Films, iPhone 5s, and Travel

Prologue: I wrote this article almost a year ago when I had an iPhone 5s. Today I have an iPhone 6+. While some of the observations here no longer apply e.g. low light photography, most of the article still rings true today.

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One only has to tread the beaten tourist tracks of any major destination to see curio and tourist shops with awnings that still have advertisements for “Kodak,” “Fuji,” or “Agfa” to realize how fast time has flown from the days of film photography. Kodak itslef is now under bankruptcy and I really don’t know what has happened to Fuji and Agfa.

I remember the first time I travelled my wife and I had to bring 30 rolls of film (36 photographs of a fixed ISO). And one had to be careful that the film strip had been rewound back to its canister before opening the camera lest a whole travel episode be lost to an unwanted exposure to light! I cannot remember now the number of such mishaps in the past.

Today, I don’t even bring a camera. I have “bequeathed” my heavy SLRs to my two sons (it’s in quotes because this was done under duress) who have the patience and strength to carry them. I would, one of these days, go back to my SLRs for really serious photography. For now, however, my iPhone 5s is enough for me.

True, it uses up a lot of battery power, but I guess the extra battery backups one brings in trips replaces the old film canisters one would place in a camera bag. With my iCloud and Dropbox accounts, and with an internet connection ( I usually buy unlimited internet roaming when I travel), I can take as many photographs as I want and the photographs can be as stunning and clear as the SLRs.

Of course at the end of the day it’s all about composition and timing, an art, a talent, I have limited access to. Occasionally I get lucky with stunning landscape photography, but in the main I am resigned to my fate of being a point-and-shoot photographer.

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There are two major upsides to using today’s iPhone 5s (and other smartphones I am sure) camera: a) the ability to immediately share the photos; and b) the imbedded GPS location of the photos. The first, of course, gives the folks back home an almost live coverage of your travel. The enthusiasm, the awe, and the excitement are immediately shared with your friends and relations who may immediately reply or comment to your posts.

I love the imbedded GPS information in the metafile of the photo because it gives me a reminder of where places are located in the world. This helpful for uploading to my contacts or when I want to refer to a photo I want to write about. There are several times when walking through tree-lined boulevards or country lanes of some obscure but beautiful towns we take photographs and forget the name of the location when we get back to the hotel or back home. Clicking on the GPS link and calling on the new Apple map or the old reliable Google map is very helpful in refreshing my memory of where I have been.

The downside of my iPhone 5 is that it does not take very good low light photographs and the flash (which I rarely use) is of little help. The photos come out too grainy with a lot of noise. On the other hand, normally when the lights are low I would either be asleep or in some nice cozy bar listening to jazz neither of which makes a good time to take photographs – photography will be a distraction!

Far from just taking photos, I use my iPhone for recording my food and the wine I drink. For the latter I use Drync, an app I have found to be very useful in not only trying to remember the wines that I drink, but where I drank it, and the reviews the wines have obtained from experts. The app also allows you to order the wine, albeit only for US delivery. Drync asks you to take the photo of your wine’s label (here the low light problem can pop up) and the app scans the label and immediately identifies the wine, down to the vintage. Sometimes the app gets the vintage wrong, but you can always edit the information on the spot. Sometimes, it fails to identify the label and you just need to send the photo to Drync and normally within a few hours they get back to you with the correct identification. Even the Morocccan wines were identified correctly, which I thought were really obscure from the world market.

As I write reviews for hotels, restaurants, and general tourism activities and places, I find it important to record the places I eat in and the food I take. It can be embarrassing and tad uncouth but I always give my age as an excuse (over 60% of people feel that 51 is when one has passed middle age). For this purpose I use Evernote’s Food app. It can record the meals you take, the recipes you like, and the restaurants you have visited. The two core functions of the app are the camera and the GPS to locate the restaurant one’s in. Of course if it isn’t found in the app’s directory (Evernote works with Foursquare’s locations), one can always manually put in the restaurant’s details.

I also use Evernote to record documents and events. Evernote is basically an integrating “server” service with several attached apps whose outputs or documents are housed in Evernote’s servers. So the Food app is one of them. Penultimate is another one. It is a note-taking app which I use extensively albeit on my iPad as it is more practical to take down handwritten notes there rather on the smaller screen iPhone. I use a JotNote pen to scrawl my notes. Penultimate, however, also allows one to take photos or videos or recordings. This is very useful for meetings as one can take the photo of the whiteboard on which a speaker, for example, has written down his presentation. One can also attach photos from your camera roll.

When I use Penultimate in meetings where various documents are used like spreadsheets, word files, or PDF documents, I take photos of these documents and then imbed them into the sheets of the notes in Penultimate. From there I can scrawl or pen in my comments pretty much the same way I do in another Evernote app called Skitch. Skitch, however, is generally useful for photographs,putting comments on them, and filing them for my use later or sharing them with colleagues. An example of how I use Skitch is when I need to ask about things in a photograph:

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By the way, I use Numbers, Pages, and Keynote, for spreadsheet, word processing, and presentations, respectively. These Mac-based apps have both iOS and Mac versions and are connected via the iCloud. The convenience of using these apps deserve another article but suffice it to say the ability to work on the SAME document regardless of which device one uses – iPhone, iPad, or the Mac desktop – and regardless of where one is are conveniences which I can no longer give up. Working on these documents without having to worry about saving these documents is very convenient indeed. Today with Yosemite, the handoff has made it even better.

This convenience, in fact, is very useful in my business. I can prepare a presentation on my iMac desktop at home, close it, and then go to a meeting where I can open the same presentation on my iPad. Making a presentation on my iPad is almost always better for my meetings as opening laptops in hotel lounges or restaurants is, to say the least, very awkward.

And on a final note, my iPhone camera, or more frequently my iPad camera always come useful for online meetings. I subscribe to GotoMeeting and with its iOS apps, I can organize or join online meetings where I can videoconferencing, share documents, share a whiteboard, and almost any other convenience one has with a regular desktop or laptop.

Compared to all these, the SLR camera with the old reliable film will indeed be counted as a dinosaur of the past. With just a fraction of the weight, my current camera (well really, my iPhone 5) can do a lot more than my old SLRs. On another thought, I guess that will be an unfair comparison. My old SLR was made purely with just art and photography in mind. It did not have the distraction of emails and Facebook posts that many of us are faced with these days. Back then, we did not face the pressure of having our pictures “liked” or “re-tweeted.” Whatever we took was for our own enjoyment, our own pleasure.

In sum, times have changed and the iPhone has dramatically changed the way we do things. The awnings that show Fuji, Kodak, and Agfa, will definitely be a thing of the past, but certainly a wonderful reminder when things were much simpler, when photography was limited to cameras for shooting photos for posterity, art, or both.

In my book, those times will come back again, not too far in the future. In the meantime, enjoy your apps on your iPad and iPhone.