I Used a 3.3-Inch Smartphone Camera: Here Are the Results

Shooting on a smartphone is nothing new, but what about shooting on one that’s only 3.3-inches big?

Smartphones, laptops, tablets – they suck us into a world that can be very difficult to get out of. Working in the digital space, I’m often looking for ways I can disconnect and be more present in real life. One step I took to achieve being less digitally dependent was to purchase a Palm Phone. It’s a 3.3-inch minimalist smartphone that encourages you use it less and live life more. It has a 12-megapixel front-facing camera: something I didn’t pay much attention to – until now.

What Can a Tiny Smartphone Camera Do?

On a recent trip to Playa Del Carmen, Mexico, I found myself in a little dilemma. I had woken up fresh, ready to explore new lands, and excited to create some photographs. Twenty minutes after I had left my home, I realized I had not packed my camera. To go back and get it would have set my day back. But then again, what’s a day without a camera when you’re a photographer!? So I hit Plan B – a plan I never knew had. I reached into my chest pocket (yes, the phone is that small) and got out my Palm Phone.

“I’m a photographer who focuses more on what I can do to make a photograph, rather than what my camera can do.”

I had not used the camera once up until that point, and I had already owned the phone for eight months. It came as a surprise when I saw some of the features on the phone. You can shoot in manual mode (kind of), which I did not expect. It has a shutter speed ranging from 1/4s to 1/8000s. The ISO range is nothing to talk about; it has a top native ISO of 1200. However, there’s no option to adjust the aperture. The device also has a selection of filters you can activate before you’ve taken your photo rather than after, but to be honest, they are more of a gimmick and not really aesthetically pleasing, in my opinion.

Another feature Palm has packed into this mini smartphone camera is Light Trace. The function allows you to create light trails, creative movement, and paint with light. Admittedly, I did not use this feature as a tripod would have been needed for it to perform to its full potential – something I did not have.

The Results

I’ll be quite frank, I did not care much about the Palm’s camera features. I’m a photographer who focuses more on what I can do to make a photograph, rather than what my camera can do. But for those who appreciate the capabilities of a camera – mirrorless, DSLR, or smartphone – then the above is what you’re going get with the Palm.

“If you can’t create a good photograph with a 3.3-inch smartphone, then the camera isn’t the problem, you are.”

The camera is not going to win any awards. It’s no match for the iPhone 11 Pro or the Google Pixel 4, both of which have terrific image quality and low light performance. But here’s the reality: if you can’t create a good photograph with a 3.3-inch smartphone, then the camera isn’t the problem, you are. To blow my own trumpet (and set myself up for some trolling), I knew what camera I used wasn’t important; I would still come back with at least one photograph that day with some quality.

The Technique Is More Important Than Specs

When we’re taught the fundamentals of photography, we spend little time on the capabilities of a camera. Instead, we focus on the elements of a good photograph. Things like composition, storytelling, how to use color, how to get the best angles for the scene – no amount of dynamic range and pixels can help with this.

I edited the photos in Capture One, an editing tool I’m just getting used to but already loving. I did more editing than I would do when shooting street photography with my Fujifilm X-T2 (which feels old, especially after the announcement of the Fujifilm X-T4). I used the gradient tool for the first time ever, and pumped up more sharpness and clarity than I’m comfortable with. But I’m happy with the results, and I now use the Palm Phone as my second camera.

What do you think? Could you imagine leaving your expensive camera at home and shooting with the Palm? Let me know in the comments below.