Under fake iPhone skies

I’m on my third iPhone: iPhone 5, iPhone 6s, and now iPhone 12 mini. It’s great to always have an easy-to-carry camera in my front pocket. With each successive model I’ve owned, Apple has improved the camera in remarkable ways that are plain to see in the images the camera makes.

That said, I’m not in love with the images I get from my iPhone 12 mini. They look extra saturated and extra sharpened, with contrast boosted too much for my taste. And the camera is clearly doing heavy processing of skies, or perhaps even inserting skies the software behind the camera is making up.

On my Ride Across Indiana last year, I photographed the Indiana Statehouse with my Canon PowerShot S95 and my iPhone 12 mini. Check out how each camera rendered the sky. The S95 is true to life, even though the clouds are a little blown out.

Indiana Statehouse

The iPhone 12 mini brought out a lot more blue in the sky than was actually there, and faded the clouds considerably.

Indiana Statehouse

I saw the same thing on my trip to San Diego recently. The day was mostly cloudy. A little blue sky peeked out from between clouds here and there. I made the same shot with two cameras one right after the other. The first was my Olympus OM-2n with the 40mm f/2 Zuiko lens on Kodak Ektar.

Paradise Point Resort

Look at what the iPhone 12 mini did with the sky!

San Diego resort

I never did this kind of comparison on my iPhone 6s, but I don’t believe it was as aggressive in processing the sky as my iPhone 12 was. The 6s probably enhanced skies a little, with the effect of making them look epic. Here’s a photo from somewhere in County Galway, Ireland, that I made with the 6s.

Irish landscape

I believe my iPhone 5 did little or no manipulation of skies. Here’s a photo of an old house in Hamilton County, Indiana, that I made with the 5.

Old house, Hamilton County

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It’s time for another look at the spectacular sunsets we get here on the western edge of Zionsville, Indiana. Our back yard overlooks a retention pond, a Toyota dealer, and I-65. It gives us a pretty good view of the setting sun. I made all of these images except the last one with my Canon PowerShot S95. A couple of the sunsets pushed the S95 slightly beyond its limits, but the sunsets were interesting enough that I’m showing the images to you anyway.

Sunset over the Toyota dealer
Sunset over the Toyota dealer
Sunset over the Toyota dealer
Sunset over the Toyota dealer
Sunset over the Toyota dealer
Sunset over the Toyota dealer
Sunset over the Toyota dealer
Sunset over the Toyota dealer

I found this final sunset when I looked through the images on my iPhone 6s before I traded it in. I made this in 2016, before the Toyota dealership was built. We aren’t thrilled to have a Toyota dealership in our view, but looking at this sunset it’s clear: the towering sign provides a strong anchor to these images.

Sunset before the Toyota dealer was built

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Still more sunsets over the Toyota dealer

Another look at the incredible sunsets we get here.

Camera Reviews

The Apple iPhone 6s camera

The Apple iPhone 6s is easily the best phone (read: Internet device with a camera) that I’ve ever owned. It was robust and reliable for the five years I owned it. But thanks to Apple’s planned obsolescence, it had received its last major iOS update. In time, apps I rely on would stop updating, too. Some of them would eventually stop working.

Courtesy Apple. (I never photographed my iPhone 6s!)

I could have comfortably gone another year with this phone were I not having battery issues. The original battery was justifiably worn out when I replaced it in early in 2020 after four years of service. But before the end of the year, my new battery wasn’t holding a charge all day anymore either. I don’t think that battery was faulty. Rather, I think my phone just strained to keep up. After five years, advances in iOS and apps probably place much heavier demands on the phone, which strain it considerably.

Another new battery would probably have lasted another year, which would have been a cost-effective solution. But Sprint, my carrier, offered me a generous trade-in value if I upgraded to a new iPhone 12. I bit, and now own an iPhone 12 mini. It’s slightly smaller than the 6s. I like it, because I’m no fan of giant phones.

The 6s was the camera I always had with me, and I’ve made thousands of photos with it over the five years I owned it.

The camera on my previous phone, the Apple iPhone 5, was surprisingly good. The 6s’s camera performs much better in low light, which made it a much more useful tool for me. It also has more megapixels (12 vs. 8 for the rear camera, 5 vs. 1.2 for the front camera) and a slightly faster lens (f/2.2 vs. f/2.4).

The 6s’s camera is full of settings and modes, but I only used a couple of them. It has a square photo mode that I used a lot. I sometimes used panorama mode, where you sweep the camera across a scene for an ultra-wide view. Otherwise I used default settings.

For simple sharing, such as in text messages or on Facebook, I used the images straight off the camera. But I liked some images enough that I lightly enhanced them in Photoshop and uploaded them to Flickr. I post-processed all of the images you see here.

I don’t always have a regular camera on me when I come upon a beautiful scene. When that happens I press the 6s right into service. Or maybe I do have one of my good cameras along, but I want to share the photo online right away. Then I shoot the scene twice, including once with the 6s.

Central Park
At Purdue
Orange Beams
World Trade Center
Circle Tower
Mail Station

Another kind of photo I made with my iPhone 6s is “Look where I am/what I’m doing/what I see right now!” Because I can share these photos right away, I take a lot more of them than I would if I had a regular camera on me at all times.

Iron Maiden in Chicago
The American House
Beauty Is
At Willett Distillery
Anthrax Concert
Rainbow in Downtown Indy
Inside the Cadillac Palace Theatre
McCormick's Creek SP
Maker's Mark
Purple dusk

The 6s is, of course, a fabulous selfie machine.

Car selfie
Us at the Bungalow
Me, Margaret, Damion
Wedding day

The 6s was also an easy choice when I needed to quickly document something for this blog.

Verichrome Pan
Instant prints
proc IMG_2563

The Apple iPhone 6s camera has some faults. First, thanks to its rounded edges, the phone is slippery as hell and hard to hold. I dropped this phone more than once while trying to make a photograph with it. My iPhone 5 and my iPhone 12 mini both have flat edges that make the camera easier to grip. Still, any iPhone’s innate thinness makes it harder to grip than even a small, dedicated point-and-shoot digital camera.

Second, the lens is wide. Apple doesn’t list its focal length, but it feels like a 28mm lens on a 35mm camera. I prefer a narrower focal length, such as 35mm or even 50mm. You can zoom in pretty deeply, but it’s digital zoom. The phone interpolates pixels as best it can. The images generally look good on the phone, but at larger sizes the interpolation shows up as mottling. If you click this image and view it full size on Flickr, you’ll see what I mean. I suppose it would make an acceptable 4×6 print.

New Harmony, IN

Finally, even though its low-light performance is improved over the iPhone 5, it’s still limited. But it’s far better than nothing when you want to capture a memory. On the night I went to an Iron Maiden concert I made a few dozen photos with my 6s, but only this and one other photo was usable.

Iron Maiden

Most phones have good cameras in them today. The Apple iPhone 6s is no exception. It’s lovely to so easily carry such a capable camera. It’s always ready to go.

Mark IV
John Mount
Stairs at the Palmer House

The Apple iPhone 6s camera served me well for the five years I used it. I always wished its sides were flat and the phone thus easier to hold as a camera, like both my iPhone 5 and now my iPhone 12 mini. Otherwise, I wish this phone could have lasted another 5 years as I was otherwise satisfied with it. I’m sure my new iPhone 12 mini’s camera is better in noticeable ways, and I’m sure I’ll come to appreciate it. But so far this new phone isn’t so much better or exciting than the 6s that I feel its cost is justified.

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Collecting Cameras

Film cameras in use

Sometimes when I have film in a camera, I photograph it with my phone. I’m not sure why. But I was happy to see these photos when I reviewed all the images I made with my iPhone 6s to write a forthcoming review.

Pentax ME
Olympus Trip 35
Olympus OM-1
Nikon Nikomat FTn

Three of these photos were taken on my desk at work. Sometimes people notice my old cameras and say something, but mostly they don’t. Every now and again I discover a kindred film spirit this way, and that’s always nice.

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Tulips at night

Tulips at night
Apple iPhone 6s

I make photos with my phone that I wouldn’t bother to make otherwise. If I have to go find one of my regular cameras, I just won’t be bothered. These tulips on our kitchen windowsill is one of those photos. I was at the sink below to wash my hands when I noticed how the tulips popped against the night in the window. It took just a few seconds to get my phone out of my pocket, set it to square format, and make this image.

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single frame: Tulips at night

Flowers on our windowsill.


I’m not a lush, I swear

For years now, I’ve met every month with my brother and a mutual friend to drink a little whiskey and enjoy each others’ company. The pandemic has curtailed our in-person activity, so we’ve switched to meeting over Zoom. It’s better than nothing.

We routinely text each other photos of what we’re drinking when we’re not together. Here are the best of those photos I found on my iPhone after I upgraded to a new phone recently.


Breckenridge. This bourbon is distilled at a giant distillery in Indiana and then shipped at barrel strength to Colorado, where they cut it with snow melt (allegedly). It’s a nice bourbon, but it’s gone up in price beyond its deliciousness and so I haven’t had it in some time.

The Glenlivet

The Glenlivet 12 year. I love this scotch, even though most scotch drinkers consider it an entry-level single malt. Thanks to stock shortages it became hard to find for a couple years. It’s back now, but in a clear bottle with a different label. I wasn’t sure it was the same whiskey for a while! But the Glenlivet folks swear it is. I’d drink more scotch, but it’s so expensive here in the United States. Bourbon is a much better value here.

I drink alone

Old Grand-Dad Bonded. You’ll find this 100-proof bourbon on a low shelf. But don’t fear it — it is far more delicious than its price suggests. I buy it mostly to make old fashioneds, but it’s decent straight.

Dickel Barrel Select

George Dickel Barrel Select. This is a Tennessee whiskey, not a bourbon. I generally enjoy the George Dickel whiskeys but I don’t remember anything about this one!

Blood Oath

Blood Oath Part No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3. I made this photo on one of the nights my brother and our friend met. We all tried one pour from each of these bottles. That was enough whiskey for one night!

At Willett Distillery

Flight at the Willett Distillery. Margaret and I made a cautious trip last October to Kentucky bourbon country, where we visited the Willett distillery. They have a lovely little restaurant and bar, so we had dinner and I enjoyed this flight.