In Part 1, How the New iPhone is Changing the Face of Photography, of this blog post, I discussed how the iPhone has replaced point-and-shoot digital cameras as an entry for more serious photographers into the world of DSLR and mirrorless cameras. Today, I will share my impressions of the iPhone 8+ after using it to photograph alongside a DSLR camera. This post will not be a technical review of every feature of the 8+ but rather a comparison and discussion regarding ease of use and image quality when using the iPhone’s camera in its’ basic mode, much like that of most users. Yes, there are a number of apps which make control of the iPhone camera much like of a DSLR, but this post will address the fact most users don’t purchase or use those apps and treat their iPhone as the modern version of the point-and-shoot camera it replaced.
Although this isn’t a technical review of the phone, there are some technology improvements worth mentioning which makes imaging with this phone/camera better than its predecessors. The new 12-megapixel camera has a larger and more light sensitive sensor than the iPhone 7, providing both better overall image quality (higher dynamic range with more detail in the shadows and highlights) and the ability to capture better photographs in low light situations. It also has optical image stabilization, or OIS, which helps reduce un-sharp images due to camera shake.
The dual camera system on the iPhone 8+ features a 28mm f/1.8 wide angle lens (35mm equivalent) and a 56mm (35mm equivalent) f/2.8 telephoto camera. Apple says the new imaging sensor is 83% more light efficient and uses less battery power as well, allowing you to capture more photos on a single battery charge.
The A11 Bionic processor is the fastest chip that Apple has ever put in an iPhone and this helps with photography. It allows for faster capturing and processing of images, better low-light autofocus, improved pixel processing and better noise reduction in images. It also makes “computational photography” now possible.
What is computational photography? Introduced back in 2010 by a team from Stanford University’s computer graphic lab, it is the theory that software algorithms could do more than just process photographs, but actually, make them better in the process. The group described their work at the time as "The output of these techniques is an ordinary photograph, but one that could not have been taken by a traditional camera”.
From my initial impression of the images I made with the iPhone 8+, their theory has been implemented and is working quite well. It used to be that getting better images relied on post-processing software. You would take a photo and then bring it into an app on your phone or laptop and make it a better image. But with each new generation of smartphone, the algorithms get faster, more capable, and fade further into the background, turning code into its own kind of lens. Expect to see more of this technology in not only smartphones but in our Prosumer and Professional cameras of the future.
Instead of using a high-end professional DSLR for this comparison, I used a “Prosumer” DSLR, a category of camera most likely to be chosen as the next step up from relying on an iPhone for your photography. I chose my wife’s Canon 60D, with an APS-C sized 18.0 Megapixel CMOS sensor and a 18 – 135mm zoom lens. I wanted to make images with both cameras of a subject I was familiar with, so I drove 60 miles east of Atlanta to a family owned cotton gin, the last gin still being used in north Georgia and one that I had been photographing since 1980.
My process was simple. I would compose photographs using either the iPhone’s wide angle or telephoto lens, and routinely capture both a color and monochrome (black & white) image of each scene. The zoom lens on the Canon allowed me to compose and create an approximate image done of the same scene with both the 28mm and 56mm focal length iPhone lens.
In addition to using the color and monochrome settings on the iPhone, I also adjusted exposure using the touchscreen control and had the High Dynamic Range (HDR) setting activated in the iPhone preference section. HDR is an exposure function which compensates for the fact that the sensor on many cameras cannot, with a single exposure, capture detail in the darkest to the lightest areas in the scene you are photographing. When using this software function, a series of exposures from very underexposed to very overexposed is automatically made each time you take a photo. The software within the iPhone automatically puts these images together, pulling out information in the shadows and the highlights and producing an image with detail across the entire range of brightness within the scene.
I captured images with the Canon 60D using the RAW file setting. This allowed me to retain all the detail the sensor was able to see based on the automatic exposure setting I was using. I then used Adobe Lightroom to process the frames which matched those I chose as my best from the iPhone 8+.
The iPhone 8+ was impressive. I hadn’t used an iPhone to make photographs for at least the last four years and then only for a quick image to post to Facebook. Two years ago, an attendee at one of my workshops spent the entire 2 ½ days photographing with his iPhone and to my surprise, they were impressive. Though nothing a professional DSLR could produce, I was able to see how the flexibility the iPhone offered being flat and easily maneuvered into places a traditional camera wouldn’t fit, allowed him to see differently. Both the color and monochrome versions of my iPhone images had exceptional sharpness, clarity and exposure characteristics. I didn’t have a chance to make any prints from the files, but I am sure images up to 11 X 14 would look totally acceptable.
As good as the iPhone photos were, the Canon photographs were even better. I had the control of “developing” the images in Adobe Lightroom, critically adjusting the exposure, color, contrast or converting the color image to black and white with the same adjustment controls. All this in addition to having a file with enough detail to make fairly large prints.
As a photographer, I am often asked which is the best camera and my answer, like that of many of my colleagues, is the camera you have with you. I always have a camera with me, but too many times I hear colleagues of mine tell me about the image they could have made if only they had remembered to bring a camera with them. Having an iPhone 8+ means now they will always have a “camera” that will produce acceptable results. It also means that with the ease of getting better images, more iPhone users will find their way into the world of photography and take the next step of buying a better camera.
I have also noticed a trend towards moving up to more advanced cameras via our customers here in the Atlanta area. There is an Atlanta based company offering processing and scanning of film. Discussing with them who their customers are, I was surprised to learn 100% were aged 30 or under. Most if not all of these photographers have previously only used their smartphone as their camera. Now, film photography has become for many of them the new “alternative process” as they invest the time and effort into learning manual cameras without auto focus and exposure.
My final impression is the iPhone is a good complimentary image-making tool as it is less deliberate, more fun, always there as a “camera” and in some ways, easier to be creative due in part to its simplicity. You can buy third-party apps for the iPhone which offer more control over the iPhone’s camera or image processing. These apps feature endless options of creative effects. As with general photography, postproduction software is a significant part of the creative process. The question then becomes, if you have to use third party software to “create” images, don’t you have more control and options with a mirrorless or DSLR camera?
Given the iPhone 8 Plus costs $799 for the 64GB model or $949 for 256GB, you could buy an excellent used DSLR or mirrorless camera for the same price through KEH. My prediction is that the new iPhones will continue to bring new photographers into the world of advanced cameras and serious photography and we will continue to hear that smartphones will replace professional DSLRs. I don’t think that will happen anytime soon.
Check out more comparison photos below in B&W :