Afterwards, I thought about why I’d chosen to use my iPhone to take all those photos when I had a genuine choice of a far better camera, and I came up with two reasons.
- Sharing. I found this the less convincing reason, but here goes: The ultimate destination for my pics, these days, is not a dusty old photo album but Google+, Instagram and Flickr. For most photo editing, I find apps for the iPhone easier to use than those on my Mac. Taking pictures on the phone cuts steps out of the workflow and means I can get pictures up online even before I get back home. It’s less convincing because it is a real compromise (quality for convenience) but I think it’s a factor.
- The lovely lovely iPhone screen. When I got an iPhone4 the thing that really surprised me (apart from the fact that it’s camera could take rather reasonable still pictures) was its incredibly sharp and beautiful screen. Viewfinders/cheap camera screens are always a compromise. The reproductions lack detail, show up poorly in even moderate sunlight, and colours are not true (things may have progressed since I got my D40 5 years ago, but still). As well as the fabulous quality of the screen itself, it provides a completely different interface: adjusting focus and exposure by just tapping is incredibly intuitive. But above all it is the feedback from this superior screen that lets me see exactly what is wrong with a photo straight away and make adjustments there and then. Despite the inferior technical quality of the camera, I believe it lets me take better photos.
So where do cameras go from here? Is there a way of getting the best of both worlds? I’m rather unconvinced by the ‘smart camera’ concept, realised in the recent Android Camera from Nikon. It’s a camera running phone software. It might be a nice improvement over the standard camera, certainly from the point of view of adding sharing capabilities. But it’s not providing a phone’s operating system that will make the difference here – it’s how good the screen and the camera software make the photography experience. (Not that there’s not a bit of me getting excited over the hacking possibilities this type of development offers… they go beyond turning the camera into a phone!)
Of more interest to me is the concept of the camera as an iPhone accessory. We haven’t seen this yet, but a 14 megapixel gadget with an improved flash is due to be released by someone called will.i.am (I don’t know who these Black Eyed Peas are, but I had a vague impression they were a popular beat combo, not a tech startup). The phone already has the screen an interface – plus the software and connectivity for my editing and sharing workflows – but this could open up a market in hardware upgrades that allows all sorts of specialist add-ons for both still and video photography.