[Feature photo: Rob Bulmahn]

Like many photographers, I like gear. I enjoy my bulky DSLR with all the different lenses, filters and tripods. But carrying them around, especially in “everyday life,” isn’t exactly a viable option.

In the past year, I have been looking for lighter and smaller options. Many photographers have been turning towards lightweight gear such as mirrorless cameras or “micro four thirds.” I decided to focus on what I already have in my pocket: my smartphone.

Just recently, Google unveiled the latest version of their Android operating system (named “Android L”), which brings long-awaited new features for photography enthusiasts. Smartphones will now be able to capture images natively in RAW format (DNG format, to be more specific), and the software will allow full manual control over the camera’s settings. Up until now, the only way to access these settings was by hacking the OS and installing third-party apps.

I feel this is much welcomed news for mobile photographers. Most manufacturers often try to limit the capabilities of their phone cameras and offer only limited settings such as presets and filters.

With the new Android version, Google is lifting those limitations and allowing the user to take control of settings such as exposure time or metering. The phone’s hardware will now be the only limit of what your camera is capable of.

Native RAW support is also an exciting addition I’m really looking forward to trying. This will allow us to capture much more information and edit images more efficiently on the fly, especially now that Adobe offers mobile versions of Lightroom and Photoshop.

Other phones, such as the Nokia Lumia 1020 already have native RAW support and a high megapixel count. But it’s good to see more companies catching up and bypassing efforts to limit the capabilities of new devices.

Of course, I’m aware that smartphones aren’t going to replace professional-level DSLRs anytime soon, mostly due to the lack of interchangeable lenses and sensor size. But it’s clear that more and more photographers and companies are heading in the right direction and starting to consider mobile photography as a viable option.
I still remember when Time magazine sent out 5 journalists to cover hurricane Sandy using only smartphones and Instagram.

As the saying goes: “the best camera is the one you already have with you.” And most of the time, the only camera I constantly carry is the one attached to my smartphone. With manufacturers paying more attention to the hardware, I’m convinced that these coming updates will definitely have a significant impact in the photography world.