In May of each year, Sydney gets taken over by Vivid, a light, sound and music festival that spreads itself across the city. It’s an awe-inspiring experience, with installations created by artists from around the world, and no matter how lazy of a photographer you are, you’re bound to find something you’ll want to capture. Out on the streets, you’ll find a scattering of professional and amateur photographers staked out at the best vantage points with their heavy-duty equipment. But mostly you’ll find scads of social photographers roaming in packs with their mobile phones and selfie sticks.
In previous years we’ve also gone out there with our SLRs, tripods and a plethora of lenses to capture the spectacle; and although the photos we shot were stunning, we didn’t get to cover much ground or enjoy the other aspects of the festival. This year we wanted to immerse ourselves in it a lot more rather than just capturing it, so we packed light and just headed in with just an iPhone X.
Most cameras don’t handle low-light conditions that well let alone a phone camera with a tiny sensor. So needless to say that was something we were mindful of, but we had heard good things about the low-light capabilities of the iPhone X and we weren’t disappointed.
We started at the Opera House where there was a hive of activity with a lit up city skyline providing the backdrop. The shots here turned out well, as you can see in the image below; the tiles on the Opera House are sharp and clear and there’s a fair amount of detail in the cityscape behind. To stop the lights from blowing out too much in the image we had reduce the exposure but that meant a loss in smaller details such as the stars.
There was a stream of people herded into the Royal Botanic Gardens, so like a flock of sheep, we followed. Unwittingly, we found ourselves embarking on an audio-visual trail, walking amongst installations where we could actually get up close to the artwork. It was an opportunity to test the much-touted Portrait Mode. In a well-lit environment, this feature works incredibly well, just check out the breakfast photos that we took below. It’s astonishing how Apple has used a combination of the dual lenses and magic algorithms to create artificial bokeh with such precision.
Shooting in Portrait Mode was a little more difficult in low-light as the camera sometimes found it hard to focus on the targeted subject. In the two images below, one was taken as a normal photo and the other using Portrait Mode (respectively on the left and right). On a professional camera you’d expect a slight loss in detail in the bokeh part of the image, but it seems to be a little more extreme on the iPhone X’s Portrait Mode feature.
One of the more memorable exhibits on the path was the He’e Nalu,demonstrating how you could experience a bit of Vivid action at home. The installation consisted of two walls of brightly lit pillars representing waves in the ocean with the colours changing to reflect different times of the day. We loved the clean lines in this installation and wanted to capture it with a solid black background to drown out any distractions, this was easily achieved by the iPhone X. Philips Hue lights were use inside the hollow pillars for a controllable light source; accompanying this visual display was a symphony of crashing ocean waves, played on hi-end Crestron speakers built into the base of the pillars. By using a set of Philips Hue Bulbs or Nanoleaf panels paired with some 6.5″ Air Landscape speakers, you can almost re-create this experience in your very own backyard… almost.
The other feature we really wanted to play with at Vivid was the Long Exposure tool. If done correctly, you can get some nice action motion blur or calming effects in your photos. It works best when you are shooting a moving body juxtaposed with a still backdrop. We couldn’t find this at Vivid so we just gave it a go on the way home with the passing traffic… it turned out pretty well. The motion blur is not quite as smooth as you would get on a long exposure SLR shot, and we didn’t get the nice tail light bleed of the cars but it did a surprisingly good job, which should improve in future iterations of the feature.
All in all, it was a great phone to take out for the night to capture some memorable shots of the event and not be weighed down by the burden of fancy equipment. This year, we spent more time chatting with each other, admiring the displays, and mocking some… what a great night.