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Leaving my DSLR at home: An iPhone experiment

171

Amazing ability to handle tricky light

The iPhone handled most tricky lighting well, because it could do lots of editing for me behind-the-scenes. It has a trick that's become common on the latest cameras: taking several photos in quick succession, changing settings between them, and then merging the best parts of each photo to make one great composite image.

Waterfall at Cat Cat, Vietnam, shot with iPhone 4S. Two camera apps used: one for the waterfall and one for the rest. Edited with Filterstorm, Photogene2, Snapseed and Image Blender apps.

Some apps put this feature on steroids, and one of them - Pro HDR - quickly became my most-used camera app for landscapes, giving gorgeous skies and rich detail - way better than is possible on any camera without the feature without resorting to Photoshop.

Puts most of Photoshop in your pocket

When I felt like spending time editing photos, the phone didn’t disappoint. With the right combination of apps, I had a sizeable portion of Photoshop's features right in my pocket.

But the apps were a lot more fun to learn and use! I ended up doing most of the editing in Snapseed – one of the more expensive apps at AU$5.50 ($4.99 U.S. in the App Store). It’s not as powerful as apps like Filterstorm or PhotoForge2, but I found Snapseed a pleasure to use, and the interface is perfectly suited to the tiny iPhone screen. With other apps, I had an urge to put my fingers through a pencil sharpener to help control the tiny buttons.

Cyclists at sunrise, Hoi An, Vietnam. Shot with iPhone 4S native camera app and processed in Snapseed and Filterstorm.

Before doing lots of editing, I’d suggest getting some photos printed, so you know if your phone's screen is too dark or bright. Unlike a computer monitor, there is no way to calibrate the whole display of the phone so that what you see is accurate. You can do it with an Datacolor Spyder4 or 3 device, but you'll only see the result within their SpyderGallery app, not while you're editing pictures.

Before leaving, I compared the same photos on my phone's screen to a calibrated accurate screen; my iPhone screen was close enough for non-critical work, but just fractionally brighter. That meant that if I edited photos to make them look perfect on the phone’s screen, they would print just a little too dark. The difference was slight enough that just remembering to make photos look a little brighter than normal on the phone's screen gave me prints that I was happy with.

Great depth, and great depth in focus

The lenses on the iPhone 4 and 4S are well-suited to landscapes and photojournalism. They give a fairly wide view that stretches depth in scenes, so you rarely get "flat photo" syndrome. They also achieve such a huge depth of focus that I found focusing became almost unnecessary. It was hard to miss!

Ladies in traditional dress collect rice seedlings ready for transplanting, Cat Cat, Vietnam. Shot with iPhone 4S, taken with Pro HDR app, processed with Filterstorm and Snapseed (which increased the grain).

This made for great landscapes – I could include the foreground right up close to me, and still keep the mountains in the background in focus. I could have done this with my DSLR, but only by using settings that forced me to use a tripod too. I could do it handheld with the iPhone.

Having lots in focus might not always be what you want – with portraits, you sometimes want to blur the background. The iPhone can't really do that by itself, but you can paint on the blur using apps afterwards.

A hidden treasure: the front camera

Toward the end of the trip, I discovered that the "front" camera -- the one that points at you -- can be a gem for photographing people. I've never before used a camera that helps to break the ice with people.

Picture this scene: You're on holiday and you're having a nice, smiley interaction with a local person, but you don't speak their language. You might be buying something at a market, or fending off a hoard of children at a local school. It's a wonderful moment, and you want to take their photo to capture it, but pulling out a camera would ruin the moment -- it would just be plain rude!

But pull out the phone, give it to them, and get them to take a picture of the two of you together, and then take their own photo, and a whole new relationship unfolds. You can probably email the picture to them on the spot. Now you’re both playing together with the camera as equals. You're not trapped behind it as a barrier, forced to play the role of rich tourist. The camera has helped to create a memorable moment, rather than getting in the way of one. Now you’ve got permission to take all kinds of photos with them, and you’ll probably both enjoy the process.

To me, this was a revelation. I’m used to employing all kinds of tricks to overcome the barrier that a camera creates. But this was just the opposite. They say that your camera can be a passport to meeting people. That front camera makes it way easier. I’ll emphasise that the front camera on the iPhone 4S gives fairly low-quality pictures. And, as I’ll discuss below, the main camera is not well-suited to taking flattering portraits of people. But again, if I was prepared to sacrifice some quality, I found that the phone could help me have experiences that were just not available with a big camera.

Comments

Total comments: 171
12
ManWithPentaxCamera
By ManWithPentaxCamera (Nov 8, 2012)

I am impressed with the photographs you were able to make with your iPhone and intrigued by the idea of breaking the ice (and the language barrier) by approaching strangers and having them take a photo of you and then a photo of themselves with your phone.

My wife refers to my cameras as my mistresses, too!

0 upvotes
HubertChen
By HubertChen (Oct 21, 2012)

Dean's Article made me come back again and again. Eventually I explored his website:
http://www.takebetterphotos.com.au/iphone-photos-by-us.html
I found many more inspirational Articles and fantastic pictures shot with just a simple camera. The qualities of his pictures are just amazing notwithstanding the device used. He was able to achieve this by using these simple cameras every day ( leaving the better gear at home ). I found a man taking the time and patience to teach others the joy of photography by example. I can not help but feeling he also made a sacrifice by putting down the pro camera and using the low tech stuff in order to have first hand experience with the equipment his students are using.Through his Articles I am one of his students. I am so very grateful. Dean really touched me and he is having a very profound impact not only on my photography but also improving my family live and marriage. Considering some other type of posts I read here I felt this needed to be said.

0 upvotes
evoprox
By evoprox (Oct 19, 2012)

Sheesh, almost every single reply to your article is solely focused on technological aspects, maybe a handful relate to the artistic aspect of your pictures. If I had to rate your shots by their 'artistic value' -for lack of a better term- I'd put each one of them right up in the top 10% or even 5% of the stuff we usually get to see on dpreview, take that 100% subjective compliment from an ex-colleague. Most photogs will never make it up there and no pixel-peeping will take them any closer, ever.
Thanks for sharing a piece of your vision Dean.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
2 upvotes
HubertChen
By HubertChen (Oct 21, 2012)

Dear avoprox,
Well said. I also wonder if many posts will become friendlier if it were possible to click on the profile picture of the poster and see their pictures. See their quality or lack thereof.

1 upvote
graison
By graison (Oct 19, 2012)

How are you liking the iPhone 5 and the photo apps must show improved performance?

0 upvotes
Dean Holland
By Dean Holland (Oct 19, 2012)

It's a lot faster, making it feel very different to the 4S. The results are very similar to those from the 4s, though. It's normally hard to tell the two apart by looking at the photos. DPReview put part 1 of my review up on 24th Sept. I'm working on part 2 (focusing on the apps) now.

0 upvotes
Anada
By Anada (Oct 17, 2012)

Take a look of the DPreview's review of the Nokia 808!

Or my own test of 808 vs Nikon D300 here
http://www.pbase.com/anada/testing_808

D300 with the Nikkor 50mm F:1.8 at F:5.6

Antti

0 upvotes
tbcass
By tbcass (Oct 17, 2012)

iPhone IQ really sucks for a serious photographer. If you must travel light then the new Sony RX100 has speed and IQ that makes the iPhone look like a worthless piece of junk by comparison and it isn't much bigger.

And Anada, the Nokia 808 is also junk. To say it's second only to a Nikon D800 shows you know nothing about photography. High megapixel count does not a quality photo make. Sensor size and lens quality matters much, much, much (ad infinitum) more.

dougster1979; Your argument doesn't hold water when you consider an iPhone takes worse photos than a 50 year old 35mm camera.

0 upvotes
HubertChen
By HubertChen (Oct 21, 2012)

Dear tbcass,
As you can see from many ( sadly not all ) comments the pictures presented here by Dean have high Artistic quality. So it is a fact that his pictures have high enough quality to bring joy and inspiration to some readers here. Thus it is a fact that the quality of the device he used does not "suck".
Furthermore, we all agree that the iPhone is inferior to the DSLR or even any Point-and-Shoot. This is also beside the point here. The point of this Article was that the entire different nature of the iPhone inspired Dean to see differently. To fall in love again with photography and create different ( to him more exciting ) pictures. It was an experiment that worked for him ( and for me) . It is OK if it does not work for you. But frankly this is no reason to upset others with crude and inaccurate language. How about you use the same courtesy talking to us like you use to talk to your best friend ? ( And I hope for him you do not talk like you write ).

Comment edited 4 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
chibachan
By chibachan (Oct 17, 2012)

This is really odd.

Most people here just take what you got into account but never care about what you lost!

How about scenes of night food market or street performances?

0 upvotes
tbcass
By tbcass (Oct 17, 2012)

Forget about night or low light photography. Take a look at the iso 1600 samples on DPReview. Really bad even at 3mp.

0 upvotes
GaryW
By GaryW (Oct 18, 2012)

I have taken some night and low light pics with the iPhone, and it's not nearly as good as an APS-C sensor, but not much worse than a compact P&S. I have a couple of results that I'm happy with and probably cannot print large - 4x6 is sufficient for snapshots. Or maybe I only need web-use. But it does get grainy as the light gets dimmer and the shutter gets very slow, so you have to hold it steady (like a P&S). But I can recall a few years ago where I had a P&S camera that was about unusable in similar light, so I think it's pretty impressive in that regard. It's all relative. I don't want to replace my other cameras, but if this is the only camera I have handy, I don't have a problem using it, and maybe the results are usable!

0 upvotes
delastro
By delastro (Oct 17, 2012)

I miss one aspect. If I travel - travigal.de - I need very often the S-Mode, Shutterspeed. For example for quick situations it is very important to freeze one moment. Is there an app for that S-Mode? The normal Iphone-camera hasn´t it.

0 upvotes
Anada
By Anada (Oct 17, 2012)

Well well, that is true most of the time and conserning ordinary
phones, like iPhone etc. But in some cases the Nokia 808 is second to only Nikon D800!

Antti

0 upvotes
tbcass
By tbcass (Oct 17, 2012)

Second only to Nikon D800? You can't be serious. Even at it's highest quality 3mp setting the photos are at best cheap P&S quality.

0 upvotes
Anada
By Anada (Oct 17, 2012)

According to Zeiss itself the 808 lens is a little better than the Lanthar 50mm F:2.

0 upvotes
Anada
By Anada (Oct 19, 2012)

Btw Nokia 808 in studio vs Nikon D800E here

http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/post/42115657

0 upvotes
dash2k8
By dash2k8 (Oct 17, 2012)

I'm sorry, but at the end of the day, it's about how serious you want your pictures to be. If your priority is your honeymoon, leave the DSLR at home. If you want good pictures, no way any smartphone is going to be yield better results. Remember the guy who tried to cover the Olympics with a Lumix G5? Didn't work out at all. Likewise, pretending a smartphone can produce good pictures is being overly optimistic, IMO.

0 upvotes
dougster1979
By dougster1979 (Oct 17, 2012)

Just out of interest, would you say the pics above are good or bad. Technology will always improve. How would a G5 fare against a D1 D2 from 10 years ago. The Nikon D4, D800, Canon 5D Mk III, will all seem obsolete in 10 years time. The phrase "Less gear means more eye" is key for me. I agree the i phone isn`t the best camera out there. But the general obsession with the constant need for "better gear, better results" depresses me. What makes a good photographer, a good camera helps but surely the artistry is most important.

2 upvotes
cinemascope
By cinemascope (Oct 17, 2012)

Regarding my last comment, not trying to sound grumpy... But it's a question I raised a couple of times at BBQs with friends... And at such occasions one can really get a glimpse of all the grown-ups going kiddo...

1 upvote
cinemascope
By cinemascope (Oct 17, 2012)

An honest question (not trying to upset anyone):
Why are us contemporary adults so enamorated by gadgetry these days?
I remember when the Walkman was the thing to have, but back then, all the "adults" couldn't care less about it.
I feel like the whole world has somehow gone back to their teens, being wowed by simple technology the same way kids used to do...
And all this social media stuff... sounds to me like we are all somehow looking for social acceptance, and trying to fit in, as if we were all back to our school days...
Is now growing up a thing of the past too?

2 upvotes
Silat Shooter
By Silat Shooter (Oct 16, 2012)

Great story! Thanks for sharing! I had a similar experience on our family's summer vacation. It became a personal challenge to see if I could make interesting images with just an iPhone. As you mentioned, I also became more engaged in "seeing" the image before putting lifting the phone to photograph. Also found that I enjoyed the instant gratification of shooting, editing and posting the image with one devise.

It became a dilemma for me as I wanted to shoot more with my iPhone than my DSLR. Loved hearing "you took THAT with your PHONE?!?!" There's a satisfaction in that

1 upvote
DavidsfotosDotCom
By DavidsfotosDotCom (Oct 16, 2012)

2 Questions:
1. Print comparison missing ie, did a
4 x 6" iPhone print look like a
16x20" SLR print or what?
2. If you put a iPhone in one of those underwater zip lock dive bags how deep till it crushes?

0 upvotes
Dean Holland
By Dean Holland (Oct 17, 2012)

I put a comparison with compacts and DSLR in an iPhone review that DPReview published on 24th Sept - have a look there. In good light outdoors, it's way closer than 4x6" v 16x20"... you have to look closely to spot the differences. In poor light (say EV3 and below), your reference point is probably not far off.
Don't know about dive bags, I'm afraid.

0 upvotes
Istvan Peter Bokor
By Istvan Peter Bokor (Oct 16, 2012)

Congrats for your well written article, that I fully share.

I have just returned from a business trip, that simply did not give me any opportunity to take pictures with my dslr. Not even one. But I managed to shoot lots of 2-5 second videos with my iPhone4S. Editing by iMovie took several hours.

The videos may not look like the ones taken by a 5Dii, but still a lot better than nothing.

As You put it, "less equipment, more eye". I will certainly not stop using my dslr, but the iPhone4S is in my pocket as well.

1 upvote
Anada
By Anada (Oct 16, 2012)

Thank you Dean for your interesting article and really nice pictures.

I'm attending a couple of photo courses and last sunday I was shooting in the forests here near Helsinki, Finland. I had with me the backpack with D300 and lenses from 12 to 400 mm and also the tripod. In my pocket I had my new Nokia 808 Pureview with tripod adapter.

When I got home I noticed I had taken 29 pics with the D300 and 105 pics with the 808. And some of them were pics of the same objects and in all of them but one the 808 delivered better!

1 upvote
seeblue
By seeblue (Oct 16, 2012)

Nice article.

One comment. Placing the iPhone in Airplane Mode turns off the built-in GPS. Any photos taken in this mode will not be geo-tagged using the iPhone's GPS. However, WiFi may be separately enabled while in Airplane Mode.

If I don't need to be in touch, I'll instead disable voice and data roaming and network connections in Settings, and only place the phone in Airplane Mode when on downtime or charging.

1 upvote
bodziu
By bodziu (Oct 16, 2012)

I am glad to read such sound and unbiased opinion! Congrats on the bravery to leave alll those kilograms at home;-)

Your amazing photographs speak for themselves and you are right about this phone-camera being predictable in terms of results.
In my opinion such should be any convenient tool that one can use to capture this one-off scene that is about to vanish or at least to take a decent picture to remember it and if possible return with heavy-gear...

Thank you!

1 upvote
larrytusaz
By larrytusaz (Oct 16, 2012)

I'm content to live solely at the "main" DPreview site, but they linked to this article, so I decided to respond as well.

I understand the desire to "travel light," especially on a trip where you're trying to make sure you're spending suitable time with your wife as the #1 priority, in fact that's great of you & I mean that. That said, being an enthusiast photographer & having recently went on a trip myself, I just can't bring myself down to the PHONE camera level. To me, once you "arrive" at a certain level as a photographer, using something like a camera phone is an anathema. Camera phones are more the sort of thing you'd see the casual snapshooter using for taking "rabbit ears" poses of them & their friends being silly, that sort of thing--which is fine, by the way.

On my recent trip, I used an Olympus E-PL1 (I now have the E-PM1) which had a 2x crop sensor, RAW, the works--while still being much smaller than my D5100. Even on a trip, I can never stop being a photographer 100%.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 13 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Dean Holland
By Dean Holland (Oct 16, 2012)

Hi Larry, thanks for your comments... it's made me think a lot about why I did it!
I suppose my reasons are personal, and I respect that others will legitimately find them anathema.
As a person who earns a living from cameras, my enthusiasm and creativity are my most valuable assets. More so than my equipment and portfolio. Anything that boosts my creativity is incredibly valuable to me. The limitations of the phone challenged my creativity in ways that a compact/mirrorless/DSLR wouldn't have. I wasn't just aiming to increase my portfolio, but to improve my ability to take portfolio images. i.e. to become a better photographer, more than to own more nice photos.
I was surprised that I did get so many portfolio-grade images with a phone. While I'm acutely aware of all the photos I missed by not having better gear, I was surprised how many photos I got BECAUSE I didn't have better gear with me.
I also haven't had so much fun in ages, and I see better photos when I'm happy!

Comment edited 9 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Serenity Now
By Serenity Now (Oct 21, 2012)

.....and heeeeeere's Larry! Larry for those of you who haven't caught his pearls of "honesty" in other threads has apparently "arrived" as a photographer. This puts him above those who would stoop "down" to making a photograph with a camera because it happens to be conveniently located in a smartphone. The article made many great points which were beautifully illustrated with some lovely photographs from a professional photographer - did you miss that Larry? Or were you too busy arriving?

0 upvotes
larrytusaz
By larrytusaz (Oct 27, 2012)

I'm well aware Dean is considered a professional. I'm a mere hobbyist, but I could never use a phone for any quality type of photographs even on a vacation. If you disagree fine but that's my opinion & firmly so. Yes I consider it beneath me & any real photography to use a PHONE. Others besides me made the point of how many other cameras would've done a far better job & still would've been smaller vs a DSLR.

Now, back to DPreview, now that they've ceased (for now) referring us to "Connect" articles. I'm content to just live over there.

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Dean Holland
By Dean Holland (Oct 16, 2012)

Thanks for all the comments - I've really enjoyed the discussions, and it's great to have such a lively, friendly place to share ideas.

Here's what I'm taking away from the discussions I've been in:
1. Making ANY change to your camera (esp a 'downgrade') can inspire for a while. Temporary camera swap-shop, anyone?
2. The iPhone does fine photographically, but a modern compact does better in all technical senses. But the phone has a social edge: improving interactions with people. It doesn't just get in the way less, it can actually help. How you weight this trade-off is 100% personal.
3. Me? I'll take the phone & DSLR next family holiday and leave the compact at home. But I'll keep the DLSR on a leash (& happily leave it for days too).
4. Hyphenate with care!

I'm lucky to have lots of cameras to choose from. After this trip, I'm feeling more gracious towards each for its strengths, and less inclined to worry about drawbacks. These days of choice must be the best to be a photographer!

0 upvotes
Eric Hensel
By Eric Hensel (Oct 15, 2012)

Skytripper said: "I fail to see how carrying one of the many excellent "enthusiast" compact cameras would have cramped the author's style while traveling. " We can see that. It's also clear that if the author had done what you suggest, he might as well have gotten to you to write the article, as well, because the premise for this article would be gone.

1 upvote
HubertChen
By HubertChen (Oct 16, 2012)

I think the same style of Article could have ( will be ) be written: Leaving my DSLR at home, a Compact experiment. I believe many aspects of the story will be the same, and certainly both would be the same "non-cramped" travel style. But some pictures would be significantly different. Say the shots enabled by the Mobile phone used as ice breaker in shooting joint portraits ( which is not possible with compact ). Or all the shots seen by the changed "eye" of the photographer, which would have otherwise been overlooked. I understand this Article is not only about travel light, but also about the changed vision by the changed photographic tool. The Author simply enjoyed to be forced to view different. I really appreciate your comment. It helped me understand this Article deeper. I imagine now taking my Point and Shoot instead of the DSLR. I would shoot DSLR-like: in Aperture priority mode (cursing along the way). With the iPhone there is no such chance. You are forced to point & shoot.

2 upvotes
Dean Holland
By Dean Holland (Oct 16, 2012)

Good point. My previous family holiday was New Zealand with an LX5, and I left with a very different conclusion, possibly because I was shooting more landscapes. I found the tripod to be the biggest issue - once I needed a tripod, the compact lost most of its advantages and I kept wondering why I wasn't using the Hasselblad instead.
But the iPhone was a different TYPE of experience altogether. For me, the next holiday is DLSR (or mirrorless?) and iPhone, and skip the middle ground compact. But that's purely a reflection of how I enjoy shooting, not a recommendation for others!

0 upvotes
MikeFairbanks
By MikeFairbanks (Oct 15, 2012)

I thought you wrote a great article (and have the husband thing in control...very important). A DSLR is a barrier between a man and his family sometimes, so it's best to use it sparingly on vacations.

I bought a dedicated point and shoot recently that's smaller than my Iphone and takes slightly better pictures (a 200-dollar Canon). It doesn't get used. I use my Iphone and my DSLR. I'm going to sell the almost-new point and shoot because it just isn't fun like an Iphone or a DSLR.

Most importantly, holidays are for having fun. Yes, cultural awareness is important, but that's also fun (learning). And if a phone does a decent job of taking pictures then it's one less thing I have to carry. I'm looking forward to unlocking and starting my car, along with paying for all my purchases using nothing but a smart phone. Keys and a wallet? Who needs them? They take up space. A smart phone can (well, fairly soon) do all of that.

They'll just get better and better.

1 upvote
skytripper
By skytripper (Oct 15, 2012)

I fail to see how carrying one of the many excellent "enthusiast" compact cameras would have cramped the author's style while traveling. As he himself admits, the trick with the iPhone "camera" is understanding what it can and can't do, then sticking to that. Which is fine, but carrying an 8 oz. compact would have given him much, much more flexibility.

1 upvote
jjlad
By jjlad (Oct 15, 2012)

Wonderful idea and wonderful series.
Just to back up the usefulness of these new gagets ...here's a link to a photojournalistic set of photos that gave me a reality check and a lot to think about in terms of things we take for granted and the resiliency of the human spirit.

The photographer who posted those, and you, are both to be commended for your ability to 'see and capture' with whatever tools you have at your disposal.
jj

http://www.flickr.com/photos/wanderbliss/6274455567/in/set-72157627838784131/

0 upvotes
costinul_ala
By costinul_ala (Oct 15, 2012)

I don't see anything remarkable in the photos above but the incredible talent of the photographer.

But certainly having just a phone is limiting. The limits also spur creativity. But I don't think the author needed that challenge.

Interesting as an experiment but the phone will remain a favorite pub camera

0 upvotes
bergat
By bergat (Oct 15, 2012)

I made a benchmark between Iphone 4s and nikon coolpix 2200 of two Mpixels. In all the situation the results of the photos were better with Coolpix than iPhone 4S. The iphone 4S'S camera is poor of quality, expecially if you want to use at 100% of enlargment. The vantage of iphone 4S is that you always bring with you because is a phone and not a camera. Probabily if one use vary software it also possible obtain good photos with iPhone, but if you use a normal camera like for example the fuji x100, you can obtain more better vantage

Comment edited 3 times, last edit 6 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
darrengo
By darrengo (Oct 15, 2012)

According to Apple the iPhone is the world's most popular camera: http://www.apple.com/iphone/features/

Comment edited 3 times, last edit 1 minute after posting
0 upvotes
maboule123
By maboule123 (Oct 15, 2012)

Thanks for your kind feedback, Dean.
Here are my two cents of wisdom on trip photos:
1- Don't go out there trying to get the impossible-inedit-mouth watering-never seen shot. It won't happen. There's always the work for sale from local artists. They live there, and they know the best locations & best times to capture an image. You'll feel free to shot FOR FUN, and you will stop blaming the wife for the missing shots. You will also help to promote local business.
2- Don't think of the giant poster of your image that will be exposed on the wall of the local eatery or fish market. Do not disgrace your living room, please. Expose in the basement or your garage. A friend of mine who exposes his work in local restaurants only makes 5"x7" prints. He says that people are compelled to GET UP from their seats and APPROACH, in order to appreciate his work.
Dean is teaching us to...GO OUT THERE AND HAVE FUN!!!!

1 upvote
showmeyourpics
By showmeyourpics (Oct 15, 2012)

I am an older part-time pro. Many years ago, I purchased a Rolley XF 35 as a go-everywhere pocket camera. When the lab developed my roll of test slides, they asked me permission to print a poster out of one of the pics and hang it in the store. I mention this because it is true that a good photographer can take good pictures even with a can of tuna. It is also true that technology, while not being self-determinant, nevertheless establishes the boundaries of what people can do with it. The pics in the article are good because the photographer is a pro and the shooting conditions fell within the quite limited capabilities of the phone. I agree with the fellow posters commenting that this article is frivolous and, wanting to travel very light, Mr Holland had the choice of many, much more capable pocket-size cameras.

1 upvote
Dean Holland
By Dean Holland (Oct 15, 2012)

Thanks Showmeyourpics. When we set off, I certainly didn't share your confidence that I would be able to get any/many satisfying pictures with the phone. At the time, I hadn't fully explored its boundaries.

And that's why I took the phone, as an experiment and a challenge to stretch me. The challenges with a compact would have been similar to the ones I face daily at work. While I had the luxury of no clients, I wanted to get further out of my comfort zone so that I could experiment and learn more.

I agree 100% that a modern compact is much more technically capable. And that's why I didn't use it - it's not an experiment.

0 upvotes
showmeyourpics
By showmeyourpics (Oct 17, 2012)

Hi Dean, I have to remind myself of what I tell my students: if you shoot for a living you have to work within a precise set of parameters (features, budget, client expectations, etc.) but if you don't everything goes as long as it makes you happy. I am a passionate fine art photographer, market and sell my photos regularly but do not depend on it economically. As a rule of thumb, I expect my equipment to help me express my creativity. On one hand, I don't want to be burdened by bulky and heavy equipment that would be a pain and a distraction to carry around but on the other hand I do not want to give up photos that I would love to take because of camera limitations. The point of balance is a personal choice but I can come to one general conclusion: I would not recommend any of my students to chose a camera phone to learn how to photograph. Then again, if the only point is to have fun, anything goes

Comment edited 5 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
GaryW
By GaryW (Oct 17, 2012)

I appreciate the challenge as well. It may not be the right choice for a pro, but fun nonetheless.

0 upvotes
Kabe Luna
By Kabe Luna (Oct 14, 2012)

If the camera of my iPhone 4 didn't deliver images with a prominent green blob in the center, I might actually consider using it for all my casual photography. But, it does produce said central green tint. Apple wants me to jump through all kinds of hoops before they even acknowledge the problem, even though I have noticed that many iPhone 4 cameras have the same flaw. It's not worth the trouble for me to go through the song and dance with Apple. If I want a high quality pocket camera, there are far better choices anyway than the iPhone.

0 upvotes
sadwitch
By sadwitch (Oct 14, 2012)

Seriously good stuff.

0 upvotes
andreaThode
By andreaThode (Oct 14, 2012)

Great article! I'm in love with my GF1 and now GX1 with fixed lenses. Best travel camera imho. I wouldn't go so far to only shoot with my 4S but I know how you felt the need for downgrading, as I encountered a similar 'honeymoon' trip to asia.

I've taken tremendously great pictures and I'm quite shure, I wouldn't got them with my D800 and the huge, intimidating lenses. In this day and age a small camera often gets the job done for most travelers.

0 upvotes
Deleted pending purge
By Deleted pending purge (Oct 14, 2012)

Very well written, richly introspective and sincere. It shows the so-often forgotten fact that hardware is less than 10% in photography, the rest being the author, every time.
Thanks, Dean for sharing this experience. I am rarely ever without a camera, usually a compact is always in the pocket, but the instant shoot-PP-send can have its advantages.

2 upvotes
Lilianna
By Lilianna (Oct 14, 2012)

Wonderful article and lovely images!
I have found much the same liberation using my Nokia N8 and now my Nokia Pureview.
Once one gets used to seeing with these cameras and and having it with all the time one finds a curious freedom...

Comment edited 58 seconds after posting
2 upvotes
GaryW
By GaryW (Oct 14, 2012)

I think the iPhone camera is pretty decent for what it is, and I can get good results. I haven't noticed a lot of "social" benefits, aside from being able to upload to Facebook, which is significant, actually.

I noticed even with my old iPhone 3GS (I now use a 4S), I could occasionally get a really good photo. Even technically, not bad. Grainy in low light, sure, but without that watercolor NR mess you seem to get on today's P&S cameras. I think the iPhone photos have a good "look" about them. If I don't have another camera handy, I don't have a problem using the iPhone, and on a short business trip, that may be the only camera I have; on such trips, that's usually sufficient, as I don't expect to run into a lot of photo opportunities. I'd rather use a better camera, but when the battery died on my Nex on one trip and I didn't have a replacement battery, I made use of the iPhone. I don't think I've tried any large prints with it, though. P&S replacement? Maybe!

1 upvote
ivan1973
By ivan1973 (Oct 14, 2012)

Thats what photography is all about. I came across people who owns a Nikon D4 but taking photos that is sub standard. Camera is a tool, just like a knife.

3 upvotes
Simon Zeev
By Simon Zeev (Oct 14, 2012)

I love the pictures. They show what a good photographer can do with a simple camera

2 upvotes
HarrieD7000
By HarrieD7000 (Oct 14, 2012)

Great pictures. Dean Holland shows, you don't need an expensive camera. Just a good eye to make the composition and some tools.
I think I never can produce pictures like these, not even with a D4 or a D1x, and all the tools on earth.

1 upvote
HubertChen
By HubertChen (Oct 14, 2012)

If you really want to produce as good pictures, find a camera which you enjoy using ( care that you love using the camera, do not care mega pixels or resolution charts ). Then shoot a lot and edit a lot. Edit not as in Photoshop editing. Edit as in shoot hundreds of pictures and narrow it down to a few keepers, maybe just one per shoot to keep. Maybe delete the others. In between look at pictures of good photographers. Keep doing it for a long time. Arrange it that you enjoy it. And you will get there and not even notice it.

0 upvotes
HubertChen
By HubertChen (Oct 14, 2012)

Dear Harry, when reading my post I thought it could be misunderstood so I rewrote it, but could not save it anymore. So here goes the hopefully nicer version:
In case you meant that you do not want to put in the time to train yourself to shoot great pictures in order to do other things, then all is fine. In case you did tried, and failed to produce "pictures like these" and this is frustrating you, I am trying to encourage you: A trained eye comes with practice. Give yourself time and practice, study photographs which you like for inspiration and keep at it and you will get there. One good method is to go out and shoot hundreds of pictures and then pick one good one. Print it and put it on the wall. Delete the rest. Then and do this again and again.

0 upvotes
HarrieD7000
By HarrieD7000 (Oct 14, 2012)

Dear HubertChen,
Thanks for your remarks. I look very critical to my own pictures. And although my family is pleased with my work, I'm convinced the results could be better. And yes sometimes the pictures are great, but my goal is to be able to make great pictures (almost) every time I press the button. I think I still have to make lots and lots of pictures, before I'm there.

0 upvotes
HubertChen
By HubertChen (Oct 15, 2012)

Dear Harry,
For your reference. When I go on a shoot for a week end trip I come back with about 400 pictures. Give or take. I am editing this down to about 12 keepers, which are strong enough I can interest people to look at a slide show / printed portfolio. Talking to other photographers, they have similar numbers. It is not that most pictures are technically no good. The reason is that when I found a thing worse shooting, I shoot it from several perspectives, try landscape and portrait, move relative to foreground to replace background, different depth of field, etc. I shoot a lot and sort it out in editing. Another thing to consider is, that ( for me ) pictures with the biggest "wow" factors are the ones I took the biggest risk. Meaning I shot something I was not sure at all if that picture will be a success. Such pictures have an higher than usual reject rate, but if they score, the score high. In short, I am suggesting you rethink your goal every picture looks great.

0 upvotes
xiod_crlx
By xiod_crlx (Oct 15, 2012)

"Dean Holland shows, you don't need an expensive camera. "

...wait a second, what is the price of iPhone?
doesn't it look like it is few times more than a price of compact camera?

I presume you wanted to say "low-tech camera" but definitely not "low priced"

it is easy to see the real skill and experience of photographer when it comes to limited-capabilities solutions like camera-enabled phone instead of a camera

but it is not cheap. it is expensive.

compact cameras are much cheaper and more fit to this job

nevertheless, real photography never been about "high iso noise" or "dynamic range"

0 upvotes
peterclark55
By peterclark55 (Oct 14, 2012)

The pictures are just fine and the gear light on the shoulder, congratulations and happy honeymoon.

Have tons of Nikon DSLRs and lenses but just bought a Samsung Galaxy Note 2 last week and was really surprised by my first hesitant shots. They are good, even in low light. Peter

1 upvote
vincent filomena
By vincent filomena (Oct 14, 2012)

Wonderful: Thanks

Vjim

0 upvotes
Coyote_Cody
By Coyote_Cody (Oct 14, 2012)

Who would travel without a 'nice' minimal P&S cam?

An iphone is something but so is your memory, so iphone can trigger your memory but will not print out to 24"x36"!

If you only have a iphone, you are NOT a photographer, or a ill prepared one (the photos in article, who would NOT want a 'good' camera in a country such as this!!!??)

But then I do not have an iphone, do not want an iphone & would sell it if given an iphone!

I guess "ipoo tooey" (spit, spit)! :)

Everyone enjoy you iphones, I will enjoy my real cameras, I go nowhere without at least one!!

1 upvote
JackM
By JackM (Oct 14, 2012)

Moron. Admit that you did not read the article or look at the pictures. Because if you did, you're an even bigger fool. He said he printed 36" wide, and the photos are wonderful.

0 upvotes
thebusmaster
By thebusmaster (Oct 13, 2012)

I've been shooting for almost 40 years and to this day the best shots I've taken have been with minimal amount of equipment. As man of you have said, It's the camera you have when the image presents itself that's the best one to have.

2 upvotes
jedinstvo
By jedinstvo (Oct 13, 2012)

This reminds me of an article I read in Popular Photography Magazine when I was 14....1962. Well-known photographer Arthur Rothstein was on vacation at the beach. A bunch of amateur photographers were running around with tons of gear. He asked one what was going on. "It's a photo contest!" said the harried enthusiast. Rothstein pointed out it was better to work unencumbered by so much equipment. "Not if you want to win!" was the answer. So Rothstein went into the local drugstore and bought the cheapest Kodak camera. 120 film. He shot one roll of 12 exposures and took the film back to the drugstore for processing. Then he entered the prints in the contest and won. Interestingly, nobody recognized him as a Life Magazine staff photographer. What really impressed me was the beautiful simplicity of the photos he shot. I learned my lesson! That having been said, my iPhone and my Leica have a deal. I don't shoot no photos with the iPhone and the Leica don't take no phone calls!

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
8 upvotes
Richard Murdey
By Richard Murdey (Oct 14, 2012)

Good story! One little thing though: in using 120 film, there's the fundamental image quality of medium format available, even if the camera itself is very cheap. A Life staff photog. armed with 120 film is not playing with a handicap, going against amateurs likely carrying 35mm SLRs, in fact, he had the upper hand in image quality just from the negative size.

With an iPhone, the fundamental quality in the data recorded is simply not there. You can dress it up with filters to make it look nice, and for facebook and the like its fine, but the analogy to something like a Kodak brownie is simply not valid.

2 upvotes
HubertChen
By HubertChen (Oct 14, 2012)

jedinstvo: Thanks for this lovely story!
Richard: A few thoughts for your thinking: Film was pretty grainy in 1962. From experience I extrapolate that the iPhone already has a higher resolution than 1962 120 Film. I bet the lenses on the iPhone are better than on a cheapo Kodak from that aera too! Back to the story. It is more than possible that the better photographer won due to a better picture, not due to better gear. By many ( not by all) a better picture is usually one telling a great story in a creative way, even if it has technical defects. Like the reversal of Ansel Adams quote: "Nothing worse than a sharp picture of a fuzzy idea".

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
jedinstvo
By jedinstvo (Oct 14, 2012)

Do you guys know what drugstore processing was like in 1962? Pretty bad! Also, there was no such thing as injection molded aspherical lenses....inexpensive lenses were simple and OK in quality, but nothing beyond OK. It's the eye of the photographer that carries the day!

0 upvotes
Photo-Wiz
By Photo-Wiz (Oct 13, 2012)

Goes to show once again, that it is the Photographer, not the camera that makes great pictures. Thanks for an excellent article and beautiful pictures.

1 upvote
mosswings
By mosswings (Oct 13, 2012)

absolutely, b1ackhat. pay close attention to Dean's telling of how the front side camera on his iphone let him take group shots without disrupting the flow of the conversation. In fact, using the iphone in this way enabled an image that would have not been possible with a big dslr. No enthusiast point and shoot or u4/3 or whatever would have worked, either - regardless of the technical quality. It was the nonthreatening form of the iphone and its features that promoted social interaction at work here. Traditional cameras isolate the photog from the subject, the more so the bigger they are. If the mfrs came up with an enthusiast-quality smartphone like camera, then we might satisfy both gearheads and storytellers.

2 upvotes
B1ackhat
By B1ackhat (Oct 13, 2012)

It seems that many of you have missed the point and therein lies the problem with photographers. Most are so busy capturing life that they miss out on actually living it. You may not realize it, but your loved ones certainly do. Kudos to Dean for actually realizing this and making an effort to spend some time with his wife rather than with his camera.

1 upvote
nomorepencils
By nomorepencils (Oct 13, 2012)

The proof of the pudding is in the photos - and they're good.

Good to follow up on the various apps you mention.

Photogene2
Filterstorm
Image Blender
Big Lens

0 upvotes
Amnon G
By Amnon G (Oct 13, 2012)

I had a D-90 + 4 lenses and a speedlight setup which was stolen a couple of months ago. I find iPhone pictures lacking and limiting in many cases (e.g. low light, indoor unless subject is still).
I plan to get a Fuji X-E1 + 18-55 2.8-4.0 kit lens - no 70-300 lens or other things I used 10% of the time, much smaller size, great quality and pretty good versatility.
It will be around 1Kg compared to at least 5Kg of my older setup and can still grow - 2nd lens may be the 8mm fish-eye and possibly the 55-200 Fuji next year.
Bigger than iPhone, yet a much less intrusive setup than DSLRs.
I know two people who had Canon/Nikon setups that switched to X-Pro1 + 3 primes and are very happy.
What's sure is that small camera quality is improving faster than big camera quality; unlike phones 5 years ago (or digital cameras the first few years) the threshold of "good enough" or even "very good" is being crossed more and more.

Any others with a mirrorless/ILC camera replacing their DSLR setup?

2 upvotes
Ale1210
By Ale1210 (Oct 13, 2012)

Dean, I can just say GREAT JOB!
You have been able to capture the essence of Vietnam, your work is simply astonishing.
In this case, less is really more!

Comment edited 13 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
xiod_crlx
By xiod_crlx (Oct 13, 2012)

article is ok.

but.

why to limit yourself with fixed lens and tiny sensor from the very beginning?

all-in-one device has a particular design flaw - you ran out of battery and you have no phone, no "angry birds", no music player, no navigation, no books, no camera - nothing

raw-enabled compacts like canon S-series will be a cheaper, more robust and much better solution to me "to take camera everywhere with me"

reading such articles makes a feeling that if you want a camera you have to buy iphone for $xxx instead actually buying ... a camera

this is really stupid

0 upvotes
Dean Holland
By Dean Holland (Oct 14, 2012)

Thanks, xiod. Yes, there are loads of limitations to the phone - the interface is just not speed-friendly at all, and compacts do a better job at most things. It's just a personal thing, that I enjoy photography more (and think that I see better compositions) when I'm limited. I think of it like poetry - when you impose the limitation of the last line rhyming, it's easier to come up with combinations of words that would never otherwise have occured to me.
I'm not saying that next time I'll try it with one eye closed and left-handed (although now I mention it...!), more that I found it a revealing change not to have to worry about image quality etc. And I realised how much it freed me up to improve other aspects of my photography, and particularly interactions with other people.

1 upvote
scherkas
By scherkas (Oct 14, 2012)

the point about self-imposed limitations is good (I always cite it when explaining to friends why my lenses have no zoom :-)

But - let's compare it to some tiny advanced P&S (like Canon S100 or even smaller).
It's smaller then iPhone, much cheaper, much faster, takes much better pictures in almost any conditions, has zoom, would last for a day w/o leaving you with no phone etc.

And - you may have spent overall LESS time dealing with photos (because it doesn't have all these apps and Facebook connection :-), and more time enjoying vacation with your wife ?

Your article is great, as are your photos, but it seems to me you could make good photos with pinhole and if you made these with S100 - they would be at least just as good :-)

0 upvotes
Dean Holland
By Dean Holland (Oct 14, 2012)

Yes, a modern compact does better in all these senses. In spite of its many advantages, I've surprised myself how little I've been tempted to touch my LX5 compact since shooting with the smartphone. I'm curious to see how long that feeling is going to last. I don't expect it to be permanent, but I'm enjoying the change for now. HansN46 below shared an interesting experience of trying a similar thing, and reckons a year could be the go.
[EDIT] - I'd be keen to hear if anyone else has similar "downgrade" experiences, and how they turned out in the long run.

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
HubertChen
By HubertChen (Oct 14, 2012)

To Xiod & Scherkas: I guess the point Dean tries to make is about intuition of use of a certain camera at a certain time in his life. It simply worked for him, it sparked his creative juices and he made the effort to share his experience to inspire others. I am pretty sure all of us agree that the S100 is the better technical camera. But if it would not inspire more ore better pictures to a specific person at a specific time in life, it still would not have been the right camera in that instant. For many great photography is about feeling and intuition, when shooting pictures while you are not aware you are holding a camera.

Comment edited 50 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
ReganTD
By ReganTD (Mar 30, 2013)

Great article Dean. I'm a recent iphone convert. I'm a travel blogger/photog and find the iPhone more liberating than limiting. I've always preferred to zoom with my feet and any shortcomings that the iPhone has don't bother me. As you wrote, it forces you to think & be more creative - which is always a good thing. I will concede the low light & action limitations. But then I use my equally portable gopro for action & underwater stuff. I'm not a professional photog working for clients, so I don't need or miss a DSLR at all. The iPhone is perfect for me, and its exciting to look forward to future improvements to the camera with each future iPhone release. Anyway...it's all good. :-)

0 upvotes
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