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Sunday, 08 March 2015


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I hope you didn't take any portrait mode videos.

I love that smartphones allow you to always have a decent to pretty good camera with you at all times, but hate how they've made portrait mode videos a thing.

At least the YouTube app will not let you capture a video in portrait mode.

this is nice for snapshots

Ehhhhhhh—I still carry around a Sony RX-100, and I think the quality improvement over phones is worthwhile. The video is also insane.

Mike, what are things coming to indeed! I still use a recently acquired iPhone 5S and that surprises me at times.

As a fellow Fujifilm camera owner, (X-Pro 1, X-T1) I wondered why you decided on the X-T1 plus 23mm f1.4 lens rather than the smaller X100T which has a 23mm f2 lens and identical sensor? I would have thought it more of a one camera one lens system? That is assuming you never want to use other lenses in the future I suppose. - Just curious.

I still have regular Iphone 4.
For my use, the camera is great as a notepad and find no good reason for not keeping it for at least another 2 years.

How in the world are you ever going to commit to the "one camera one lens for one year" project now you've gone and done this!?!

I went from the 4S to the 5S to the 6 Plus the last two years or so. Jumping from one to the other felt incremental (especially the 4S -> 5S switch) but I recently picked up an used 4S and wow, the difference between that and the 6 Plus is much bigger than I remembered.

I got the 6 Plus because of the OIS and I have to say, it delivers. I can take surprisingly high quality picture in low light now, the kind of pictures I would use my 6D for instead before. Now, it is still night and day between the tiny sensor of the 6 Plus and the full-frame-sized one in the 6D, nevertheless, the 6 Plus is suddenly good enough in many cases now. Especially after some post-processing in VSCO or Darkroom.

My new favorite addition to my workflow is the Eye-Fi Mobi card: I can shoot a portrait with my 6D, have it on my 6 Plus in 20 seconds, edit in VSCO and up on the internet in less, than 3 minutes. I have not touched Lightroom ever since I got it...

(This comment has not been sponsored by anyone. Where is my money, VSCO/Eye-Fi?)

Mike, my wife is also a member of the icult. :-) She too has a 4S and is about to trade it for a 6 or 6 Plus. One of the sales wizards at an Apple store told her the 6 Plus' optical image stabilization is only functional for video recording and not employed when making still photographs. Apple's own Web pages as well as multiple independent 6 / 6 Plus on line reviews seem to indicate the exact opposite, i.e. digital image stabilization is used for both, in both phones, but optical image stabilization on the 6 Plus is "stills only."

Can you verify which is correct for your 6 Plus and let everyone know? Thanks in advance.

[Seems to work in both to me, but then I just got it. --Mike]

The expression on Butters's face alone justifies the price of that iPhone!

I've checked out a number of third-party camera apps for the iPhone 6 -- Manual, Camera+, ProCam, Hipstamatic -- and there are things to like about each one. But I end up coming back to the built-in Camera app. I guess its simplicity is a big enough plus. (Also, it's the only camera accessible without unlocking the iPhone.)

Hipstamatic has some really nice implementations of B&W "film" (check out @jorgecolombo on Instagram for examples), but the app is way too limited (no way to adjust the exposure, for example). I hear they're about to release a new version, though, so I'm keeping my eyes peeled.

I know just how you feel, Mike. I too do not shoot videos, even though all my camera choices do. I also had the iPhone 4s and upgraded to a 6+ just last week. A great snap shooting camera. With the addition of slow motion, I did venture a trial video. I'm impressed. But I also have a Fuji that does great black & white. Not an X-T1. A X-Pro 1. Same sensor. I also have a X-100s, only because the price dropped in half and I couldn't resist. (Bought through your site, by the way.) Both are my go to cameras, as of late. My two big Nikons, FX & DX, and all the big lenses have been staying home more and more.

It's a brave new world.

Congats, Mike! I think I will be upgrading to the iPhone 6 (not Plus) soon. Pretty interested in iPhone 6 as I've been reading great things about the camera functionality. BTW, Apple is running *billboards* of photos taken with the iPhone 6 all over the Bay Area. Who says you need full-frame? Impressive.


Shame on you, Mike!
...Actually I had an eye-opening experience about the iPhone last year. A nephew of mine, whom I helped raising and is a former graphic design student, took his iPhone 4S during a snow vacation in Asturias, Spain. The pictures he made got me quite impressed: the iPhone ticked all the relevant boxes, especially in terms of definition, white balance and colour accuracy, and dynamic range. (The latter assertion must be taken 'cum grano salis', of course: there's little such a tiny sensor can do to avoid blown highlights.)
The world has decidedly moved on since the ages when a mobile phone wasn't capable of any more than embarrassing images. Of course, if you asked my nephew - who isn't really that much into photography - about the merits of the iPhone's camera, you'd get the predictable answer: OK for casual shots, way out of its depth with more demanding scenes. I'd add it's actually more than just OK for the former: it surpasses all camera phones and all but the best enthusiast-level compact cameras in what concerns image quality. There is obviously a lot going on between the moment you press the shutter button and the appearing of the image on the screen, but whatever the processor does, it does quite well. Images are very well-judged with nice colour balance, good noise reduction and adequate sharpness.
The iPhone doesn't serve my photographic purposes; I'd never use one for the kind of pictures I take pleasure in making, but I'd be more than happy to use one if casual photos were my thing. Hell, I'd even take it out of my pocket and use it should an unmissable photographic opportunity arrive and I had no other camera at hand.
That's how good I found the 4S. If you say version 6 is even better - and I have no reason to doubt such statement -, then it must be a damn good camera phone!

I like how you move fast, once you have made your decision.
And you even got a bumper case. Very wise, this camera (oops, phone. Computer? Whatever) is a bit slick, what with the rounded corners and the slimness.

Have fun.
It is not unusual for me to think back to a moment in the past before smartphones, and think: how I wish I'd had my iPhone with me back then to photograph that.


Mike, if you haven't already read it, I think you would very much enjoy The Big New Yorker Book of Dogs.

Nice hat. But doesn't the bill tend to flap around?

We're in SF this weekend and the city is plastered with iPhone photo billboards promoting it as a camera. And the iPhone page on the Apple website has some photos of merit: http://www.apple.com/iphone/world-gallery/

Barry, holding the iPhone vertically for stills is not that big a deal, since it's aspect ratio is something like 1.25:1. The more annoying (to me, I admit) crime is to shoot video (1.78:1) vertically. When will they learn?
Mike: Your iPhone has a scientific calculator built in: rotate the standard calculator 90º and you'll see it.

If you turn the phone sideways, the calculator changes from basic to a scientific calculator with lots of functions.

congrats on the 6+ and condolences on the cap though it seems to have served many more purposes than it was originally intended to :)

I don't think it takes being Nostradamus to accurately predict the end days of traditional photography.

What has me thinking about(perhaps a little too hard) is what happened to all this electronic media when the electrons stop flowing?

At least with prints and books the possibility of a body of work surviving one's lifetime "felt" assured. Now with Flickr, Instagram, and Facebook, what will happen? Who will look? How will images be consumed? What will the mean?

Have you tried using the calculator in landscape mode?


Not sure if you are aware of this but if you pull up the iPhone calculator and then turn your phone sideways to the landscape orientation the calculator screen now converts to a scientific calculator.

"The calculator that comes with the iPhone is pretty basic, but I'll bet you can get apps for better ones"

Or just try turning your phone sideways :-)

Mike, about the basic calculator, have you tried turning the phone sideways while in the app? A bit more stuff...

I also went from 4S to 5S to 6+. I already found the 5S too large, so by the time the 6 came out, I had already had to give up all my habits and expectations, and decided to just go for the biggest screen. I use it more like I would an iPad mini, but really, I would prefer to go back to the 4S form factor, all considered. I do also own an iPad Air, FWIW.

Hi Mike,
on your couple's portrait color problem. Bay the ProCamera app. Wonderful tool and you can easily correct White Balance and that will solve your color problem.
Regards, Winfired

Have you tried using the calculator in landscape mode?

On my phone you have to tap the screen to take a photo which is uncomfortable also means that half the shots are blurred. Is that the same on the iPhone? It stops me taking photos. Can you imagine a camera designed like that?

Still a lot of distortion too, with that wide angle lens, even when the images are sharp.

[Well, I wouldn't say you have to "tap" the screen. An extremely light touch will do. I tried, and couldn't touch it so lightly that it failed to fire. --Mike]


Your response to Bryce Lee!

Two other thoughts after more reflection:

1. If that's a 6+ in your hand there you must have enormous hands. 😃

2. I *usually* have better luck with the phone's automatic color balance then either of my fancy digital cameras ... but when it fails you are in JPG space and can't do too much about it. There are probably some third party camera applications for the phone that give you more control over white balance.

[It's a 6+ and my hands are proportionally sized for a 6'1" Ammuricun male, so far as I know. I do have an oversized head, but that's not in evidence in this shot. --Mike]

Mike wrote, "Don't know what's up with that color—discontinuous spectrum lighting perhaps?"

I visited and photographed in a townhouse lit entirely by compact fluorescents in the ceilings. No two rooms have quite the same light color (different brands of bulbs) and none can be corrected. It makes pictures made near large windows using filtered morning light especially beautiful.

Mike - did you know if you turn your phone horizontal while having the calculator app open you get a scientific calculator. A lot of my students don't know this.

[My phone doesn't actually have the calculator app. When I go to the app store there seem to be mostly third-party ones. Do you know how to restore missing apps that the phone was supposed to come with? --Mike]

I agree with your point that cameras in smart devices will continue to advance at a rate exceeding that of dedicated cameras. After all, it is obvious the real potential for profit will be in the smart devices.

I guess my question, concerning quality of image possible, is: What about all of this historic discussion concerning superiority of larger formats? Given that the lens/sensor combination in the smart device will likely be only a fraction of the size of that- even the smallest- dedicated cameras, will even this problem be overcome by advances in technology? Or, when you say "exceed the quality of all but the best Professional DSLRs" do you mean that they will produce a more visually appealing snapshot?

I guess, in a nutshell, I am asking if such terms as "medium format look" is just that, a term, rather than something actually connected with the amount and direction of light directed to an imaging surface?

I apologize if my question seems befuddling. I am frequently befuddled by technical discussion of cameras.

This is great news, Mike.

I have to say I'm a little worried that the remaining camera manufacturers won't be able to make affordable-to-me cameras on the small sales volumes remaining. I do like my bokeh.

But still! The vast majority of human existence is completely undocumented, and now so many people can see and show what they've seen. Fantastic!

4-10 years? Next year's IPhone7:


6 months later the Iphone7S will appear and give some photographers even more GAS.

I'm happy with my 4S... as phone and email device. I paid ATT 99 cents for the 3G when the 4S came out,99 cents for the 4S when the 5S came out and will likely buy the 5S for 99 cents whenever they initiate that offer.

You're right on with your reply to the comment by Bryce Lee, that the iPhone is more than a bloody $900+ telephone.... But what you described, could be had with a $200 smartphone, more or less. The picture quality may suffer a bit, the screen may not be of the same resolution, the responses may not be as quick, BUT, I bet you, a bloody $200 phone can do most of what you described. SO, to amend Bryce Lee's comment: "That is a $900+ bloody smartphone", and one can have 95% of that for <$200. There are capable smartphones out there other than the iPhone. Just look around.....

[Edwin, you can get an iPhone 6 for $199 if you also sign up for a calling plan. And why would I want a worse phone when a better one is available? I could get along with the camera in my iPhone, too, but I'm not going to give up my Fuji and its fine lens. --Mike]

"more appropriate horizontal position"?

Vertical is just as appropriate when it is what you want.

Few magazine covers are Horizontal.

That photo of Butters is perfect, Mike! As Joe already noted, the expression is perfect as a mate to that disembowled hat. But it's the blur on the tail at the other corner that really sells the scene. Apple could license this as a sales aid for th phone on their tv ads.

I'm happy you have discovered the wonderful world of smartphones, that let you make a call, browse internet, navigate with gps, receive weather forecasts, take shots, listen to music, watch movies, and many more other things. All in a so-and-so way.
Dedicated gear is better just for this reason: and remember, drop your phone and you have lost in a moment your gps, mp3player, camera, etc... ;)

Mike, and others..when I wrote my initial note was thinking outright purchase. I do not subscribe to ths stupid contract bit although our government finally got off its collective ass so we are not bound by a three year contract. It is now a two year contract plus the cost of the phone. Problem is here in Canada contract rates are C$50.00-90.00 a month plus toll charges plus the cost of the phone plus taxes.
Have friends with an iPhone 6+ who are paying about $65.00 a month plus taxes and that's after being loyal
custmers for years.

Over two years, that new iPhone might be charged out at C$20.00/month give or take. It is as bad as if it were a fixed landline.


Steve P. - I don't think he'll need a "paddle app".

The damn thing is so big, all he'll need to do is duct tape a broomstick to it, and he'll have a real paddle.

It's only recently that I got a cordless telephone. Maybe some day I'll get a digital camera.

the basic iPhone 6+ is $299 with a calling plan, and you kinda need a calling plan, since it doesn't work without one.

It's somewhat illusory to price the iPhone like that. It really does cost $600-$800, and one way or the other you will be paying for it. Here in Luxembourg - simplifying a bit - a calling plan including an iPhone will be around 30 euros per month more expensive than a calling plan without a phone, say 720 euros extra over the mandatory 24-month period. If your telco doesn't offer a calling plan without a phone, at least for comparison purposes, it's a bad sign because it means they don't want you to calculate how much the phone is costing you.

[I bought an electric water heater for my house for $800. But the bastards want me to pay for electricity too, and the water heater won't work without the electricity. So it actually costs much more than $800. Complete rip-off, right? --Mike]

Hi Mike. I got my first smart phone 2 weeks ago--the 128 Gb Iphone 6. I agree that it has a lot of great benefits but I can't see it ever replacing maps for trip planning or a real camera for me.

Paper maps are like photo books to me. I want to study them closely and at length. For simply getting from point to point, following a GPS is usually fine (although the damn things have gotten more than a few people lost and in trouble). For discovery, a good map or atlas is a wonderful thing.

The Iphone 6 camera has been frustrating to me. The ergonomics and handling feels like I'm trying to dig a ditch with a dead fish. I've seen good work done with the camera but it's not working for me.

Modern "cell" phones are magic and have become indispensable. However, many of their important functions are inferior to the dedicated single purpose devices they replace. In fact, all else being equal (which it never is) I prefer my desk phone to my cell phone for talking to people.

Readers of TOP understand the importance of an ever-present camera but they are also likely to be frustrated by shutter lag and often ungainly controls.

As far as I know, the stock apps cannot be deleted. Some can be hidden, though, if Settings > General > Restrictions are enabled. You can enter the passcode and toggle them back on. I've also "lost" apps by inadvertently putting them into an app folder. If that happened, you can always do a search of your apps (down swipe to bring up the search entry bar) and look for "calculator" to see what folder it is in.

I think that it is mainly lens technology that is holding the phone-cameras back (I have given this 45 seconds of thought, so I must be right). When apple can give me the fov and rendering characteristics of something like the m.zuiko 75mm f/1.8, paired with m43 sensor, or the Pentax 77 ltd, paired with APS or (maniacal giggle) full frame sensor, together with control over aperture and raw output in an iPhone 6-sized phone, then I might stop buying dedicated cameras.

And as to the YouTube video and the cost of postage try these for our current Canadian rates:
Basic postal rate
#10 envelope weighs 30 grams

Plus 13 percent
sales tax on the stamp.

Why would one assume the best possible image quality in 4-10 years would still be limited to DSLRs? Surely the mirrorless offerings in 4-10 years will be as good or better than many DSLRs, and better than smartphones as well.

FWIW, the normal 6 in my hands looks like the 6+ in yours.

But then I'm probably on the small side for an American.

In case want to see another rendition of your iPhone picture (I think Jon's version is a big improvement but still too red):


I stuck it in a hidden gallery and will delete it after a while.

Oh, and congratulations on your new iPhone. I upgraded from a 4S to a 6 just a couple of days ago and am quite pleased so far.

I also wanted to say that I love the picture of Butters (and especially that blurred tail; I agree completely with the other poster).

An iPhone will never match a large sensor camera, but then neither will most casual photographers.

We live in an age where easy convenience trumps all. We WANT out gadgets to flatter us by saving us having to think about tedious things like depth of field, exposure and so on. If we can do it all on our one must-have gadget all the better.

Phone cameras are to photography what MP3s are to music. The lowest state of acceptability and the highest state of convenience.

That doesn't mean someone with a good eye for composition can't make very appealing images with one. They just fall apart rather quickly when you look at them at any size.

It is ironic that the beleaguered camera industry is now producing some of the finest products ever made, but it's going the way of decent hi-fi.

"Enthusiasts only"

Dear Steve,

A 35mm film camera will never match an 8x10 view camera.

Who cares.

I don't know what you mean by "at any size," but iPhone camera photos make lovely 11x14 or 13x19 bordered prints. I've printed Nokia phonecam photos at 20x24 and bigger and they look fine.

I'm not talking about working any of that patented Ctein magic, just printing.

pax / Ctein

Shot on iPhone 6

I can't vouch for the presence or absence of patented Ctein magic but they are pictures I'd be happy with.

Sensor size and film format size are not really the same thing because for digital files the notion of "enlargement" is much more fuzzy, as it were.

All files that have (say) 3000x2000 pixels of the same per-pixel 'quality' (whatever that means) will make equally good prints at whatever size you choose. The only question is whether you can get good pixels as the sensors get smaller.

15 years ago when the first APS cameras came out, you could do about as well as 35mm film at comparable speeds (arguably) and the tiny sensors in phone cameras were comparatively awful. Since then everything has gotten a lot better and the best phones compete well with 35mm film from back in the day at comparable print sizes ... and more importantly they do about as well as the bigger DSLRs from five or ten years ago. The iPhone 6 is certainly close to as good as my old D200.

Of course, "quality" is a loaded word here that is hard to pin down. But you probably have some idea of what you think I mean, and that's all the matters.

Hi Ctein,

I use my phone camera (Galaxy S5) all the time. It is a useful photographic tool.

I was specifically responding to the assertion that phone cameras would "catch up with" full frame cameras, not that you need a full frame camera.

I have no doubt it's possible to make nice A2 prints, though I would expect to see a difference when compared with a print from an EM1. Does it matter? Depends.

The issue is not so much resolution but shot noise limited tonal/colour range and capacity limited DR. Neither is 'negotiable' in engineering terms unless there is some miraculous jump in QE. Notching up the ISO makes it even worse.

DxO data (for those Nokias with RAW) pretty much follows the predicted size/capacity model in terms of performance. I would wager a large degree of the iPhone 6 IQ has to do with a very sophisticated digital processing engine. Helps having a decent spec processor on board.

If it enables people to achieve a high success rate with little effort, that makes it a success in the context of the target audience. Hat's off to Apple.


Hi Mike, long-time lurker here. Good article.

Are you certain that you don't have the calculator app? It is usually found inside the utilities folder along with the compass and voice recorder, therefore making it a little easier to possibly overlook. And you can always drag it out of the folder and put it on the main screen if you want.

Second, and no disrespect intended, but your water heater analogy earlier is off-base.

The $450.00 that you didn't pay up front for the phone by signing a 2-year contract is built into the monthly payments. I ran across this article yesterday that sums it up fairly well: http://time.com/3732923/cell-phone-plans-two-year-contract/

After paying full price for the phone, two years on a month-to-month no-contract plan saved over 400.00 versus a 2-year contract.

Yeah, I know that Linhof 220 is practically obsolete and all, but nothing in the camera world in the last 35 years matches that gorgeously large direct view high eye-point viewfinder.

PS: And don't tell me about the parallax-I simply don't care.

Phone cameras are Point 'n Shoots that people always have with them -- the improvement being the "always have with them" part. But I doubt that they'll replace serious cameras in our lifetimes simply because they'll always be compromises, the compromise having to do with the size of pants pockets and purses, as well as price-points. Generally, that'll keep the chip sizes smaller in a situation where bigger is better -- and will probably stay that way.

BTW, you don't have to tap the screen to take a photo with camera apps. If you keep your thumb on either the up or down volume buttons on the edge of the phone, squeeze to press the button and trigger the shutter.

Also, if you can't find your Calculator app, swipe down in the middle of the home screen to open the Find function and search for Calculator. You can open the app from there, but the right column of the results will tell you where it's hidden.

Is there any way you could bind Ctein to always supply "the last word" in any technical or semi technical discussion?

Damn I miss his experience, wisdom, and calm commentary. Not to mention good looks or dancing skills. ( I told you no to mention ...........)


I'm still using two phones from 2005. They last a week on battery, can be comfortably operated in gloves, are tiny and weightless and both survived more than a person's head could, not to mention a modern phone.

Only the cameras on both are broken, which is too bad, those were some very decent 2 MPx with AF. Lots of phones these days don't take pics like that (see the 'black and blue dress').

Oh yea, they have internet access, calculator, light and all the gadgets and features people tend to think didn't exist before the iPhone.

Yea, I own a couple of 'smart' phones and a tablet also but these granddaddies are irreplaceable if you want something actually reliable to make calls with.

Dear Gabe,

As a matter of fact, I am now TOP's paid "Technical Editor"... but that doesn't mean I know squat about how to use an iPphone (which does not work entirely the same as an iPad).


Dear Steve,

That isn't what Mike said, but let's put that quibble aside.

What Mike is doing is not making a technical analysis of what is theoretically possible but more of a market analysis of what he think will be done. Quantum efficiencies and the like are not germane. There are many ways to sidestep that. Go reread my column on the "iPad view camera" that Mike previously linked to.

Even if all those tricks are applicable to a FF SLR (they're not, but some are), it doesn't mean they will be. In fact, given the larger potential collection surface in my hypothetical, I can pretty much assure that it will surpass an FF SLR, always. And I could build it tomorrow, if anyone cared. (I don't know if anyone will- I solved an intellectual problem-- Mike is the one making product predictions.)

Going further out on a limb, I just read a paper on a more-or-less flat lensless microscope that does wavefront reconstruction to produce the magnified image... in 3-D, yet. So I'm beginning to think one could usefully put a FF sensor in the back of an iPhone! Not that I'm expecting anyone to want to.

Just saying... quoting physics as to why phonecams won't match most high end cameras is not only incorrect but kind of off his point.

pax / Ctein

"I visited and photographed in a townhouse lit entirely by compact fluorescents in the ceilings. No two rooms have quite the same light color (different brands of bulbs) and none can be corrected."

That's why one might choose to carry a neutral color reference all the time. Include it in an inconspicuous place or take a shot just for it. Then one click in ACR, PS, LR, etc. and you are corrected. Perfect? Sometimes yes, sometimes just quite close.

In strongly separated mixed light, two or more reference shots and masking in post can make the impossible possible.

I carry the WhiBal wallet/credit card size. It adds pure black and white references. Put it in a little cover to prevent surface damage, and it's always there when I need it.

That I forget sometimes is not the fault of the card. {;~)>

I have been struggling with a pinched nerve in my back for about a month, this brought on by back packing too much gear and then, feeling weak, over compensating in the gym. I have probably spent about $700 so far on the drugs, physio, and Pilates to resolve it.

The biggest take away is that my posture was horrible before this happened. I think looking at my fellow humans right now and their handheld habits, shoulders hunched heads down, the iPhone is going to cause a lot of people a lot of problems in the future, don't be one of them Mike. As my cantonese only speaking masseuse Coco tells me "iPhone no!"

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