Asus Zenfone 3 - Built for Photography!

Friday, October 21, 2016

In an age where everything good should also be very quick, Mobile Phones are the perfect embodiment of our newfound impatience driving remarkable technological advances. The progression of the mobile phone camera from a blurry little addition to being the main feature today is astounding. It reflects how much we have come to expect from the nifty devices we carry in our pockets. With the phenomenal rise of mobile apps, and our burning desire to instantly share what we are seeing and experiencing means we demand more and more from our smartphones. I never imagined a day would come where I’d carry a proper tripod to shoot from a palm-sized phone. But that’s what I’ve been doing this past week.

Asus recently released a very sleek Zenfone 3 that’s built for photography. As a travel photographer, with features like Low Light, a competent Manual Mode and additional features like Super Resolution, I couldn’t wait to give it a try. After all, almost half the pictures I post to Instagram these days are taken from my Zenfone 2 Laser and I absolutely love the convenience of shooting and sharing on the go.

Let’s look at some of the features of Zenfone 3 camera as I hunt for secrets of Chennai, a city that never fails to surprise me with its eclectic history.

Traffic trails and Long Exposures

Asus Zenfone 3{ Manual Mode ~ ISO 50 | f2.0 | 13s }
Constructed in 1874, the Senate House is the administrative center of University of Madras. But the bigger distinction is that the building is considered to be one of the finest examples of Indo-Saracenic architecture. Setting up my tripod at the busy MGR Memorial at Marina Beach, I used a long exposure in Zenfone 3’s Manual mode to get these brilliant streaks of traffic lights. How far we have come, taking traffic trails with a mobile phone!

Asus Zenfone 3
{ Manual Mode ~ ISO 389 | f2.0| 10s }
The lighthouse at the far end of Marina beach was a fantastic place I found while looking for Chennai’s hidden secrets. At the edge of the fishermen’s colony, I waited to the heavy traffic and used an additional ND filter to take really long exposures of the bright night. Even though both the traffic lights and the lighthouse light was excessive, the ND filter I held in front of the camera helped in getting smooth and bright streaks. (For those wondering, I used a Hoya 8-stop ND filter in front of the mobile camera with my hand.)
Royapuram, now at the periphery of Chennai has the distinction of having the first railway station of south India. It was opened in 1856 and is the oldest surviving railway station across the country today. Home to the fishermen community, Royapuram harbor and the beach side is filled with colorful fishing boats that set sail every morning and the coastline is littered with breakwaters that offer great views of the ocean and the land. It was hard to walk on the gigantic rocks but once I found flat rock at sunset, I set up my tripod to test the waters, figuratively!

A versatile Manual Mode

Asus Zenfone 3
{ Manual Mode ~ ISO 50 | f2.0| 13s }
To me, the biggest purpose of a Manual mode is to take long exposures. Using a 13-Second shutter speed I was able to get the lovely glaze over the ocean and I was able to capture the evening’s cool ambience by manually choosing a lower temperature instead of the warm colors the auto WhiteBalance was picking. Manual mode wasn’t a cursory addition; it actually gave me good control on how I wanted to capture the image.

Large aperture and low light photography

Asus Zenfone 3
{ Manual Mode ~ ISO 50 | f2.0| 1s }
The large aperture on the Zenfone 3 camera comes very handy. The f-stop goes as low as f2.0, which means there’s plenty of light reaching the sensor even at low lights. The sun was already down and the city lights were just flickering to life yet the camera was peacefully able to capture the scenery in a little less than 1 second.

92Mega Pixel Super Resolution

Asus Zenfone 3
Asus Zenfone 3
Zoomed in view of the boy from the image above
{ Manual Mode ~ ISO 50 | f2.0| 10s }

The normal images resolution in Zenfone 3 is 23MP but it’s quadrupled for the images shot in Super Resolution mode. This creates incredibly detailed photos that retain as much information as possible and you can crop the parts later or you could just zoom in and look for the finer details. The picture in the inset to the left is a cropped version from the hi-res image above.

Manual focusing in pitch darkness

Asus Zenfone 3
{ Manual Mode ~ ISO 400 | f2.0| 32s }
This is where things get really interesting. I was curious how it would behave in near black darkness. The upper limit of Zenfone 3’s shutter speed is 32Seconds, which means I could technically capture the galaxy with this on a clear night. Anyway, I couldn’t even see the waves clearly in front of me. It was here that I was genuinely blown away by the featured Sony IMX318 sensor’s capabilities. In that pitch darkness, the sensor was struggling no doubt but it was able to figure out the focus by itself and you could see the magic happening in the live view. There’s also the option to manually focus and I tried that with great results.

Focusing in the dynamic lighting conditions

Asus Zenfone 3
{ Manual Mode ~ ISO 50 | f2.0| 10s }
While Chennai’s Marina Beach is the most popular, locals flocks to Elliot’s beach in Besant Nagar than the overcrowded Marina. By the time I arrived at the beach, it was already dark. There was no ambient light apart from the brightly lit Ice Cream cart. Noticing a hawker selling those colorful blinky toys, I set up the camera to get the light trails as well. To get full use out of Zenfone 3, I’d reckon a tripod is a must!

Asus Zenfone 3
{ Manual Mode ~ ISO 3200 | f2.0| 1/8s }
At the human powered carousel in Elliot’s beach, I was keen on getting a clear shot of the operator yet also wanted to capture the motion. Now this is something I would’ve achieved easily with a DSLR. Surprisingly, Zenfone 3 wasn’t far too behind in producing a similar result. With manual focusing and a decent exposure time of 1/8th of a second, I was able to get this shot.

Low Light sensitivity

Asus Zenfone 3
{ Manual Mode ~ ISO 3138 | f2.0| 1/4s }
At Chennai’s Santhome church– short for St. Thomas’ church– I played with the camera’s low light sensitivity well after sunset. I was still shooting in Manual mode but even in M mode you can have the camera select its own settings. So I set up the phone on the tripod and pressed the shutter. For those who do not want to bother with manual settings after dark can actually let the camera work its low light magic by just setting it up on a tripod. As you can see, the image quality is remarkable despite such low light conditions.
Pulicat is a historic port town 60 kilometers away from Chennai on the edge of Pulicat Lake and Bay of Bengal. A thriving Dutch settlement for centuries, all that remains today of its past heritage are a rather well preserved Dutch cemetery and the lighthouse across the lake. The cemetery contains 22 tombs of various influential people and is now under the aegis of ASI. However, Pulicat has shot to fame due to the thousands of migratory birds, especially flamingoes that descend upon the brackish lake’s waters during winters.

Noise reduction at low light

Asus Zenfone 3
{ Manual Mode ~ ISO 379 | f2.0| 10s }
The previous evening, I arrived at this lighthouse located at the village of Pulicat near Chennai well after dark. With a 10-second shutter speed, the camera was nicely able to autofocus and it captured the scene with almost no noise. Quite impressive for a smartphone!

Realistic HDR captures

Asus Zenfone 3
{ HDR Pro Mode ~ ISO 215 | f2.0| 1/60s }
We arrived at the cemetery just as the sun was setting and using the HDR Pro mode, I was able to capture both the colors in the sky and the details in the tombs. The image is quite realistic to begin with and has retained details across the dynamic range.

Handling excessive light & Quick performance

Asus Zenfone 3
Pulicat town
Asus Zenfone 3
Senate House, University of Madras
Asus Zenfone 3Chennai Central, Railway StationAsus Zenfone 3Marina Lighthouse, Chennai
Low light performance is difficult to achieve, yes, but so is handling excessive light. This aspect gets forgotten frequently in smartphones and whenever there is too much light, especially something like city lights, the whole image goes for a toss with blown-out highlights. While using the Manual mode to get the action in long exposure shots, am pleased with the lack of worrying highlights in scenes with dynamic ranges. 

Also, another observation is that I was shooting continuously in hopes of capturing at least one stationary person before he slips away. I found that the camera was quite quick to move from shot to shot and there wasn’t any lag, which made sure I didn’t miss the rare moment of people being still for mere seconds before disappearing into the crowd. 

Zenfone 3 also features 4k video recording and here’s a sample I shot from the phone.

Summing up the whole shooting experience in few words – Excellent low light capabilities and swift performance. Also, keeping in line with Asus Zenfone’s winning USP, I’d say great features that offer total value for money!

Note: This post has been written in collaboration with Asus.
All images shot on Asus Zenfone 3, edited on Lightoom 5 for desktop.

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  1. I guess my next phone will be Asus, esp. for its photographing capabilities. I am satisfied with Xiaomi for now. The issue with Asus phones that I have seen till now is: they come with low speaker volume.

    Destination Infinity

  2. Sure my next phone will be ASUS ZENFONE 3 because i love photography and after seeing its picture quality i make my for this phone :)


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