If the Best Camera is the One That's Available When You Need It, Make Sure Your Best Camera is Available

by Sean Setters
 
I've often heard the phrase, "The best camera is the one you have available when you need to take a picture." And of course, there's a lot of truth in that statement. When time is of the essence, and your ILC (Interchangeable Lens Camera) is not at hand, by default, the smartphone in your pocket is the best available tool to complete the task.
 
Since mid-September when Olivia Jane was born, my wife has snapped hundreds of pictures of our baby with her iPhone (an Apple iPhone 8, to be exact). And while many of those smartphone shots have been posted to social media, none of them have been deemed worthy of printing and physical display.
 
Of course, my wife isn't a photographer. But when my wife handed me her iPhone to capture Olivia Jane wearing a cute Halloween costume hat, I didn't feel much like a photographer either. The iPhone 8's 28mm full frame equivalent focal length did little to isolate the subject and the perspective wasn't very flattering for a close portrait. The lag shutter lag also proved to complicate the process of capturing fleeting expressions. My daughter would make a cute face and I'd quickly try to take the picture, but alas, I always seemed to miss it.
 
After several attempts to create a decent photo, I remembered that my Canon EOS 5D Mark III and a backpack full of prime lenses was one room away in the dining room. The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art was already mounted to the camera, and I figured it would work well in this particular situation. With the camera set to aperture priority mode at f/1.4, ISO 1600 and +1/3 exposure compensation, I framed the scene and snapped a few pictures (the resulting shutter speed was 1/320 sec.). After a quick check of the LCD, I felt vindicated for taking the time (about 30 seconds) to grab my "real" camera. But it wasn't until I really started looking at the images captured that I fully appreciated the difference that the right gear can make.
 
Here's the best image I captured with the iPhone (straight out of the camera, f/1.8, 1/15 sec, ISO 50):
 
Olivia Jane Halloween 2018 iPhone 8 SOOC

Of course, the smartphone shouldn't bear the complete burden for this substandard photo. It isn't well framed or well exposed (with a little effort, I'm sure I could figure out how to apply exposure compensation with the camera app). Being used to the 3:2 aspect ratio of Canon DSLR cameras, I'm not really fond of the iPhone's 4:3 aspect ratio. However, I wanted to see how close I could make the smartphone image look like the ILC-captured shot in post processing. After more editing than I care to admit to, this was the result:
 
Olivia Jane Halloween 2018 iPhone 8 Edited

Ignoring the less interesting facial expression, it's not a bad result necessarily, but it's still not as good as the DSLR image which required far less editing (highlights +2/shadows+14/saturation -4 in Adobe Camera Raw).
 
When it comes down to it, shooting with a smartphone left me feeling handicapped and a little annoyed. I know I could learn to be a better smartphone photographer, but the sheer physics of a very small sensor combined with minimal options for adjusting field of view will always leave me wishing I had a better imaging solution in my hands. The iPhone 8's sensor is 3.5 x 4.8mm, which is tiny compared to a full-frame camera's 24 x 36mm sensor.
 
Canon Full Frame APS C iPhone 8 Camera Sensor Comparison

Even at ISO 50, there's a huge difference in the image quality when compared to the 5D III image at ISO 1600 (with no noise reduction).
 
Olivia Jane Halloween 2018 iPhone vs 5D III

Even though the Apple iPhone (in all its iterations) is probably the most popular portrait camera produced of all time, you likely have a much better tool or set of tools (such as an ILC with various lenses) at your disposal to document your memories. If so, make sure those items are as convient to access as your phone, ensuring that you make the most of the imaging opportunities that abound in everyday life.
 
I realize I'm preaching to the choir here. If you're a regular site visitor, you probably aren't relying on your smartphone for much of your imaging needs. But even so, do you always have your DSLR/mirrorless ILC at hand when your child does something cute (or monumental) or when you're driving home and the sunset in your rearview mirror is overwhelming captivating? I hope so. But if not, it might be time to pack a small bag with your "real" camera, a backup battery and 2-3 lenses to have available on a consistent basis. Of course, keeping up with a camera bag won't be nearly as convenient as carrying a smartphone, but... the quality of the images captured will almost certainly be worth the extra effort.
Posted: 11/16/2018 11:52:14 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
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