I’m Not Taking My Camera With Me

Will the iPhone be good enough?

In a week’s time I am travelling to Monaco for a business trip and I have decided to leave my Canon camera gear at home. Even as I type that sentence I am still questioning whether that’s a good decision or not. The simple truth is that I will be in Monaco for a four day conference and at most I will have the chance to go on a 2 hour tour of the old part of town, which will be in the middle of the day and will most likely not cater for photographers that want to carefully consider their composition.

So, the question is – do I pack and carry up to 12 kilos of photography kit for what is most likely to be a very limited photography opportunity, or do I embrace a fully mobile photography workflow with my iPhone? Would any self-respecting photographer visit the French Riviera armed simply with an iPhone? This short blog series aims to answer this question. I will also consider the pros and cons of travelling with only the iPhone, review some of the technology that is currently available and share the actual outcome of the trip.

iPhone vs DSLR

Pros and Cons

On the pro side of the equation, space and weight are the obvious benefits of leaving the gear at home. As it is fundamentally a business trip, I will also be required to travel with the company laptop and all the peripherals that go with it. Bringing along a selection of camera gear will simply add weight to an already loaded carry-on bag.

Another benefit to consider is a more focused approach to the images I wish to take. I will not be able to rely on all of the features and capabilities that my Canon 5DIII offers, I will instead, need to spend more time considering the light and composition of the image and sometimes that’s not a bad thing.

On the down-side of the equation, the iPhone has a fixed focal length and using digital zoom is really not an option if you want to maintain the highest possible image quality. If you want to zoom in or out to capture the image you will have to rely on the trusty shoes to get the job done!

The iPhone camera also has a set aperture which will limit the ability to control depth of field that we use so often for visual effect. As I am using the iPhone 8Plus, I will be able to use the Portrait mode to create a level of depth of field and I can obtain even more creative control if I use the Lightroom Mobile Camera instead. Neither of which will provide the level of creative control I can achieve on my Canon.

The camera sensor in the iPhone is about 50 times smaller than the sensor in the Canon, which means it will not perform well in low light and any effort to boost the ISO which undoubtably result in a level of noise that would make the image unusable. It would also have limitations in the overall size of any image I might wish to print.

Even with these limitations in mind, I am still likely to press ahead with my decision to embrace iPhone Photography on my upcoming trip.

Learning the iPhone Camera

I have used my iPhone camera to capture the occasional meal, a snap of the grandkids and a concert or two. It has always been convenient to have in the pocket just in case a moment worth capturing presented itself. That is a little different however, to making the decision to use it as the prime camera on a photo shoot. It was time to invest a bit of effort into learning what this camera can really do.

Honestly, before I did a bit of reading on my iPhone 8 Plus last week, I never actually realised there are two cameras on the rear of the phone! There are two 12 megapixel cameras, one is an optically stabilised f/1.8 wide angle camera and the other is a f/2.8 ‘telephoto’ camera that allows a 2x optical zoom that does not sacrifice any image quality. The 2 cameras really come into play when you are using the portrait mode that allows you to create quite captivating portraits with shallow depth of field.

Some of the additional features I discovered include:

  • 7mp selfie camera on the front of the phone with a f/2.2 aperture
  • Quad LED True Tone Flash with a slow synchronisation mode
  • Various lighting effects when in the portrait mode
  • Live Mode, which captures 1.5 seconds of video which can be displayed as a moving image
  • Burst shooting which allows a quick succession of image captures
  • HDR mode which expands the dynamic range of the light the camera can capture
  • A virtual Long Exposure mode which uses Image captured in Live Mode to give this impression of a long exposure.
  • Exposure Compensation which allows you to darken or lighten the exposure.

In addition to discovering the advanced shooting features of the iPhone, I also discovered that as of iOS 11, the iPhone are now using a new picture file format to replace the ageing JPEG format. You now have the choice to save your images in the High Efficiency Image File Format (HEIF) which is smaller in size than a JPEG image and can actually contain twice as much data as a JPEG image of the same size – giving you better image quality. When you are exporting your HEIF images from the iPhone to post in Social Media or in an email, the iPhone automatically converts the image to JPEG so it can be viewed on those platforms.

Third Party Camera Apps

If you want to access a range of more advanced camera functions such as the ability to capture images in the RAW DNG format, adjust the white balance, shutter speeds and ISO, then you will be required to install a 3rd-Party Camera App such as Lightroom Mobile. These apps are a bit more comprehensive to use but should give the avid photographer a bit more comfort in using the iPhone by having access to more creative control.

I do want to give myself the best opportunity to capture great images, so I will also pack a lightweight tripod with a Manfroto iPhone clamp   to at least improve my chances when shooting in a bit of low light. 

Like with any new camera, it is worthwhile investing time on learning to use the features of the camera before you head out on a shoot. So, armed with deeper understanding of the pros and cons of the iPhone, it’s time to head out and see what kind of images I can capture with the iPhone and Lightroom Mobile cameras.

Stay tuned for Part 2 – Getting to know the iPhone Camera….will I change my mind?

Would you like to learn how to shoot better images with your iPhone Camera? The Complete Pixel 1/2 – day iPhone Photography Workshop can get you up and shooting better iPhone images quickly.





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Brian Bird
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