Open Letter to Satya Nadella – Surface Phone

Mr. Nadella,

As a ‘creative’, I have long known the false beliefs perpetuated by some that “Apple is for creatives” and “Windows is for accountants” is just so much falderal. The two platforms do, essentially, the same things, just in different ways.

That said, the release of the first Windows-based Nokia smartphones a few years ago incorporating the PureView sensor technology was intriguing. So much so that when the 1020 was announced, I made plans to get one. The idea of the large sensor, and ‘lossless zoom’, combined with the ability to capture in RAW mode was very appealing to this photographer. I am not a ‘photography snob’ and as such recognise that very compelling imagery can be made with any type of camera.

There were many positives about the 1020 but also some negatives. I discussed both extensively in my initial review of the phone and in my follow up discussion of the RAW capture capabilities.

Microsoft has made some very interesting product announcements in recent weeks. The new Surface 4 tablet and Surface Pro laptop have specs that are very appealing to a working photographer. In addition, the Surface Studio is quite an interesting device and will be very appealing to many in the creative community, particularly as the Surface Dial is further developed.

The one piece of kit missing from the product lineup is a high quality smartphone with a top end camera. The products that have been released since your purchase of the Nokia phone unit have been, largely, underwhelming.

Rumours have continued to swirl, since the announcement of the other new Surface products, about the possibility of a new Surface phone. One that will have much of the capability of the tablet, or laptop, in a pocketable size. If rumours are to be believed, the phone will be targeted toward the business community, similar to the HP Elite X3.

Given how good the new Surface products seem to be for creatives, I strongly urge you not to forget that cohort of customer if/when a Surface phone comes to market.

Forget the phones that have come out since the purchase of the Nokia phone unit. Go back to the 1020 and use that as the building block for the camera of the new Surface phone.

The 41MP sensor of the 1020 had great promise, but much of that promise went unrealised because of the number of pixels on the sensor. While the sensor was much larger than in other phones, the pixel pitch was the same as the competition because of the density. A 2/3″ sensor with, say, 16-20MP could be a game-changer. Pixel size would be markedly larger than in other high end phones which should produce much better image quality.

Fix the JPEG rendering issues in the 1020, keep RAW capture using the DNG spec, put a better quality display (IPS) on it so there are no unpleasant colour casts and put it in a package with a 5.5″ to 5.7″ screen. Options for more than the 32GB of storage available in the 1020, either via different models, or preferably, a micro-SD card slot would add to the feature set of a Surface phone. The accessory grip with additional battery capacity is something worth considering making available as well. The screen doesn’t need to be 4K, but 4K video capture at a variety of frame rates would be. Allowing users to adjust image capture parameters on in camera JPEGs and video (e.g., saturation, contrast, sharpening) would be very good to include. The ability to adjust contrast, saturation and colour temperature of the screen – even via a few presets for colour temp, although a slider would be better – will only serve to enhance the overall package.

On the app side of things, a very good gallery app, addressing the problems noted in my above-linked write-up on the 1020 is a must. A simple, effective way to transfer photos, with sufficient storage capacity, from the phone to a Surface 4, Pro, or Studio for further editing is also necessary. OneDrive makes perfect sense for this, although a direct wi-fi transfer between devices would also be quite effective. Of course, apps for the various social media platforms – I note that the Instagram app on my 1020 is still listed in Beta – would be a given.

And put it all in a very durable enclosure like the 1020 had.

A robust, feature-rich phone and camera like I have described, building on the foundation of the 1020, and bringing to market a 2017 class-leading device, would very nicely round out the Surface hardware product lineup.

Robert Fisher

Street Photography – Epilogue

Donald Weber wrote an essay in March 2015 on the state of photojournalism today. Weber is a World Press Photo juror and a member of VII Agency. Despite the problems World Press Photo has had in recent years, it remains a very prestigious competition.

In the essay, Weber lamented the death of photojournalism has he knew it and as he learned it. And he is correct. Continue reading

Street Photography VIII

Some will say that a picture should need no caption, that it should stand on its own. It is true, in some cases, that a photograph can stand on its own and need no caption, or description. In many, I would suggest most, instances; however, some complementary text can be very important. Our own personal experiences play a large part in how we perceive visual imagery. A photo of Birkenau has a very different meaning to someone who is Jewish than to a Christian or an Atheist. A different meaning still to those who are older vs. those who are younger. We are informed by our own history. I understand the particular areas of Toronto I shoot in. I know the neighbourhoods and some of the people. Others who know the areas have a similar understanding of the pictures as I do because they have that history. What’s that old saying about walking a mile in someone’s shoes? We do not all see the same things, nor should we. What is appreciated by one person may not be by another. And there is nothing wrong with that. Continue reading

Comparatively Speaking….

We seem, as a species, to have a nearly pathological obsession with making comparisons. For some reason, we seem unable to evaluate something on its own merits. The extent to which we seem to do it today is disturbing and it is disrespectful to the parties being compared. Continue reading

Street Photography VII

The discussion of editing has been left till now because it is, to me, of lesser importance than the rest. But it is also logically what follows what has come before it. Only after we have been out taking pictures do we begin the work of editing. It is for that reason, as well, that the next section on telling stories through a body of work comes after this one. It is only after we have culled and edited that we can begin to curate the finished photos into a coherent story, ready to show to others. Continue reading

Street Photography VI

The night is a very interesting time for photography in general and street photography in particular. Certainly the lighting is different. But more importantly, the people are different. It is a very different person who is out at night from the day. Even if it is the same person, they are different. The night is personal time. People who you might see during the day are more likely to be more relaxed at night. There is also a sector of the community that you probably will only see after the sun goes down. Continue reading

Of Ethics & Ethics – Photographic & Journalistic

The old saying is true. Opinions are like [insert specific anatomical reference], everybody has one. Witness the number of opinion columnists employed by newspapers and the number of pundits who appear regularly on other media outlets to expound at length about this, that, and any other thing. Like most any other endeavour, there are good and bad providers of opinion. What separates the two? Continue reading

Street Photography V

It is not just the fading romance of something that is about to disappear that he gives us, but rather a new statement now framed within his photograph that transcends the evocative beauty of the gardens themselves.

Jacqueline Kennedy, speaking about Eugène Atget Continue reading

There is No Holy Grail for Better Photography, Only Hard Work

Photography, perhaps more than any other endeavour is replete with the equivalent of ‘get rich quick’ schemes. There are any number of software companies and individual photographers hawking ‘one click fix’ solutions. From snapshot to amazing shot-type books and tutorials. Action sets that will set your heart a flutter at the ease with which a couple mouse clicks will make your photo a masterpiece. Continue reading