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I’ve had a phone with a camera for more than 10 years but I have always thought of it as a device for quick family snaps and making records of things I want to remember. The camera on my previous phone (iPhone 5) was OK but I preferred to carry a compact camera (currently a Canon Powershot G7X) when I was out and about, with a Canon DSLR for ‘serious photography’. I have written in this post about how the quality of this compact is excellent and compares well with the DSLR.

About a month ago, I decided it was time for a phone upgrade. I had read excellent reports about the iPhone 7 camera so, as my computer equipment is Apple, I decided to go for this. I didn’t want a larger phone so although the twin camera on the 7 Plus sounded attractive, I was concerned it wouldn’t fit into my pocket. The iPhone 7 camera is a 12MP camera (the same as my first Canon DSLR) with a 1.8 lens and optical stabilisation.

The day that the phone arrived was a beautiful autumn day so after setting it up in the morning, I had my first outing with the iPhone camera at the Muir of Dinner nature reserve in Aberdeenshire where I walked to the Burn O’Vat and around Loch Kinord. I took lots of photos with the phone camera and uploaded these to Lightroom when I got home.

I simply used the Camera app and default settings and I was seriously impressed by the quality of the images. The photos were sharp, well exposed and exhibited a full range of tones.

Birches near the Burn O'Vat

Birches near the Burn O’Vat

 

Loch Kinord

Loch Kinord

On my way home, I stopped at Potarch bridge and took comparative shots with my DSLR and the iPhone of the Dee and autumn colours.To get the closest match to the field of view, I used a wide angle Canon EF 10-22mm zoom on my DSLR.  You really can’t tell the difference, even on a full-size Mac Retina screen, between the Canon and iPhone views.

The River Dee at Potarch (iPhone)

The River Dee at Potarch (iPhone)

I cropped the Canon and iPhone photos to the rock in the foreground (about 1/8 of the image) and it was only then that the difference became obvious. You can see that the lichens on the rock are sharper in the Canon photo with a clearer delineation between the areas of lichen and the rock.

Foreground rock taken with iPhone

Foreground rock taken with iPhone

 

foreground-rock-canon

Foreground rock taken with Canon DSLR with 10-22mm wide angle lens

The following weekend I was in Assynt. The weather was poor so I decided not to bother taking my compact camera and only took my phone (which I also used for navigation in the mist). We had brief clearance where I snatched this shot to see how the camera performed on a dull day. It was fine.

Clearing mist on Cul Mor

Clearing mist on Cul Mor

The only issue I have come across with the camera is that the processing tends to blow out the detail in the highlights. This is most obvious when you are taking photos into the light, like this one on the Meadows in Edinburgh. The detail is still there however and reducing the highlights in Lightroom solves the problem.

meadows

The Meadows, Edinburgh

The lens has remarkably little flare when the sun is in the shot – because of the wide angle lens, this happens quite often. In this picture, taken on the summit of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, there is only one flare spot on the jacket of the foreground figure.

Sunset on Arthur's Seat

Sunset on Arthur’s Seat

The problem with small sensors is that there tends to be a lot of noise with night shots. I don’t know the sensor size on the iPhone but it has to be pretty small so I didn’t expect much from it when I tried some night shots in Edinburgh. But they turned out well with very little noise. Part of the reason for this, I think, is that the optical stabilisation means that longish shutter speeds can be used without obvious camera shake so the camera doesn’t ramp up the ISO when it’s dark. The first of the shots below was taken with a shutter speed of 1/7 of a second; the second at 1/4 second. Both pf them look pretty sharp even when blown up much larger than I show here.

Community greengrocer, Bruntsfield

Community greengrocer, Bruntsfield

 

Bruntsfield Evangelical Church

Bruntsfield Evangelical Church

Camera phones are ideal for taking photos of people at social gatherings and the iPhone 7 camera has face recognition so that it should automatically focus on the faces of subjects. Unfortunately, it takes a bit of time to react so when you snatch a shot, like this one of my daughter in a pub, it doesn’t always have time to find and focus on the face. The focus is actually on her jumper but the depth of field is sufficient for the slight blurriness in the face not to matter too much.

Jane

Jane

The biggest problem with the iPhone lens is that it is fixed aperture lens. This means that when shooting close ups, it isn’t possible to adjust the aperture to increase the depth of field so that more of the image is sharp. You can see this in this photo of a rose that I took in my garden. The camera has focused on the water droplets on the top of the rose with the focus falling off at the bottom of the flower.

Raindrops on rose

Raindrops on rose

Overall, I think this is a fantastic camera with a quite remarkable quality from such a small sensor and lens. Yes, it’s a point and shoot camera but it is also easily good enough for serious photography. So far, I haven’t tried apps like Camera+ which allows for manual control and this is my next stage in exploring what’s possible with this camera.

I’m sure that comparable phone cameras from Samsung and Google are just as good as the iPhone camera. Unless you are creating images that are to be large prints or displayed on large screens, your phone can produce results that are practically indistinguishable from dedicated cameras. Of course, they lack aperture control and telephoto lenses so the demise of the camera industry is still some way away. But the key benefit of a phone camera is that it’s always with you so I anticipate that more and more of my photos will be taken with my phone.

I’ll finish with some more images taken with my phone – simply because I like them and I took them on occasions when I didn’t have another camera with me.

Breakers, Aberdeen

Breakers, Aberdeen

Horses

Horses

Aberdeenshire sunset

Aberdeenshire sunset

3 Responses to “A month of iPhone photography”

  1. John D says:

    Good to see a wide range of photos in this appraisal. Apple’s outdoor examples too often feature desert lighting conditions which aren’t encountered here in Caithness.

    My own step was from a 4S, dropped while running, to a 7Plus. The plunging pound made me wonder whether I would be able to afford a new phone next year so the cracked 4S screen was a good excuse.

    I absolutely love the 7Plus – it is such a capable computer and really beautiful. My usual backpacking camera is a Canon 450 DSLR with a fixed 50mm lens so the 2x lens on the phone gives me pretty much what I’m used to. The images are good enough for me to consider backpacking with just the phone but, given the cost, I think it needs serious protection. Do you have a preference?

    • admin says:

      Hi John,

      I use an Acquapak phone case when backpacking. The iPhone 7 is theoretically waterproof but I wouldn’t risk it in Scottish conditions. The Acquapak case is more expensive than some of the other supposedly waterproof cases but is designed not too leak even if you drop your phone in the river. I’ve never done this but have walked for a day in heavy rain when everything else got wet and the phone was fine. The case also has a very clear material so you can take photos without taking it out of the case. I’ve only done this in rain so can’t tell if there was much image quality degradation.

      My reluctance to only using a phone camera when backpacking is the potential battery drain. It’s a trade off between carrying a battery pack and another compact camera I think.

      Ian

  2. John D says:

    Thank you. The Aquapak looks good. I think I will get one.

    I now carry a big Anker battery pack – allegedly 28000 mAh – which is enough to get me between recharging possibilities.

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