Pictar by Miggo Review
Phone photography... one thing I've never embraced. I always had a good reason for that. Three actually. And no, they were not lack of interchangeable lenses or image quality. Those are limitations within which you can work, and they become less and less of an issue as new generations of devices come to market. Let's see what really ground my gear (sorry, couldn't help myself).
First, and most important: controls. You know your phone camera has a lot of parameters you can change, adjusting it to lighting conditions and desired look but... how much do you actually use them? Chances are, you tried them when you got your new sparkling phone... and haven't used them ever since. It's not because they are useless or not very good. They are necessary for a decent photography, and can alter the look all the way from very average to stunning. Yet you rely on auto, letting program do all the work. Why? Because those parameters can be controlled through screen menu only, unlike in actual cameras that offer physical controls - dials and buttons which are intuitive and convenient. Diving into menu is tiresome, cumbersome and annoying, not to mention slow. What I can do with camera controls fluidly in a blink of eye takes forever to do in menu. And if you are not a professional photographer or advanced enthusiast taking images daily, you don't remember all the menu and sub-menu settings. Gotta read them every time - who does that? Nobody. We push the button and hope for the best. Often it works. Just as often, or more so, it doesn't. To sum it up: when I want the result, I need controls. Actual physical ones, not the screen menu offered by a phone camera.
Second is ergonomics. The way people hold the phone to take photo (those extended hands in front of the face) is very unnatural for a photographer. There is no stability - where do you think all those blurry shots are coming from? There is no connection between eye and scene facilitated by a viewfinder - this is where awkward compositions and all kinds of distractions in the frame come from.
I'll leave the third one for the end of this post. Let's speak of the first two for now. Enter the phone attachment Pictar by Miggo. I like how these guys think when design their accessories. You may remember my article about their unusual and very useful tripod, Splat. When they announced the gizmo designed to turn your phone into a camera, I was intrigued. On paper it promised to solve just those two problems I described above. At the time of the release it worked with Apple phones only though, so being an Android guy I couldn't test it. Recently good folks from Miggo kindly offered me to try their Pictar with its new capabilities covering Android phones now as well. Needless to say, my curiosity was piqued.
What is a Pictar? It's a grip for your phone - grip allowing to hold a phone as an actual camera, equipped with actual controls that interact with your phone via an app. Here is how it works.
You get a (very well designed) box, take out the grip and insert your phone in it. There is an adjustable ledge at the bottom that grabs your phone's bottom edge, and you click the upper one in, securing the combo. Depending on your model you may have to take off protective case first. This is how it looks:
Considering the sheer number of phone models on the market, Pictar comes in two sizes accommodating various dimensions. Here you see it with my son's LG Stylo 3 Plus. Being in investigative state of mind, I tested it on all the phones I could get my hands on within family circle: that LG above, Motorola G3 and Samsung Galaxy S7. Larger model (Pictar One Plus MKII) fit perfectly to the first two, and smaller one (Pictar One MKII) felt snag with Samsung. I fished out ancient Motorola G2 and successfully paired it as well. Here is the smaller one with Samsung so you can see the combo:
After fitting the phone into the grip, you switch it on and open the downloaded in advance app. This is where the real fun begins. First time you open it, it guides you through trying all the controls - to test the connection and to familiarize you with how things work. It's quite neat. And so is the way the grip communicates with your phone. To avoid the battery-draining Bluetooth Miggo went another, and quite inventive, route. When you turn the dials or push the buttons, they make sounds beyond human perception. Phone's mike picks up the sounds and gets its instructions from them. Neat, isn't it? Well, my first thought was: what about dogs? Sure enough, I went about testing it on family and neighbors' dogs. Sunny never reacted on dials being turned within 4 feet. Neither did Nula. I even found neighbors' Jordi the Cat honoring our backyard regularly with its presence to observe the hummingbirds - he ignored the dials as well.
Here are those controls that put the zoom, shutter speed and aperture at your fingertips:
Does this look cool or what?
Upon finishing the "break-in" part, app offers you links to the guide and video, to further familiarize yourself with all the capabilities. There are different modes and effects, fairly close to what actual camera offers, including Manual mode. There is an extensive array of settings, including adjusting to an external lens if you use one with your phone (starts sounding like DSLR, doesn't it?) If some function offered by grip is not supported by your particular phone model, app will inform you about that - nice touch, so you don't guess why something doesn't work. Being a Luddite when it comes to phones, thus not having the latest and greatest (I still tend to think of them as devices to make phone calls - I know, how 20st century of me, right?), I run into that couple times.
That nice box I mentioned at the beginning contains one more thing aside of the grip itself. It's a posh black pouch, convenient to carry the grip or a gripped phone. You can use it with a hand or neck strap, both enclosed, easy to attach or take off.
What is this 5-legged blue thing, you ask? That's a younger brother of that Splat. It's a flexible lightweight compact tripod for smartphones, smallish cameras and action cameras. The same principle as the big sibling, so you get an idea how it works. It's a separate accessory; can be used with phone without Pictar using this adapter:
...and here it is in action, with Samsung phone in the adapter:
Alternatively, it serves as a tripod with standard 1/4" screw, for which Pictar has a threaded socket. Here the combo is attached to the tripod using just that:
See some more creative ways to use this tripod here.
Finally, after playing with cool new toy and internalizing the main controls, I decided to try and use it just as most folks would - make a tour over the touristy places (I mean, I live in a touristy town, gotta take an advantage of that, right?) and take a few photos as most phone camera users would. I was interested to get a sense of how (and if) Pictar changes my perception of phone photography. Having my grown-up camera with couple lenses in the sling, I uncharacteristically whipped out my Pictar-equipped phone and started snapping away. I realize that photos below represent a phone more than a grip but hey, it's a photo blog, right? What good is it without photos taken with help of the equipment we discuss?
They'd look much better with blue skies and spectacular clouds but it was rather grayish day with showers now and then. Here is my verdict after this little tour. Pictar does credible job imitating the real camera workflow. Credible enough for me to envision some situations where I take just my phone with me, and to compensate for the absence of a camera to a considerable degree. One of family members playing with it also put it this way: It rekindles interest in photography.
Now, to return to the promised third reason for my dislike of the phone cameras. It's a difficult-to-see screen during many outdoor scenarios. No matter what advances technology makes, there are still angles and lighting conditions where you can squint all you want, but you are essentially flying blind. Then there is that intimate eye-scene connection that a viewfinder provides, helping achieve much better compositions... If Miggo gives us a creative solution for this, phone combined with Pictar is going to be even more attractive as a camera alternative for many amateurs and as a solid backup for enthusiasts.
Hi Jean, thank you for your comment. I have never heard of the phones getting damaged by Pictar, nor there any reports about such occurrence on the internet. As far as compatibility of your particular model goes, please contact Miggo to make sure your phone is fully compatible.
Good luck with your trip!
Traduction Google (sorry)
Excellent comment very complete and sorry to write in French but I would like to know according to the ultrasound system if my device Huawei mate 10 lite is not likely to be damaged, I must make a trip important and I would not take a risk .
Thank you for getting in touch with me
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