I’ve read a number of blog postings and comments lately suggesting that “real” photographers only use iPhones for messing about and having fun, and will always choose a “real camera” when working. I think that’s not true.
Let’s leave aside the fact that, for many photographers, the line between working with a camera and messing about with one is blurry or non-existent. I think iPhone truly has a place in the toolkit of modern photographers. Here’s why:
Sometimes it’s simply the best tool for the job.
Clearly, top-end DSLRs and Medium Format digital cameras are technically superior to iPhone, with massively larger image sensors, much, much better optics and so on. That’s true of today’s compact cameras too, in many cases. And if you want amazing image quality at a bargain-basement price, there’s still the option of shooting film. So how can iPhone be taken seriously as a tool for pros?
Firstly, to pull out the inevitable Chase Jarvis line: “The best camera is the one that’s with you”. If a great shot is staring you in the face and you don’t have your Nikon, Canon or Hasselblad with you but you do have your iPhone, then suddenly its technical limitations don’t seem seem so worrying.
But that’s not all. I’m no professional photographer. However, I when I was working as a journalist in the 1990s I generally carried a camera around with me in my pocket. It wasn’t an SLR with a big lens (they’re not too pocket-friendly) but a Rollei 35 from the early 1970s. Here’s a picture of it—now pretty travelworn—with its most recent successor:
As you can see, it’s pretty small and unassuming. And that was what made it magic. I was able to use it to get photographs that the guys toting Nikon F3s and Canon EOS-1Ns weren’t. Because nobody took it seriously. In fact, the Rollei 35 is a pretty impressive piece of German over-engineering with full manual control and a decent Zeiss lens, that produces crisp full-frame 35mm negatives or transparencies. But, to the casual observer, it looks more like a Kodak Instamatic than anything else.
When a “real camera” is pointed at them, practically everybody behaves differently: they stiffen, they suck in their cheeks—their entire body language can change. A big lens stuck on a big camera is an intimidating thing to most people, and even those who aren’t disconcerted by it are likely to modify their behaviour. However, because people didn’t take the Rollei seriously, they didn’t modify their behaviour while I was snapping quietly away (the Rollei’s shutter is almost inaudible, another plus). So I got some great candid shots. And I often got them even when a “no photographers” rule was being enforced—nobody could mistake me for a photographer, with my old toy camera.
For me, iPhone has the same quality of invisibility. And I’m seeing professional photographers using that aspect of it really creatively to get shots they simply wouldn’t get with a DSLR. I guess the core point applies to all camera-equipped cellphones, but iPhone leads the pack thanks to vast range of apps that can be used to customize the picture-taking experience to suit pretty much any photographer and any occasion.
Is iPhone a viable tool for pro photographers when they’re working? Absolutely! But don’t take my word for it—the evidence is all around.