I will not go into my love-hate relationship with all things Apple today. Let’s just say I recently got an iPhone. You may know that I am an obsessive compulsive photographer. I am one of those people that forgets to bring a grocery list (or the kids for that matter) but never leaves the house without a camera. So I had to put this thing (the iPhone 4) through its paces. Coupled to Instagram, an iPhone is the most addictive device a photographer can own. Look in the side-bar of this site for some examples!
So how do I like it? This being an Apple device (and me loving to hate on everything Apple) I’d tell you this thing is utter crap. Fortunately, that’s not the case at all. It is quite the capable camera! But you know what they say about the best camera being the one you have with you. Well if an iPhone is all you brought, you might be in for some brow-raising results. You know, the kind that makes you go “WTF?” Like most people I take a liking to deeply saturated colors in photographs. Everyone loves rich, vibrant colors and there is nothing wrong with that. Apple knows this too, and they created a camera that makes photos absolutely pop! And pop… A bit too much.
Several times now, the iPhone camera unpleasantly surprised me. It seems to over-saturate photos. That makes images brighter (Yay!), but it also means a loss of detail (Boo!) that no amount of post-fiddling will bring back. To make matters worse, it seems to do so on selective colors leading to very unnatural and unbalanced results. The first time I really noticed the iPhone camera “screwing up” was when I was casually trying to take a picture of a Coke bottle (if you must know, Coke Australia started printing names on Coke bottles and I noticed the name of a friend of mine on the supermarket shelf).
Take a look at the detail (or rather lack thereof) of the bottle label. It’s so flat it might as well be an illustration! Then take a look at the entire photograph. Doesn’t look right, does it?
What about HDR?
Without going into what HDR is (Google it) that soda bottle image could have possibly been saved by using HDR. Shame on me for not turning it on. I find however, that in most cases Apple’s implementation of HDR makes the wrong decisions. If the differences in lighting are only subtle I often reject the HDR result as worse than the original. Furthermore, using it stops my work-flow because I have to wait for the camera to calculate and save the optimized image. I get that HDR takes three photos and then has to “mash” them together, that takes time of course. But why do all that processing while I am snapping pictures? Just save the raw images, let me continue working and do all the heavy lifting when I am ready to view the results! In the end, it being more of a nuisance to me than anything else, HDR only very rarely pops into my mind.
So there you have it, my gripes about the iPhone 4 camera. Do I have anything good to report? After all, didn’t I say earlier that it was quite a capable camera? I have a decent arsenal of cameras, from a Canon EOS 550D all the way down to a crappy Kodak EasyShare. The iPhone comes in somewhere above the Kodak but below my other Point-and-Shoot the Nikon S3000. I am suspecting however, that the latter will not be used as often in the future. While the over-saturation isn’t something that can be ignored, the iPhone still is a very solid camera. It’s almost like Apple designed the camera first and then decided to build a phone into it (who knows, that could very well be the case). It works as well as most any small digital camera and if all you want to do is take snapshots of the grand kids, you would do well to go to your local cell-phone retailer to buy your next camera. The retina display is awesome! Matter of fact it’s better than the display in my DSLR.
The other day I found myself walking around with my DSLR doing some “serious” stuff. I couldn’t help but also take an iPhone photo of everything I was shooting. While the blown highlights due to saturation and over-exposure the iPhone has a penchant for were a problem, I ended up using the iPhone photo as a color reference while Photoshopping the photograph shot with my Canon. Not bad for a camera I got for free with a 2-year contract.