps composition and framing for my shots. The screen is reported to have 60Hz refresh rate. However, when the camera is turned on, the live view display exhibited two issues - lower refresh rate and slight delay between real life and actual displayed view.

The refresh rate was nowhere close to 60Hz, it was closer to something like 20-30Hz, and this was happening in abundant light (outdoor during day). In darker environment, the refresh rate drops further to less than 20Hz, looking choppy and very jerky, being more obvious if you have a moving subject, or if you pan the screen around. I'd expect a higher refresh rate on the live view for more comfortable framing and shooting experience, certainly from a smartphone with a built in powerful Snapdragon 855 processor!

The second issue is also problematic - there is a noticeable delay of on the live view. This can affect real life shooting as we try to nail critical moments - the slight delay as seen on screen can cause important moments to be missed when clicking the shutter button.

To understand how bad the refresh rate and slight delay on the camera's live view can be, do check out the video I have made.

This issue was also noticed in the Note 10+ that I have reviewed before, and is not exclusive to Samsung phones. A lot of flagship smartphones and certainly these phones are not cheap also have poor refresh rate. I am more surprised that NONE of the popular tech and review sites mentioned this. This proves how little a lot of the large reviewers know about photography or care about the camera review of a smartphone. 

In terms of autofocus, the camera takes about half a second or less to fully acquire focus, which is normal and nothing to write home about. It is not amazingly fast, surely the AF did not work instantaneously, but it is also perfectly useable as the performance is quite consistent. I am fine with slightly slower AF, as long as what I see on screen when I am trying to shoot is as close to real time as possible.

An example of a missed shot due to slight delay of live view. 

OTHER SMALLER ISSUES

There are a few smaller issues that I do have to report, but I must emphasize that none of these little problems are dealbreakers. I am reporting them because I genuinely do want Samsung smartphone cameras to get better, at least for photographers who are serious about getting Samsung phones as their daily drivers.

When shooting directly against a strong source of light, flare and ghosting can be a big problem. This does not help as the aperture is stuck at wide open. The flare can be quite destructive to the image. The solution to this - avoid shooting directly against the sun or any other strong source of light, and if you have to, try to angle the camera around a little to avoid the worst possible flare captured within the framing.

There is no manual shutter speed control in the PRO mode, which to be was quite a big miss for otherwise a highly capable smartphone camera. Having the ability to control shutter speed can open up a whole lot of possibilities - shooting trail of light, adding creative motion blur to the image, etc. I am sure this is purely a software intended limitation placed on a lower level Samsung smartphone, and is fully unlocked in their flagships like S20 series or the Note 10 series.

VIDEO SHOOTING

I did test the video shooting feature of the Samsung S10 Lite. Do find out more in depth of the video performance in the YouTube video I have made.

The SuperSteady On (stabilization for video) worked very well in producing smooth and steady video footage, it was almost gimbal-like. Smartphone cameras have come a long way when it comes to built in stabilization for video shooting. Unfortunately this feature is not applicable for 4K recording and is only available for FullHD. The 4K video came out crisp and sharp, and the audio recording by default on the smartphone is quite impressive. Though I did not test, the Samsung S10 Lite is capable of recording up to 4K 60p, a feat that not many cameras can even do today.

CONCLUSION

For an everyday use, all round performer, do it all, carry with you everywhere smartphone camera, the Samsung S10 Lite is an excellent camera and will deliver beautiful images. The main camera is the star here, capable of shooting highly detailed images. The ultra wide angle and macro camera modules are useful when you need them to perform specific tasks. The image processing may be on the heavier side, but I admit this works for most people who want optimized and usable images straight out of the camera without the need to do further editing work. I did enjoy myself tremendously using the S10 Lite for my shutter therapy sessions, for average consumer doing smartphone photography this is a high value for money smartphone camera.

As a photographer, I do have a few complains, but this is just me nitpicking. I would appreciate less aggressive image processing and more PRO manual controls (shutter speed, higher ISO over 800). I am not happy with the live view lag and low refresh rate on the screen during camera operations. The ultra wide angle lens does have a few flaws and the cameras in general are susceptible to flare. These are not dealbreakers and of no concern for non-photographers, for most people these issues won't even come up in day to day shooting scenarios.

Are you using a Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite, do share with me your experience and thoughts using the camera on that smartphone.

If you have any other smartphone cameras you would like me to review, please let me know, I will see what I can do asking from the manufacturer's for a loaner unit. No guarantee though!


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