Life With the iPhone 4S

A New Camera (phone)

I’ve only had it for about a week now, but I’m already getting a lot of use out of my 4S camera, just using it around Kashiwa. I haven’t really had much chance to compare the picture quality to my old 4 properly, but I do notice cleaner results at higher ISO and a sharper image overall. The main improvements, though, seem to be in the speed of use.

Ice Cream Colours

The main improvements, though, seem to be in the speed of use.

I’m prepared to take the experts’ word for it that it is indeed a better lens, with the additional elements, filters and more megapixels of detail from the 8mp camera. I think I also prefer the 35mm field of view over the 28mm of the ‘4’, at least for street shooting, an angle I liked on my original 3G phone. Really though, this is a wash, as I was getting quite used to the wider 4 and with a widish prime, a few mm aren’t all that different. I do find the camera itself works a lot better in low light, finding its focus and giving you a brighter picture. Seeing as most hours of the day have less than perfect light, this really is a bit of a Godsend.

Kashiwa Crossing

What makes it for me most of all, though, is the massive bump in speed. The camera opens and takes the shot a lot faster than before, ‘shutter lag’ being much lower. If you include opening the camera app itself, it’s still too slow for many uses, but once started, the shot to shot speed is actually very good, much better than a lot of compacts I’ve used. Along with this is the bump in processing speed. My apps, such as Hipstamatic or Instagram, open a lot faster and compute the result more quickly as well, despite having to deal with more data. Unfortunately, I think the battery is worse and though I’ve never failed to make it to the end of the day yet, I think I’ll be bringing a long a booster, as when it starts to drop it really tends to plummet.

One of the great things about using a smart-phone (I include Android and Nokia phones in this, as they are on the same level, or even more advanced), are the rich processing options and connectivity letting you post a photo as you take it. Not only that, but the reality of social networking means you can get a response a few minutes later: Now that’s communication! As a photographer, I actually like the lack of a zoom. You simply have to compose carefully and move around your subject, ‘zooming with your feet’. This alone could lead to much more interesting photos than many compacts would give you, working with limitations bringing out the best in people.

The Big Winner

Time to Say Goodbye to Your Compact?

The big question today is whether a mobile phone can compare with, or even replace a compact. As said, with no zoom, you have only the initial focal length, which makes the Ricoh GR-IV currently about the only similar model as sadly the high-end compact market has become a world of zooms. Even so, the iPhone certainly makes a convincing case. It’s fast, has good AF, a beautiful LCD (far better than any other digital camera, by the way) and fits in your pocket.

I see it more as a compliment than a replacement to a good compact. Without a means of changing lenses,I can’t get a wide landscape or close-in portrait with this and at 35mm, it seems best for ‘environmental shots’, (whilst the 28mm-equivilant 4 was more suited to landscapes/cityscapes). Also, the AF is pretty slow. Touch to focus works very nicely and it’s faster than before, yet still takes it’s time. As before, focusing changes the exposure settings too, although apps like ‘ProCamera’ fix this by letting you set them separately and also lock the white balance, so when I get more serious, I break that out.

The small sensor has its own limitations for high ISO and varying depth of field. The latter can be fixed a bit with some of the apps out there, but nothing can improve the loss in detail from noise reduction. Well, we could if Raw was available, but perhaps we’ll have to wait until the next iPhone for that. In fact, the lack of Raw is perhaps the biggest limitation, as with that we could fix white balance, noise reduce to taste and fix exposure to a degree. Personally, most compacts I’ve bought have Raw and I always find situations in which I need it. For a quick shot, though, these are limitations but not deal-breakers.

So for me it is a great and wonderful take-anywhere camera. It makes little sense to see it as a replacement for a high-end compact, but quite a lot instead of an entry-level model. I can see the compact manufacturers having a difficult time with this, as their image quality is in many cases not much better (or even worse) and the inconvenience of carrying a second device is too much for many of their potential customers. In fact, I have  friends for whom an iPhone is their main take around camera and they are very happy with the results. Whilst with old-school mobile phone-cams I’d  say they could do better, at this point I’m not so sure.

Shrine in Kashiwa

With compacts iterating so frequently they are also quite scary to buy now, as whatever you get today may well be obsolete in 6 months time. It also seems that image quality is actually getting worse as more mega-pixels and zoom range gets crammed on to compete. After using a Panasonic TZ-7 travel zoom (which is well-respected in its class), I could see that despite the great 24-300mm zoom range, the picture gets very soft when you zoom in and the image stabilisation couldn’t cope very well, needing an ISO 400 washed out by heavy noise reduction to get something sharp. It’s true, I got the shot, but the mushy image isn’t much good for anything, as detail lost can never be recovered. I did get good shots in better light, but they always needed a lot of post-processing as the lens lacks contrast and with all this, the TZ-7 is a camera people still try to find as newer models do much worse! If this is typical, I can see the iPhone 4S and the like killing entry-level compacts, despite their advantages, at least until they get their image quality up again and get networked to catch up, a process that may well take generations.

Conclusion

I can honestly say that after just a few days of use, I am very happy with the 4s and it is already one of my favourite cameras ever. It’s always there and gets great results out of the box. I’d like to have Raw, but I can always bring something else along with me for that, as we ultimately appreciate our tools for what they can do and do well and overlook what they lack. I can see myself using it more than the LX5 and it may well keep me happy until I get a mirrorless camera  (probably the V1). It’s complete, neat, fast, fun and just feels good. It came just I was getting into app-based iPhoneography and speeds this up considerably, meaning less wait between shots and seeing results in a flash. And sharing them.

It’s complete, neat, fast, fun and just feels good.

Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t replace a high-end compact, or even in many cases an entry-level one. No zoom, no Raw and few controls limit it’s usefulness. Yet in its category, it is a supreme example of good design and forward-looking functionality. Combined with the right apps, I’m sure it will be capable of prize-winning, very much printable photos. Just a few years from the iPhone 3G, on which the camera was the worst feature, to this being it’s killer app, this is quite an achievement and goes to show that mobile phone cameras (or as I sometimes think of it, cameras with a mobile phone) have an incredible potential that I’m pretty sure will one day even catch up with the IQ of today’s DSLRs. Never underestimate the power of miniaturisation to give us portable abilities we’d never have dreamed of before.

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Patterns of Leaves

Never underestimate the power of miniaturisation to give us portable abilities we’d never have dreamed of before.

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iPhone 4S Arrives (in my hands!)

I just upgraded to the 4S and have to admit, as usual, Apple did a fantastic job at improving an already good product, not only it’s specs, but in general usability. As a user of the vanilla 4, I didn’t see much point in paying much for the incremental improvements, the same way that I skipped the 3GS. Yet luckily for me, there was a special deal from Softbank which, if I understood it correctly, allowed me to switch with all my former contract annulled, which unbelievably made it cheaper to upgrade than to stay with the 4! Hopefully such deals are the way ahead, as 2-year contracts are way too long for anyone who wants to keep up with the fast-paced advances in the mobile device space.

So, what’s changed? Well, it is a lot faster, web-browsing and the general user interface are probably twice as fast, which makes it smoother to use, a similar feeling I got going from iPhone 3G to 4, or from 4 to my iPad 2 (which has pretty much the same internals as the 4S). The camera is also far faster and from what I’ve seen and heard, ‘takes better pictures’. For me this is great, as it will give me a very nice file to work with, straight from my most convenient device. I’ve already found that the iPhone 4 has much better processing than any compact camera I’ve used, so hopefully this should increase the quality it can capture, certainly in terms of detail (8MP) and dynamic range, with its superior filters. I’ll also have 1080p video, which just in terms of detail is generally much better than 720p, which looks comparatively murky on today’s high-resolution displays.

Once I got my iPad 2, I realised that the bigger screen makes a lot of apps more fun and manageable than on a little iPhone, but there are still a lot of things that suit a phone-like device better. One is Hipstamatic, a retro-camera app that makes for some very creative results and is a lot of fun to use. It’s the fun that makes the difference, the wealth of features and focus on realism making for a lot of samey results and too much attention being paid to technological advances, forgetting that photography is an art as much as a science.

So whilst I have a new smart phone, I see it as just as much a new camera and I intend to retro the photos from it as much as I can (sometimes, anyway!), which funnily enough is the possibility I’m most excited about. You, know, maybe I’ll fire up the ZX Spectrum emulator in it, too, it should be a lot smoother than on my old phone!

Here are a few recent snaps from my ‘4’…

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The 4S Arrives

Some thoughts on the iPhone 4S. Is it an attractive phone? Yes, for sure, it has dual core, possibly 1GB Ram, the retina and dual cameras of the iPhone 4, not to mention a heavily revised camera module with stabilized 1080p video and of course ‘Siri’, the potentially useful digital assistant. Probably, with a smooth-running iOS5, it’ll be one of the best phones in the world.

Will I get one? Well, much as I love Apple products, this one’s not really for me. Why so? Because, as the name implies, its not really a ‘5’ and I already have a regular 4, which I am in fact still paying off the absurdly long 26 month contract for (with around 11 months to go). Break it early and there’s quite a penalty, involving paying back the rest of the phone at the ‘real’, inflated price rather than the subsidized one that made it so affordable, whilst at the same time of course, paying for my new one, not to mention the data fees that continue regardless. I’m pretty sure Apple knows this and spaces out the upgrades, so doing so every 2 generations will be enough for most people, in fact it is a testament to the 4’s success that it’s taken this long (15 months) to need revising.I might get my girlfriend one to replace her aging 3G, though:)

Ultimately, there aren’t really all that many changes from the 4, it’s basically just been turbo-charged to the iPad 2’s specs. In fact compared with the 4S, the APU is the same, or perhaps faster in my iPad, which since I’ve gotten, is where I use most of the powerful apps anyway. The iPhone screen is too darned small for a lot of them, so Im definitely glad to have it and enjoy the ‘true’ app ecosystem that Steve envisioned. Games or complex photo editing just doesn’t go well on the iPhone, whereas on a Pad I have something that in many ways beats a workstation for usability. It’s reached a point, for me at least, where my smart phone just has to be good enough and it’s camera likewise. The iPhone 4 still manages that, thank goodness!

What would I need from a 5? First of all a bigger screen, perhaps through slight extensions and removal of the bezel, at least around 4 inches. Just for watching HD videos this would make a huge difference, not to mention all the apps. Next would be another jump in APU, perhaps to quad-core, if it exists then, though I suppose that could take till the 5S or whatever. I’d want more Ram as I’ll be doing a lot more with it at this point, some of it plugged into a larger monitor and keyboard no doubt, making for a truly portable machine.

Other than that, some wonderful, exotic surprises that would make it irresistible. In fact it’s this sense of newness that makes it attractive at all. One thing I can be sure of- it’ll be better than anything I can imagine sitting here now.

YouTube – ‪iPhone as DSLR‬‏

However ridiculously ungainly this may look now, here we have the future of digital photography. You know, think about it. A super-slim smart phone, like a credit card that you slot into the back, becoming (maybe through blu-tooth) the camera’s touch-screen LCD. Editing, uploading, managing the photos from it without needing a computer, at least for most usage. You have a highly portable and connected imaging device, realising the potential of digital far more than ever before.

Why is the iPhone 4 the most used and uploaded photo-taking device in the world now? Because it’s so convenient to take the photo and even edit it beyond all recognition. Secondly, it’s always connected, with various apps making it even easier to post and annotate the image to whatever site you desire. Built for communication and sharing, whereas, despite all their advances in technical image quality, even compact cameras are reliant on a computer to do most of their editing and to upload. I know, there are some exotic solutions like the Eye-Fi card, but they are far cruder than the iPhone and rely on more expensive purchases, which equals a lack of a purchase for most. So merging the two devices in some way could well be the next step forward, not just for compacts, but for higher end digital cameras.

Journalists can get their shots up faster as much as bloggers and they can be high quality ones shot with extreme lenses, rather than just the iPhone camera. I really see potential for this kind of convergence. Forget about the iPhone, say hello to the Eye-Phone!

Straight, No Chaser.

A Traditional Photography Blog - dehk © 2016

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