Let’s Talk Photography Ep.87 – 12 Whys of Phone Cameras

Let's Talk Photography Logo


In this solo show Bart lays out the 12 reasons he believes phones in cameras have gone from pathetic jokes to amazing photographic tools. 2020 is the first year that Bart took 100% of his ‘keepers’ on his phone, and didn’t fire the shutter on his DSLR even once!

While this podcast is free for you to enjoy, it’s not free for Bart to create. Please consider supporting the show by becoming a patron on Patreon.

Reminder – you can submit questions for future Q & A shows at http://lets-talk.ie/photoq

MP3 DownloadRSS FeediTunes

2020 is the year it finally happened — my phone has become my primary camera. My DSLR has not taken a single solitary photo in 2020, every single photo I’ve taken this year was taken on an iPhone 11 Pro or iPhone 12 Pro.

How did we get here?

When Nokia first started to put cameras on their Phones I was at the head of the scoffing queue. I thought it was the dumbest idea ever, and could not see any reason to want a camera on my phone.

Granted, those early cameras were terrible — they had plastic lenses, almost no pixels, and noisy sensors that absolutely could not deal with low light. The screens on those early phones were also so pixelated and had such inaccurate colour calibration that you really couldn’t edit on them either.

Maybe I was right to scoff at first, but I think I held on to my prejudices for much too long. For years I utterly ignored the camera on the back of my phones, even as both the cameras and screens evolved. Even on my first few iPhones I continued to act as if my phone didn’t have a camera.

It’s probably only in the last 5 years that I’ve finally, and slowly, started to see the light.

At first I looked at the phone’s camera as being just better than nothing when something worth capturing happened but I didn’t have a DSLR with me. It was just a backup.

Slowly, the cliché that the best camera is the one you have with you started to penetrate my snobbery.

There’s never been a road to Damascus moment when I suddenly saw the light, but as the years went on more and more of the photos I shared on social media were shot on my phone, and my DSLR started to spend more and more time in my camera bag, and less and less time with its lens cap off!

Today, as 2020 draws to a close, my DSLR is something I only consider using in exceptional circumstances — if I need a great portrait, or, if I want to do some more extreme work like astrophotography.

So, what changed between those early Nokias and my iPhone 12 Pro?

  1. Better Materials — the cheap plastic lenses have been replaced with high-end optics made of sapphire!
  2. Brighter Lenses — small slow lenses have been replaced with big bright lenses with the kinds of low focal ratios we pay good money to get on our DSLRs! (f1.6 on the primary lens on the iPhone 12 Pro)
  3. Multiple Lenses — hardware zooming is difficult if not impossible to do reliably on tiny phone cameras, and purely digital zoom sucks, but we now have hybrid-zoom. Multiple physical lenses capture the scene at different magnifications, and software combines these views into a continuous zoom range.
  4. Better Image Sensors — we have more, bigger, and better pixels, giving impressive light sensitivity and resolution, and all with less noise.
  5. DSPs/ISPs — many modern phones have digital signal processors or highly specialised image signal processors which allow them to get the best possible images from their sensors.
  6. Additional Sensors — some modern cameras now have extra sensors to help them map out the distances to different items in the scene.
  7. Advanced Imaging Modes — many phones now automatically combine data from long periods of time or multiple exposures to create individual images (Panorama mode, smart HDR, night mode, ultra zoom etc.)
  8. Computational Photography — with all the data being collected by modern phones, especially those with depth sensors, it’s possible to simulate lenses by calculating how the light would have been effected by physical lenses with different properties. This is not imitation, but calculation based on data, so it really is powerful.
  9. Artificial Intelligence — AI is now helping the camera apps automatically adjust images to get them looking their best
  10. High Quality Screens — high end smartphones now have carefully calibrated high-density, high colour, high dynamic range, colour-accurate screens. We can now see our photos well enough to do meaningful editing and sharing right on our phones.
  11. Software — as well as the built-in photo apps getting ever more powerful, we now have a huge array of fully-featured pro-level photo editing apps available right on our phones.
  12. Raw Support — some phones can now shoot in RAW, allowing even more powerful editing.

Leave a Reply