For most professional photographers, the thought of travelling anywhere without their DSLR, high-grade lenses and all sorts of other equipment would give them a nightmare. Jon Devo, a professional photographer from London tried and it’s not bad.
Las Vegas is one of the most photogenic cities in the world, filled with local and travelling crazies, and party people. At night time each potential shot is bathed in shiny neon lighting and during the day, the sun provides some truly golden rays. Those factors and more mean that there are photo opportunities galore in Sin City, so why would he leave his camera behind?
“Firstly, it was a holiday, and I don’t like to work during my downtime, but secondly and most importantly, I was armed with a current flagship smartphone. On this occasion, it was the Samsung Galaxy S8+, which – for a number of reasons that I will outline below – is the ideal picture-taking device for short trips and weekend breaks to sunny places,” said Jon
Armed with just a Samsung Galaxy S8+, he travelled light
Like most professional photographers out there, Jon is used to travelling with a minimum of two camera bodies, 3-5 lenses, some form of lighting and lighting modification, a laptop, backup hard drive and a fist full of spare batteries and memory cards, so travelling with just a smartphone freed up his travel kit.
Free from the burden of carrying his camera gear around, he had plenty more room for some shorts, floral print T-shirts and he didn’t have to wait for ages to collect his luggage from the carousel. All he needed was a hand luggage with his phone, a fast-charging power bank and a Manfrotto Mini Tripod with a Universal Smartphone Grip; it’s lightweight and slips into a coat or his backpack’s side pocket easily.
Naturally, as a creative individual and a photographer, he starts spotting photo opportunities from the moment he arrived at the airport to boarding and exit the plane. Of course, you can wear your DSLR or CSC camera over your shoulder or around your neck the whole time, but it can be cumbersome to handle when in a hurry through the airport.
Spotting a good picture opportunity means sometimes you have to be quick, so not having a DSLR round his neck and logging around his luggage means not having to put his bags down before taking a shot with a “proper” camera each time.
One point he also mentioned was that a big DSLR can be intrusive or intimidating, resulting in missing the opportunity to capture the moment or subject in that type of environment. A smartphone like the Samsung Galaxy S8+ with built-in optical image stabilisation can be used discreetly with one hand – on-the-go if need be – without having to stop and fiddle with camera settings.
Then, of course, there’s the versatility of using a smartphone like the Galaxy S8+, one minute you’re capturing some interesting airport lounge architecture, the next you’re pointing your phone out of the window of the plane to capture that ubiquitous plane wing/above the clouds travel photo for social media.
You have to be ready to capture moments because a place like Vegas, walking down the street you could see a group of people dressed as the cast of Star Wars, the next thing you’re bumping into a celebrity or MMA fighter.
“In those circumstances ranging from stationary to unpredictable moments, a good smartphone is always at your side, easy to operate and reliable. Las Vegas is the city of random moments so I’d rather rely on a phone that can keep up.” Said Jon.
Capturing Vegas without a DSLR or a professional camera
Once you land in Vegas you’ll be greeted by a departure and arrivals area full of slot machines, it’s a great potential for photo opportunities. You can capture the action right from the airport, from people gambling 24/7 or just bystanders who are amazed by the scenery.
Whether you land at dusk, dawn or midday, Vegas is always vibrant, the taxi’s and other typically large American cars offer some great picturesque scenery. But nothing can prepare you for your first drive down the strip.
Staying at one of the hotel resorts close to the airport, such as Mandalay Bay or the Luxor, at some point you will take a taxi down the strip and it does not disappoint.
You can snap and share straight to your social media accounts
Driving down the strip in a Taxi, Jon emphasises the importance of having a connected device:
The strip ride is the perfect example of why I’d rather have my phone than a camera. There are moments you’ll want to snap, and moments you’ll want to video, others you’ll want to make GIFs of and others you might want to Boomerang and share while you’re still in the taxi.
Having seen what Jon would normally use, a Sony A7RII, he would normally spend time perfecting his settings, then transferring them to his smartphone before sharing it only.
With Jon’s smartphone connected to the internet via Three mobile (a UK mobile network), the images captured can be shared straight away at no extra cost. It means not only can Jon take snaps on the move, he can also simply share them with his friends on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook without missing any moment.
Jon also mentioned that a lot of places won’t allow you to enter their premises carrying a professional-looking camera, such as the many of Vegas’ famous shows, pool parties and Casinos, so a phone with a capable camera is the perfect workaround. (Disclaimer: Using your phone at gambling tables is a big no-no)
So how suitable is the Samsung Galaxy S8+ camera as a standalone device?
From Jon’s experience, the S8+ is by no means the current king of smartphone cameras, but it’s still a superb device for capturing great images and videos including RAW format and 4K formats.
The majority of the shots Jon wants to take when travelling can be captured with the phone’s 12-megapixel sensor and 26mm wide f1.7 aperture lens. If it’s a street scene or landscape shot, it’s perfect.
If it’s a portrait or close-up detail, Jon can get closer and the S8+ has a minimum focus distance of just under 3 cm, which is great for fine details. It does offer an x8.0 digital zoom, but you will lose detail and resolution if you rely on it heavily.
Having an autofocus feature reduces the effort needed to get sharp images
Packed with a fast phase-detection autofocus feature, the S8+ is fast, responsive and reliable when you spot your subject or moment. Jon can testify to its capability as often he finds himself in situations where he can just point the phone or tap the screen to focus on specific areas of the screen and the result is very pleasing to the eye.
Other handy features such as quick launch and the fact that the phone is water-resistant (IP68 rating) means it can also be used in a shallow pool area, again adding to its versatility.
Quick camera launch button enables Jon to respond to moments quickly and use his phone confidently to take pictures and videos of friends or selfies (of course) at pool parties, which don’t allow professional looking cameras.
Having a large 3500mAh battery in the S8+ was also an added benefit, it managed to last a whole day even with Jon capturing and sharing images with my friends back home. And if it did need some extra juice before a long night out, the S8’s quick-charging capabilities got the S8+’s juice back up to 100% in the hour.
When in Vegas…you have to see the Grand Canyon and capture it
For those planning on visiting Vegas anytime soon, I asked Jon what the must see and capture location was and it was no surprise that he mentioned the Grand Canyon, one of our planet’s natural wonders.
Taking a helicopter ride to see it from above and landing near it to actually be there, Jon said that he always wanted to visit the location and he would highly recommend it. Because of the scale of the occasion, he didn’t trust his smartphone and borrowed a friend’s full-frame camera. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip to an iconic location. How could I just take a smartphone?” said Jon.
During the trip, Jon and his crew had two planned stops, one in the heart of the Canyon and one to refuel before returning. I saw Jon’s face light up talking about the incredible and breathtaking views before his eyes and he said trying to capture them with his camera through the helicopter’s window glass was a total hassle.
Using a borrowed DSLR at this stage, he couldn’t hold the camera against the glass due to the risk of cracking it with his metal lens barrel, and he couldn’t hold the camera steady to block the reflections from the glass, so the majority of the shots captured with the “proper camera” were useless.
So after the first stop-off, he switched to using his smartphone allowing him to place the camera right up against the glass and with his free hand, blocking some of the reflections, resulting in a significantly clearer and more pleasing result.
Lesson learnt here was that using a large camera in a helicopter is more stress than it’s worth due to tight space and the reflections as mentioned before. If you are going to do it, Jon recommends using a short lens wider than 24mm, perhaps a 10-24mm or equivalent focal range would be a good idea – or simply using a capable smartphone like the S8+
Is the Samsung Galaxy S8+ capable of replacing a DSLR for such epic trips?
Looking through all the pictures taken in its RAW state as well as the edited and shared formats, I can’t help but conclude that it’s definitely one that can be taken by itself without worrying about moments missed.
Just to add also, all of the pictures shared in this post by Jon were captured his S8+ and shared on social media while he was travelling, including the shots captures during his helicopter flight over the Grand Canyon.
Asking for any final words, Jon said “I didn’t regret leaving my camera behind at any point. Not even for those once in a lifetime moments.”
You can find some of Jon’s work on his Instagram page.
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