11.21.2021

I've finally mastered a skill in which I was never really interested....until a client demanded it. Yeah. Phone stuff. Mobile camera apps.

 

These images are from a walk with the Leica CL and the 50mm f1.2 TTArtisan lens. 
They have nothing to do with the written content of this particular post. 
Just here for fun.

I've always mostly ignored phone apps that interface with cameras. I tried some early on, mostly from Olympus and Sony, and found each company's attempts at creating a piece of software that would control their cameras by phone, and (more importantly) allow me to transfer camera files to my phone for rapid delivery to clients, and found them wanting. Or worse, un-usable. I also pushed back on clients because I'm always loathe to believe that clients don't have time to wait for me to get back to the office to do a proper edit and optimization of the images I shoot before I deliver them. Since the demand for rapid turnaround jobs came to a screeching halt with the pandemic I assumed I'd wait everyone out and never have to come around to mastering a phone app in order to do parts of my business. 

That changed on Friday when a long time client connected me with their P.R. agency in order to cover a very high stress event that's coming in the near future. The event is a non-repeatable one and the turnaround times are strict. That being the case I bid the crap out of the job, halfway hoping I'd priced myself out of the running. But I'm guessing that even if the P.R. agency balked the client wants what the client wants and in this case that's me. 

One thing the contact at the agency was adamant about though was the fact that all the files from the event need to be delivered to them within three hours of the program and further, that three newsworthy photos need to be delivered no later than one hour from the end of the show. I've never had to work under a deadline that was so tight. I'm not even sure I could exit the event, get through traffic and be back in the office in under an hour on a busy week day. Especially coming from the middle of the downtown area. 

That led me to do something I've been reticent to do. I downloaded the Leica Fotos app which has two functions. It allows a user to control and shoot photographs with any of the current Leica cameras remotely, and it allows the same user to see all the images on the camera card and to select one or more, or all of them, and download them to one's phone. 

At the outset I was pretty leery about being dependent on a free app, an iPhone and a German camera all working in concert. But, since actual cash was on the line, I committed to learning how to use the app with all four of the Leicas I have in house. I downloaded Leica Fotos from the Apple App Store and got it up and running on the phone. I paired the SLs via their wi-fi functions. They work well and make a good, reliable connection but they are not speedy. Then I moved to the SL2 and it uses a combination of Bluetooth and wi-fi for a much more responsive connection. 

I fumbled a bit at first but finally figured out a step-by-step method that allowed me to make a good connection on every try. I can now set up the camera and phone to chat with each other, go back to shooting and have some assurance that the phone screen will populate with small thumbnails that I can click on to enlarge across the full screen of the phone. Once I pick certain images I can select them and download them from the camera to a gallery on the phone. When I get them on the phone I can do some edits in the phone's photo software and then send them via e-mail, text or even Airmail. 

Since I'm so far behind the curve on accepting and adapting to this method of working I've been randomly circling back during the day to try connecting again and again. So far it's working. I intend to practice ten or more times a day between now and the event so I can get as close to "muscle memory" as possible. If I can duplicate my results from here in the office I should be able to have three images selected, properly sized,  lightly edited and in the e-mail stream within 20 minutes of the end of program. Then it's a leisure drive back to my hidden lair in the West Austin hills and a romp through the rest of the images on my trusty iMac Pro. I can pop the finished files onto my broadband connection and rocket the rest to the client. 

I have to admit that in cases like this, with ridiculous delivery demands, apps like these can be lifesavers. But what I'm really looking forward to are all the times when I'd like to be able to control the cameras without having to tether to a laptop or tablet. If I can pull off this project before Thanksgiving I'll award myself a merit badge in photo phone apps. I'll be so proud...

The Leica Fotos app used to require a yearly license that cost $50. That's so Leica. But someone in marketing must have figured out that every other camera company in the universe provides a similar app for free. And in this case the company caved to convention. Bless their little hearts...

It's not a bad app. It's pretty straightforward to pair up with the various cameras and it stores at least three cameras' connection information at a time which makes reconnecting pretty easy. They also did a nice job with the interface. 

I'm making progress with my very slow motion acceptance of phone apps. But I'm still not a fan of high speed turnarounds. Ah well. 

handheld and shot at ISO 6400. Perilously close to failure.








Camera makers used to sell a lot of cameras based on what "professionals" were purportedly using. That's no longer even remotely applicable.

 

not shot on assignment. just shot for myself.

 Back in the film days there were a lot of barriers to entry if you wanted to quit your day job and become a photographer. Gear was more expensive as a percentage of the average income, relationships with clients took a lot of time to build, lighting was much more important and required expensive gear, cameras weren't nearly as "friendly" or "fault tolerant" to operate, and there were few free places to advertise your services to large numbers of interested people. Sorry, no wide spread web. Finally, when you did invest in a camera system it was important that it be ruggedly built because most models stayed on the market for five or ten years and heavy users expected their purchases to last at least until the next introduction of a professional model. 

With all this in mind it was an easy advertising pitch for camera makers to trot out real, working professionals who used the company's cameras and could profess to good results and the overall reliability of the products. The top end models were almost certainly purchased by a higher percentage of full time pro photographers than are top line cameras now. I'd conjecture that fewer than one tenth of one percent of professional camera models are actually sold to people who use them for full time photo work and the vast majority sold are used by well-heeled hobbyists, or people outside the actual professional willing to play fast and loose with their credit cards in order to have cool tech. 

Photography, as an overall profession; a way of making a living, has been in decline every single year since the capitulation of film to digital. According to surveys the average photographer working full time in 2019, in the USA, was making less than $ 50,000 per year. If you think someone grossing $50,000 a year (and netting far less) is a ripe candidate for a yearly update to the latest Sony A7RIV or Canon R5, and the lenses to go with it, and is happily upgrading every time a newer, "better" model comes out then you are living in a dream world of unicorns and sparkly marketing magic. Most self-employed  photographers are going along with (based on statistics) some model of the Canon 5D and whatever zoom lenses (usually just two) that they bought whenever they decided to enter the market. And most, unlike yours truly, are not gear hounds at all. In fact, a larger and larger percentage of working photographers are female, and are also statistically less apt to chase the latest technology. They're doing just fine with whatever camera they have right now.

So, where are the "working photographers" that can act as front men for camera makers? Well, in fact, they are not working photographers at all but rather influencers, bloggers and vloggers who make their living hawking any and all cameras that the manufacturers send them to review via affiliate links, and their own home workshop products such as presets, workshops, tele-coaching, e-books, flash modifying gadgets, et al. Some adopt a system to shill because becoming identified with a single brand channels more and more product from that brand to their sites for quickie reviews and also "qualifies" their viewers. If the viewers are, for example, Sony users then a person who professes a preference for Sony cameras on their site will draw a crowd that is more interested in having their own purchases blessed and then more interested in clicking through an affiliate link to buy more product in the same family. 

But this in no way means that the "influencer" has photography clients who pay him or her for work done or rights transferred. Nope, they're making T-shirts with funny photo sayings on them, pumping out videos behind paywalls that show you how to work with the cameras and lenses you just bought through their sites. Stuff you could learn handily, if you just read the freakin users manual. So, rather than work with gear under challenging conditions and turning out world class photos these "pros" spend their time, reviewing cameras from their favorite makers, setting up T-shirt sales on the web, shilling for SquareSpace or Luminar products, selling presets that will help make your images flat and overly saturated, and praying for more click throughs. They are also creating an entertainment product just for you. Their own rambling 10-15 minutes videos and reviews. All the drama, none of the meat.

Is that who you want to look to if you're considering a new camera system? That's like asking the Chevrolet dealer which brand of cars they recommend. Or a fellow bus rider which model Bentley you should buy...

The concept of the  "professional" photographer that people over a certain age carry around in their heads is a construct that I would venture to say hardly exists in reality at all now. It's gone. There are fewer and fewer full time photographers and a lot more people who are jacks of all imaging trades, from quickie web design to one man hybrid camera video makers, to ersatz designers, who will also help design your T-shirt and in the next moment perhaps deliver your coffee as part of their other Door Dash job. And you think they have the need or the means to splash out for a Sony A1? And a couple of $2500+ lenses? Get real. 

I'm sure there are a tiny, tiny number of working professionals who are in long term love affairs with their camera company's products. But just looking at my circle of photographer friends we are more driven to purchase by curiosity and boredom than any sort of spread sheet logic or well considered use case scenarios. I want to buy a Leica Q2 right now. But not because I've seen any work by any photographer who is getting paid by any client. No, the advertising from Leica shows a bunch of happy artists who are shooting to make themselves happy and that's about it. No one is showcasing a huge advertising campaign done for a huge company like Apple or Dell while touting a specific camera brand; or even the photographers who've shot the campaigns. 

I can assure you that the photographers who actually are shooting for the biggest and juiciest campaigns are no more spending time on the web to tout product than Scarlett Johansson is opening for some dinner theater in Des Moines this weekend. But wouldn't she be so good in "Streetcar Named Desire"? Or "Our Town"?

The photographers who are pulling in big rates and even bigger usage fees wouldn't see much benefit in shilling for camera companies. Most of which would never pay anything close to the rates that real, top end pros can demand from authentic clients. It's that old "one tenth of one percent" rule. Offering a billionaire a toaster oven to move their bank account is... laughable. 

There is a whole industry set up that's just about marketing, talking about, and benefitting from cameras sales. There are a few sites on the web that can support a whole team of marketers masquerading as "journalists" who actually drive many, many more camera sales than any current testimonials from working pros. The only problem is that these journalists aren't quite making enough hard cash, individually, to buy the cameras and lenses they'd really like to own and the cameras they have in their hands for a few weeks to test are never put to the kinds of real tests that a working pro shooting in a metal fabrication factory in Mexico or on an infrastructure project in the Florida Everglades, in the dead of Summer, would put to a camera in the space of a day. 

I remember being a one time spokesperson for a camera maker at a big trade show for the photography industry. I could make nice photographs and we could stream them to big screens at the booth. But to be really transparent (which also means "honest") with prospective buyers we should have also noted that a crew of three support engineers was standing by the whole time fixing the cameras as they bricked and recycling them back to us to shoot. The excuse? We were shooting with "prototypes" or, we were shooting with non-final firmware.  But believe what you will. 

Are there still full time pros left? Let me know, I'd like to watch them in action.