Traditional camera or iPhone? An interesting perspective

There is no “right” answer, but I enjoyed watching this entertaining comparison from well-known camera/gear reviewers.

I don’t agree with all their analysis, especially the beginning seems a bit contrived, but it takes them a long time to get to lens capability (good not putting that front and center), and they cover a lot of non-technical reasons (instead of trotting out the esoteric tech arguments camera geeks tend to gravitate towards.)

I give them extra credit for NOT trotting out the trope “best camera is the one you have with you” and, of course, not immediately dismissing all smartphone cameras as inferior.

Personally, I use both, and until I finally got a wide-angle zoom for my mirrorless camera, I treated my iPhone 14 Pro as my “wide angle lens” and used it alongside my bigger camera with a telephoto zoom attached for more versatility.

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Back in the film days I had a side hustle as a photographer that grew out of a hobby. And I spent more on camera equipment than I did for my car.

I agree with most his reasons to use a “real” camera. A good camera body and a bag of lenses gives you much more creative control, once you learn how to use them. But he worked way too hard to come up with reasons not to use a smart phone. I once attached a small grip to my iPhone 11, steadied myself against a post and got some good memories of a cookout at night with friends in rural Mexico. I would not have been able to take those photos with one of my old Nikon F4s.

Hardware is important. But someone who is a master of composition, IMO, will always have the advantage even when using lesser equipment.

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So very true.

Smartphone cameras have gotten so good I feel they’re kind of like the successor to the high quality film compact point and shoot cameras. Off the top of my head I’m thinking of work by photographers like Daido Moriyama and Anders Petersen, both of whom worked extensively with compact film cameras. There’s also Stephen Shore’s “American Surfaces” which was also shot with a compact film camera.

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A few years ago I returned to using a traditional digital camera after many years hiatus. There were simply too many limitations that I needed to overcome for the photos and videos I started taking.

Apple takes a very opinionated approach to photography (“we know what is good for you and you don’t need anything else”).

If they had (or ever) loosen up their grip and provide more access to control the photography process (optionally, for those that want it), I would probably still be using the iPhone.

But manual exposure controls on iPhone are still painful. Simple things like locking white balance for video are not possible without going to 3rd party apps. Apple’s video recording doesn’t offer a CFR (constant frame rate) option to stop video/audio drift with longer recordings when brought into editing software.

The biggest limitation is the over-sharpening of every image by Apple’s “computational photography” with no way to override. I think if that even just added a toggle or slider control for that they would make a lot of us much happier.

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This. All of this.

Apple needs to start putting in a “pro mode” in their apps and tools.

And it is ok for folks to make mistakes. That’s one way we learn.

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How much do you think Apple would charge for a “pro mode” subscription? :wink:

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1000% agree. The over-sharpening kills me. Been using Halide to shoot raw a lot more lately and other than some sensor dust spots I have to get rid of (seriously?!) I can get much better and more predictable results. That said, I don’t always want to shoot raw and I would rather have the ability to tune my heir/jpec output. They could easily put a sharpening setting in the photographic styles (which could stand to have WAY more controls) area. Most folks wouldn’t bother but for those who care, it could be a huge help!

Agreed.

I think, overall, Apple should lean in to being more “power user” friendly in everything they do.

By that, I mean add more knobs and dials to tweak everything, but keep them hidden or buried so the majority of consumers will not see them and be confused, but the advanced users can get to them with just one click or option.

I don’t see a downside other than admitting they don’t always know what is best - for everyone!

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Many years ago I worked for a Fortune 50 corporation. And once, when they asked HP for a discount on a large number of printers, HP refused to budge on the price. They reportedly said “Why should we give you a discount, you’re still going to buy from us.”

Why should Apple spend money and resources developing “power user” features for a small group of people who are “still going to buy from them”. :wink:

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Gueorgui Pinkhassov, a Magnum photographer, is another example of a pro who considers their phone to be another camera body. (Stephen Shore is another) He’s even issued a print photobook of images from his instagram feed.

That being said, a lot of fine art photographers do much of their work with medium or large format film cameras, including view cameras. Here’s a link to a TikTok video of Alec Soth taking a photo with his large format view camera—it’s as different from taking a photo with your phone as you can get!

I prefer taking photos with one of my “real” cameras (with buttons, dials, and a viewfinder, thank you very much), but I’ll cheerfully use my iPhone if that’s what I happen to have on me. Unless I’m just taking a snapshot of something I want to make a note of—e.g., the label on a wine bottle or whatever—I always use the Halide app, shoot in [Pro Raw],(Understanding ProRAW) and process the photo in Lightroom.

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I’ll be traveling in Europe for several weeks this fall. For the first time, I am not lugging my Nikon z7 and not lugging a laptop and not lugging lenses and not lugging a hefty camera bag. Just an iPadMini and an iPhone 14 Pro. I’ve never gone so lightweight, but I am excited to see how how it goes. I think it will be fine.

Katie

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Here’s what I’ve learned in my life as a tourist: unless you’re going somewhere really off the beaten path, someone has taken much, much better photos of whatever sightseeing attraction you might encounter than you will, and they’re all online ready to look at and / or download. Your phone will do just fine for the moments you want to remember, but truly, someone has already taken a top notch photo of the Eiffel Tower itself if that’s what you’re dragging your camera along for.

Of course, if you enjoy being in the world as a photographer—and I certainly do—having your favorite tool with you on a trip is a special joy. In addition to my honking big full frame Canon I have a crop-sensor Fuji I can pop a pancake lens on, toss in my bag, and take with me anywhere.

Do tools like Halide, Camera+, or PortraitCam enable this precise level of control, or does Apple’s opinionated-stance preclude complete user control even among third-party apps?

I have a basic rule of thumb I go by when listening to folks talk about photography:

If someone says a mobile phone camera isn’t a real camera, they don’t know anything about photography, they just know their own internal biases. Likewise, if someone says a mobile phone camera is just as good as an ILC camera, they don’t know anything about photography, just their own internal biases.

They’re tools, and like any tool they have slightly different areas they perform well at. If some small branches come down in my yard I’ll grab my hatchet or handsaw to clear it. If a tree trunk goes down I’ll grab my chainsaw. Granted, playing with cameras is a LOT more fun than clearing my yard.

The part that I find really interesting for my own habits — I think I approach photography differently depending on which camera I have with me. It’s not a conscious decision, just something I’ve noticed. In this case the tool appears to change my psychology in the moment.

EDIT: My rule of thumb sounds a bit harsher than it really is — I don’t really think someone doesn’t know anything about photography just because they have a strong opinion about their preferred camera. I’m a lot nicer to talk than that!

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I can speak for Halide (at least for the features I use with it). It offers the following:

  • Granular exposure & focus controls
  • Focus peaking
  • Exposure and focus lock
  • Levels Histogram
  • Grid
  • Timer
  • Apple Watch remote
  • Lock Screen widget to quickly launch into camera mode

Along with all the typical camera app features like portrait mode, zoom lens selection, flash, etc…

The thing I use Halide for the most though is their totally unmodified RAW setting. If you go into Settings > Capture, you can select “RAW”. Not PRORAW, just RAW. This gives me a photo that has had no processing done to it. I pull it into Lightroom and the quality difference is quite large to my eyes. This makes me “happier” to use my iPhone for random shots here and there.

The downside is the workflow. There’s no simple way to roundtrip these photos into Lightroom Mobile and back to Apple Photos without creating a lot of duplicates. You import into Lightroom, then make edits, then export the JPEG back into Apple Photos. Now I have the RAW + JPEG in Apple Photos and have to make the decision to ditch the RAW and be satisfied with the JPEG forever or keep both.

Anyway, I’m toying with improving the workflow by either only editing on my desktop (but then I lose the ability to easily share these photos with family while we’re out and about), or trying to create some automations that run through tools like RAW Power.

That was a longer ramble than I intended. The bottom line is that I enjoy iOS for most of my pocket computer needs. I don’t want to switch to Android just to get additional control over my photos, and I was heavily tempted by the new Sony Xperia 1 V. But in the end moving to Halide and Lightroom has made me 100% happier with those “in the moment” shots when I don’t have my big camera.

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I was disappointed with PRORAW. I was hoping for something closer to a RAW file, but I don’t think they hit that target (Apple probably wasn’t aiming for that, anyways).

I don’t mind the default Apple processing as much as other’s do, but it is definitely a defined style. And one that I don’t always want.

My biggest issue is the workflow process you mentioned. Photos end up all over the place. I keep Halide (and I few others I haven’t opened in probably over a year) on my phone to get that RAW file.

Luckily, I REALLY like the Lightroom mobile app. I think Adobe has done a great job with it.

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It’s not actually so bad. The only app that is a mess is Lightroom. When I export the edited photo back to Apple Photos it retains all of the metadata from the original so it shows up right next to the RAW. Then it’s just a matter of deciding if I want to keep the RAW or not. If I do, I can combine the JPEG into the RAW as an “edit” using Photoshop, or the app “External Editors for Apple Photos” until it stops working.

Agreed. It’s so good I’ve debated just using it for all my shots and just exporting the ones I really like back to Apple Photos.

Once, a long time ago, working with camera apps, Photos, and Lightroom between my iPhone and iPad, I went “ARGGH, this isn’t how I want it to work” and decided then and forever it’s a total mess. You’re right, it really isn’t that bad. I’ve more got that story in my head.

I used the camera for awhile. I recall it being pretty good — I can’t remember why I stopped using it. I think I was using my Fuji a lot more at that time — and I was trying out all the mobile camera apps so I had an embarrassment of riches to choose from. It’s probably well worth revisiting.

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I don’t want to shoot in RAW on my phone, or to use a different camera app. I just want Apple to give us controls over the JPG developer inside the phone. Let us have our photos come out the way we want!

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For that, and other reasons, I’ve compromised on using a third-party cloud service (Adobe Lightroom Cloud, but could be anything) as my primary photo storage and “source of truth”.

Everything in my camera roll is considered a duplicate (for easier social media sharing - mostly private or semi-private sharing), or a throw-away (photo of where I just parked in the mall garage, screen capture of something online I am considering buying, etc.)

IMHO, it is far more liberating to NOT use Apple photo storage and service and be able to treat everything on my iPhone as duplicate or disposable. (Especially beta time with all the worries about iCloud usage on the same account during beta, etc. etc.)

I know this is a somewhat advanced use and takes some discipline (and possibly some added cost), but we are “power users”, right?

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