10 reasons why iPhone photography sucks


Last week I wrote about a more minimalistic approach to photography using my iPhone only. I officially declare today that I give up. I managed to pull-off about three weeks in total but then it was just too much.

Originally, when I started out, I wanted some peace of mind, getting away from all the choices of cameras etc. However, exactly the opposite happened: I was very angry and unsatisfied. Before I continue, let me make clear that it is not about the actual picture quality that you get from the iPhone – that’s actually quite good (see some of my iPhone shots here). It is the usability factor that is a huge issue, ruling out a ‘day-long’ use… (the shot above was taken at Paris on Ponce – not with an iPhone)

  1. iPhone battery life sucks – even more so when you use the camera: I regularly found myself running the battery empty. When you are out of battery you both miss shots and you cannot use your phone anymore. At some point I found myself not using my phone for its regular tasks just to preserve battery life: day-to-day use competing with the camera app for battery juice.
  2. Lag, lag, and more lag: Using an iPhone means lag. First you need to ‘swipe-open’ the camera (if you go with the regular camera app) or you have to unlock it, find your camera application, launch it,… by that time easily 5 seconds passed. Little to nothing in the grander scheme of things – not so great for photos: pure frustration. This does not only slow you down a lot, but it outright discourages you from shooting.
  3. Little to no control: The iPhone is a point-and-shoot. That works great in normal lighting conditions. But as soon as the situation becomes slightly more difficult, e.g., with backlighting, you have essentially no chance to get a good shot. Sure you can use more sophisticated camera apps but, then again you lose even more time to get your shot. At least some exposure lock would be great – also white balance is a disaster…
  4. Using the iPhone camera is not inspiring: I can see that using an iPhone camera for some time as a photographic device in itself can be an interesting challenge. Similar to other artistic endeavors where creativity is to be promoted due to minimalism. However, here we are subject to a fallacy: the iPhone is not minimalism in the sense of artistic minimalism. The latter reduces tools and distractions to bring the focus to the key elements of the creative process, however the iPhone brings attention to technical limitations and frustration so that all your attention actually goes away from the creative process – it is the exact opposite of what you want.

Ok I stop here – originally I wanted to write about 10 reasons but frankly speaking the four points above are really the major ones. In particular, while a larger sensor would be way better the size is fine for most applications, in particular web use. I was quite inspired reading about Nick Knight’s Diesel Campaign, Shot Entirely On An iPhone. In hindsight however there is difference between these forced-professional uses (similar to the Bentley Ad Shot Using iPhone 5s) and using an iPhone for regular shooting: for the former there is a huge amount of professionalism wrapped around the i-product to make it work in the end. Just see the rigs that have been used for the Bentley ad…

I am not backing-off of my thoughts I shared last week, however maybe the iPhone is really pushing the boundaries when it comes to everyday use. I can see it being fine for casual shooting or emergencies when one has no other dedicated camera, however I will stick with having a “real” camera with me.

Let me know your thoughts on using an iPhone (or any other phone) for photography! I am very curious to hear about your experience!

Have a great weekend — TSJ.


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7 thoughts on “10 reasons why iPhone photography sucks

  1. Personally, I have to agree to disagree. depending on what route you take iPhone photography can be very fruitful and productive. I mean, have you seen some of the users on Instagram? With proper techniques and dedication, as long as the camera half-way decent, there is potential. Where there is a will there is a way.

    • Very good point indeed – in fact some of the most inspiring work I found on Instagram. I am not questioning the potential output and creativity that you can get from an iPhone – on the contrary it is amazing to see where technology goes and how it acts as an enabler to bring photography to everybody, which I find very important. What I am unhappy with is really the usability aspect of the phone as a camera itself. It is very frustrating when you shot in the morning and you run out of battery around lunch time with no outlet anywhere near

  2. haha. Think my boyfriend actually feels the opposite. He likes his iPhone and every now and then manage to get as good shots as I do with my Canon in the same situation, just shooting and adding a instagramfilter. I think it is a matter of, are you “a real photographer” or not? I like the weight. I am a sucker for the heavy equipment i dare say. If to light (even a compact camera is problematic for me) I start shaking. But that is me. But another question, thought you said no gear discussion somewhere. What is this?! 😉

      • I have no problem with them. Actually, one main reason for me blogging about photo is discussion this since it is a djungle. And reading commercial etc won´t get you anywhere. Speaking to other people who have experienced the gear is much better I think. But, well, the discussion easily become a pissing contest I guess, but I am not that rich that I really can compete.

  3. I have to say Apple is my favorite brand for mobile devices not only because of the App Store but because the photographic quality is stunning! – I’ve had an iPhone 4, but unfortunately, it died from overheating.
    It got to the point where I couldn’t spend more than 5 minutes editing my pictures on VSCO Cam that it would almost burn my hands! I was charging my phone 3 times a day and it never felt like enough – I even bought an external battery in case of emergencies.
    It sucked.
    I love the iPhone, but I guess I’d rather buy a real camera with the money other than spending all that cash on another shiny new iPhone that would build its own black hole inside its battery after a year or two.

    Plus, you said it: it’s a freaking phone! It’s really annoying to receive notifications when you’re shooting or having your alarm scream right when you were trying to sneak a quick picture.
    Although I must say you should look up on the internet for the things you can do with the iPhone’s camera… there are tons of features which include white balance (I used it on VSCO Cam), separate focus and exposure controls (both with the ability to lock the desired setting), there are lenses that fit your pocket and have a great quality.

    By the way, nice blog. 🙂

    • I agree – actually vsco was what got me to my iPhone in first play. They have very high quality presets that I use for processing my raw files and when they had the cam I wanted to try it out…

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