The camera that’s taking over from my DSLR aka a year with the iPhone 5s

I ended up with a broken screen on my beloved Nokia Lumia 720 over a year ago, and thus began my search for a new phone. After lots of deliberation and the delayed launch of the Lumia 930 with its mixed reviews, I ended up with a 16 GB gold iPhone 5s that had just received some price cuts thanks to the iPhone 6 launch. It’s been a very satisfying photo taking journey with the iPhone thus far barring some hiccups. It is a very versatile shooter that gives amazing results even in its auto mode. Then of course, there are the manual controls introduced in iOS 8 that hand over the reigns to the photographer. Plus the entire photography workflow from shooting to editing to publishing and backing up can be performed on the same device.

The iPhone 5s has been my primary camera for nearly a year now, and there have been only a few occasions like stage shows that I’ve used my Canon EOS 550D. I carried the DSLR with the 15-85 mm lens on my Goa trip in March but hardly shot with it, and then altogether skipped it on my last trip to Kolkata. In fact, I’ve been giving away some of my DSLR accessories that I rarely use over the last few months.

In terms of reliability, the iPhone series easily beats its Android counterparts as the camera app launches in a jiffy and the focusing speed and shooting latency are top notch. These parameters have been thoroughly tested in the last one year thanks to my daughter who’s 2 1/2 years old now.

Processing and sharing photos is also a breeze with the numerous apps, and this is one part of the workflow that has been completed integrated with the photo taking effort unlike in a standalone DSLR. Then of course there are the automatic backups through iCloud, Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Photos, Flickr et al that ensures that the memories remain intact. It’s only natural that Microsoft and Google are trying to automate the album creation and tagging process on their photo storage services given the huge volumes we’re shooting.

The only fly in the ointment has been the storage space as 12 GB of usable is barely enough to hold all the photos after you’ve loaded a few apps. Then of course there are the videos which are all full HD and pretty enormous in size. I’ve managed to make do thanks to the iCloud photo library introduced in iOS 8 that automatically backs up and removes old photos from the device. In fact, I have gone beyond the 5 GB free tier and upgraded to the 20 GB one.

Then of course there’s the loss of variable focal lengths and being stuck with a wide angle lens. I do have a personal preference of shooting medium telephoto lengths with the 50 mm prime being my DSLR favourite. Cropping manages to take care of some of these issues when the lighting is good, and I like to think of the iPhone 5s as a camera with a wide angle prime lens.

When it comes down to image quality, I’ve found it good enough compared to my DSLR except in very low light situations. The focus speed can be a bit slow compared to the DSLR as well and this is one aspect that’s been upgraded in the iPhone 6\6+. Video quality is of course superb and the electronic stabilization makes a real difference, but the storage space gets in the way for longer videos.

There are of course other features like slo-mo 120 fps videos that are just not possible on the DSLR, and shooting time lapses or hyperlapses is a breeze compared to the elaborate setup required with the DSLR.

So, do you want to buy a DSLR? Please don’t – just get an iPhone (or even one of the Android flagships like LG G3\G4 or Galaxy S6)

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A few seconds

This post would’ve been titled “Uber-ing around in the City of Joy” had it not been for an incident that changed my life. Recall those accidents in movies where people get run over or smashed up by speeding cars? Well, I just got a front seat experience complete with the glass fragments. Here’s how things transpired.

I had gone for a trip to Kolkata with my family last month and we touched down in Mumbai on time thanks to Indigo last Sunday. Being the last Sunday of May, the airport was busting at the seams with all the families returning from vacations and there was the usual shortage of trolleys. The luggage also took its own time to come around as expected. This also meant that the taxi booking counters were stacked with long lines and vehicles were in short supply. Since we’d been using Uber quite extensively in Kolkata, I decided to book one for the airport pickup as there was no surge pricing on.

I had the regular location and pickup time exchange with the driver and we finally managed to step out towards the pickup point. I informed the driver that we had reached the point and he came over to pick us up. The place was packed with cars and we tried to get to the car and load our luggage as quickly as possible since there’s a 5 minute cap on the time allowed. As luck would have it, the security at the exit point stopped us and demanded Rs 110 as we had apparently exceeded the allotted time by a minute. There was a heated exchange with the driver, and I finally gave up and paid the amount so that we could head home in peace. Little did we know that these few seconds would have such a large impact.

The driver was in a bad mood, and we entered the Western Expressway from the airport. The road was quite clear and he hit the gas and we were speeding along towards home. And then it happened. An old man with a packet in hand was running across the road just before one of the numerous flyovers, and our driver going at 70-80 kmph tried his best to avoid the man, but all too late. He hit the old man head on and he was flung onto the windshield, his head shattering the glass in front of me and finally ending up in a small pool of blood behind us.

The driver managed to stop and a large crowd gathered around us. The driver and I got down while my wife, 2 year old daughter and her nanny stayed inside. Our first task was to try and get the people to attend to the old man, lying unconscious on the road. Some of the people in the crowd got the man to the roadside and managed to get him to a hospital in some vehicle as the car was not in a fit state to be driven, and this was the most critical thing to do. Next was to attend to my family as we were all covered with glass fragments. My wife was in a state of shock, while my daughter was too young to really understand all that was happening. I also discovered minor scratches on my arms from the glass fragments with blood trickling out. We got the driver to pull the car over to the roadside while the people directed the traffic.

I managed to convey to the crowd that I was not driving and it was not my vehicle but just a taxi that we had taken for an airport pickup. I didn’t mention Uber to the people as this might have had a bad effect given the current state of affairs. The crowd was quite cooperative and even managed to get us a regular kaali peeli taxi and I promptly asked my family to switch vehicles as I transferred the luggage. Once I was sure that the old man had been attended to and there was not much for me to do, I boarded the kaali peeli and headed home with my family. I left the driver to attend to the aftermath and the people in the crowd to take care of things. Had this happened in Kolkata, it is very likely that the outcome would have been very different.

Aftermath

We managed to reach home safely though our kaali peeli driver also seemed to be pretty keen on causing another accident the way he was driving. I also checked out the Uber app, cancelled the trip and got hit with a Rs 100 cancellation fee. I went ahead and reported the accident on the trip feedback section. We also discovered quite a lot of glass fragments on our person and clothes and had to do quite a bit of cleanup to ensure the safety of our daughter. Later in the afternoon I got a call from the apparent owner of the car who seemed to be trying to understand what had happened. He tried to tell me that the old man was allegedly drunk. We were not in a state to really dig around the matter which was probably what he wanted to check.

I got a reply from Uber in the evening for my feedback, but no refund. So, decided to reply with a bit more of detail, making it a point to ask them to check up on the victim. That prompted another reply from their Hyderabad support centre the next morning followed by a phone call to ensure that things were ok. They finally refunded the trip charges, but I haven’t heard anything about the victim so far.

It’s time Uber added a speeding control in their fleet a la Meru and their audible warnings. They can surely do this through the GPS tracking built into their app. And of course, self driving cars can’t come soon enough.

A week on, I’m still haunted by images of the shattered windshield, the semi-conscious old man lying in a pool of blood and his packet of spices strewn on the road.

Update (8 Jun 15): Received a mail from Uber Mumbai that should hopefully put some of the lingering images to rest:

Our investigation has revealed that after the victim receive some first aid help, he was able to walk and make his own way, possibly to his home. Unfortunately though, he was allegedly inebriated and did not leave any contact details and did not go to the hospital. The first aid seemed to have sufficed.

We have not been able to find any further details. That said, if we do, I will ensure that you’re kept informed.

Mi 4: 2 month usage review

Xiaomi Mi 4 unboxed
Xiaomi Mi 4 unboxing

I finally replaced my Galaxy S3 in April after almost 3 years of service. It had begun to show signs of aging for a while, and I had managed to extend its usability for a few months by flashing Cyanogenmod on it last year. The gadetitis relapse hit me in March this year and I began scouting for my next Android phone in March. After lots of debate, it boiled down to the 64 GB versions OnePlus One and the Xiaomi Mi 4, and the Mi fan festival ensured that price was not going to be a factor when choosing between the two. In the end, the smaller form factor and IR port of the Mi 4 won and I even ended up renewing my Flipkart First subscription to get the phone in a day.

In terms of build quality, the Mi 4 has a very premium feel to it with its steel frame and from the front it has a striking resemblance to the iPhone 5\5s. The back though is a lot more mundane plastic, but there is a faint pattern visible under direct lighting. When it comes to the specs, it is pretty much a Nexus 5 in a prettier package. While it is missing NFC, it does have an IR port that can let you control TVs, ACs etc.

The camera, while pretty decent, pales in comparison to the iPhone 5s that I also own. Colours can turn out a bit oversaturated in shots and the video stabilization has its own issues resulting in jitters if you pan around quickly with shaky hands. I also discovered that the Carousel app from Dropbox can prevent you from shooting videos if you enable the camera overlay option in that app. I missed quite a few video opportunities before I was finally resolved the issue.

The on board storage of 64 GB for the price is the real icing on the cake, and this makes a difference over SD card slots when you have a huge library of games like I do thanks to the Humble Mobile Bundle sales. The 2014 flagship class specs comprising of a full HD display powered by the SnapDragon 801 ensure that games fly on the device. It is definitely a lot faster than my iPad mini that’s based on the aging A5 platform. I haven’t faced any heating issues with the phone so far, and the only time it heats up is when the signal is weak or while charging a severely depleted battery.

On the software front, MIUI also adds a touch of iOS-ness to the usability with some of its design philosophies and then some. Though it’s based on KitKat (without ART support at that), there are also a lot of thoughtful additions that MIUI brings that has kept me from switching to the Google launcher and making Google Now a first citizen. Lack of Lollipop is a bit of a downer, but ART brings its own set of compatibility issues with many games, and I’m quite happy with the phone’s performance and usability for the time being.

The missing NFC hasn’t bothered me much so far, and it was a rarely used feature of my Galaxy S3 as well. However, with Android Pay around the corner, NFC is bound to become a must have feature. That said, it will be at least a year or two before there’s any significant penetration of the service, and that always leaves room for a phone upgrade.

Battery life has also been quite good for me and it easily lasts a day even with some gaming and maps usage. During days of lighter usage, it even manages to stretch to 2 days. In fact, it easily beats my iPhone 5s in the battery life department and I can rely on it to get me through a busy day unlike the iPhone. Overnight discharge is also minimal – around 5-6%, while charging is also quite fast and I can get through a day by charging the phone for an hour in the morning.

Overall, I’m quite happy with the phone and don’t find any compromise or downgrade unlike some of my earlier purchases. It represents one of the best value devices on the market currently, though the Mi 4i is arguably better value if you’re not too fussed about metallic builds and IR ports.