For you Butters fans out there, here is my favorite recent iPhone snap...
Note the all-important love of Butters' life, his ball.
My inventively difficult canine's latest right-angle turn of behavior is that he's started to refuse to fetch. He makes a spectacular leaping catch of the ball, then casually starts sniffing the ground and wandering here and there, or puts the ball down again and grazes on plants like a canine bovine. Or bovine canine, whatever. It's always something with this breed. (Butters is an Attention Hound.)
I tried to get the ball and the plane both in the shot, but by the time I'd worked out the framing—just a few seconds—the plane had left the picture. Still works for me though.
I suppose I could fix it in Photoshop. Just kidding.
I can't remember if I've written about this yet, or just meant to. But have you noticed Apple's recent advertisements? They're just owners' photographs taken with iPhones, with a photographer's byline and the tagline "Shot on iPhone 6s."
I consider this a sign of the end of photography. I was fretting years ago about the eventual progress of digital development, because consumer products often start as a race to the top, i.e. in the direction of higher quality, and then, after the market matures, there is a race to bottom, as manufacturers compete to provide the cheapest possible product with just barely acceptable quality. Since we're wholly dependent on the tools the manufacturers provide for us in digital (we were with film and photo paper, too, but somehow it left us with a whole lot more freedom 'n' independence), if the day ever comes that the market won't support serious cameras, we're all going to be increasingly stuck with whatever the lowest common denominator happens to be.
Of course that might never happen. Also, as I've opined in the past, it's quite possible that cellphone cameras will one day be literally better in quality than any other camera it's possible to buy then, never mind any camera it's possible to buy now, because of technologies we can't quite imagine yet supercharged by that utterly enormous and unfathomably rich market.
But you know, I'm kind of a hypocrite...because if I'm honest, I have to admit I take a whole lot of pictures with my iPhone. Because, basically, I take pictures with anything that's handy that takes pictures, because I always have.
I know I've written this before...the incremental improvement of the iPhone suggests a change in equipment strategy. Instead of one small and portable mirrorless camera, why not the iPhone (wherever I write "iPhone," you can substitute "smartphone" if you like) for visual note-taking, friendly communication, and happy fam-damily snaps, and then a big, super-capable, high-DR, high-res FF or even larger-sensor big camera fer Serious and Sunday-Go-To-Meeting shooting? It makes a certain kind of sense.
...And gives me a certain kind of self-indulgent satisfaction, because it opens the door to daydreaming about which big FF-or-larger camera I'd buy. I'm bad about that kind of thing.
I have to say, though, the unstoppable world-eating smartphone juggernaut scares me. That might be irrational. For some reason I just feel it threatens everything I hold dear, photographically speaking.
Original contents copyright 2016 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Eolake: "I know how you feel. I cannot parse the whole thing. I would not go back into a darkroom at gunpoint, but durnit if I don't miss the wonderful Durst enlarger I had as a teen.
"What I can't figure out is why would convenience kill our creative urge? Sometimes it seems it does, sometimes I think it can't possibly."
Kenneth Tanaka: "Living in a heavily touristed area [downtown Chicago —Ed.] I can report with great confidence that phone photography exceeds dedicated camera photography by at least 10-to-1. At least twice a month during spring and summer someone asks me to take their picture. I can't remember the last time anyone handed me anything other than their phone. EVERYONE'S TAKING PICTURES THESE DAYS!
"But I think the up-trend of photography is great. Some would say it's a new language. I don't agree. I believe it most often supplants language. But aside from such socio-cultural debates it's become clear to me that people are actually paying much more attention to what they see.
"Do phone cameras threaten what you hold dear...really? Well OK. But you're declaring that within your interests in photography you hold technology and process more dearly than end-product. That, of course, has long been the art world's big knock against amateur photographers in particular, and photography in general for most of the medium's history.
"I love today's photo tech (and have the receipts to prove it). But there is absolutely nothing I hold more 'dearly' than the final image, most especially the final print. Whether that print came from a goop-slathered glass plate or a 100mp Phase One back...or a cell phone camera...does interest me but only so far as it plays a role in that print.
"I pledge my allegiance to the image."
Mike replies: So you're saying the art world champions iPhone images over the work of those nasty old amateurs...and you hold prints from iPhone images particularly dear? To paraphrase the Soup Nazi, "No more Leica for you! Only iPhone from now on!" :-)
Steve Jacob: "Phones just happen to be good enough for most people's imaging needs, just as 35mm used to be.
"But I see potential images on regular days out that deserve attention, so I want a camera I can take anywhere, all the time, that doesn't compromise on IQ. My D800 did not fit into that category, any more than my 645 did in 1981. I had to plan to use them.
"I carry a man-bag anyway, and my X-Pro2 and 23mm fits in there and doesn't weigh me down. It also meets my most stringent quality criteria (A2 print size) so I'm happy. I don't want or need anything I have to plan around, and I don't need more IQ than I have. Perfect.
"The gulf between an iPhone sensor and a typical APSC (or MFT) sensor is huge—certainly in terms of DR, colour response and tonal depth. The surface area is around 20X bigger.
"But the gulf between APS-C and FF is not huge at all. It's about 1 stop, and not always that if you need more DoF. If the choice is between sacrificing a stop, or a good opportunity, I'd rather sacrifice the stop.
"Nor will physics ever overcome diffraction. There is a lower limit to the useful size of a pixel, whatever technology is employed, so tiny pixels will never replace bigger pixels. Arrays of big-pixel sensors have possibilities, but that's yet to happen.
"Right now, phones are mainly replacing digicams. The large sensor market is just leveling out as the technology matures, but it ain't dead yet.
"There will doubtless be improvements down the line in terms of optics, sensors and packaging, but that still leaves the control interface as a major stumbling block. I want direct control and a viewfinder, not a menu and a screen I can't see in bright light.
"Again, cameras like the X-Pro2 and GX8 are a comfortable compromise for my hands."
Glenn Brown: "As a pro photographer I am in awe of my 20-year-old daughter and her iPhone 6, she takes marvelous photos every day and loves it. Photography is very alive in our family."
robert e (partial comment): "While we anxiously await an unpredictable (and let's admit potentially marvelous) future for snapshots, let's not forget that smartphones are largely responsible for making cameras awesome again.
"It wasn't so long ago that we were awash in small, frustratingly crappy digicams—from brands both legendary and obscure; many, if not most, with pitiful image quality, response and handling. The worst were little more than scams. By making the junk-cam free, connecting it to social media (let's not forget social media's very significant role in the revolution), and continually improving it, smartphones forced camera makers to up their game—raising the bar on small cameras all the way up to 'adequate,' and on not-so-small cameras to 'really, really good.'
"And here we are in a compact-camera renaissance. There were casualties, but that's the nature of culling and pruning. The result is a much healthier herd or plant, better able to do its job. Can any happy snapper or serious photographer say our options and capabilities aren't far better than, say, ten years ago, with very few of our needs unmet? (Even leaving aside technological advances in component size and battery life.)"
Mike replies: You know, I think I like your opinion better than my own. May I pretend I wrote this?
John Camp: "Camera phones are to photography what blog comments are to writing—a form of conversation about stuff that can range from trivial to crucially important, but which lack the formal structure and depth that develops with time and contemplation."
Mike replies: Also very well said.
David Raboin: "I love those iPhone photo ads. We live in the Bay Area and those photo billboards have lined our freeways for a couple of years now. I use them as a mobile photo workshop for my eight-year-old daughter. Whenever we pass one of those billboards we discuss the photo's merits, why it works or doesn't work, and how it fits in with the rest of Apple's ad campaign. My daughter thinks it's great sport. We laugh at the bad pics and marvel at the good ones."
Jay Pastelak (partial comment): "I use the iPhone like a camera: I'm conscious of 'taking pictures.' We've had students in the photo program where I teach who, with a smartphone, made extraordinary pictures but couldn't do the same with a 'real' camera.
"I don't find the "smartphone juggernaut" frightening, just curious: For my millennial student who's got his phone in his hand all day, the phone's camera is just an extension of him, and it makes no sense to him to use something else. "
Earl Dunbar (partial comment): "The biggest issue for me is handling...as convenient as a smartphone is, for me its handling doesn't fully support the freedom of composition, control and timing that a real camera does. Others may not find that a barrier at all, and good for them. I will enjoy their iPhone images just as much as if they made them on a dedicated camera."
Maggie Osterberg: "Oh my god, the Kodak Instamatic with cartridge film is THE DEATH OF PHOTOGRAPHY!"
Mike replies: I realize you're being funny/ironic/snarky here, but an Instamatic was my gateway to photography. I went on a seventh-grade school trip to Washington D.C. and Gettysburg and shot six cartridges of film (the long ones—24 exposures each), which almost everyone I knew thought was a huge amount of shooting. We've discussed in the past the virtual certainty that many of "the photographers of tomorrow" will look back and say they got their start in imaging using a cellphone or tablet.
My niece already loves taking pictures and she shoots mainly with her iPad. She also crops instantly, instinctively and almost without a thought using the pinching gesture. For example, I handed my phone to her after taking a snap of her in a sandwich shop and when she handed it back to me she had cropped it radically and made a completely different composition.
MHMG (partial comment): "My only beef with the iPhone (smartphone) category of digital photography is not the original image quality or anything to do with ease of creation. It's with the image sharing commingling of family and friend-shared digital assets leading to an utter abdication of image provenance decorum."
[Read the rest of "partial comments" in the full Comments section, reached by clicking on "Comments" at the bottom of the post. The rest of MHMG's comment is fascinating. —Ed.]
Sam: "I cannot imagine why I would want to carry around a phone all day...someone might call me."
Gato: "Not the answer I would have written a few days ago, but I'm thinking how many cell phone photos will be shown and wept over at memorial services in Florida over the next few days. I don't think many people will be complaining if the details are not quite sharp or the colors are a bit off. They will just be glad they have the memory.
"But as to my original thoughts, everything I hear knocking phone photography is stuff I've heard before. I heard it 15 or so years ago from film folks talking about digital. I heard it 50 or 60 years ago from Speed Graphic guys talking about Rollei and Nikon. I'm sure the glass plate guys said it about roll film, and the the Daguerreotypists said it about wet plate. I've heard that a few hundred years ago sculptors were saying much the same thing about painters. Almost every day I see cool, interesting or even wonderful photos that would not have been made without a phone camera. And I think that's great. I'm just glad people are making and enjoying photos."
Mike replies: It's true, it's all there in the literature. Professionals were complaining bitterly that the swarm of snapshooters using "hand cameras" would ruin their business...in the 1890s. And consider Peter Henry Emerson's capitulation in "The Death of Naturalistic Photography." Emerson went to war with Henry Peach Robinson, who made composite images by combining up many separate negatives. Emerson, an early purist, insisted that photography was its own medium and had its own integrity, and that every picture should be a single, unretouched exposure. Although Emerson himself believed he lost the argument, his views were much more in line with modernism that those of his opponents.
Robin Parmer: "It's time for everyone fixated on gear and knowledge as indicative of 'photography' to simply forget it. It's historical thinking. It belongs with the dinosaurs. The next innovation, already demonstrated in the lab, will allow the manufacture of a 'camera' (the term will lose its meaning) that can be hidden on any surface. All it will take is a thin film in place of a lens, and a few microscopic processor chips. Cameras will be everywhere. They will be floating in the air we breath. That's the inevitable future. Phones are just the start."
Mike replies: ...And that apocalyptic-flavored sentiment seems like a good place to bring the Featured Comments to a close for this post! Thanks to all.