More to see as smartphone cameras slowdown

More to see as smartphone cameras slowdown


Slowing down can help one see the previously unseen. This is as much a philosophical as a practical observation. In many ways, the two seem dependent: by allowing oneself the time to observe in leisurely detail, one is making a choice to think at a different pace and potentially towards a different meaning.

Improvements in smartphone image processors provide the ability to examine the world in slower ways. Sony’s 2017 flagship model – the XZ Premium – was one of the first capable of recording video at 960 frames per second (fps) in 1280 x 720 pixel resolution (720p). Apple’s iPhone X and XS record 240fps, but at a higher resolution of 1920 x 1080 (1080p). Sony’s offering places it among even the most capable standalone cameras, although still falling short of specialist, professional rigs which can record tens of thousands of frames per second.

I’ve personally been experimenting with the Blackberry Keyone’s more rudimentary 60 frames per second at 1080p. This has been sufficient to reveal things I hadn’t noticed before, particularly about the movement of water. I’ve been inspired by just how mesmerising ripples and waves look in slow motion.

Google’s Photos app, which serves as the image gallery on the Keyone, applies a particularly effective treatment, where one can adjust which segments of the video are slowed after capture. This creates an arresting contrast of watching, say, a sailing boat moving through the waves at normal speed, then slowing it down to an exaggerated and considered pace for closer examination.

However, while the product of these endeavours is imbued with a sense of calm and an implicit invitation towards slower contemplation, the act of creating them remains more hectic.

As of November 2018, most smartphones with slow motion capabilities still require users to actively select this mode before shooting video. This can feel like a pressured choice in the moment: which mode do I need? Am I willing to sacrifice resolution and sound for the slow motion? These decisions have to be made in advance, as relatively little can be adjusted after the act. Slower observation is all very well, but does it defeat the purpose if one is rushed in the creative process?

It is tempting to regard these developments as simply incremental improvements, just as the quality of still photos captured by smartphones gets a little better each year. I wonder if we’re reaching a tipping point though, where a better user experience of capturing in slow motion combines with higher resolution and frame rates to make this new lens on the world common place. It is already a mass market behaviour to rely on smartphone cameras for documentation – from taking copies of paper receipts to making visual notes – and it is not a huge leap of imagination to believe slow motion could become similarly widespread.

Part of MEX Inspirations, an ongoing series exploring tangents and their relationship to better experience design.

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