Written by Ctein
I'd say that Mike's experience with the iPhone closely parallels my film experience. In the '80s I got one of the compact 35mm SLRs (and later, high quality point-and-shoots) so I'd be surer of having a camera with me. I did a fair amount of photography with it. And, as Mike said, every so often the stars aligned perfectly, and probably a half dozen of the prints in my dye transfer portfolio are from 35mm (Mike could probably figure out which ones, 'cause he's got the eye, but no one else would).
But...I hit his "but." Those were rare alignments. Most of the time the pictures were just fine. And just that, nothing more. Photos I made in medium format sang. The 35mm ones mostly just chatted. The technical level just wasn't there to make me truly happy. So 35mm became the convenient fallback and I stopped even trying to use it for anything I might consider serious, because 90% of the time I'd be disappointed. As I said, this really closely parallels what Mike said about his iPhone shots.
The secondary message in this is that there was nothing wrong with 35mm per se. Most professionals found it entirely satisfactory. It just wasn't, for me. It is good. I needed more.
That's what I've seen with phonephotos. They are good, technically. Better, frankly than my quality 35mm point-and-shoot could produce, in all size enlargements. But that still doesn't make them (yet!) the match of a dedicated camera...most of the time...and our sensibilities have gotten ratcheted way up by the digital disruption.
No one should feel defensive if they find phonephotos completely satisfactory, and nobody should be telling them otherwise. But no one should feel defensive for feeling the need to move to a higher level, either.
Californian Ctein is TOP's Tech Editor and former weekly columnist.
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Featured Comments from:
Eric Brody: "I share Ctein's frustration with 'everywhere' cameras. I've had many over the years, from film to digital. I have spent too much time agonizing over them. With each I have this hope that this will be the one with which I'll make that special image. When I look at the photos of which I am proud, it's uncommon for any to have been taken with the 'everywhere' camera. I should not blame the camera. My current one is a Fuji X100S, a capable tool to be sure. I just do not make many memorable images with it. I suspect it is a reflection of my photographic style, if I may glorify my photography such as to even hope I have a style."
Gato: "Interesting, as Ctein's experience is similar to my take on 35mm.
"Although I made my living with 35mm back in the day, most of my personal photography was done with 4x5. The quality of 35mm was fine for my pro work—mostly publicity and newspaper—but just not up to what I wanted for myself.
"I'm finding phone photos more satisfactory than I ever did 35mm, though I can't explain exactly why. I think it has to do with immediacy and less hassle with equipment combined with technical quality that is more than good enough for the kind of images I make with it. As for what others may choose, to me it comes back the old 'right tool for the job.' Find something that makes the kind of pictures you want and go with it."
David Boyce: "But chatting can be so much better than singing. So much more can be conveyed in a short chat than in a song. Metaphorically speaking."
Auntipode: "Most folks chat. Few sing well."
Caleb Courteau: "Chatting vs. singing. Wonderful analogy that really sums up the differences in format quality. Thanks Ctein for the thoughtful post."