For as long as I’ve been traveling, I’ve always brought a ‘proper’ camera with me. First an SLR and for the last ten years, a Sony Nex-7 mirrorless camera. I’ve been happy with the quality of my pictures for this time. However, the camera is showing it’s age, and I cannot justify buying a new one (for now – a replacement will be about $2,000). Late last year, I succumbed to temptation and bought an iPhone 11 Pro.
Now, I was making the jokes the same as everyone else when it was announced with its three cameras that looked like a stovetop. But when I played with it in my local Apple Store, I was smitten. I quite liked having all the options the iPhone 11 cameras presented. I bought one shortly after that. I’m not going to review the phone in general other than to say, coming from the iPhone 6s, the 11 Pro is a revelation. I love it.
In December I went to Ireland for a business trip (as in my employer was brought me over for a head office visit). Normally, I would take my camera along with me. But this time, and for the first time in a long time, I didn’t take my proper camera. First, it was a business trip; my primary purpose there was to work. So, while I would have a couple of days to explore and photograph things, it wasn’t my primary purpose there. I also wanted to travel light – I try to travel with a carry-on only. The camera would have taken up quite a bit of space in my suitcase or made my backpack heavier. When I used to go on trips for Anglotopia, the pictures and video I captured were a business asset, so it made sense to make room for the camera. This was a non-Anglotopia trip, so any pictures I took would be for fun. I simply didn’t need my big camera.
So, I left it at home.
Here’s a summary of my thoughts after using the phone heavily on my days off when I could take pictures.
Portrait Mode is Amazing
By far, the biggest strength of the iPhone 11 is portrait mode. It uses software and camera trickery to take amazing portrait photos with a perfectly blurred background. Great for both selfies and portraits of other people. However, it’s really annoying that Photos in MacOS doesn’t import the ‘portrait’ version, it just imports a flat version. This is infuriating.
The Three Lenses Give Options, too many options.
The three lenses are versatile, but you find yourself taking three versions of every picture, and why wouldn’t you? It doesn’t take much more time, and one of them is bound to look great. It would be nice if there was a setting to just take three versions from each lens all at once.
Holding Vertically becomes the standard
On a regular camera, the standard is horizontal aspect ratios when you take photos, and that’s how I generally do it. I hardly flip the camera. When you’re holding the iPhone 11 for pictures, it’s just natural to hold it vertically. It’s easier to keep a hold of, and the pictures are easy to compose that way. It takes more ‘work’ to flip the phone and compose a horizontal picture. This led to a weird unintended consequence in my photo library, where there were so many pictures in an unfamiliar aspect ratio.
Live Photos can be annoying still
When Live Photos came out, I thought they were a gimmick, and they still are. Are they a video or a picture? You can’t decide. And it’s weird, on your phone, they are live. In Photos on your computer, they are not live. It’s a weird user experience with no continuity. I’d rather they just keep videos and photos separate.
Night mode is incredible
In the original Apple demo, they were not lying about night mode. It is pretty incredible. I took some great pictures in low light conditions. BUT. It achieves this by simply amping up the ISO settings and using software to soften the noise. This is not perfect. Low light pictures still end up a bit muddy and grainy. While the pictures look all right on your phone, they will not look great if you print them. They are simply good enough.
Taking the phone out of your pocket and pressing the camera icon on the home screen is fast. I would argue a bit faster than picking up your camera, turning it on and composing then shooting. You also have quick versatility my taking three different shots in quick succession.
Good case is critical; you will be dropping it
When you’re traveling and moving quickly, you will drop this thing. Especially when you pull it out of your pocket too quickly without a good grip. You must have a good case – I use an Otterbox. I dropped my phone quite a few times, and it didn’t even get a scratch. There were also a few hairy situations in the wind. (especially at Hook Head Lighthouse) where a good case ensured I had a good grip on my phone and didn’t lose it in the sea.
Video is great too.
Videos are fine, just as all iPhone videos are fine. But I was so enamored with the still photos; I didn’t take much video.
The Battery is Incredible
I used my phone heavily while I traveled and with previous iPhones, I would struggle to keep it charged all day. I never had that issue with the 11 Pro. It never dipped below 50% even on days where I used it the most.
They Look Great on the Phone but…
And this is my biggest criticism. The iOS software is definitely designed to make the pictures look their best on the iPhone and to a certain extent, iPads. The resolution of the display makes them look great at all angles and is very forgiving to the flaws of the photographs. But when you load these images up on a proper computer and begin editing them… I found a lot of the pictures I thought were ‘good’ we’re just pretty meh. Low light images were muddy and grainy. Even pictures with plenty of light were a bit muddy and grainy. When you enlarge the images to the size of an iMac 5k Retina screen, most of them look like crap. The image resolution just isn’t there. I work a lot with print, and it’s infuriating that the iPhone still outputs pictures at 72 DPI when in print you need 300 DPI. The iPhone uses software trickery to give you the appearance of a good picture while a good camera uses optics to actually give you a good picture. The iPhone 11 very much relies on software here, the optics are just OK, and that’s the design compromise they make to fit three cameras into 1 square inch.
So, the iPhone 11 Pro is great for taking pictures as a bit of fun and for everyday picture taking. But would I completely replace my ‘proper’ camera and shoot exclusively on the iPhone? Hell no.
Here are some of my favorite pictures I took!