My iPhone is always with me. That’s what makes it so versatile compared to the big cameras I shoot with. I use it at home and I have taken it with me all over the world.
We look at the continuously declining camera market and wonder how the smartphones can inflict so much damage. And yet when I look back at the photos I have taken with mine, I realize that while we busy ourselves geeking out about sensor resolution, dynamic range, sensor size and other technical stuff, most people are happily snapping photos with their smartphones.
The declining camera market is not only due to photographers buying less cameras. It is primarily because non-photographers are choosing not to buy big cameras when their pocket phone can do a decent job. The worst part of it, is that the trend will likely continue to spiral downward, until the camera market is left for us photographers only. It is clear that big and heavy gear that comes with a thick manual and requires prior knowledge of photography isn’t cutting it for an average consumer. Not when their smartphone has a single app and a single button to take pictures or video.
People are too occupied with their daily lives and have much shorter attention spans to pick up a new tool and learn a new craft. That’s just the world we live in today. Everything is fed to us at an enormous pace and we are dealing with a huge information overload. News sites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, television, radio, podcasts, online streaming…one could go on and on about all the sources of information and entertainment today.
In fact, I am well aware that most of our readers will not be reading this review. They will look at the title and think something like “iPhone X is already obsolete, why is PL reviewing it now?” They will skip the title and move on to click on articles from other photography sites that look more interesting, fresh and potentially click-baity. And if the comments section is filled with some hate, even better!
Little do they know that I decided not to write anything about the iPhone X or its capabilities. Honestly speaking, I don’t really care about iPhone’s technical specifications and what it can do, and I think most people don’t care about that either. This gallery could have come from an Android device and I am sure the pictures would have been quite similar.
Sometimes our brains are just too tired of reading technical junk, or hearing yet another bad news. There is so much negativity out there, and it seems like every news outlet is doing what it can to scream with their click-bait titles just to get people’s attention.
I can’t stand television. I absolutely hate it, because it is filled with negativity and provocative content that is designed to keep the masses tuned in. In-between all the junk, they fill it with even more annoying ads that have much higher sound volume to bring back people’s attention. The funny thing is, you are supposed to pay for all that “premium content”. Thanks, but no thanks!
I never subscribed to any television network and most likely never will. I have a TV at home, but it only gets turned on when my family feels like watching a movie. And the best part is – I have zero regrets about all this!
My source of news for the past 10+ years has been the Internet. However, the same disease has spread across most news outlets on the Internet as well, and it is now harder than ever to pick up the good among all the junk and the fake news. Interestingly, even the most reputable news outlets have been feeding click-bait content to their readers just to drive up their advertising revenues.
One could argue that the Internet has gotten even worse than most other media outlets. I am not going to argue with this, as it does not matter which one is more evil – they are all the same to me.
It annoys the heck out of me, so I started writing an article on click-bait content earlier last week that I am hoping to complete within the next few days. If you have made it this far into this article, I am sure you will enjoy it.
Whoops, I guess I drifted far away from the iPhone X review. Where was I? Oh, that’s right, I was talking about the camera industry. Pardon my rant, although I am not really going to stop it – just taking it to a different direction :)
The reason why I decided to write this article, is because while I was browsing through my Lightroom catalog a couple of days ago, I realized that I had a bunch of images from the iPhone X and the iPhone XS Max that I never touched. I lightly post-processed one of the images, then after seeing how good it looked on my computer, I decided to just go through the rest of them as well. So in a way, this post is meant to be a gallery of some photos I managed to capture with my iPhone X during the past couple of years.
While camera manufacturers are trying to compete to the teeth with technical specs, smartphone manufacturers are heavily investing in future technology that involves software manipulation using artificial intelligence. They have already found ways to make images look “DSLR-like”, as one of the keynote presenters highlighted, when referring to the resolution and subject isolation capabilities. The funny thing is, they even refer to “bokeh“, although it has nothing to do with smartphones! Bokeh is how out of focus highlights are rendered by lenses. If the background is blurry, it is simply a defocused area, not bokeh!
But it does not matter, because smartphone manufacturers are quickly steering people away from buying big cameras, thus bleeding the camera market. They are putting a lot of focus into camera hardware and software features. That’s why we are now seeing smartphones with two and even three cameras.
This is all happening at the time when camera manufacturers are struggling to deliver basic, workable haptics and ergonomics. We are seeing more cameras with convoluted menus and unlabeled buttons. We are seeing cameras that have so many features, that we have to write articles at PL explaining how to use them.
It is crazy to think that a single image has to travel from a camera to a computer, with high-end hardware and complex post-processing software to manipulate images, when our phones can take a photo, quickly process it and post to social media within a matter of seconds. No wonder the digital camera market is collapsing! Why would average Jane and Joe go through all this pain and expenses just to get a decent-looking image?
With the latest releases of camera phones, we can see that the software is becoming even more of a differentiating factor. Smartphone manufacturers are able to utilize multiple cameras to calculate depth in a scene and utilize artificial intelligence to isolate subjects and even apply different lighting on subjects.
Just a few years back one could argue that images from smartphones looked terrible due to limited resolution, high noise levels, limited lens capabilities and poor dynamic range. But things have changed a lot since then.
Most smartphones today come with 8 MP+ resolution. Almost all have built-in HDR features to reduce the potential of clipping highlights when shooting in high-contrast situations. Stitching panoramas is easier than ever with any smartphone. Some modern smartphones even offer full manual control natively or through third party apps, allowing photographers to capture images in night conditions.
The advances in smartphone technology are not going to stop. Going forward, we will be seeing smartphones that will offer variable exposure control, allowing different parts of the scene to be captured at different exposures to prevent highlight and shadow clipping.
We will be seeing more advanced noise reduction algorithms that clean up noise in high-resolution images. Subject isolation capabilities will get so good, that it will be hard to tell the difference between an image captured with a smartphone and a larger interchangeable lens camera.
All this probably sounds like doom and gloom for the camera industry. It does not have to. If camera manufacturers are willing to adapt and change, they should first figure out who their target market is. If they want to sell more cameras to average consumers who are non-photographers, they should go back to the basics and do what they can to simplify the whole process – from image capture to post-processing. They should stick to the idea of great image quality and simplicity. That means superior ergonomics, less buttons and easy to understand menus.
At the same time, one could argue that the ship has already sailed. Smartphone manufacturers are likely to advance further into the interchangeable lens camera market, offering very competitive features that most people are going to be content with.
But even if that is going to be the future, it does not mean that camera manufacturers should continue working in the same direction they have been in the past few years. A camera should be intuitive and easy to use, no matter who the target audience is.
My first suggestion to camera manufacturers is to hire a reputable design company that can provide a simplified, yet functional camera and menu layout. Nikon has done that in the past with Italian companies that helped design sports cars. Why not go back and do it again when designing the next generation camera?
And please, no more unlabeled buttons! I cannot stand looking at a camera with a myriad of buttons with either no labels or labels that say something like “C3”. Customization options are good to have, but not to the point where handling someone else’s camera is impossible.
The worst offenders at the moment are Sony and Olympus. All modern Sony cameras are an ergonomic nightmare! If you want to piss off a Sony user, just reset their camera to defaults and watch them suffer. I have seen it happen in the field and trust me, it is not a pretty sight. You have been warned.
And don’t get me started on the terrible menu systems! I don’t know who designed the menu system on Sony and Olympus cameras, but those have to be redesigned from ground-up.
Heck, from the simplicity standpoint, even Nikon and Canon menu systems should be redone. The only camera on the market I can think of that took a very different, minimalistic approach, is the Hasselblad X1D 50c and its newer sibling. And even then, it failed in so many other areas where it should not have, such as quick start-up time and initial firmware bugs. But that’s an expensive medium-format camera! I would love to see an APS-C or a full-frame camera that offers such easy to use and minimalistic approach.
Instead of seeing camera manufacturers fix basic issues, we are seeing more join the “ergonomic nightmare” club. I am currently testing the Fuji GFX 100, and while the image quality of the camera is stunning, Fuji decided to get rid of its classic camera controls and add a bunch of unlabeled buttons to the camera. Two steps forward, one step back. Or is it one step forward and two steps back?
Think of what we are being fed with today from camera manufacturer marketing departments: Loads and loads of resolution. 4K, 6K and now even 8K video recording. This is at the time when many TVs and monitors out there are still 1080p!
This insatiable appetite for more pixels, more dynamic range, more buttons, more features and more functionality isn’t going to make the situation any better.
If this is the future of camera design, we are definitely looking at the doom of the camera industry…
At the same time, we are in the golden age of photography. While camera manufacturers are struggling to come up with the next best-selling camera, we have a myriad of options to choose from that fit every budget. Cameras and lenses have never been this cheap in the history of photography! Just pick the tool that works for you and shoot away…
And with that, I am going to leave you with one of my all-time favorite images that I captured with my iPhone:
I hope you enjoyed this “review”. I am sorry that the title is so misleading. I just didn’t feel like talking about all the techs and specs this time – I will leave that for another day.
What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
iPhone X Camera
- Optical Performance
- Build Quality
- Focus Speed and Accuracy
- Image Stabilization
- Image Quality
- High ISO Performance
- Size and Weight
- Metering and Exposure
- Movie Recording Features
- Dynamic Range
- Ease of Use
Photography Life Overall Rating