iPhoneography - the replacement of the future?

December 20, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

For almost 20 years now I have been using Nikon cameras for my photographic work.  They are reliable, consistent machines with a good reputation. Today's digital SLR cameras from Nikon and their competitors are amazing things, able to capture light in ways that film never could, able to figure out lighting and use wireless remote flash units, having fast and accurate auto-focus even in very low light.  Image quality is amazing, especially when compared to images shot with film.

So why aren't people using these amazing instruments?

Native PotteryPhotographed with an iPhone 6s. My personal opinion is that it comes down to convenience. Even though these modern DSLR cameras can pretty much run themselves (simply set the camera control to the green icon and let it go) and the larger image sensor and real glass lenses give superior images, especially in low light, camera sales are declining and the low price point-and-shoot camera seems to be on the verge of extinction. The reason is the silly idea that technology companies had a few years ago that put cameras inside of cellular telephones. At least, when the idea first came out people thought it was silly, and the quality of those sub 1-Megapixel cameras were beyond awful. However the last few years has seen telephone makers putting a lot of effort into being camera companies. And using your cell phone as a camera is convenient.  Why carry around a cell phone and a camera?

I was resistant to the idea of a cell phone camera being useful for anything. I had used the early cell phones and there was no point even having the cameras in them. Then, two years ago, my old cell phone died and I had to get a new phone. I was resistant to giving the wireless carrier even more money and did not want a smart phone because of the data plan costs. I simply could not find any non-data plan phones that had any kind of positive reviews, so I bit the bullet and got a smart phone.  At the time the wireless carrier was selling the iPhone 4s for a whopping $0.99, so I went with it.

I did not embrace the camera at first. It had no real controls like shutter speed and ISO that I could set, and "digital zoom" is almost certainly something that was created by Kim Jong-un as it is simply a trick that degrades the image. Then I started seeing things being done with iPhones. National Geographic shooters were using them in select ways. And the final push came from a photographer friend and former employee Michael Fagans and his book, The iPhone Photographer. I found some apps that I learned, like ProCamera and ProCam (they are different) and started making images with my phone. I also discovered the Hipstamatic app (largely due to Fagans' book).

I admit I am now an iPhone photographer. I use my iPhone a lot for my personal 365 Project, partly because it is convenient to have the camera right there with me, and partly because I am trying to challenge myself to shoot images with the limitations of the phone. That does not mean I am giving up my Nikon kit. There are a lot of things that an iPhone simply cannot do (yet?)

  • Sports - the lens on an iPhone does not have the magnification, nor does the phone auto-focus fast enough and have the fast response to pushing the button.
  • Wildlife - the phone may be silent, but again, it does not have the magnification to shoot things from far away
  • Nighttime work - a lot of people recently discovered how limited their phones are when they tried to shoot photos of the super moon eclipse.
  • Studio portraits - if using window light a person could use a phone for limited images, but the wide angle lens gives some less than flattering distortion of the faces. Also, a phone cannot use powerful strobes and give the variable depth of field (amount of an image and background that is in focus)

The camera market's new darling at the moment is the "Mirrorless" camera, but there are a lot of people who think that their cell phone cameras are "good enough." And with the introduction of phones like the iPhone 6S they may be right in a lot of situations.

So be sure to take a look at my new gallery of iPhone images and see if you think that cell phone cameras can be used for serious photography.


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