Have iPhone, will photograph: Celebrating the big impact of small pictures

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Chicago Skyline by Dominique James


There used to be a time not too long ago when I kept wishing I brought my cameras with me all the time. The photographer that I am, I see so many “photographable” things along the way, and I just end up thinking and wishing and wanting to snap them all up for posterity. I thought it would be cool to be able to say, “Hey, I was at this place earlier today, and I saw this.” And then, show the picture. What kept me from doing it? The bulk and the weight of my DSLRs. The lenses and accessories. And how conspicuously “professional-looking” these cameras are. Lugging around the pro cameras was an idea that I never warmed up to. It just doesn’t seem to work with fun and quirky spur-of-the-moment street photography.

But then again, I just realized, I actually bring a camera with me all the time. My cellphone camera. I used to have 2 cellphones in Manila so I had two cameras. Unfortunately, both cellphone cameras were not good enough for the kind of “street” photography I wanted to do.

And then, about a couple of months back, I decided to get myself a really nice point-and-shoot pocket camera, and I thought, finally, I’d be able to snap up photos wherever I am and whenever I want. For a while, I brought the camera with me. I would put it in my jeans pocket. But somehow, I wasn’t inspired to take it out and snap pictures. About the only time I get to whip out my shiny and compact digital point-and-shoot camera was whenever someone would ask if anybody got a camera to take pictures of this or that. And then somehow, I keep forgetting to recharge it. After a while, I stopped bringing the compact camera.

And then, came the iPhone. I have to tell you, the Mac diehard that I am, I’ve always desired one the moment Steve Jobs unveiled it his MacWorld keynote address. Eventually, and finally, I did get my very own iPhone. I know, Apple says it’s a 3-in-1 device. It’s a revolutionary mobile phone, a sleek widescreen iPod, and a breakthrough Internet device. It’s a neat toy that does 3 things. And yes, I use it as a mobile phone, I use it as an iPod, and I use it to connect to the Internet. It’s the coolest thing. I’m crazy about it. I really love this toy.

And guess what? I’m loving the iPhone more and more because I am learning that I can do so many other things with it. In less than a week, it turned into the hub of my mobile digital lifestyle. This one device do so many wonderful things for me that I’m constantly fingering it. Any time I like, I can check the weather in New York, Manila, and Singapore. I’ve used it as my alarm clock on a couple of occasions when I had to wake up really early. I constantly review my appointments and update my calendar. I jot down quick thoughts and ideas. And I navigate the Interstate with it.

Now, I know it has a camera and all, but I didn’t use it until after a week and after I’ve just about explored all the features there is to be explored. Well, I was actually surprised at what iPhone’s camera can do. Not expecting it would be useful enough, I got a pleasant surprise. For a mobile phone camera, I found out that it can take really good pictures — good enough to serve as the anywhere-and-everywhere camera I’ve always really wanted.

The iPhone has a 2-megapixel, f2.8 camera. The image metadata shows that the camera’s make or brand is Apple and the model name is iPhone. It produces a 1600 by 1200 pixel size which is about a 22×16-inch image with a 72 ppi resolution. It has a 4:3 aspect ratio, a bit-depth of 8, and it occupies color space 1 with an sRGB IEC61966-2.1 color profile. And depending on the kind of pictures you take, the file size can vary from anywhere between approximately 200 to 500 kb per image. At 300 dpi, you can easily produce very good photo print the size of 4×5. You can even create a bigger 5×7 print without interpolation and without any noticeable degradation to the image quality. And what really amazed me is that, straight from the camera, it produces accurate color even in mixed lighting and in some instances of low-light indoor/night situations. And except for one’s ability to steadily hand-hold the iPhone to avoid or prevent camera shake that produces soft or blurry images in very low light, the image noise is actually very minimal and almost unnoticeable. In other words, the in-camera processing that the iPhone does, in it’s camera class, is pretty impressive.

For me, these technical specifications are good enough. After all, what I really wanted was just a simple point-and-shoot that can do it’s job. Although the iPhone camera has a lot of severe limitations when compared to a full-blown DSLR, the very lack of features and the way it simplifies everything is it’s own blessing. There’s nothing to tweak. It really is just very straightforward point-and-shoot affair. The lack of shutter speed, aperture, focus, zoom and other controls will force you to focus more on taking the shot rather than playing with it. And of course, you can see exactly what you are photographing from its gorgeous 3.5-inch (diagonal) widescreen multi-touch display that boasts of 480 by 320 pixel resolution at 163 ppi. And then, direct from the iPhone, you can go ahead and email it right away. The past few days, straight from the camera and without tweaking, I’ve been emailing my iPhone photos to my Tumblr mobile blog at http:/

Of course, in this digital day and age, and with our uncanny affection for the magic of digital post-production, I wanted to see if the photos I took with my iPhone can withstand the rigors of image enhancements and editing using Apple’s Aperture and Photoshop CS3. Well, I was rather pleased with the results. Despite the fact that I was working with only the very limited RGB “in-camera post-processed” 255 colors, and despite the fact that the histogram immediately turns into a fine-tooth comb with wide ledges and open jogs from missing teeth the moment I started tweaking, the images were actually visually holding up. With careful and subtle image adjustments in both Aperture and Photoshop CS3 such as levels and curves, and with the use of layers, it is actually still very possible to further enhance, work on and be creative with the pictures snapped from the iPhone. Of course, we know that we are pushing it.

Since my Aperture software (Apple’s all-in-one post-production tool for photographers) is set to automatically open when a “camera” is connected, I would see the pictures I took with the iPhone instantaneously pop-up in my cinema display whenever I connect it via the USB dock to my MacBook Pro. Even when it is synching with iTunes and recharging, I just download all the shots, delete and free up the space in iPhone, and then do the other things I want to do such as fill it up with pictures from iPhoto, and also load it up with the new podcasts and music and movies that I want to check out on the go. And then, once properly ejected and undocked, go out again and shoot anything and everything. And I thought I was already trigger-happy with my DSLRs!

Looking at my growing collection of iPhone snapshots, I cannot help but marvel at the big impact that these small images have on me, and hopefully, on others as well. This is a big triumph of the little things.


Written by dominiquejames

April 29, 2008 at 6:20 AM

One Response

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  1. Dominique,
    I stumbled upon your iPhone posting while searching on Google. What a wonderful find it was. I have been searching for other iPhone street shooters who share the same ideas and passion for using this little 2 megapixel wonder.

    I have a site that I would love for you to check out. It’s called Just What I See,

    It’s my personal view on just what i see, but through the lens of my iPhone.

    My name is Greg…and I am an iPhone photographer.




    May 14, 2008 at 5:42 PM

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