Some big news out of this week's Galaxy S23 launch — turns out if you hand a camera phone over to Ridley Scott, the three time Academy Award nominee for best director can shoot some awfully nice video with it.
As a way to showcase the camera capabilities of the Galaxy S23 lineup generally and the Galaxy S23 Ultra in particular, Samsung enlisted Scott, asking the renowned director to shoot a short film with its top-of-the-line flagship. Scott obliged, and the resulting project, Behold, seems promising enough in trailer form. You will not be surprised to learn that Scott and his crew had only glowing things to say about the versatility of the Galaxy S23 Ultra's video capture capabilities.
Scott wasn't the only director Samsung called upon for its S23 launch. Korean director Na Hong-jin used the Galaxy S23 Ultra for a film called Faith that also happened to showcase some of the camera's capabilities in low-light.
Turning to creative pros to sing the praises of the best camera phones isn't a practice unique to Samsung. Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow shot a series of ads on behalf of Apple to showcase the Cinematic Mode introduced with the iPhone 13. Famed photograper Annie Leibovitz was part of Google's Pixel 4 launch, lending her considerable reputation to that phone's photo capture capabilities. Phone makers of all kinds love to tap directors and photographers to drive home the point that their camera phones are every bit as powerful as movie cameras, DSLRs and whatever other pricey photo equipment you can name.
It's certainly an understandable practice. And I am begging phone makers to stop doing it.
Look, I get what Samsung is trying to do when it hands over a Galaxy S23 Ultra to the likes of Ridley Scott and Na Hong-jin. (Or what Apple and Google are trying to do, if you prefer.) "Look at how powerful the video- and image-capture capabilities are on our phones," the phone makers are telling you. "Why, Ridley Scott can even use them to produce a visually stunning bit of cinema."
To which I say, well, of course Ridley Scott can do that. I've seen Alien, guys. I know he's good at making movies.
What I also know is that I am more Michael Scott than Ridley Scott. My movie-making and photo-taking skills are a couple of dozen tiers below an accomplished Hollywood director's. What is your fancy camera phone going to do for me? I mean, you may as well invite Booker Prize winner Margaret Atwood on stage at the iPhone 15 launch to tout the text-composition tools in iMessage.
Take a look at that Galaxy S23 Ultra video featuring Ridley Scott. (Or the one with Na Hong-jin, if you like.) They've got a film crew, complete with a director of photography and an army grips. I spy camera dollies and cranes and some professional-looking lighting rigs. I also know none of that will be on hand when it's time for me to shoot my daughter's ballet recital.
Anytime a movie director or famous photographer walks on stage at a phone launch to show off the incredible work they managed to create using nothing but a humble smartphone, I think of an American Express commercial featuring director Martin Scorsese. He's at a one-hour photo lab, picking up photos he shot of his nephew's birthday party. And he's absolutely distraught at the results.
We laugh at the ad, not just because it turns out that Martin Scorsese is a first-rate comic performer. (Seriously — check out the look he gives the clerk who insists that the photos look pretty.) We laugh because it's ridiculous that the director of Taxi Driver is beating himself up over photos he took at a child's birthday party — and because anything we shot would doubtlessly look even worse.
Instead of using an Oscar-winning director or a famed cinematographer or even the reincarnation of Thomas Edison to show what a camera phone can do, phone makers like Samsung and Apple should trot out an ordinary schlub – someone who thinks the Rule of Thirds has something to do with royal succession and whose blurry shots are not the product of a bokeh effect. "Before this phone, the last 10 pictures I took all prominently featured my thumb," this schlub, who definitely does not resemble me, might say. "But now look at the photos I can take!"
That's the way to sell a camera phone, friends. Tell Ridley Scott and Na Hong-jin to stick to their day jobs.