Camera Gear; Is the IPhone viable?
The old adage, "The best camera is the one you have with you", may ring more true today than it ever has before. The last decade has seen a revolution in photography, and it's all because of a device that many of us take for granted; The iPhone (or any other modern smartphone) has become the most popular camera in the world! The original iPhone represented a change in how people documented their lives, for the first time they had a device in their pocket capable of taking pictures that could be instantly shared around the world, all on the same device. The image quality of those first smartphones was nothing to "write home about", but for many, it was deemed "good enough" for their purposes. However, as the image quality improved through the next few years, the dedicated camera industry started to see a shift in camera sales. Many people were no longer purchasing small dedicated point-and-shoot cameras, instead opting to use the camera on their smartphones.
The iPhone is certainly the most convenient
camera used today, but is the image quality really "good enough"? Before addressing this question, lets take a step back in time. Before the digital revolution, film was king, primarily the 35mm variant. Back then, if you wanted convenience and portability, your best option was either a re-loadable point-and-shoot 35mm camera, or a single-use 35mm camera from Kodak or Fujifilm. Neither of these options were compact by today's standards, not to mention the inconvenience of only 36 exposures per role! In the film days, if you wanted the best quality 35mm was capable of, then you either had an SLR camera, or a high-quality point-and-shoot camera. However, if you were looking for the ultimate convenience, or as in my case, you were a kid with limited finances, then the single-use "throwaway" cameras were the name of the game! Although, the single-use cameras were better than getting no image atoll, the plastic lens left much to be desired when it came to image quality.
In the context of comparing smartphone images to those of old film point-and-shoot cameras, or even early digital cameras, I would argue that, yes, the iPhone camera is indeed "good enough". In fact, it is the best image quality that the consumer has ever had in a small and convenient package! There are of course limitations when shooting with smartphones, generally they don't perform well in low light situations, or hold up well to enlargements. Indeed, for the photos that matter most to us, there is still no substitute for a dedicated camera with a large image sensor. And for any camera, the image sensor is where the real magic happens. Photography is, first and foremost, about capturing light. Cameras with larger image sensors are capable of capturing more available light than those with smaller sensors due to an increased surface area. To help visualize this concept, imagine it is raining outside and that you would like to gather as much rain water as possible, a large bucket will enable you to catch more rain drops than a smaller bucket; In this scenario, the light photons are rain drops and the camera image sensor is the bucket.
Even though the iPhone's camera sensor is relatively small compared to more advanced cameras, it is still capable of some decent results (keeping expectations in check). Here are some examples of shots I have captured using the iPhone 6s:
More recent smartphones have been utilizing multiple camera modules that incorporate different focal length lenses for even more creative options. Cameras such as, the iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X, have two cameras on the back of the smartphone; One uses a wide angle lens (think landscapes), while the other uses a moderate telephoto lens (think portraits). Indeed, at the time of this article, many of you are already familiar with, and use, these dual camera smartphones. While admittedly I am still using a smartphone with only a single camera module (one wide angle lens), I have still managed to get some pretty decent portraits/people shots.
Probably the best aspect that smartphone photography has going for it, is spontaneity. Due to the the fact that the iPhone is so small, we always have it with us! This opens up opportunities that did not exist before the smartphone.
This image was captured early in the morning after just waking up. My wife had just opened the shade for the windows, and I was still lying in bed. There is no way I would have grabbed a dedicated camera for this! The spontaneous nature of this photo is a classic example of the possibilities the iPhone affords.
Or this image, our friends and family lighting sparklers on our wedding day. Melanie and I were waiting at one end of the line, while our photographer waited at the other end. The idea was that we would parade ourselves under an arch of sparklers while our photographer snapped photos. I captured this image while everyone was getting ready. This image would simply not be possible if it were not for my iPhone! The process of snapping this photo was so discreet that Melanie didn't even notice that I took it, even though she was standing right next to me.
Photography and the way we capture moments has change a lot through the years, and I suspect it will continue to do so. The future will see even more capable cameras in smartphones and other devices. We live in exciting times where the possibility to share our experiences and connect is constantly improving. And, although smartphones may not be up to the image quality of my bigger more dedicated cameras, I believe there are plenty of circumstances where the iPhone camera is extremely viable! I think I'll continue to "stretch the legs" on my iPhone, and explore the creative possibilities my discreet pocket camera affords me.
Plus it makes phone calls! ;)