Traveling in Europe with iPhone 11
I was debating between renting a Sony mirrorless or upgrading my iPhone 7 Plus to the newest iPhone 11 before our Europe trip. Traveling with a toddler eventually convinced me that I should just get an iPhone 11. After all, the best camera is the one that’s with you. Juggling restraining a toddler with fighting spirits and carrying a camera, I just could not make sense of carrying a heavy camera going places.
And oh boy did I make a right decision after experimenting with the phone’s photography abilities.
First off, there is a drastically better portrait mode thanks to the wide angle lens. Combining with the original lens (equivalent focal length 26mm), you can take portrait photos without asking your subjects to walk away from the camera. And the results are more natural photos with really impressive bokeh. Folks who do traditional photography using bulky DSLRs will object by examining shape of the bokeh, funny edges, or color distortion, but for everyday real people, none of these details mattered if your photos already look authentic. Cheers to Apple for making this adjustment.
Another advantage of using iPhone to take photos is that you get to edit your photos right away without downloading them into a computer and editing in Lightroom. With just a few clicks, you can adjust almost all the major attributes easily such as contrast and temperature. I found the auto or ‘magic’ adjustment to be too cold for my taste but nonetheless the results from auto can be your base image for fine adjustment.
And I am not done with the magic portrait mode! As someone who had the trust of my friends taking their wedding photos (I even earned a few thousand dollars with some clients back before I can make good software. It seems making good software and photos are competing with one another for my neurons, but that’s for another post.), I found myself to be absolutely astonished when the f numbers can be adjusted after photo-shooting. I mean, logically it makes sense — the addition of bokeh on this iPhone is done at post processing by combining two images from two lenses using software. So naturally this can be tuned as you wish. But if you are shooting photos with a DSLR and you have to settle down a f number, you always have to spend some time balancing how much blur you want in the background and how sharp you want your center of the image is. Now with this software adjustment, you really do not have to worry about this. Just take out the phone and shoot! This, together with the auto face detection, makes portrait shooting in iPhone 11 absolutely fun to play with.
Again the bokeh effect is not perfect, like around the hat edges in the above images, but who really cares if this is for family memories?
The wide angle lens also makes taking scenery photos easier. The wide lens has a focal length 13 mm equivalent, and you can dramatically convey the sense of awe rightfully attributed to the immense architecture at Italy without lowering your back to the ground.
Oh here is another point that shooting with the iPhone makes you think more about the composition and the moment as opposed to what exposure that you should have or what bit depth your pixel is on your CCD. When I looked at the above photo, I believe it is an HDR shot, meaning the camera took several photos at different gains so that it will not saturate at high light conditions or not having enough photons per pixel at low light conditions. Then it will compose a single photo together with the different gains so it had good details at both high and low light regions. This is similar to how our eyes actually function, expect biology is smarter by giving you gains at different regions (thanks to local photoreceptors’ gains) so you only need one photo to see all the details. Ok enough science, but the key here is that now you will be able to capture really natural looking HDRs without worrying about anything. Awesome!
Another example of HDR. The outside is super bright while inside is dark, yet details can be seen at either conditions.
Oh did I mention the best camera is the camera you have with you? Instant action from a phone vs dials and two pound weight from a DSLR or even a mirrorless.
Night mode is something Apple was trying to sell on iPhone 11 but I do not understand if there is anything special to it just yet. Normally to shoot images at low light, you want to let a lot of photons in. This can be done by increasing aperture, dialing up the gain or extending the exposure time. Gain is something you have limited range to play with; very quickly you can hit the photon shot noise. The physical limit of aperture also limits how much light you can let in per unit time. This is especially true for phone cameras because it has tiny lenses and pixels. So you are left with increasing the exposure time. Apple gives you two choices, a 1-second exposure time and a 2-seconds exposure time. Everything else is automatically set for you. I think this is a good solution for consumers with normal shooting environment, but you pay a price of losing quite some control. Perhaps some fancy none-default camera apps can give you that, but I am just too lazy to download something and lose the quick action of the default camera.
The front camera of the iPhone 11 is great at taking photos too. I found this area in the airport where it has some really good lighting with a homogeneous background. Here is a selfie.
Ok one more portrait. I think this is at absolute pro level :)
Now go out, observe, and take some good photos, no matter what camera gear you have. Have fun!
(This post is not endorsed by Apple or anyone. It’s just interesting to see how technology has changed us.)