The camera you have with you

More and more, photos I share with you here come from my iPhone 5. It’s always in my pocket.

My iPhone’s lens can’t match the sharpness and detail of my better film cameras or even of my go-to digital camera, the highly competent Canon PowerShot S95. The iPhone offers no optical zoom; anything you shoot at or near maximum digital zoom clearly shows the lens’s sharpness limits. Also, the iPhone isn’t good in very low light, where I can shoot my S95 all night. But within these limits, the iPhone 5 is a perfectly adequate camera.

The iPhone often returns startlingly pleasing results. I came upon this classic ’70s BMW in Fountain Square one evening and the iPhone captured the delicious early-evening sunlight as it reflected sublimely off the car’s finish.

1971-75 BMW E6 3.0 CS c

I took hundreds of photos with my Canon PowerShot S95 on my Route 66 trip earlier this year. But sometimes I also took an iPhone shot so I could share it quickly on Facebook and also to record my location as the iPhone geotags all photos. To my surprise I often liked the iPhone photo better. Here’s an iPhone shot of a brick section of Route 66 in Illinois. At this resolution, the detail is excellent – you can almost count those bricks, and the light dances off them.

Brick Route 66

In contrast, here’s a shot I took with my S95 from about the same spot. It lacks the iPhone shot’s clarity and punch.

Brick Route 66

Even though I used my Nikon N60 on my recent road trip, I took several iPhone shots so I could share images from the road on Facebook in real time. All the photos in my recent post about the Medora Covered Bridge came from the iPhone. Here’s one of those shots.

Medora Covered Bridge

I took a shot from the same spot with my N60. The iPhone rendered the skies bluer, but the N60 (with the 28-80mm AF Nikkor lens, the Fujicolor 200 film, and the processing and scanning by Dwayne’s Photo) rendered truer greens.

Medora Covered Bridge

But the iPhone couldn’t touch the N60’s lens for sharpness. Below, I’ve snipped out the same portion of these shots from the N60 (left) and the iPhone (right).


The story is the same when comparing shots between my iPhone and my Canon PowerShot S95: at maximum resolution, the iPhone’s lens just isn’t as sharp.

Still, I am thinking seriously about trying out my iPhone as my only camera on my next road trip. Because it is connected to my car’s stereo via USB so I can listen to my music, it is always fully charged. It’s thin and easy to carry. Its resolution is good enough for the documentary shots I normally take while on the road. At the resolutions which I normally display my road photos, the reduced sharpness isn’t a problem.

Film photography has never been less expensive. Read why.


23 responses to “The camera you have with you”

  1. Geraldo Avatar

    Of course, you could always get one of these and print your Iphone pics on instant film!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Heh! It might be cheaper to just upload the pics to the drug store and go pick them up later!

  2. Moni Avatar

    When I went to Paris I debated about which camera to take with me. I ended up using my iPhone for snapshots and it was perfect! I also brought my Pentax loaded with Tri-x for “artsy” shots. But the iPhone was great for my vacation shots.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That’s great to know! And the iPhone’s wide-ish lens is great for cityscapes and landscapes because you can get so much in.

  3. Derek Avatar

    As long as you’re not planning on showing them as prints in the future, it shouldn’t be a problem and in fact, like you said, it’s very handy.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I bet I could make 4×6 prints if them ok. But probably not 8x10s.

      1. Derek Avatar

        Lets side track a little bit. And the following comment does not suggest camera phone sucks nor does not have its place. I was wondering…
        Imagine someone who use them exclusively going to have a show in 10 years. Are they gonna hang lcd screens on the wall instead of picture frames? Since they usually look better on a screen than print. That’d be different.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Hmmmmmm…. Makes me want to try having some of my iPhone shots printed at the drug store to see how they turn out.

          1. Derek Avatar

            You should def try an 8×10 too just to see what you can achieve.

          2. Derek Avatar

            I get it! Cell phone cameras are like 110 film back in the day!

  4. H.O Avatar

    Beautiful. I really like old BMW.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s a beautiful car, isn’t it?

  5. Michael Avatar

    The iPhone seems to underexpose just a hair, which is why it popped over the S95 in that shot and had bluer sky vs N60 (IMHO, assuming you were not tweaking color balance, exposure, etc). I almost always use my S100 at -1/3 EV when I’m outdoors to get bluer sky and help prevent blowouts.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      As I recall, you shoot aperture priority, which would let you dial down exposure by a third of a stop. I usually shoot auto. Maybe I should take the S95 on an outing and shoot a couple hundred shots using aperture priority to get a feel for it on that camera. It’s my preferred mode on my film cameras, so it shouldn’t be much of a stretch for me.

      1. Michael Avatar

        Sometimes I do shutter priority (esp for low light, waterfalls, etc). I use Auto about 0.1% of the time. All the photo blogs, sites, etc. shun the Auto setting on most cameras, of course. Some seem to fawn over the P mode, but I’ve been pretty unimpressed by the settings it chooses when I’ve tried it so it’s A, T or M (in that order) for me. Honestly though, video is my preferred medium nowadays. I still took over 800 pics on our 3+ week road trip but think I had about 5 hours of video snippets. Been very happy with the S100.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Auto is just so easy, and really, the results on the S95 are more than adequate on Auto. But based on this exchange I think I’m going to shoot my S95 on A for a while and see how I like it. I’m glad you got an S100. This series of camera is really good. Only thing the S100 has I wish my S95 had is automatic geotagging.

        2. Michael Avatar

          I never use the GPS. I’d hope I’d remember where I took each pic. :P Please the battery life is bad enough – my only real complaint with this series.

          Be sure to crank the ISO down to 80 as well (assuming you have plenty of light). Then just verify the shutter speed is sufficient for your capabilities. If it’s not adjust the aperture or ISO as needed. I also will often not use Auto white balance. Every now and then I’ll play with the color mode, too, per Ken Rockwell’s tips.

  6. pesoto74 Avatar

    I do have a problem with cameras that only let you make images in jpg. I suppose it is okay for images that are just going to be used to post to the internet to document something. However when you can only shoot jpg the camera is making a lot of editing decisions and throwing away data in compression. Then every time you save a jpg you are losing a little more data. I wondered if the iphone can do raw files and found that there is an app that lets the files be saved as a tif file Which is a little better than a jpg. Looks like an interesting app.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Ted, jpg only doesn’t bother me in the least; it’s never not met my needs. I’ve printed my digital shots here and there to as large as 8×10 and they’re fine. I suppose if I were getting a level or two more serious I might invest in a camera that shoots RAW. But I can’t imagine ever wanting more from my iPhone than to be a decent snapshot camera.

  7. Carole Avatar

    Great BMW! I saw a pristine Studebaker Lark in a parking lot the other day but took no pictures. Loved the contrasted photos. Would have never guessed such a difference per subject.
    On another note: There are now contests at restaurants to take the best food photo. Apparently, a restaurants best advertisement now comes from customers sharing photos of their food! They are cashing in on it by offering dinner prizes. Ah the almighty iPhone!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Gosh, I can’t remember the last time I saw a Studebaker in the wild.

      Word of mouth has always been a restaurant’s life blood; now that can be helped by technology!

  8. Ben Avatar

    What’s with the UFO floating above the horizon on the iphone shot of the brick road? Space invaders?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Good eye. I think it’s a passing bird.

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