How I Learned to Love the iCamera

by Eugene Eckhardt

My interest in photography goes way back. My first, and only, film ILC is a Pentax Spot F with 50mm, 135mm, & 400mm lenses. I slowly adopted to digital, but never boarded the express train of pioneers and early adopters who upgrade with every technological innovation and new model. I used a series of “Point and Shoot” cameras, all of which allowed full manual control, and most of which were Canons to take advantage of the advanced control features in the free Canon Hack Development Kit (CHDK). My first digital ILC was an Olympus OMD-M5-II (4/3 format), 12-40 Pro (24-80mm equivalent), and a 150 (300mm equivalent). I have added an Olympus OMD-M1-lll.

I’ve been a member of the Olympia Camera Club (OCC) since the Fall 2015. The majority of conversation / discussion I observed and participated in has focused on (usually the latest and greatest) hardware: cameras, sensors, lenses, tripods, lighting, etc.; computers, monitors, tablets, back-up systems, etc.; printers, papers, ink, etc.; etc.

As all “serious” photographers know, phone cameras are for non-photographers, to take non-photos (snapshots) of non-subjects (family, pets, friends, and vacations) for non-photo use (text, post on social media, or 4×6 prints). Phone cameras aren’t “real” cameras, and they don’t take “real” photos. Like most people, I used my phone camera to take snapshots at family gatherings, pets, etc. Basically, everything except using it as a “real” camera to take “real” photos.

While on a photo trip through the Southwest in 2015, I took several photos a day with my iPhone 6s (8MP, 1/3-inch sensor and a 30mm (35mm equivalent), f2.8 lens) to text to my family – this is what I saw today. After returning, I looked at those photos a lot closer, and decided they were actually pretty good. They looked different. I concluded that it was a simple shift in my perspective. The “photo mode” using my Olympus, spilled over to “photo mode” with the iPhone. In short, I treated the iPhone as a “real” camera instead of a snapshot camera.

I experimented taking photos with my iPhone 6s when I didn’t have my Olympus – walking in the neighborhood, etc. I liked the photos. The 5×7 prints were very nice and I printed a few 8x10s. I was surprised at how nice they were. I shared them with several OCC club members to get their comments. Everyone agreed the prints were nice and they were also surprised when I told them that I used an iPhone. Several members did not believe the iPhone origin or suggested that I was simply mistaken.

In 2016, I took a 14-week trip, primarily in Central & Eastern Europe. I carried my Olympus OMD-5 II and the 12–40mm Pro lens ….. every day. I really like the camera and lens, and my carry system (Capture One backpack strap quick release clip) was comfortable and convenient. My setup is much smaller and lighter than the gear that most photographers use. Even so, as the days passed, my setup became more inconvenient, more uncomfortable, and heavier.

After 2 months, I was tired of carrying my camera around every day. I remembered that I had a backup camera – my iPhone. I took more photos with my iPhone 6s, experimenting with different light and shooting conditions – landscape, architecture, motion, interior (primarily churches), night, etc. I used the standard Apple camera app for all photos, even though I did not fully understand the app’s features. I liked the results a lot.

The day before the entry deadline for the 2017 Thurston County Fair I had no prepared photos. My wife convinced me to enter some iPhone photos. The next day, I printed (Costco), mounted and submitted entries. Although I had not printed an iPhone image at 16×20, I took the leap based on the excellent results of the 8×10 prints. How would these images stack up to photos taken with “real” cameras? And the Judges say …?

1st Apples (Still Life) 2nd Bryce (Landscape)

3rd Arches (Landscape) HM Autumn Leaves (Plants)

OK. The judges thought the iPhone photos were “real” enough. Club members were mostly surprised, and some simply dismissed or denied the iPhone origin. I think part of the struggle for “traditional” photographers is that if someone accepts the output as a “real” photo, they also must accept the camera used to take the photo as a “real” camera.

My next trip was 9 weeks in 2017, primarily in the Balkans, including a 21-day road trip with 23 different hotels. Lots of moving around and lots of walking, 3 to 9.5 miles per day, about 5.5 miles average per day. iPhone ONLY. Yes, there were a few days that I wished I had my “regular” setup, and even a longer telephoto lens. However, my feet and body were REALLY HAPPY the other 60 days.

Just prior to this trip, I upgraded to an iPhone 8, which has a 12MP sensor and a 28mm (35mm equivalent), f1.8 lens. I also downloaded several camera apps: Camera+, Pro Camera, VSCO, Pro HDR X, Night Eyes, Slow Shutter, and Snapseed. The apps are free or minimal cost – the most expensive I believe was $10. Among other things, the Camera+ app includes complete control of the camera – ISO, shutter speed, exposure compensations, focal point, etc.; has shutter options that include normal, burst, timer, and stabilization (the shutter will not fire if the camera is not still), which I have found particularly effective; and, allows the user to choose file format, JPEG, TIFF, HEIF and RAW / DNG.

We all know it is a bad idea to go on a trip with a new camera system. Predictably, this trip was a bit challenging because I was learning the new camera apps. However, they are fairly intuitive and the learning experience was very positive. I was VERY HAPPY with the results and the convenience / freedom of using the iPhone 8.

My most recent trip Spring 2019 was only 6 weeks through Northern Spain and France, again with only the iPhone 8. I encountered more sites that prohibited all photography and some that prohibited all bags, including purses and cameras, which must be checked before entry. Again, very happy with the convenience / freedom of carrying the iPhone in my shirt pocket and, more importantly, the results.

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