A smartphone's camera can often be a huge deal-maker or breaker for consumers. It's a crucial talking point at keynotes, with top brands like Google, Samsung and Apple ready to make their case. The young brand, Oppo, hangs its hat on designing selfie-friendly phones while the more established Sony and its Xperia XZ makes the bold proposal that if you want sharp action shots, it's their flagship you'd want.
Brands have their own takes on the debate about what makes a good smartphone camera.
For Taiwanese brand Asus and their 5.5-inch Zenfone 3, the proposition seems to be this: make sure there's something for everyone. The Zenfone 3 didn't scrimp on camera features.
A common user probably wouldn't touch many of these options on a regular basis. If you've ever dabbled into photography though, you'll like the manual controls on offer. The Zenfone 3 and its 16-megapixel main shooter provides a well-meaning manual shooting experience.
First off, switching from auto to manual is intuitive enough that you won't have to refer to the user guide. On default, you're on auto mode. Pressing the "M" button on the side will enable manual mode, and from there you'll be able to adjust the ISO, shutter speed, exposure value (EV), the white balance, and the focus.
These 5 settings are lined up neatly on one side for easy operation with your thumb. If you've ever fiddled around with manual controls on a DSLR, you'd know the importance of being able to adjust the settings fast. On that end, the Zenfone 3's camera succeeds.
At the bottom, a light meter can be seen, further simulating a dedicated camera. What we're seeing now is a growing movement to further empower the "phone-ographer," and the Zenfone 3 – with its camera's user-friendly interface – moves that along. For relatively novel features to take off, there has to be an unending push from the manufacturer to constantly simplify the process for the user. You get the sense that Asus does that with their latest Zenfone.
What one might like with the phone is its ability to get in close to the subject. Its minimum focusing distance was short enough to allow us to get the shots below. It also has a larger-than usual aperture (f/2.0) to let in more light and produce a somewhat more pronounced out-of-focus areas known as bokeh. For reference, a top-of-the-line phone such as the Samsung S7 has a wider aperture (f/1.7) but is almost double the price at launch.
All the photos appearing here are taken straight-out-of-camera and have not been edited. These are JPEGS saved using Adobe Photoshop's "Save For Web" function:
To achieve these, I manually pulled in the focus to the max, pushed the phone towards the food as though to kiss, and snapped away. The ability to take these close-up shots or macro shots adds to the variety of photos the phone can produce. It's great to be able to come in close and see the detail especially with a subject like food.
I also replicated the close-up shots on auto mode, which produced reliably as well. The camera didn't seem to hunt for focus. Equipped with a combination of autofocus tech – laser autofocus, phase detection and continuous autofocus – it'd be disappointing if it did.
One tip: be careful that you don't accidentally set the exposure value to the highest setting (+2), which might lead to overexposed, blown-out photos.
Zooming out, here are the photos the phone was able to take:
In the two photos above, you can see a pleasant out-of-focus effect in background, which helps you make your main subject pop out more.
What's the takeaway? If you're a food blogger, the Zenfone 3 offers the versatility to help you cook up a batch of varied food photos. And while you're at it, why not make a GIF?
The cool GIF-making ability, a trick once found only in top tier models ("Time Rewind," slow motion, time lapse), combined with the robust camera hardware gives one the impression that Asus seriously wants to carve out space in this competitive arena. With our test unit, the 5.5 -inch Zenfone 3, going for P18,995, it's fair to believe that the phone is pushing the more expensive premium brands to truly step up their camera game or risk losing customers to this value-packed unit.
In fact, you can say that about the rest of the phone. It's wholly more affordable than the standard flagship but it tries to cram all these features that the techie will have fun discovering.
If there is one thing though that we'd like to advise the consumer – whether they are an enthusiastic food photographer or a general phone handler – it's this: grab the phone tightly. It is very, very slippery. Add that to the fact that it's a 5.5-incher, and you've got the recipe for a smartphone soup. Hold tight and don't put it on smooth, inclined surfaces.
The food shown here is from 8 & Company in San Juan, Manila.