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Monday, 25 March 2019


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I like the way my iPhoneX renders my narrow, arcane subject. And it’s the shootinest darn tool. Never before had I been able to take my ideas so far so fast.

I've had a number of camera phones that I irregularly took snaps with, but the iPhone 6+ took the image quality to a level that I thought I could make images I was satisfied with. So I embarked on a project of taking one photo per day, completely edited and posted to Instagram if I was satisfied enough with the photo.

The year taught me two things: being able to edit the picture with reasonable tools right after taking it was great, it helped making the final image in a focused way, something that transferring the files to the computer and there importing and editing didn't do as well. Another was that there is a useful, albeit limited shooting envelope for modern high-end phones. As long as the subject fit into the focal length, wasn't too close, was well enough lit, didn't contain fine color gradations or difficult color and didn't rely on fine texture a fine image could be made. Small prints, 8x8" (I had as a challenge to shoot in the square format, something I enjoy) looked fine, even though the aforementioned limits could make the differences to higher performing cameras visible.

The outcome for my part was that documenting various things with my phone is pretty natural now (though taking off my gloves in the winter is a pain) and for certain kinds of subjects it can make a good image. However, I'm not abandoning my "real" camera: I do wish for more realistic colors and some subjects require a more nuanced approach or even different focal lengths and a longer exposure. Just recently I took a candid portrait by windowlight and although the scene was lovely, the skin tones had a degree of harshness to them in the phone JPEG that I didn't like.

Find a subjrct....Sunset, Night Portrait,Night Scene,Hand held Twilight, Portrait,Landscape,Macro,Sports Action, Sunset, etc. side by side, then take shots with your phone and a camera.. Use the controls and settings to their both units abilities........then enlarge them both to a reasonable size and tell me which one unit is making "Photographs" and which one is taking "Snapshots". Then which one gave you the personal satisfaction and which one makes you feel like a "Photographe"r or a"Snappshooter" ?

I've read enough similar comments from other photographers to know that you're far from alone in finding the phone fun and liberating. It has to be very individual, though, because I find that if I see a compelling scene and all I have on me is my phone, I don't bother trying to take a good picture and kick myself for not having a camera on me. Not because the phone isn't good enough, but because I don't find it to be a satisfying camera to shoot.
Beyond that, though, I wonder about a couple things that you wrote. One is how you can settle for a single, wide angle focal length after an RX10. The other is probably obvious: You like how the phone simplifies things by removing all the menu options that you had to verify before a shoot, but it seems to me that you could have that simplicity with a camera in P mode. My guess is that there's some combination of the phone forcing that simplicity and the phone doing a better job with photos than a camera in P mode that would explain that.
Ultimately, I'm discovering that the right camera is not much about image quality or specs (though I'm sure that's not true for everyone) and, instead, mostly about what makes you want to take pictures.
So congratulations on finding a new joy in shooting with a phone. I'm trying to narrow that down for myself so I can do away with 2 different ILC systems and a couple different 1" sensor cameras in favor of something simpler and more fun.
I'm glad that Mike posted your story because I plan to spend some time looking at your websites (I started with the digital site because we're talking about phones and it looks like there's a lot worth looking at).

Mark Power wrote, "I am pretty much of the opinion that the future of digital photography lies with these small, palm-sized cameras with their remarkable algorithms."

What he said.

I happened to spend parts of two days last week at a much-photographed site--no, not Yosemite Valley or Paris: the San Diego zoo. I suppose that a more reflective and self-aware version of myself might have felt by the second visit that he had moved on from San Diego to Jurassic Park, and enjoyed lumbering, dinosaur-like, through the photogenic grounds.

On the first day, a lightly-attended Thursday, I happened to notice a few graybeards like me (and like Mike!) who were pointing long telephoto lenses at the captive animals; it seemed to me that everyone else who raised a digital recording device to somewhere sorta-kinda near their faces was using a cell phone. On the following (exceptionally crowded) Sunday, I resolved to pay more attention to the camera gear around me; I noticed that the graybeards had been replaced by a few kit-zoom- or fixed zoom-equipped dads, but they were outnumbered about a zillion to one by contented cell phone users. I didn't notice another dinosaur like me using any prime lens, much less a 35mm f/1.4 that was a pleasure to use but somehow inadequate in the moment.*


*My wife got the best shot of the day--on her cell phone.

Because we used to live in San Diego and my daughter returned there for college, she's been able to find favorites among the zoo animals over the past 17 years. One of my best-remembered images shows her beloved Delilah (an African Ground Hornbill--think turkey with a 14-inch beak and false eyelashes) offering a feather to my little kid through the narrow opening in her old enclosure. On this visit (perhaps our farewell tour, since my kid is graduating!), Delilah responded again to my now all-grown-up daughter's call by offering her a stick through the wire high at the side of her cage--the only possible contact since the front and most of the sides of the new enclosure is plexiglas; my wife caught that with her iPhone, while I (equipped with a Sony A7R III and an adapted Leica M-mount 35mm f/1.4 lens) missed it. I feel ancient.

When I read all these posts of photographers frustrated at the complexity of their cameras, I can’t help wondering why the Leica T range hasn’t been a greater success.
Hamish Gill on 35mmc has just reviewed his recent purchase (they’ve gotten pretty cheap nowadays). Take a look at the image showing the menus the way he’s set them up (the camera allows for this personalization)


Just two items! Fewer than an iPhone camera-app.

I wonder why the T-range never really took off? I have a feeling that ‘photographers’ took a look at the specs on the big review sites, and thought “For that price I want at least a hundred more menu items to click through.”

I'm pretty sure the phone camera was the main reason why I got sick and tired of photography at some point.

When I got kids a few years back, I ended up, as most parents, taking mostly pictures of them. It turned out to be a bit boring in the long run. I love my kids, but it wasn't all that fulfilling for me to photograph them only.

The main problem was that during the first years, my carrying capacity was occupied by kids and accessories, no room for a camera, which meant my phone was all I had. I really hate those little cameras, good or bad as they might be. No ergonomics, slippery as a bar of soap, and a virtual shutter button on the screen which is only responsive when you test it, but not when you really need it to work. And last, but not least, they generally have my least favourite lenses fixed to them.

But just around new year, I realised that the kids are old enough that I don't need to watch them all the time. I dug out my old Pentax K7, and I even treated myself with a used K3 (for a bargain price) and a new lens. It was such a joy. I finally enjoyed taking pictures again.

And then there is the issue with all the confusing menus on a modern SLR. I don't get it. 99% of the settings are irrelevant after you have set them the first time. I'm not counting the exposure modes and ISO of course. If you are confused by them, you had problems back in the film days as well. I don't think I change much more than drive mode and exposure on my camera during normal use.

Of course, there are settings and features that are cool to use, but they are equally easy to ignore.

I would consider a cell phone camera if and when they made one that was better than say my Ricohs. And then only if it was only a camera (with maybe file sharing, and post processing) but without a phone, music or anything else. I doubt that that day will ever come, because if it did, they would certainly find a more ergonomic form for it. As you can guess, I have never had or even used a cell phone, so no, it is not always with me. But a dedicated camera is. I would rather be able to look at the world, without having to look at a screen outside all day.


At a recent Purim party for the kids (and grown-ups) of our department, I lumbered about https://flic.kr/p/2dTp7Ga with full-frame gear. I did scare a few of the littlest ones at first, but the rest know me, and I got some pictures that I like, and others that were appreciated.
https://www.flickr.com/gp/133969392@N05/6g05B8 . I can't do as well with my phone.

P mode in cameras gets a bad rap.

P mode along with some judicious shifting and exposure compensation is really all you need. Sometimes I'll use S mode to lock in a shutter speed, but otherwise it's P all the way. Remember: "P is for Professional".


The phone camera image processing code tends to be a bit more sophisticated than the embedded stuff in most "real" cameras. This is because they have a whole set of operating system services and libraries and other high level programming tools available to them to make interesting things happen. For the most part they work pretty well, but as was illustrated with the "bokeh mode" on the iPhone they can be fooled too.

It would be interesting to draw up a graph (like this one) with convenience on the X axis and quality on the Y axis. So a Toyo 8×10 for example would be top left (high-quality, inconvenient) while an iPhone would be lower down but way to the right (lower quality but super convenient).
Possible extra features: (a) make it as a GIF where the dots appear chronologically, (b) highlight the format which is most popular at any given time, and observe which way it moves over time.

There's one other aspect of phone photography that occurred to me this morning after revisiting this post and that's because my daughter is thinking about upgrading her phone to one with a better camera. My comment that Mike featured recently had to do with whether smartphones are "good enough". It seems to me that we're at a point where we were with DSLRs many years ago where they're good enough to use, but not good enough to be satisfied with them for long. I'm shooting with a 9 year old DSLR and a 7 year old compact, but I suspect that if I were shooting with a phone, I'd want a new, state of the art $1000+ smart phone with (at least) dual lenses rather than my good-at-the-time iPhone 6, and I suspect I'd be eagerly looking at $1000+ upgrades in two more years.

I think of my cell phone like I used to think of m point and shoot cameras. It may not be perfect, but it's easy to have with me and take a shot of the gang at the place having fun. Snap, snap, back in pocket and carry on. Adding in Snapseed to process the photos and I'm pretty happy with it for memories, and sometimes "art" too.

I can't help myself, Karl Lagerfeld's quote comes to my mind: "Wer Jogginghosen trägt, hat die Kontrolle über sein Leben verloren". (He who wears jogging trousers has lost control of his life)
I smartphone is the jogging trousers in the world of photography.

[Wait, what? What does that mean? --Mike]

Excellent post. I have taken some remarkable images with my phone with one ending up in a museum show of contemporary Georgia photography. But what holds me back is the lens. I miss "normal" lenses which is what I mostly use on my DSLR. Zooming in on a phone is so slow and cumbersome. I will continue to use my phone because it is always there when I need a camera.

I follow Stephen Shore on Instagram https://instagram.com/stephen.shore?utm_source=ig_profile_share&igshid=15qjosm323th3 His shots there are all done with his iPhone and are generally interestingly framed snaps of casual stuff not the kind of large view formalisms that make up the bulk of his work. His new book Details are exactly the same type of photos as his Instagram shots but shot on a hasselblad X1D. Just a data point for the discussion.

With so many photographers being happy with their smartphone as cameras, makes me wonder why there is all the current hoopla about mirrorless full-frame cameras.

I feel like smartphone cameras are too expensive.
To buy a smartphone with a good camera, you have to pay at least 500 dollars. If you have a more affordable phone service plan like mine, you need to pay full price for the phone, and it ends up being 900+ dollars for one with a top camera like the iPhone 10 or the Samsung S10, or the Pixel-whatever-the-new-one-is :) And then, in a year or two, you have to spend the same amount again because they are constantly improving these phone cameras and nobody wants to be stuck with an older, "inferior" camera (which was the newer, "superior" one just a year ago).
My current smartphone (a mid-level LG) is costing me 240 dollars (10 dollars a month for 24 months), and the camera on it is decent for snaps in good light but not for my hobby photography. But I didn't buy the phone for the camera... I actually need my phone for some apps I use for my work, and this one works nicely for that.
Ironically, 240 dollars is exactly - to the dollar - the amount I paid B&H for my main camera 3 years ago - a Pentax K-S1 they took off their display and listed as used but only had a hundred or so snaps. It's now a bit old in camera years (it's from 2014...) but the 20MP Sony sensor just sings in my opinion, I'm still in love with the pictures it takes. I only print 8.5x11 usually (that's the larger size my Epson printer will print) but I enjoy knowing that I can take good pictures regardless of light (having a good flash and a couple f/1.4 lenses helps). It's not small compared to the micro 4/3 cameras but with my featherweight super-sharp 35mm f/2.4 lens on it, I can carry it all day long.
I'm just glad I'm not on the constant phone upgrade train...

[The comedian Kathleen Madigan has a bit about postage prices...first she notices that people complain about the price of a stamp, then she says, "So I can walk into a building, hand a guy a piece of paper, and say, 'for 55 cents, will you take this to Alaska?'"

I feel sort of the same way about smartphones. The smartphone, taken all together, is the single most amazing object I own, and probably the single greatest technological advancement of my adult lifetime (unless that's the Internet before it or the personal computer before that). If you came to my 1984 self (when I first started working with the very first Macintosh) and handed me an Apple XS and told me what it would do asked how much I thought I'd have to pay for it, I'd put the price in the millions, while scoffing that it was complete, outlandishly impossible. So to complain about a smartphone costing too much at $900 seems kind of incredible to me. I can totally understand not wanting to buy one or not having enough money for one, but for what you get for the money, a smartphone might be the least expensive thing in the history of Mankind.

PS Very pleased you are so happy with your Pentax...keep it as long as you can! --Mike]

This review: https://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/62471078 intelligently compares a Sony RX100 III to a modern smartphone.

I avoided cell phones forever but now find myself using my phone more and more. I occasionally even go the extra mile and transfer the files to my computer via mini SD. I think my reluctance is making the phone harder than it should be.

Anton’s phrase “jogging trousers” in this context made me think of George Costanza in sweatpants.

I wonder if Light's multi-cell phone camera device might started an interesting trend in cell-phone photography? While the original Light was a bit clunky, some of their technology has made it's way into the about to be released Nokia 9 Pure View 5 camera phone. Image stacking for resolution and noise reduction as well as other software methods of making very high quality images appears to be included.

It'll be very interesting to see how the Nokia does with "serious" photographic artists.

Mark Powers wrote (in the comments), "Nevertheless, to make meaningful images, practice is necessary."

Among other things, my phone has taught me that there are formats other than 9 x 16. It hurt but I survived.

From analog vs. digital to camera vs. phone...

PS- Nice portrait!

Some thoughts on myPhone-ography.

Being there—up close and personal. Robert Capa said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” Arms length works for me—have you ever tried to kiss your S.O. from fifteen feet away 8-)

Everybody does it—except you. I've seen wedding pros shooting engagement photos with a Canon 5D2/24-70 using the rear screen,—outdoors available light. I've also seen commercial photographers, using studio pack lighting, using the rear screen. I often did products shots using a thirty inch monitor and triggering the camera from the keyboard. When I use my iPhone, and view and trigger from my Apple Watch, it seem so very natural.

Great column! Thanks!

There always were “algorithms” between scene and print viewer, they used to be encoded in the type of film, development, and printing technique one selected. Phone cameras have actually increased the amount of control available to the photographer because those algorithms are now inside the device and many are directly available to the photographer. Or, you can get them all for free with something like Snapseed.

As for ergonomics, there are any number of grips, Bluetooth shutter buttons, clip-on lenses and grippy and protective cases available. Remember when we all wanted a modular camera? Well, it’s here, in the hardware and software.

What has really pushed me over the edge is the multiple lenses. I've always been a primarily 50mm shooter, so the "tele" lens on the iPhone XS lets me shoot the way I like without a pixellated digital zoom.

I've put my money where my mouth is. Sony A100, A700, A900, RX1, a half dozen Fuji X cameras, etc., they're all gone. Not it's just my iPhone and a couple of film cameras, should I feel like slowing everything down...which hasn't happened much! :). Don't get me wrong, if I was still shooting professionally, things would be different, but for candids and art, I'm ok with the phone camera.

I don’t care how good the image quality of a cell phone ever can be, or how convenient, small, always-available it is. Taking pictures with a phone feels like a punishment ; I’d rather drop photography altogether.

Will someone please tell me how to see the screen in sunlight. If I could get past this problem I really think I would enjoy using the phone camera.

The picture at the head of this post reminds me of how much fun it is to photograph in museums.

A suggestion for future consideration Mike: How about a baker's dozen on the theme of museums?

Some years ago, I wrote a column for a magazine called “Eventually all electronics become free.” The article actually focused on cell phones which had gone from $3000 down to a few hundred and free if you had a 2 year service contract.
In those days, I had a small Casio Point and shoot that cost me around $600, a Heuer watch that cost $1500, a car Nav system that cost $2000, and a laptop for traveling that cost $1200 plus my desktop at home. And a flip phone that cost zip with the contract of about $750 per year.
Today I have an iPhone 8+ with a contract of $600/year that gives me a free Nav system, free world clock, portable email and web browser, and I can even read my digital subscriptions and favorite blogs like TOP on it. All that ona device that cost me $650 because the new models were just announced and if I sell in two years will still be worth half what I paid for it.
All that for less than I spend for beer, wine and Jack Daniels every month.
And the camera is a helluva lot better than any point and shoot I ever owned.
I am a HAPPY man!

I keep coming back to the convenience factor, balanced against perceived image quality, as well as the intended use, all of which have been addressed in others' comments. In reading Mark Power's guest post and thinking about the "invisibility" of the cell phone photographer, I was reminded of how, in the 1970s, I had been using Pentax 6x7s for nearly all my photography. While I loved the image quality of my prints, I grew to hate the weight, and so didn't carry the camera and lenses with me, unless I was planning to take some photographs. Then I encountered an illustrated comprehensive history of Ferrari [another interest of mine at the time] by Warren Fitzgerald and Dick Merritt, and learned that Merritt had reportedly shot the photos for the book with two Rollei 35 cameras [one loaded with color, one with black and white]. The photos were perfect for the book. Shortly, I adopted a Rollei 35s as my "daily carry." The cell phone is starting to serve the same purpose for many experienced photographers today and certainly has for me.

Oh...and an endorsement of the idea of a baker's dozen with the theme "At the Museum."

Regarding cost, smart phones are not cheap. It helps to think about the cost over time. Our family pays for three iPhones, total cost around $2700. The plan runs around $170 a month for all three combined, so say $2000 a year. If we wait four years before upgrading (which we did last time) the cost is $10,700 for that 4 years, with no broken phones (unlikely). Now think about that cost over decades...

I was listening to an interview with the Science Fiction Author Kim Stanley Robinson, whose work I like a lot. He hopes that we are in a phase like where phones where first invented and you had people talking for hours to strangers because of the novelty. It’s time for us to emerge from our collective fog, perhaps.

While I have no doubt that with the rapid improvement of Phone cameras we have reached the point of technical sufficiency for many people--with more included in that group each year, I do not find them as satisfying to use.
I use an iPhone X and take lots of pictures with it. I love having it, and appreciate the incredible technical achievement it (and other smart phones) represents.
I find it more complicated to use well. Because while it seems like 'good photography simplified' on the outside, on the inside there are lots of very complex algorithms at work behind the scenes producing the results you see. To truly control your results you need to really understand what it is doing and find ways to control those.

I also find the pictures I take are different than with a more traditional camera. Occasionally better, but mostly not as good.

I see this in Mark Power's two portfolios. He is a truly fine photographer of long standing. Yet when I spend time with them, the older portfolio has tons of 'Jaw droppers' the kind where you just want to go back and look, - again and again. I see less of that in the digital work. (not that my opinion of Mark's work matters, but because it is what I also see in my work--- I'm speaking here of traditional type camera vs phone or P&S -not film vs digital)

For me, phone cameras have a technical sweet spot (admittedly growing) where they produce surprisingly good results, and lots of situations that are 'don't bother taking it out'

To some degree I am sure, the fault lies with Me, but not entirely with me. It also has to do with the kind of work you do or prefer to do and the kind / size of prints you make (or don't make)

So for me at least, while I am extremely happy to have and use my smart phone, and have gotten some pictures I am extremely pleased to have taken, for the work I prefer to do, I look at it as an occasional extension of the cameras I use most.
I don't find it as good or as satisfying to use, even though I never want to be without it---if that makes any sense.

The New Yorker draws our attention to some high-Phone art …

… we draw your attention to “Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style,” a series of photographs, from the ongoing series “Seat Assignment,” by the quick-witted conceptual artist Nina Katchadourian. On a long flight to Auckland, New Zealand, the New York-based artist repeatedly transformed the cramped quarters of an airplane restroom into a photo studio, using her iPhone as a camera and the materials at hand (toilet paper, seat covers, an inflatable pillow) as props.


Funny and well done.

Several comments here and on Mike's earlier post express frustration with smartphone camera ergonomics, several wishing for a dedicated shutter release button. The one thing everyone interested in using a phone camera for "photography" should know is that the volume buttons work as a shutter release, at least on iPhones. I never use the on-screen "virtual" button.

As to other concerns, get a good phone case to eliminate the slippery phone problem.

And explore third party photo apps if you're not satisfied with the control offered by the manufacturer's native app. Most of these offer manual control of shutter speed and aperture, some allow shooting RAW and many offer filters or presets of various kinds.

Finally, an accessory lens or two can expand your phone camera's capabilities. I think Moment's lenses are best. Their Web site also does a good job of demonstrating phone capabilities, especially when it comes to video. And why younger people (the future of photography) are embracing the phone.

I don't usually carry accessory lenses, but since the phone has become my always with me point and shoot camera, it is sometimes nice to be able to have the ability to use different focal lengths, when I don't want to carry something larger to allow that.

As to those of you who despise the phone in general or its photographic possibilities, are you really going to go to your grave not having explored this remarkable technology? It's transformative for many reasons, such as having the entire knowledge mankind has accumulated to date in your hand, virtually anywhere and anytime. And it takes photographs that your old film Nikon never would have had a chance with. But like any tool you must learn about and practice with it to use it well.

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