Just a few weeks ago my wife and I hosted my best friend from Germany and his girlfriend. For her, it was the first time in the US, and so we planned a few very American things such as bowling, bagels & burgers. Another great thing about the US is the wealth of things to explore in nature and National Parks, and so we decided to spend a few days “up north” on the Lake Superior shore hiking and fishing. Since Microsoft had recently provided us with a Lumia phone, we used it almost exclusively as our point-and-shoot camera but I also brought along my Nikon D800, which made for an interesting comparison.
From St. Paul, MN it was about a 4 hour drive to our destination of Beaver Bay where we stayed in a rented townhouse right on the lake. After a delay in our departure, we hurried up north using our smartphones to guide us. Traditionally, we have used Google maps almost exclusively on our android phones and generally, I have always been happy with it. Since Google maps is not available as an app for Windows Phones, we used the highly praised Nokia Here app as well this time. Apart from slight differences in the layout, both apps do the same job, and Nokia even has a speed limit alarm that goes off every time you surpass it – generally I am sure it’s useful but we decided to turn it off during this trip.
With the delay, we debated whether to eat out or not, and so we checked for possible restaurant options using our smartphones. Even though we were close to the shore, the reception isn’t great and there are certainly parts of the road on which we went completely without reception. So, having made a decision to cook on our own, I realized that I could not get Google maps to work anymore since we had no reception. On the other hand, the Nokia Here maps shined because it also works offline, and so it was not problem to find our way. Once we made it to the small town of Beaver Bay, we had reception again and Google maps found the little side street we had to take while the Nokia couldn’t. Overall, it seems to be like Google maps is more detailed and superior in rural areas, while Nokia Here has a big advantage in subways or areas without reception. It was an essential companion for this kind of destination.
Hiking and Fishing
The next day, we went for a hike close to a series waterfalls and stopped at our first vista of Lake Superior from Palisade Head, which provided stunning views. The weather was dry and not overly hot, so we were lucky and got a few nice shots in. Within a few miles we found a nice panoramic overview as well as shore hiking access and waterfalls. The colors of the Lumia are saturated and it looks even more beautiful in the picture. Overall, it was a quiet and peaceful day and so the North Shore is an excellent destination to both escape busy working days and give our visitors a glimpse of the natural landscape of our state . During the summer it is actually rather warm up north although the proximity to the water keeps the heat moderate. While you can witness the changing of colors of the leaves during the fall, in summer you get to see the large number of rapidly aging birch trees that populated the area after loggers clear cut the area in the 1920′s.
Once back at our house we grilled some steaks, and not long after dark a bright moon rose at the horizon. The view was great and so I decided to do a truly unfair comparison shot from my $3,000 camera and the $500 cell phone. Of course, I know that my full-frame sensor camera would certainly win the comparison by a wide margin, especially when zoomed in to 100%, however most people don’t look at pictures that way and I was wondering what was possible.
The key at such low light levels is to move the camera as little as possible, and so I found a railing that I could use to minimize camera / phone shake. Above, you can see the shot with the Lumia. It is dark, and maybe a little bit darker than it was when I took the picture, but I was pretty impressed that I was able to see the water and trees at all. I wish it was possible to control the exposure manually because in many situations like this one, automatic modes just don’t work. On the other hand, most people simply want to point-and-shoot without manually setting the exposure. However, pulling out the phone and taking a quick shot was always a far easier proposition than getting our my Nikon, and hence, my wife and I used it much more often during the trip. Nevertheless, I think the Lumia 928 could take even better pictures with a manual setting. Below, you can see the D800 shot rendering more details and low noise levels. Obviously the D800 outperformed the Lumia 928 but then again, it was a professional camera vs. a cell phone, and the convenience factor of the phone is a serious benefit.
The next day, we took a chartered fishing tour with a local fisherman. He kept a precise log of what lures he used at each combinations of depth, time of the year and location, in addition to a ultrasound machine that located schools of fish. Without him, we would likely not caught anything at all. At the time, it was Lake Trout season and so that’s what we caught over a period of 4 hours. Ironically 3 of them bit withing the first 30 minutes. Overall, I would not do it again, as a heavily rocking boat is not for me, but hey – it was an experience. Thankfully, our catch was extremely tasty.
Unlike the moon shot, the small Lumia picture looks almost better than the D800 picture, because the colors are stronger and the jpg. mechanism is optimized in the phone. While the picture of the D800 is actually more accurate, the Lumia picture looks better. Of course, neither of these shots have been post-processed so they are just like they came from the camera – just downsized for viewability.
Later, we put our fish on our portable, highly recommended weber gas grill and after 6 minutes on high it was perfectly juicy and flavorful. The glaze I made out of soy sauce, honey and BBQ sauce provided the trout with a hearty taste without overpowering the flavor of the fish itself. Overall, the Lumia made for an excellent nature trip companion – it wasn’t too bulky to carry hiking, it was easy to immediately flip on the camera from the external button for quick shots, and it produced very nice photos indeed. Next time we head to the wilderness, we wouldn’t be upset if we forgot the D800.
What plans do you have for the summer, and what do you think of the Windows phone camera?