Continual advances in the quality of smartphone cameras mean that most people don’t use a physical camera any more; unless you are really demanding when it comes to control over digital imagery, phone cameras are good enough for most people, most of the time.
Compact cameras have evolved too, providing phone-beating snaps through better sensors and lenses than could possibly fit in the body of a handheld communicator. More light hitting a larger sensor through a bigger, higher quality lens gives you a better starting position to get a decent picture, though smartphones have powerful software and – increasingly – cloud services available to help improve the photo after it’s been captured. Higher-end cameras are changing, too – even Hasselblad (famed for moon shots but also for the most famous photo of the world) is ditching the DSLR model and going mirrorless. The horror!
Marrying high-resolution imaging with powerful software in the palm of your hand does give you access to new capabilities that a generation ago would be almost unimaginable science fiction.
Check out Plant Viewer to identify which is weed and which is flower, or Google Lens to capture information from the camera or even just to try to identify whatever you’re pointing it at.
As the world has discovered with ChatGPT and Google’s Bard, responses from AI powered services are not always quite correct, even if they appear convincing.
As any fule kno, this item in question is in fact a Seiko RAF Gen 2 (not a Gen 1), even though Google successfully found one for sale, that looks identical.
Google Lens is available on iPhone and iPad too, and depending on the Camera app you use on Android, it might also be launched from there (and most Android devices will launch the Camera app if you double-tap on the power button, so it’s a quick way of getting to Camera, even if the device is locked).
Microsoft Lens is one of the best “Lens” or scanning apps in either mobile store (Fruity | Googly). Formerly “Office Lens”, at one point also available as a Windows app (but now discontinued) and since rebranded somewhat by its listing in the mobile app stores as Microsoft Lens: PDF Scanner, though it can do lots more.
The premise of Microsoft Lens is that you can point the camera at something and scan it, by taking a high-resolution photo of the thing and then using the software to manipulate, crop and adjust the image. The most obvious use case is scanning a Document; start the Lens app, lay the doc out as clearly as you can and then step through grabbing each page in turn.
The red > icon in the lower right shows how many pages have been captured so far. In earlier versions of the Lens app, you’d try to frame the page at the point of capture but now you just grab the images one-by-one (using the big white button) and do the tidying up later.
Press that red button and you’ll go to the UI where Lens tries to identify the corners of each page, and lets you tweak them by dragging the points. You could retake that individual image or delete it from the set of captures.
Press the confirm button on the lower right and you’ll jump to a review of the captured images, giving the option of rotating or adjusting each one, cropping, applying filters to brighten and sharpen them and so on. Once you’re happy that you have the best-looking images, tap on Done to save your work.
You could send all the pictures into a Word or PowerPoint doc, drop them all into OneNote or OneDrive as individual files, or combine all the “pages” into a single PDF and save to your device or to OneDrive.
There are other tools on the primary screen of the Lens app, too, if you swipe left to right. The Whiteboard feature lets you grab the contents off the wall and applies a filter to try to flatten the image and make the colours more vibrant.
There’s a Business Card scanner which will use OCR to recognize the text and will drop the image of the card and a standard .VCF contact attachment into OneNote, ready to be added to Outlook or other contact management tool.
The Actions option on the home screen gives access to a set of tools for capturing text and copying it to other applications or reading it out. There’s also a QR code and barcode scanner too.
One somewhat hidden feature of Lens could be particularly useful if you’re sitting in a presentation and want to capture the slides for your notes.
Start the Lens app, and instead of using the camera to grab the contents and then faff around trimming them, tap the small icon in the bottom left to pick images from your camera roll. This way, you could just snap the slides quickly using the normal camera app and do the assembling and tweaking inside the Lens app, later.
This photo was taken on a 4-year-old Android phone, 3 rows back from the stage at an event using the Camera app with no tweaks or adjustments. It was then opened in Lens, which automatically detected the borders of the screen and extracted just that part of the image into a single, flat picture.
That logo on the top right looks familiar…
For more info on Lens, check out the Android and iOS support pages. Oh, and it’s completely free.